Here's a question that I received from yesterday's mail bag:
Apple's just announced yet another amazing quarter with sales and profits both up. [... deleted a lot of minutiae about sales here ...] What could/should Apple do to take sales and profits to the next level?
Apple's a lot easier to understand when you stop looking at it as a religion and instead see it for what it is - a multi-billion dollar consumer electronics company Now, I have checked and I'm pretty sure that this email isn't from Steve Jobs, but it's an interesting question nonetheless. Apple is, without a doubt, a successful company and is returning strong data quarter after quarter. For years, the darling for investors was the iPod, the first of Apple's products to hit critical mass and make it big (some might say that it was the first piece of branded consumer electronics to go critical mass, but personally I wouldn't take it that far). Now it seems that Apple has managed to put the Macs under the iPod's halo and dramatically improved desktop and notebook sales. Sales are strong, but you have to put this into perspective. CNET's Tom Krazit does a good job of crunching the numbers:
The numbers seem simple: Apple has sold more than 120 million iPods to date, and Mac shipments are growing much faster than the overall market.
But Hewlett-Packard's worldwide shipments are growing twice as fast as the overall market. Acer's worldwide shipments are growing at nearly four times the overall market. Even in the U.S., where Apple does the majority of its business and is the third-leading PC vendor, everyone but Dell is growing much faster than the overall market. HP might have a brand name in printers, but nobody, even HP, has a consumer product with nearly the cachet of the iPod.
But like Krazit, I'm not so convinced that there's a correlation between iPod sales and Mac sales:
But I'm not convinced that you can draw a direct line between iPods and Macs. Are you more likely to buy an HP PC because you own (and like) your HP printer? Are you more likely to buy a Sony television because you've spent thousands of quality hours with your PlayStation 2? Maybe, maybe not.
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.
Now many of you are probably thinking that I've got my tongue firmly in my cheek as I type this. No, I'm dead serious. I'm certain that a high number of customers (especially the Mac newbies that Apple are always talking about) are buying Macs not because of the security, robustness or ease of use of the OS, but because of the Apple logo. One of the features that made the iPod a success was that it was platform independent - if the iPod had been a Mac-only device, it would be little more than a footnote in the annals of history by now.
I'm pretty sure that Apple could significantly raise the bar when it comes to quality and presentation of a Windows-based system and that it could make significant inroads into markets held by companies such as Dell, HP and Sony, especially when it comes to high-end notebooks. I'm also sure that Apple could refine and improve the OEM Windows experience for end users.
But wouldn't Apple lose the OS moral high ground if it tainted systems with Windows? To be honest, I don't think so. Sure, a few lunatics at the fringes who'd be upset, but that's only to be expected. Personally I think that Apple gave up any moral high ground when it released Boot Camp. What's the point of all the preaching about security and ease of use of Mac when you officially sanction installing Windows onto Intel-based Macs? Apple's a lot easier to understand when you stop looking at it as a religion and instead see it for what it is - a multi-billion dollar consumer electronics company.
So there you go. If Apple really wants to rock investors and take profits to the next level, it should start offering Windows-based Macs. Profits would skyrocket, Apple would enter an existing market and shake it up, investors would be happy because Apple's market share would explode and everyone would be happy.