More iBlasphemy

Steven den Beste goes once more unto the breach and talks
about why Apple is still in trouble
. Granted, Apple has been in trouble before, and perhaps even in worse shape then now, but the future for Apple still isn’t very rosy. (Now I know there will be Mac faithful who will bite my head off for saying this, but that’s where the evidence is pointing.)

The Mac platform isn’t moving beyond 5% market share for some fairly basic reasons: price, performance, and compatibility. Price is one of the big reasons. I can go to my local computer shop and have a custom built Athlon XP 2100 running at 1.7gHz with 256MB of DDR-RAM, a GeForce 2MX 400 with 128MB of video memory, a DVD-ROM, a CD-RW, and 40GB hard drive for about $800. If I go to Gateway or Dell, it’s about $200-$300 more. An Apple similarly equipped will run me a little less than twice that price. That’s a huge difference to Joe Computer User, and that’s why even though Macs are targeted at beginning computer owners, they’re not being bought by beginning computer users. Even with the extra features like the SuperDrive, unless I have a FireWire camcorder, don’t make up for the extra cost. The fact is, even if Macs are insanely great, unless the costs go down by half, they’re not competitive with PCs. The reason why that isn’t going to happen: Apple manufactures everything, and they can’t cut the costs much more without killing their profit margins.

Performance is another big issue. The "megahertz myth" is a load of crap. An 800mHz PowerPC G4 is simply smoked by an Athlon XP that costs the same but runs at over twice the clockspeed. The fact is, as Steven den Beste noted, Motorola can’t compete with Intel/AMD. There’s going to be a time when Apple is going to have to jump to x86 or find a new company to manufacture PowerPC chips. Even though Macs are more or less compatible with a lot of PC technologies, there’s only one motherboard manufacturer. Apple’s R&D, even though they’ve come up with some great pieces of technology, just can’t compete with the PC motherboard manufacturers who keep turning out innovations left and right. It’s that constant competition that means that the PC world continues to evolve while the Mac world hasn’t changed much since the release of the G4. That cycle of overpriced and underforming hardware means that the great technology in OSX doesn’t have a chance to shine like it should. Even a new iMac strains under the weight of too many unaccelerated graphics routines in OSX than PC video drivers do in hardware.

Compatibility is less of a problem, but still one that’s out there. Mac users as lucky that Microsoft still makes a version of Office for Mac that’s often better than the PC versions. Entourage kicks Outlook’s sorry ass by a wide margin, and the Office for OSX suite has stuff that even Office XP lacks. Even though I could probably do most tasks I commonly do on PC with a Mac, the lack of development is one concern. I can’t go down to my local Best Buy and get the same kind of software selection that I do for PC. Granted, I live fairly close to an Apple Store where I could get a pretty good selection of software, but until Apple really starts getting the attention of developers, Mac users just don’t have the same choices as PC users in terms of applications and drivers.

Apple’s made one smart move by allowing the iPod to work with PCs, and perhaps it’s a sign that they’re slowing moving over to the PC market. OSX, if it could be modified to support the x86 architecture and get PC driver support, would be a great competitor to Windows. Apple could easily continue to make their own brand of computer, especially if they subcontracted the board and chipset to another company under strict quality control measures. If Apple wants to tie their future to the PowerPC architecture, it will only be an albatross around their neck.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I want Apple to succeed. I’m seriously thinking of buying an iPod, and if iBook prices dropped a few hundred, I’d probably pick up one myself. I don’t want to see the PC world be controlled exclusively by Microsoft. But on the other hand, I’m a realist. Apple’s stuck with 5% marketshare, and that’s not enough to keep them viable forever. Unless Steve Jobs and company are willing to take a chance and drop the PowerPC architecture, that 5% marketshare is all that they’ll be able to get.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.