Are there enough suckers in the world to make a market for Mac clones?

Are there enough suckers in the world to make a market for Mac clones?

Summary: Much like the fascination one finds when driving by a traffic accident, the Mac community is abuzz with questions of whether or not the supposed Mac cloner Psystar is a real company and will sell real Mac clones. But the real question is whether anyone in their right mind will consider buying one.

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TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
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Are there enough suckers in the world to make a market for Mac clones?Much like the fascination one finds when driving by a traffic accident, the Mac community is abuzz with questions of whether or not the supposed Mac cloner Psystar is a real company and will sell real Mac clones. But the real question is whether anyone in their right mind will consider buying one.

This is certainly a much different situation than the Mac market faced back in the mid-1990s, when a small group of clone makers kept taking share from Apple, especially in the high-margin top of the market.

I have followed with interest the recent tales of Psystar. My colleague Jason O'Grady posted his suspicions that the company is a hoax. And in our Apple Core poll on the question, 79 percent of responders agreed.

Larry Dignan posted pictures of the company's supposed location and said the clone maker's store is open for business. Maybe.

But really, the question should be on the buyer's side. Will anyone want to purchase any machine that this company might make? What is the value proposition of this unlicensed Mac clone?

There are so many unanswered questions.

Of course, an important value is likely to be cost. This company may offer a Mac version of the super-low end boxes that are gathered in the murky shallow-end, entry-level parts of the market. Apple's entry in this segment is the Mac mini, which starts at $599 — well above the segment and without many of the bits and pieces these machines come with. The Mac mini does come with Front Row and the Apple Remote controller as well as the iLife '08 content creation software suite.

But what about the other parts of the value proposition?

Can we imagine that Psystar could offer better, more reliable hardware than Apple? Nope.

Could Psystar offer a machine with better industrial design? Come on!

Could Psystar offer a faster machine? Well, perhaps, depending on where we might want to look.

Some say there's a spot between the single-processor Core 2-based iMac desktops and the dual-processor quad-core Xeon-based Mac Pro, which starts at $2,700. But would this set of customers want a mid-range expansion box so much that they would buy a hack machine? Unlikely.

Can a clone maker make a better high-end or low-end notebook than the MacBook Pro and MacBook, respectively? Sounds impossible.

Could it be that Psystar would offer a machine that fits a computing niche that Apple doesn't cover right now — other than cost? This too seems unlikely. Perhaps a super subnotebook?

Could a clone maker offer better service and support than Apple? Of course, not.

So, really when we get down to it, this clone machine is all about being cheap. That would appear to be a problem, since cheap the very thing that Mac users don't want. If you want cheap, get something else. But not a Mac.

Mac customers, whether long-timers or those newly switched over from the Windows camp, want quality. That's just what Apple is giving them.

Let's suppose that someone wanted a clone. It would be a conversation piece or something similar.

But would a customer have any confidence in the company supplying the clone? That's the point of the recent stories about Pystar's location.

It was much different back in the days when Apple had a licensing program. Apple was slow to market with new machines and its models were expensive. Even for a platform under great pressure from the Windows PCs, Mac clone makers saw an opportunity.

But did those companies back then look anything like Psystar? No way. Here's the list as I recall it:

Radius. This company was a longtime player in the high-end of the Mac market, making specialty video cards and multiprocessor accelerators, among other products. Once it was a high flyer in the Mac market. But it gambled that a NuBus clone would still have legs in the video production market even after Apple had a more-modern PCI system on the market. It was wrong and the company spiraled downwards. (Note: I worked for a startup in the Bay Are in the late 1990s that sold LCD flat-panel displays under the Radius brand.)

Power Computing. This company was started by CEO Stephen Kahng, who had made his money with Leading Edge, an early mail-order maker of PC clones. He had connections to volume manufacturing companies and supply chain. On his team were former Apple hardware engineers and PC marketing execs.

UMAX Computer. This was a branch of a Taiwanese technology vendor, known in the Mac market for its scanners. The company manufactured PC logic boards.

Motorola Computer Group. This company produced lines of clones with the StarMax brand. I was very impressed with the high-performance machines the company demonstrated before the licensing program was killed by Steve Jobs.

APS Technologies. A longtime maker of storage for the Mac market, the company sold its M*Power clones, which were manufactured by Motorola.

