Now That The Dust Has Settled, What's Next For Apple?

The news regarding Apple has fallen somewhere short of positive lately. The company is poised to absorb their first quarterly loss in years, the high end computers are still embarrasingly slow, at least when measured by MHz, and there are about two and a half months worth of computers that nobody wants clogging up the retail channel.

All of this you have heard before. Cries of Appleis impending doom can once again be heard echoing across the Web, and, honestly, it has me a bit worried.

Apple has always been a company that has lived under a rather intense, and often distorted, microscope. People have been contending for years that the iMac was a fluke, and the company would be hard pressed to follow up the success of their candy colored little machine. The iMac canit live forever, can it? Well, apparently, the answer to that question is, "No, it canit." As wonderful a machine as it is, the design has become a bit long in the tooth, and the novelty of the machine has worn off. Perhaps more importantly, the price/performance ratio is now out of whack with offerings from the Wintel side of things. Yes, I know that the Power PC is faster and I know that the built in 15" display is gorgeous. However, there are a number of companies and a greater number of ignorant CompUSA sales people that think otherwise, and are doing their best to get that point out to the computer buying public.

With all of these things going against Apple, where is the company headed? What, in Steve Jobsi name, are they going to do?

The biggest problem Apple faces right now is having bucket loads of slow hardware that nobody really wants. And, it doesnit look like it is going to get any better any time soon. It is our best guess that MACWORLD SF will be the staging point for some type of new hardware releases. However, unless oodles of people decided that they want to buy a current Mac over the next month, that introduction is only likely to compound the problem. Granted, all signs indicate that we will see an underwhelming speed boost of only 100MHz, putting the high end G4 at 600MHz, or dual 600MHz. Big freakini deal. A hardware announcement of that calibre will only magnify Appleis inability to make machines with true top-of-the-line technology. Now, we fully expect Jobs to wrap all of this with a shiny red bow, and say how these Macs are a better value because they now come standard with CD-R drives, and probably more RAM and a bigger hard drive. But the fact will remain that MHz for MHz the machines are laps behind what the Wintel world is offering.

Furthermore, introducing new machines, complete with the expected bells and whistles, is going to mean that nobody, and we mean nobody, would want one of the machines currently sitting in your local CompUSAis stock room. Jobs has already said that he wants to minimize the duration of Appleis struggles, and hopes to clear eleven weeks worth of inventory in half that time. Our own Bryan Chaffin thinks that might bode well for the consumer, and if successful, help Apple out of this quagmire quicker than anybody thought. Only time will tell.

The real wild card in all of this is OS X. Nobody, likely not even King Jobs himself, knows exactly when the final version of OS X will be available. Some people think MACWORLD (we are not among them), others claim an Apple Event in February (reportedly on a Saturday, also unlikely), while still otheris point to Mayis World Wide Developeris Conference. While the release date remains a mystery, one thing regarding OS X has become increasingly more clear over the last month; OS X is the future of Apple. Not just from a usability standpoint, but from a business perspective as well. At first, it seemed those "Power Users" that wanted to adopt the new OS could do so, and Apple would patiently wait for the rest of the world to catch up. At this point, however, that strategy seems doomed to fail. Apple needs a critical mass of OS X "native" applications for the OS to really thrive, but developers need critical mass of users to justify the time and expense of writing OS X apps.

How would you like to be in a board meeting in Cupertino while Jobs and his advisors try to hash this one out? Not me, thanks.

Am I forecasting Appleis demise? Certainly not. However, there are obstacles of a stature and complexity not seen since the return of Jobs that face the company. Nobody is sure how it will turn out, but MACWORLD SF will offer the first clues, and weill see if Jobs still has a few rabbits left in his hat. It is our bet he does.