|by Wes George
Where Is myapple.com? Apple's Need For An Internet Strategy
August 2nd, 1999
I'm hiding out deep in a central Texas juniper forest at the edge of a cool, clear swimming hole. The sky above is a rare combination of clouds towering like piles of cotton balls, and a blue so dense I could only be lost in Texas. I'll be brief, as the bass fish await my hook and line.
Apple needs to develop a serious Internet strategy!
QuickTime TV and the supercharged Sherlock for OS 9, announced at MACWORLD, are obviously steps in the right direction. Last week, Steve Jobs worked a deal with AOL to link Instant Messenger to your Mac. It's important for Apple to provide state-of-the-art content delivery technology for the Mac platform, but there is a non-techie, touchy-feely, relationship building approach to the Internet that Apple has ignored.
Internet marketing theory is really a very simple beast. It's about connecting people together and actualizing relationships that, pre-net, were underutilized, dormant or nonexistent. Apple needs to take a good look at some of its PC peers and perhaps even 'steal' their clever ideas on how to cheaply build communities of end users on the Internet. No need to reinvent the wheel (at least at first), merely emulating the success of Dell's and now Gateway's online presence would fill a glaring gap in Apple's marketing strategy.
If Gateway can become an Internet service provider with 400,000 subscribers who find a sense of belonging at their gateway.net portal, Apple must be sitting on a gold mine of untapped potential. Mac users, the most loyal group of computer users on this planet, would drop their generic portals like hot potatoes to join a 'myapple.com' service. Apple could jump-start an Apple ISP by bundling a year's free subscription with all new iMacs and iBooks.
As the Wall Street Journal blithely points out, "If it can sustain the current growth rate, Gateway could have three million Internet subscribers by the end of 2000, making it the second-largest Internet service provider after America Online." If you were wondering why GTW was up over 30 percent in the last month, there you have it. Gateway, a real world PC box assembly line, is morphing into an Internet virtual force to be reckoned with. In fact, rumors abound that Gateway is looking to acquire a big Internet service provider such as EarthLink Inc. so they don't have to rely entirely on UUnet (owned by Worldcom Inc.) for their backbone connection to the Internet.
Why doesn't Apple deliver a portal/ ISP service for its fanatical, faithful consumers? Apple is just way behind the curve on this one. It must be terribly difficult to be Apple, always having to be the insanely great source of both the OS and the machines to run it on. As if that weren't enough to do, Apple also has to implement all the peripheral software standards, like QuickTime. This centralized model is quite different than the PC side of the fence where dozens of major corporations form cabals dedicated to the maintenance of the Wintel contraption. Apple has to go it alone, and as a result, little details, like the online element of community building, sometimes get overlooked.
Or, perhaps the powers that be in Cupertino think that apple.com in its current incarnation is sufficient presence on the web? It is not.
Whatever the reasons, the benefits of a myapple.com are so great it's hard to imagine Apple isn't well into the first phase of implementing such a strategy. If not, Apple is missing a huge opportunity by not bundling an Apple ISP service with every new iMac and iBook.
Thirty-something percent of iMac purchasers are digital newbies. Almost all of them could be shepherd to an Apple ISP. Eighty-nine percent of all iMac users log on. That's a higher percentage of Internet usage than any other PC brand can claim. If only 50 percent of those iMac surfers decided to go with Apple's ISP, the numbers could add up to more than a million new subscribers in just the first year. That's not even counting the millions of Mac users who, while staying with their local ISP, would immediately switch over their portal alliance adding a vast eyeball count that would make the venture almost immediately profitable.
The benefits of an Apple Internet portal for Mac surfers would be tremendous. Imagine a portal designed with your operating system and machine in mind. There could be diagnostic links to suggest software updates and execute disk repairs. There could be QuickTime tutorials for the basic issues that often swamp the Apple tech support lines. There could be feedback options, user groups, interactive chat and gaming spaces, and information gathering opportunities for everything Mac-related and beyond.
Apple could, for the first time in its history, promulgate its own software patches and driver updates in a timely and orderly fashion. It could be a chance for Apple to right the information architecture errors built into apple.com and Apple's tech library which have a confusing, arbitrary and sporadic record of delivering timely help to the end users.
Finally, have you ever tried looking for Mac shareware or freeware on the open Internet? One has to wade through tons of Windows crap to find the Mac jewels. An Apple portal would eliminate the hit and miss quality of searching the Internet for all things Mac, official and unofficial.
An Apple portal would also go a long way towards humanizing the Apple image. There is already a large and feverishly active Mac online community but Apple stands oddly aloof of this commonwealth. In fact, Cupertino, like an isolated and inaccessible rock star, generally regards the Mac community with a snobbish disdain. The funny part is that they don't think we notice.
Some of Apple's royal attitude must come from the reign of fear that Steve has imposed upon the company's workers who must comport themselves at parties as if they were working on the Manhattan Project instead of candy colored, durable goods. In any event, an Apple portal would force Apple to become accessible to the end user on a daily basis and perhaps in a format that Apple would feel sufficiently in control of to relax a bit. After all, owning a Mac is fun, and Apple's interface with the Mac community should be made more fun than it is. Both sides could profit immensely by actualizing the untapped potential in the collaboration between Apple and the thriving Mac online community.
Portals lead to often unimagined destinations. An Apple portal would predictably lead end users not only to the net, but also to a stronger relationship with Apple, and increase traffic and sales on all Mac related sites. A major portal project would also lead Apple into a new online dimension of nearly uncharted possibilities. It would lead Apple into a new realm of public relations that is capable of phase shifting into content provision, and ultimately into territories of multimedia, interactive infotainment which have yet to be fully defined by anyone. A portal would once again position Apple not just as a technology house but also on the cutting edge of culture. The level of community spirit that Mac users have already demonstrated, without the focusing energy of a myapple.com portal, could be amplified into something completely unique in the history of corporate to consumer relationships.
What's Apple waiting for? The potential is there. Just do it.
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Wes George writes about the financial side of being a Mac nut. Wes has followed Apple's finances for the last 7 years and comes to The Mac Observer every Monday to tell all about his opinions. He is, in his own words, "inordinately fond of money." If you would like to write Wes, make it nice. Someday you might own a company that has something to do with Apple, and Wes will probably still be writing for The Mac Observer...... On the other hand, Mr. George is known to love a rousing, hair-raising debate, so send him your worst!
Disclaimer: This column is for informational and entertainment purposes. While Mr. George may be sage indeed, his writings can not be construed as a solicitation to buy, nor an offering to sell any particular stock. As with any trading in the financial markets, you must use your own judgment to make the best trades that you can. Neither The Mac Observer nor Wes George may be held accountable for trading advice.