All of these companies were established companies in the market. Many had excellent technological backing, manufacturing expertise and a place in the channel. There's no surprise about this, unlike the situation with Psystar, Apple approved of the licensee.

Customers were confident in the clones. In the first half of 1995, Mac cloners had less than 1 percent of the market; but by the third quarter of 1996, the competitors had a 13.6 percent share.

Back then, the clones appealed to some business customers looking for a cheaper Mac. There might be some kind of risk involved in going with a non-Apple Mac but with the licensing program, many Mac users went with the alternative.

But today, Apple provides high-quality, reasonably-priced machines with good support. Are business willing to take a risk on their productivity and data for a cloned Mac? Or consumers?

No way.

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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72 comments
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  • Apple worshiper!

    Mac is just a brand. Nothing special. It CAN get better. And what makes you think Apple is God and can't get better. Who says only Apple can? What if someone wants to try harder than Apple? Why did Apple adopt Intel? Why are IBM clones better than an IBM? Get Real!
    SilvrSurfr77
    • Mac is just a brand...

      Apple is a brand, Macintosh is a product. And yes, it
      [i]is[/i] special. Why? because its users are the most
      satisfied users of any brand of desktop and laptop
      computer on the market by a very high percentage.
      I'm not saying they're perfect; just like their
      competitors they do have the occasional lemon. But
      they have far fewer lemons than any one of their
      competitors according to customer satisfaction
      surveys.

      Can it get better? Sure. They all can. But that doesn't
      necessarily mean "cheaper." If someone wants to try
      making a Mac that's better than an Apple, then go for
      it, but don't expect it to be cheaper than an Apple at
      the same time. You cut the costs, you cut the quality.
      It's been proven more than once.

      [i]Why did Apple adopt Intel?[/i]
      Because Motorola quit developing the PPC chip and
      forced Apple to look elsewhere if they wanted to
      remain relevant in the desktop computer market.

      [i]Why are IBM clones better than an IBM?[/i]
      The clones weren't. When IBM created the PC, the
      clones were literally that: Clones. On the other hand,
      the 'compatibles' were practically trash. Of course, this
      was way back in 1980-84. IBM has since dropped out
      of the PC market on its own because of the costs it
      engendered by a single error 27 years ago. It did not
      get an Exclusive License on MSDos.
      Vulpinemac
    • There's more than enough suckers out there for sure

      Windows "sales" is the proof.
      fr0thy2
      • Spoken like a true expert...nt

        ;-)
        ItsTheBottomLine
  • No sane person should go for a mac clone...

    I agree with you, no sane person should go for a mac clone. If you added the costs it wasn't even that cheap. I do wish apple would come out with an intel-based version of my old G4 tower. It could be upgraded and expanded to the point where I still use it today. But mid-range towers aren't so sexy and are somewhat out of favor. So I'm posting this from my Hackintosh.
    Mac Hosehead
  • Wow. Talk about get on the defensive!

    I see you believe in the "if you say it enough times it will become true" school of thought on this one.

    I know you would like to believe that your beloved Apple is actually better, but considering the shady past of Apple's hardware (20" iMac screen anyone?), add to that the cost benefits of the Psystar package and you end up with a solution than Apple simply couldn't ever hope to deliver with its profit demands.

    Your negative points seem to be based on whether or not the Psystar machine can top the Apple machine. This is a wholly incorrect assessment of the situation because Psystar is not trying to better Apple, it is offering a machine in a place where Apple simply don't have anything available. I would question the belief that people buy Macs because of their "industrial design" (which, btw = lots of aluminium / stainless steel!), nor would I subscribe to the notion that "switchers" (as you call them) look for the perceived quality of a Mac.

    Psystar may not succeed in this venture, but I would expect others to follow now that the cat is out the bag, so to speak!
    Scrat
    • As do you, Scrat.

      [i](20" iMac screen anyone?)[/i]

      Before you squawk on something, know what you're
      talking about. Yes, I know there is a lawsuit out there
      claiming that Apple is cheating its customers. Yes, I
      know there are a lot of non-zealots out there saying
      Apple is just out to steal your money. Yes, I know
      there's a lot of noise; but that's all it is: noise.
      Have you actually gone to the Apple store and looked
      at that display? Have you compared it to the 24" display
      on the next larger model of the iMac?
      Guess what? There is no visible difference other than
      size between the two displays. NONE!

