Apple has experienced record sales of its Macintosh computers according to recent reports, posting the best sales figures in the 22 year history of the product.
Good job, Apple. Apple's strong results reinforces the notion that people at the Cupertino-based company understand things about human demand that others (myself included) don't.
Take Apple's growing number of Apple stores, which were cited as important in those growth figures. When Apple first announced they were going to build these things, I remember thinking that it would be a colossal waste of money. Who would want to go to an Apple-specific store when there are hundreds and thousands of stores filled with computer software and hardware? How were they going to compete?
That was before, of course, I actually SAW the store. I'm a programmer who likes writing applications for a platform used by the vast majority of computer users, and worse...I work for Microsoft. Even so, I've gone into MANY Apple stores because they draw you in like a technology-oriented Disneyland, and I've even bought a few things at the store (though as of yet, not for myself).
I've talked about Apple understanding the dynamics of a "fashion accessory" with respect to their promotion of the iPod, and that understanding clearly extends to the design of the Apple store. No one asks why someone would want to shop at the Gucci store when there are hundreds of thousands of stores that sell clothes. People shop at Gucci because it is a brand that people value, and they pay top dollar to shop there. Furthermore, the shop itself plays an important part in the job of image management. Nice stores help craft the image needed to convince people to buy a product.
Apple's stores certainly serve that purpose. The Apple store on the corner of Fifth Avenue in Manhattan has been described as a marvel of modern design. Translated, that means it's a pretty damn cool store. The above ground portion (the entire store is underground) is a large lit glass cube with a floating Apple logo at its center. It looks great, as those pictures show.
Making a cool store is part and parcel of crafting a brand with a cachet that doesn't just distinguish it from other products, but makes people willing to pay top dollar for them. Granted, other things play a part, such as a consistent and interesting ad campaign, and all the glamor in the world won't make a badly designed product become an iconic technology fashion accessory. Fortunately, Apple's products are well designed. Combined with the other aspects of their marketing strategy, Apple has charted a way to compete with Microsoft in a market where others have long since faded into obscurity.
Murphy has considered Apple's shift to x86 processors to be a "catastrophe", and others have worried that Apple's "distinctiveness" would be eroded by plugging into the x86 ecosystem of compliant products. I think Apple's recent sales figures should put an end to such worries, particularly as they are based on things which matter little to sale of Apple products. Just as Diesel-brand jeans (jeans that can cost upwards of $250) are made of the same basic cloth as jeans made by any other company, Apple's latest computers have the same basic parts as PCs. That doesn't matter, however, because other machines don't have the design and the cachet of an Apple computer.
It's hard to beat the ecosystem advantages of a Windows, which is the reason Windows manages maintain its dominant position. There are other ways, however, to convince consumers to use your products.