Apple Likes to Play with Fire

Itis a well-known and painful fact that Apple elected to drop FireWire from the new aluminum MacBook announced October 14. While many have suggested that Apple was just being fashionable or out of touch with customers, something else altogether is happening.

There are lots of ways to characterize Appleis decision: the decline of FW400, space/cost on the motherboard and external connectors, corporate arrogance, however, I see the move as a tendency by Apple to firmly but gently dictate its product profile in the market.

Aluminum MacBook, Late 2008

Unlike the PC business in which vendors are locked into long term agreements with the government and large corporations, Apple steadfastly retains for itself the unique privilege of defining its product spaces for the perceived good of itself and its customers.

As a result, when a semi-professional photographer is annoyed that she can no longer use her FireWire camcorder with a MacBook, Appleis response, if it wanted to verbalize it, might be something like "Do you really want to be earning a living on a non-Pro product just to save a few bucks?"

Nikon is a company that asks its customers the same implicit question.

Storage is a trickier issue. Personally, I have a couple of very small bus powered FireWire portable drives, but one is FireWire 800 + USB2. I havenit used a desktop LaCie FW400 drive in years, and its data has been moved to more modern FW800 drives. What I suspect is that because 50 percent of the people who are buying Macs in the Apple retail stores are Switchers, and they came from a USB world, Apple can confidently define a personal MacBook for education and non-professional use as a USB-centric computer.

In contrast to those who think Apple is out of touch or just pushing FW400 into the past for the sake of being progressive, I believe that Apple subtly tries to make clear cut branding decisions that percolate into the Mac universe. In this case, many of those people whoive made heavy investments in FireWire 800 (and 400) storage are professionals or high end users and should be using Appleis professional-grade equipment. Theyill be happier with the graphics, screen size, and processor speed for heavy-duty scientific, visualization, video and other tasks.

This is a conscious product positioning move that only Apple can make because no other company (save Psystar for the time being) competes with Apple Macs. It has the added advantage of nudging Appleis MacBook line revenue up just a bit, but I see that as a fallout, not a prime motivation.

I suspect that Apple did some market analysis to support the decision to make sure that the MacBook would continue to appeal to the right kind of audience. In any case, as Iive mentioned before, FW400 is a dead or dying technology. When something like that happens, Appleis response is to force (or nudge, depending on oneis viewpoint) its customer base into a technically desirable direction with product positioning -- in this case, MacBook vs. MacBook Pro.

A lot of people havenit liked it and will continue to keep complaining about it, but thatis how life in the Apple universe goes.