      Your so-called cost benefits of the Psystar is no
      benefit at all. To cut the price by even $200, they need
      to use the cheapest components they can find, just like
      Dell; just like Compaq. When you do that, reliability
      goes out the door. Sure, a less expensive Mac might be desirable for some, but not at the cost of having to
      constantly fiddle with it to keep it running; that's the
      reason so many people are moving away from Windows
      in the first place!

      I appreciate the 'industrial design,' but that's not why I
      bought my iMac. I bought it because I know it works
      and because it takes up a lot less real estate than a
      conventional PC. My one iMac replaced an older Mac
      Mini [i]and[/i] a home-built Windows PC I'd been using
      for 4 years and had only upgraded the video card 3
      months prior. I'm even running two displays without
      even having to add a second video card or adaptor.

      Until someone can truly build an Apple compatible
      machine that can provide the stability and reliability of
      an Apple, there won't be any valid clones on the
      market.
      Vulpinemac
    • Well said! My thoughts exactly.

      We don't want a "better" Apple, we want a reasonably priced machine capable of running Apple software!

      It's ridiculous how hard Apple works to make their machines beautiful when all most people seem to require of their computers is a hard working, hard playing machine. If we want it fancy, we'll work it over individually; we don't need hundreds of extra dollars worth of "industrial design" fluff!
      wuz2blu
  • RE: Are there enough suckers in the world to make a market for Mac clones?

    I agree that no sane person would go for a Mac-clone. It
    goes without saying that Mac are NOT and alternative to
    Windows in the way, say, Linux is. While I believe Leopard
    is absolutely a superior operating system, Apple products
    and Macs in particular have an intrinsic quality that goes
    far beyond the Mac OS.

    The whole idea of Mac-clones does bring to light some of
    Apples shortcomings however. Apple is historically a
    hardware company, the software has always been about
    selling the hardware. Today Apple is successfully gaining
    ground on both fronts as a result design and, more
    importantly (in my opinion), very high quality.

    Apple could do more, however, to increase market share
    by getting more software out there. In past articles, the
    rise in market share of the iMac has been credited to the
    high market share of the iPod: people buy an iPod, install
    iTunes, make acquaintance with Apple and many
    eventually switch to Mac. The price has always been a high
    threshold for many would-be switchers.

    If Apple were to license cloners with an scaled down OS,
    not only would they reach more homes and offices in the
    desktop market, they would potentially get even more
    consumers and businesses willing to pay the cash and
    make the switch to the "full" Apple experience.

    It is quite possible that Psystar is nothing more than a
    hoax (read marketing study) to see how much need (read
    market) there is for a not-quite-but-almost-Mac.
    ElgatoNL
    • I don't want...

      Apple's market share to increase. I like
      it where it is. Or, I don't want the whole
      world switching to Macs, or otherwise
      there'll be too many viruses and attacks
      ... too many enemies from all angles ...
      hacks ..... Apple's potential loss of
      quality control, etc.

      Macs are only for the right people. And
      Mac users should be careful on whom
      they want to switch/convert ... being
      more selective.
      OmarHash
  • You are totally partial there

    First psystar does not necessary offer [b] super-low end boxes that are gathered in the murky shallow-end, entry-level parts of the market[b].

    Did you ever assembly a computer ? You can assembly a computer based only on high end parts and come up with prices that are lower than those of most pc makers. The result won't be a lower than low end machine, just a machine where the high margin, marketing cost, and sky high rents on 5th avenue remains in your pocket.

    You then states that [b]this clone machine is all about being cheap[/b]

    At psystar, I can configure a 8Gb box with a Quad core processor and a 8800GT video card for $2000. Is that cheap ? hardly so. But to cover the same need ( for such a box, that would be 3D modelling, or video editing ) I would need to go to the Mac Pro. The later is far more powerfull, but also twice the price.

    Appel deserted the desktop market, because they could not compete in this area. PsyStar just saw an opportunity to fill the gap.

    Did they do it with intelligence is another question altogether. Is there a market for big player apple cloner in the segment not sure either. Is there a niche for assembler , maybe
    s_souche
  • Markets, Supply and Demand

    Clearly, there is a market for low-cost PCs and certainly a strong interest in pairing low-cost PCs with decent O/S.

