Just a Thought - Mapple?
by- July 28th, 2006
It has been common knowledge for sometime now that, while Redmond based Microsoft owns and/or controls much of the worldwide PC market, the industry looks to Apple for clues as to what's next in the hardware and software world. From servers that serve powerfully yet quietly and with no fuss, to integrated applications and hardware that defines how we entertain ourselves, it is Apple, not Big Redmond, that is setting the standards.
Analysts will give you any number of reasons why this is so, but I think the core reason that little Apple can command so much attention is that Apple can, has, and likely will continue to deliver a user experience that can only be obtained when the whole experience is managed by one entity; the entity in this case, of course, is Apple.
Every Mac, every iPod, keyboard, mouse, and every bit of software is created, tested, tweaked and ultimately offered to the public with the customer in mind. Apple commands a small share of the computer market, so it can concentrate more on the details that are usually overlooked by hulking corporate behemoths whose attention is aimed more at its profits than at the its customers.
Apple controls the whole thing, so what it offers is a system that work so well together that it can be downright scary at times. When things don't work, you have one place to go to, Apple. Sometimes they've been less than responsive to customer issues, but on the whole, Apple has had a good track record when it comes to customer service, and that is another key component to Apple's success.
On the PC side of the world, the scheme that lets hardware builders concentrate only on hardware, and software makers only on software has yielded some interesting and useful products, but when compared to Apple's products they are often seen as lacking that almost impossible-to-define something.
Some call it synergy, the ability for disparate parts to work seamlessly as a whole, and it can be successfully argued that PCs are the epitome of synergistic systems. They function as advertised, but are made up of parts from a variety of vendors. Yet, no matter how good PCs are, Macs seem to be better in many ways, especially when it comes to usability.
The ideology behind PCs and other hi-tech gadgets that use Microsoft products is not flawed, it just isn't the best approach. Apple's way is better, and, grudgingly, the industry will admit it.
Take the iPod/iTunes/iTunes Music Store for instance: Microsoft, MTV, and others banded together to create a system, called Urge, that, by many accounts, was better than Apple's music system. Customers could choose from a variety of music players, and could pick whether to buy music outright, as they can on the iTunes Music Store, or 'rent' the music. Apple sold more than 8 million iPods during the fiscal quarter ending July 1, 2006, six months after the Microsoft/MTV service was introduced.
Even so, Microsoft seems to have finally gotten the notion that in order to really compete with Apple it will have to emulate Apple, and become a better Apple than Apple.
We are starting to see the fruits of this realization with Big Redmond's announcement of it's new music player, the Zune. And recently, Microsoft sent design kits to the many vendors that produce hardware that will use Microsoft operating systems in the computers they sell. The kits contain 'suggestions' on how new computers and laptops might look and function. These design cues are meant to highlight features in Big Redmond's upcoming OS, Vista, but it doesn't take keen eyesight to read between the lines and understand what The Gates Gang is really saying to hardware vendor, "Stop farting around and design some cool stuff, or we will!"
That's a strong message that vendors like Dell and HP have little choice but to consider. After all, Microsoft is the only software game in town; without XP and Microsoft Office, PCs, regardless of vendor, are little more than expensive paperweights. Even putting Linux on PCs would do little to hold back the flood of red ink as corporate customers dump Dells and HPs by the truckload.
As for Microsoft, if the company produces its own PCs it could find itself isolated in the PC world. You don't steal another man's bread and expect to remain friends with him. Make no mistake, people will buy Microsoft hardware if for no other reason than for a belief that Microsoft PCs are somehow better. And they might actually be better PCs since, like Apple, Microsoft will control the whole show.
Would they be better than Macs?
I seriously doubt it; not at first at least. It took some time for Apple to get all of the pieces working together as well as they do. Microsoft would require at least as long; the company has a lot to learn about understanding its customers and giving them what they want instead of what Microsoft believes they want.
And there's that virus thing.
So, it will be interesting to watch what unfolds as the Redmond monarch tries on new clothes. Emulating Apple and alienating partners would be a bold move, but then Microsoft can afford to be bold, at least for now. It could pay off, and the payoff could be substantial. New income from hardware that is tightly integrated with Vista might make corporate America smile (until they see the sticker), and those leaning towards trying Macs might be less tempted.
Should Apple be concerned?
No. As long as the company keeps its innovative edge and its customers in mind, Apple will likely continue to grow its market share and remain the industry bellwether, no matter what gyrations Big Redmond puts itself through.
is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.
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