9 July 2008

Goodbye Microsoft, Hello Apple

This week's charts and stats are showing an interesting potential shift in many markets. Especially of interest is the forward motion of Apple.

It seems that in the wake of Vista unhappiness many computer users are turning to Apple's Mac platform as the alternative. This is only a minor shift at the moment, but it may be just for the moment.

If Apple play their cards right they could finally crack the market with the old business model of everything built to work together.

With their cut-throat approach to platform changes and OS iterations, Apple are putting a very risky play out that could just tip the game.

There's a lot to this, so bear with me. First of all Microsoft's fumbles. Starting with, in my belief, Windows Me. This set the pattern for operating system's that make no business or end-user sense and are provided purely as a marketing ploy - the cash machine.

This could also be said of Windows Vista. Compare that with the business model of Apple's OS X - one price and one size fits all. And I have to be honest: in the case of an operating system, that's what we want!

I hate choices. I hate it even more when those choices are attached to a sliding-scale price plan, especially where I can't mix and match features to my hearts' content. That's why the 'everything for everyone' plan will work.

Secondly: security. Now I know there's a lot of for and against. I do believe that market share is a factor. But when it comes to the punters, the "facts" are all too simple: Macs don't get viruses. They get attacks and they have vulnerablities, but the problems faced with Windows XP and even those uncovered in Vista have hit Microsoft hard. If Apple can convince enough people that their OS is better, they will change.

Apple faces a few challenges. They've overcome a lot to get here, especially the switch to Intel CPUs, but there are more. One: user interface. For new users this won't be a problem. For 'switchers' (or traitors as some would say), this is ever so slightly complicated. It doesn't mean that they have to change their ethos, who says their way isn't better? It simply means more effort needs to go into training. This I can already see happening.

Two: listening to customers and developers. Don't make the same mistakes as Microsoft! Developing what we really want and need is more important to us than developing what you think we should have. Consumer power will speak and will win out!

Three: pricing and customisation. I'm sure a large number of consumers are put off by the pricing of Apple's superb hardware. I won't argue the pricing because I truly believe you get what you pay for, but that doesn't do anyone any favours.

A case in point is the MacBook laptop. To all intents and purposes, this is Apple's entry-level laptop. But it beats all other entry-level laptops on the market. These entry-levellers are the meat and potatoes of recent computer sales. They make up a huge portion of revenue for the major players because they are well-priced and perfectly suited to the needs of many Joe Users.

Although, saying that, the standard life of such machines is now down to probably no more than 18 months. However, because Apple maintains a high standard with its components, their life expectancy is considerably longer, so effective cost is probably lower overall.

I'm not necessarily suggesting that Apple separate hardware and software. It worked for Microsoft, but only up to Vista when it became entirely dependent on a basic, but somehow unagreed minimum standard. The Apple approach could prove to be a winning method in the end. I would though like to see perhaps another couple of tiers in their product offerings. This would boost sales and market share without scrimping on usability.

If Apple can do these things right, I am absolutely confident that we will see a dramatic acceleration in their market share. Backed with devices that people enjoy to use (such as iPod and iPhone) and first rate support (which perhaps isn't quite there yet), Apple has a very good chance at taking over the market completely.

But, I hear you say, what about Microsoft in all of this? Well they're not going anywhere anytime soon. Their methods and software are deeply entrenched in our consciousness and our world. And Apple have almost stopped trying to battle their market share of various products, choosing instead to adopt them - Office is well and truly a Mac product now and even Windows can run natively on the hardware.

With this acceptance, Apple stands poised to be the best of both worlds. This goes even further, especially for enterprise deployment, with support for Exchange across its range. Already there on iPhone 2.0 and pencilled in for "Snow Leopard", Exchange support is winning over major corporates. Once enough of the major players switch that will be all Apple needs for full-scale world domination... and to give itself a little bonus for its troubles.

The benefits? The fusion of platforms and Apple's drive to keep pushing forward (even if sometimes at the expense of its loyal supporters) will drive unification like never before. Apple's innovations will become mainstream and we'll all see how simple things could have been. And just hopefully they'll keep one arm round us and make it a gentle ride.

So the decision comes... who will you support? Me? I'm going to buy a Mac first chance I get! Not because I hate Microsoft (because I don't) but rather because I want unification and to be part of the future.

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