    Compaq succeeded in bringing to market a successful line of IBM PC BIOS compatible machines. Follow on BIOS vendors achieved compatibility such as Award, Phoenix.

    Apple stands to create a ground swell of interest if and when they create an OEM version of Mac OSX.

    The market potential is there and Psystar is the 'tip of the iceberg'.

    Apple can't ignore the need indefinitely.
    D T Schmitz
  • RE: Are there enough suckers in the world to make a market for Mac clones?

    Yes! Yes! Yes! They are called freedom lovers and people who kind of understand the hardware locks Apple has been putting in recent days. And, between you and me, there are some people who understand computers beyond the interface. You know I ordered one because I am suffering from the nostalgia of the free memory access of the pre OSX era. How about another secret, if you want your computer just to download the latest gangsta rap from itunes buy a $300 windows machine. And here is another secret for you, I have another Mac which I intend to sell on ebay..
    sam000
  • Sure! but it would come at Apple's expense!

    It reduce the number of suckers buying Macs.
    ShadeTree
  • Has David been to the Mac manufacturing facilities?

    [i]This company may offer a Mac version of the super-low end boxes that are gathered in the murky shallow-end, entry-level parts of the market[/i]

    And why assume that Apple does not do this?

    Maybe David should post on his experiences at the Apple design and manufacturing facilities, clue us in on the differences between Apple's hardware choices vs the clone manufacturers.

    It would be interesting to see the majorr differences between the Apple production lines at Asus vs their PC production lines.

    Please David, show us what makes [i]really[/i] makes the Apple hardware so much better then someone elses.
    GuidingLight
    • I'm not david but I'll be your huckleberry...

      "Please David, show us what makes really makes the Apple hardware so much better then someone elses."

      Ever take a look at the design of an Apple logic board??? No??? Didn't think so....

      If you ever had, you would have your answer.

      Could there be that much of a difference between an Apple logic board and all the rest of the PC motherboards out there??? Gasp!!! Oh no!!! Say it isn't so!!! You can't expect a sane person to believe something like that???

      Hmmm... Could we call a person sane if they mindlessly believe the lies of an ignorant bozo who told them macs sucks when the simple fact is they never had a shred of experience with macs?

      Could we call a person sane if they were too stupid and lazy to get off their fat butts and go do some legwork to find out about macs first hand?

      Could we call a person sane if they condemned macs and OSX without any real experience with either?

      If the answer is no, then all the trolls on zdnet are insane.

      Apple doesn't make Ram nor combo drives nor processors nor video cards nor hard drives, etc. They make logic boards... referred to as motherboards in the pc world. They buy the absolute best components they can, and they design a board for those components... Sounds simple right? Eliminate the bottlenecks, Bus speed matches the devices, every device has a clean path to it's controller, load balanced, etc. And then Apple engineers tweak it to perfection to get the most out of each component, and then it goes into production.

      The real question we need to ask is, why is Apple the only manufacturer building boards that match the components that will connect to them? Why can't PC manufactures do the same? And that answer is painfully obvious as well... They can, they just choose not to... It is far more cost effective to build and design for a vast array of possibilities and settle for cost and compatibility and not speed, efficiency, and reliability.

      Specs on a spec sheet are simply an indicator of overall potential. How well they ALL play together is what really matters. You can't compare a PC and a Mac based on a spec sheet nor a benchmark test with a PC that is not running the virus software it will have to run in the real world.

      Any more questions?
      i8thecat
      • OK enough expresso - and I think you are missing

        a few pieces with the exception of the motherboard, from what I have seen in my friends Macs - it's pretty much normal parts. So like it or not Apple is making a killing on hardware.
        ItsTheBottomLine
  • Would anyone buy an IBM clone?

    Naw, never... ;-)
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • ... yagottabekidding.

      ZD: suggest we have a poll for 'riposte of the week'. I've got my nomination ready for this week ;-)
      jacksonjohn
    • Two differences...

      1) IBM opened up their specification. Apple has done no such thing.

      2) The IBM clone makers actually built products, sold them, and had verifiable satisfied customers. Psystar has none of this up to now.

      There is really nothing to talk about and nobody to sue until there are verifiable satisfied customers. Until then, this is all overpublicized noise.
      Taz_z