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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Apple Likes Consumers, But Loves (Big) Organizations
May 7th, 2001

Many Mac users, including Yours Truly - that's me - follow Apple's decision making with an incredible amount of scrutiny. We tune in at every keynote, and whether we are armchair or known analysts, we are sometimes very critical toward Apple, and always judgmental towards them. In short, we examine every single one of Apple's initiatives. Maybe too much, but that would be another debate.

What I am about to question is this: do we view Apple from the wrong perspective when we look at the company's products, strategies and marketing approach? By that, I mean that to truly grasp the reasons why Apple releases certain products or makes certain decisions, we should look at the big picture from a broad overview instead of a personal angle. Translation: Mac users often assume that Apple markets its new products or modifies its policies for the Mac user whose preferences for the Mac is by now settled.

A quick example of that is the Flower Power iMac. Apple could have said "this computer is not for you" to its most faithful users, and it would probably have been the easiest way for G4-using Mac folks to understand it. This does not mean that we have to like it, however :-)

The Flower Power debate aside, there lies a larger issue. The computer industry, it is no secret, makes piles of dough through corporate and educational sales. While I had no luck when trying to find Apple numbers to illustrate the concept, and Apple would not respond to my queries, I trust that a corporate or educational sale means more units sold at the same time, thus additional profits in a single deal. The 23,000 iBooks deal with the Henrico Country schools in the United States is a prime example. Although 23,000 units embodies more than the typical organization-to-organization sale for Apple, it provides a glimpse of the difference between a single unit sale and a larger deal.

Therefore, who does Apple have to appeal to? Who does Apple have to seduce first in order to "bring home the bacon?" Should Apple give priority to corporate and educational customers who consumes hundreds or thousands of units per purchase, or should it give precedence to the individual who buys a new Mac about every three years?

Keep in mind that if you attempt to gain popularity with a specific category of buyers, you have to harmonize your sales, support and manufacturing policies and habits to those buyers' needs. You have to define what is likely to maximize your performance in the marketplace, and this is perhaps a fundamental basis that helps shaping products when they are still in their infancy stages. When Apple decides whether to put a video out port or not in a portable, when it determines if the next iMac will have a traditional 17-inch screen or a 15-inch LCD, and when it ponders the next design concepts, Apple keeps its (large) target markets in mind.

Although the typical individual Mac user has importance for Apple, there is no doubt that if the IT guys of a school district or the authorized buyer for a company knocks on the door, Apple is more likely to salivate at the potential sale and to make its products correspond with the demands of such eventualities.

Take the iBook as an example. It is sleek, small and well-designed. It is a very nice cross between the classic portable and the widely requested sub-notebook. It fits in a backpack and it is easy to handle. It delights the "rest of us" who could not justify the money required to acquire the Titanium PowerBook, but its form factor and hardware features was crafted in order to bring education sales. If Apple went ahead and produced a 23 000 units deal to schools before even announcing the product, its intent to lure the education market into buying the iBook cannot be a coincidence. It was absolutely imperative for Apple to design the iBook with education in mind. It is as simple as that.

Just for any other product, the new iBook can be sold to consumers and it certainly is a nice consumer product (If you are wondering: yes, I want one!), but it is rare the companies tailor a product so darn well, just for retail purposes.

The point? The lust for larger sales are more likely to weigh in the balance than the individual Mac user's needs and desires. This explains why many of us wonder "what is Apple thinking?!?" when it makes decisions that sound foolish to us. There are times when Apple makes blunders that oblige rectification, but usually, it would be a good thing for people to look at Apple's initiatives with a broad perspective rather than a personal standpoint.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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