Apple's High-Water Mark?
Subject:   This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused
Date:   2006-03-24 17:38:29
From:   AdrienLamothe
Response to: This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused

It is best to respond to this point-by-point:

"Sorry, but this whole analysis misses the Steve Jobsian point of product development. It's not about the technology itself -- it's about the end user experience."

--- I agree with the end-user experience part. However, Steve Jobs has ALWAYS hyped the concept of technological excellence in his products. His public statement about switching to Intel was that (sic) "Intel has the best processor roadmap from here on out." He always talks about the technology in the products, using it as a selling point. There are other people better suited to discuss the actual end user experiences of Macintosh owners; perhaps some of them will post to this talkback. ---

"Yap all ya like about Linux and PS3 and the Cell and all that jazz. But so long as Steve Jobs or someone born of his mold is sitting at the top and maintaining a vise-like grip on product development -- and fanatically focusing that development on the end user experience -- then all the rest of the elements should fall into place and Apple will remain a leader either in design and thought (Mac OS X) or in actual market share (iPod, iTunes)."

--- Yes, maintaining tight control on product insures a good user experience. Several Linux vendors (HP, IBM, Penguin Computing and others) already do this in the server space. Companies will start to do so in the mass market, when the time is right. Some companies are already starting to do this in select markets, South Africa is an example (see "Related Links" at end of article) ---

"The problem with Windows and Linux is that no one controls the end user experience with enough vigor and attention to detail. Windows is doing better and better with each revision, but there are still too many cooks in that kitchen. Linux has no central leadership on the end user experience because it cannot, by definition, be uniformly led or controlled by any one person or group. All that said, Apple still has some cleaning up to do in its Mac OS X camp -- the Finder and lots of their bundled applications do not yet behave uniformly or maintain a consistent look/feel. So even with Jobs cracking heads, Mac OS X still has issues, but it's way out in front of platforms with no one leading from a position of end-user focus and authority."

--- True openness, like true democracy, is a messy affair, but much more desirable than the alternatives. Regarding a lack of central authority, this has recently changed. The Open Source Development Lab and Linus Torvalds have devoted themselves to insuring a good end-user experience. As far as Mac OS X being "way out in front", I'm not sure what you mean by that, and I disagree with the statement. SuSE Linux has been the leader in providing an easy to install and use Linux distro, with a very nice fit and finish. I do agree that Mac OS X is the leader for offering a polished desktop, but it also has occasional glitches that require expert attention. Computers are extremely complex machines, it is doubtful they will ever be maintenance free. The closest thing I've seen to maintenance-free computers are the Linux boxes I've built for people. I have a friend who is almost computer illiterate, who was experiencing massive problems with his Windows computers. He has been using a Linux box for over two years now, and it has never crashed or experienced any problems, it just works for him every time. ---

"As for the shifting-processor threat, Apple is now successfully moving its Mac OS X platform into a processor-agnostic model. Follow their mantra -- use Xcode, use Xcode, use Xcode. They know they might have to jump processors again, and probably expect to jump. Stick with their development approach (Xcode) and you'll be able to follow them wherever they go. If they have to go to Cell, so be it. If the go to the Sun 8-way package, so be it. They've gotten it right at this point -- the presentation layer is the best in the business (though it could be better still), and the development layer has been largely abstracted from the hardware layer."

--- If you feel comfortable entrusting your programming effort to Xcode, then by all means use it. I prefer established standards, such as Unix. Binding your code to a non-standard abstraction layer also binds you to the organizations that control the layer. ---

"And puhleeze stop with the Linux predictions of growth or dominance or whatever. Linux is a great OS, but it's impossible for end users to use -- no applications, nothing is easy, and there are a billion variations. Way, way, WAY too hard for end users to handle. And that will not change because no one's in charge of it. Again, great OS, but only when it's handed to end users in a closed package (like the proposed PS3 setup)."

--- Wow, have you been living in the jungle the past few years? Impossible to use? No applications? Nothing is easy? A billion variations? No one in charge of it? Get serious. Do you work for Microsoft? I do agree that most Linux distros can be hard for the average user to install and configure. This is where, at some point, an enterprising computer vendor will decide to build a solid consumer market Linux box and offer support (this is starting to happen.) ---

"Apple license OS X? Not likely. The only way that works is if they have a massive hardware certification program or license only specific manufacturers that stick to their straight and narrow hardware path. It's easier to make your own to your own specs than to hammer out contracts with third parties (like a Dell) to make things that meet your exacting standards. Keep in mind that Apple doesn't really make any of their own hardware anymore. So why contract with Dell when you can dictate terms to a Taiwanese manufacturer and get your preferred solution, then sell it yourself and get the best margins? End user simplicity and stability is the point, and that's impossible to maintain when Dell switches hard drive, processor, memory and DVD-RW models and suppliers every week."

--- Ah, we agree on something. Although the PC industry does a pretty amazing job of producing stable computers; that's because the various manufacturers agree to and for the most part adhere to industry standards. ---

"...I can look back in history and see a lot tougher business environments in which Apple has done just fine, thank you."

--- Apple will continue to do well, by maintaining a low head count, tight control, and high prices. We'll see if they can reach out to the mass market. ---

"... After all, the biggest story about the Intel transition is that it's not much of a transition at all. For the end users. And that's the point."

--- Tell that to the people I meet who would like to buy a Mac Core Duo system, but don't want to buy new copies of Photoshop. ---

Cheers, it's been fun.

