Thursday, October 25, 2007

Remember Who You Are

Giving advice to Apple has always been a popular pastime in the IT and business press, even though most of the advice turns out to be wrong. One suggestion that I think is horribly wrong comes from Adrian Kingsley-Hughes at ZDNet, who thinks Apple should start selling Macs with Windows (only) as their OS.

At first glance there's a certain logic to it:

OK, but let’s get back to the original question - What could/should Apple do to take sales and profits to the next level? Simple. Release an Apple branded Windows-based PC. I know, I know, this kind of talk is bound to upset the hardened Apple fanatic, but it makes perfect sense. One of the things that’s undoubtedly helped boost Mac sales is Boot Camp. Now there’s no punishment for switching platforms because you can take your old platform with you, but just as some people got tired of paying the Microsoft tax when they wanted a PC to run Linux on it, people who want Apple hardware in order to run Windows on it will eventually see the Mac OS as an Apple tax. Why doesn’t Jobs and the crew at Cupertino just skip that whole Apple tax step and offer customers a choice of operating systems. Since Windows is the dominant OS at present, that’s a good place to start, but if Apple really wants to offer the customer real choice, Linux would also be great.

Here's the flaw in the logic: I think that very few people buy Macs to run Windows, as Kingsley-Hughes suggests. They (like me) buy Macs because they can run Windows when needed, but otherwise are Macs.

Apple's invested a considerable amount of effort into creating their brand and their product differentiators, and OS X is the heart of that. A Mac with nothing but Windows is a commodity product like a Sony, Dell, or HP PC. It's a very nice offering in that market, but it makes Apple just another computer.

It's very, very important to understand why your customers buy your product. In Apple's case, it's because they provide an excellent and non-Windows user experience. Now, I'm sure there's some segment of buyers who look at the new iMacs and think, "That's gorgeous! I want one!" but would rather run Windows. (And they can, of course, do that today.)

It's the same problem with the endless suggestions that they license OS X to run on other hardware. Both moves turn them from a company selling a complete experience to another hardware manufacturer, trying to out-do everyone else on cost efficiencies. It takes a specific set of capabilities to be profitable in that game... and it's not Apple's game.

When you forget who you are, you wind up playing someone else's game, and guess what? They're probably better at it. I suspect that Apple is happy to have their (growing) niche, knowing that it will probably never be bigger than the Windows segment - but that it will satisfy its customers and generate profit for the company.

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