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  • This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused
    2006-03-24 19:42:31  jmproffitt [View]

    1. Of course Jobs touts technology in his new product introductions. Consider the audience. The mass market computer users don't pay attention to those announcements (I do, but my wife doesn't, for example). The mass market sees iPod advertisements, not iPod introductions. Ditto for Mac OS X stuff, which is almost never advertised anymore. Jobs talks tech to techies, but he ensures the products don't. Look at any manual that comes with a new Mac. Or read the online help. It's a stark contrast from the product introductions and focus on technology you're proposing.

    2. Linux's only hope as a mass market operating system is through the help of a major manufacturer that develops a custom distribution and controls it tightly. That's entirely possible, but it's unlikely at best. Any custom distro of Linux will not be "true Linux" and will still not have sufficient applications for the mass market. I can go to Wal-Mart and buy software for a Windows box -- games, silly little address books, word processors, electronic encyclopedias and more. I can't buy Linux software (or at least not much) at Wal-Mart. I can't even buy Mac OS X software at Wal-Mart.

    Now, assuming even a big player like HP built a custom Linux distro, they'd also have to have a custom hardware platform and a custom set of core applications. They would have to replicate Apple's work with Mac OS X, essentially. I don't believe that there's anyone at HP (or a similar player) will have the guts to do this -- it would take too much faith and it would by definition cannibalize Windows sales and sour the relationship with Microsoft. It just won't happen at a big shop. And a little shop won't have the visibility or leadership position to pull it off. That's why you've built a nice distro of Linux for your computer illiterate friend, but despite your hard work, you're still not in charge of a multi-million or multi-billion dollar company making Linux distributions.

    3. I'm totally with you on the "openness is messy" concept. That's Linux's strength and weakness. It can be custom-built into a bulletproof appliance-like setup and it's slick. But that kind of setup lacks Windows' advantages of universal "compatibility" and availability. They're just at opposite ends of the spectrum there, and neither one is the "right" way to do computers.

    4. You mentioned the problem with Xcode being a nonstandard development environment. I agree -- it's not a universal standard. However, neither is Visual Studio. Nor is Eclipse. Indeed, nothing is a universal standard, as each methodology addresses a target platform and they all have their pros and cons. I think developers working for a living (rather than doing it for academic research or bragging rights) will develop in whatever way is profitable for them in the end. If that means adopting Apple's methods with Xcode, then that's that -- you'd better follow Apple's lead. If that means going with Visual Studio, then so be it. Sure, there are some development environments that can target multiple platforms, but nothing's universal and nothing's without its tradeoffs. Don't like drinking the Xcode Kool Aid? Great. Just don't develop for the Mac then, or do it all yourself the hard way and start all over again when they change processor platforms.

    5. Nope, not been living in a jungle. But I also don't sit around building my own operating systems in my spare time or for my job. I have a job and a business to operate at work, and I have a life at home that doesn't involve using compilers or using the word "distro" a lot. And I'm the geek at home. My wife is the mass market user and keeps me grounded in reality, as do the hopelessly computer-phobic people at the office. To sell Linux in a big way, it'll have to be sold to those people one by one. So far, Windows dominates by force of marketing and inertia and Mac OS X has a few converts that have been burned by Windows in the past and don't want to be geeks. Linux? That would scare the crap out of the non-techie people I know. To you, they live in the jungle, unaware of the salvation Linux offers. To me, they're just normal folks with better things to do with their time. This is the fundamental understanding Steve Jobs maintains at Apple. If he dies, that understanding will die with him.

    6. As for the Intel transition, the mass market users Apple targets (one part of their market, but not all of it), the lack of Adobe apps is not an issue. Pro users are pissed (and I'm a little miffed myself), but the mass market isn't going to run out and buy (or stay home and not buy) based on Adobe apps performance or Universal Binary availability.

    In the end, I think Apple's future is very much bound up with Steve Jobs. Without him, Apple would make the same decisions that all the other tech companies make when it comes to products and strategies. Then Sony, IBM and all the others could just crush Apple with sheer market pressure. I totally agree with you that if they don't control headcount and other expenditures, and if they can't really break into the consumer electronics market (aside from the iPod), then the future will be not-so-bright. Just as I cannot fathom a Linux-dominant world, I also cannot fathom a Mac OS X-dominant world.

    Thanks for the comments back. I bet you make fascinating lunchtime conversation! And I appreciate the analysis. I'm not actually that "down" on your analysis -- I just don't feel that Apple is so easily compared to other companies in the market, nor are they as impacted by the trends out there. They also don't shift the market around as much as people say they do.
    • This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused
      2006-03-24 21:24:21  pquam [View]

      >Linux? That would scare the crap out of the >non-techie people I know. To you, they live in >the jungle, unaware of the salvation Linux >offers. To me, they're just normal folks with >better things to do with their time.

      --I think there is a certain amount of truth to this. Especially, since some people are intimidated by Windows. However, Mac OS X is a prime example of putting a user-friendly interface on top of Linux/BSD.

      With most Linux apps, you could make them into Windows-like apps by jazzing up the GUI, pre-configuring a bunch of things, disabling some advanced features, and pre-loading it into memory at startup and running them in the background, and maybe adding a few macros/scripts to accomplish common tasks.

      I agree that Linux has come a long way recently.
      On the other hand, people are less and less
      tolerant of the learning curve to use computers.
      However, it would be a mistake to underestimate Linux's ripeness for popular adoption, esp. if it was pre-packaged correctly.