An Open Letter to Apple

By on July 9, 2004

17inchimac.jpgAlex Salkever of Business Week has written an open letter to Apple’s Steve Jobs in a recent column that provides some interesting perspectives on where Apple should go next in terms of its computer business. Most of his points are awfully hard to argue with.

You’ve been to Target, right? You probably seen the terrific product designs such as well-known architect Michael Graves’ line of stylish housewares — offered a budget prices. Heck, Blue Light Specials at Kmart haven’t been the same since Martha Stewart’s line of kitchen gear, sheets, and towels hit the aisles several years ago. Dumpster-diving debutantes can’t get enough of them. Even sportswear designer Mossimo makes great threads for fiscal lightweights.

We’re in the era of cheap chic, Steve. And I have no doubt that Apple can play that game with the best of them. Give us a really cheap, really cool PC, and watch them fly off the shelves.

He also makes the case for selling iMacs without integrated monitors, and I hope that’s in the works for the next series of iMacs. I’ve decided to purchase a Mac later this year, and while the iMac displays are gorgeous, I tend to look at them as a barrier to switching when I have to pay to replace a perfectly good CRT that’s already sitting on my desk. I also cringe at the thought of what happens when the display gets along in years. Right now, you have to chuck the whole iMac and get another.

There’s a pretty big hole in Apple’s product line right now (even ignoring the missing iMacs) with the removal of the single-processor G5 from production. I’m a developer, and interested in a serious computer, so the iMac/eMac form factors don’t appeal to me much, due to the home user target and the integrated monitors.

On the other hand, the $2,000 starting price for a G5 is asking a bit much from a machine that, from my position as a PC user, is an unproven value. The way the refurbished single-processor G5’s are flying out of Apple’s refurbished section, I don’t think I’m the only person that’s in that boat.

I’m curious to hear from the Mac folks on how they see Apple’s position.



  1. The fact that these kind of points have been raised for the last 4 years yet apple still has roughly the same market share and still isn’t bust may make you wonder will apple change? also why does it need to change? selling macs without monitor, am i missing something about powermacs? i think apple wants to stay niche and stay away from the crowd, why would it want to sell lots of units at cheaper prices when it’s happy selling less units at higher prices? i dont know but im pretty sure apple will be around for quite a while as well as these articles posted by people who think they know better than a large corporations marketing group. Just my two cents.

  2. The article claims that Apple’s market share has fallen from 4.2% to 2.8% in the last two years, that their computer sales are stagnating, and that the iPod is their big seller right now. From what I’ve seen, Apple seems to offer a great desktop, and I’d hate to see that go on the back burner while all the R&D money shifts to music players and consumer electronics gizmos.

    (Again according to the article) Apple execs are suggesting that iPod sales will eventually drive more Mac sales, but that doesn’t really seem realistic. I didn’t buy a Honda because the made-in-Japan steering wheel cover I bought for my Jeep is so nice.

    As for the no-monitor thing, yes, the Power Macs have external monitors, but they start at $2K (Again, I think the single-proc G5 would fill a gap). I think the article is referring to making something iMac-like with an external monitor. I remember reading a rumor somewhere that this was in the works, and given the wind-down of the G4 production, I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out the new iMacs came in integrated display and external monitor flavors.

  3. I’ve always believed that a large part of the Apple mystique and a large part of the passion Mac users have for their machines is that they’re different. If suddenly the tables were turned and 95% of the world worked on Macs, the current die-hard Mac users wouldn’t be so fervent.

    A big part of the Mac culture is belonging to an elite club (a persecuted rebellion, if you will), and, truth be told, I don’t think they want everyone to join. They would rather stay apart, different, better, and then tell everyone how much cooler their stuff is. They don’t want everyone to go out and actually BUY one.

    Apple users’ passion for their machines is inversely porportionate to Apple’s market share. The less of the market Apple has, the stronger the attachment they feel to their machines and to the Mac community. Band together, boys! Rally round the flag! We’ll fight off the ignorant hordes!

    I think Apple has milked this perception. Think about it — Apple’s tag line for many years was “Think different.” For this to be true, Apple must stay in the minority by definition.

    I know this sounds like a slam, but it’s not. The Apple culture is very clique-ish, and I don’t mind saying that I want to join very badly. But if Mr. Moneybags saw that everyone in suburbia had a Mercedes in the garage, do you think he’d be happy with one? Or would he go buy a Rolls?

  4. I don’t think cliqueish is the right word, at least not on the community’s part. Almost without exception, every Mac user I’ve run into is more than happy to explain to you why they feel their Mac is worth the extra premium: easier to use, fewer problems, etc. If anything makes them an elite group, it’s the price. As a Linux user, I get the idea of running a non-Windows OS seeming like a smaller club, and I know what you mean by not wanting everyone to switch, but I think that overall, if everyone else were using Linux, it would only benefit me. There would be more software available, more product support, etc.

    As far as Apple is concerned, if given the option of having a few rabidly enthusiastic customers, or twenty times more customers, only a little less enthusiastic, I think that they (and their stockholders) would choose the latter.

    To use your car analogy, I think that Apple should try to take the Jaguar route. They went from being extremely exclusive, selling only a few thousand cars per year, to still having a brand that’s considered exclusive, but selling so many cars that there are even a dozen or so here in Sioux Falls now.

  5. “A big part of the Mac culture is belonging to an elite club (a persecuted rebellion, if you will), and, truth be told, I don’t think they want everyone to join. They would rather stay apart, different, better, and then tell everyone how much cooler their stuff is. They don’t want everyone to go out and actually BUY one.”

    I don’t see it way at all. Sure, Mac gear is cooler than most PC’s, but I don’t buy it for the snob appeal, I buy it because it works. Apple goes to great pains to make sure that the OS works with the hardware, and they engineer their hardware as well or better than any other PC manufacturer. They cost more, but you get what you pay for.

    Are Apple computers perfect? No way. And I don’t think anyone who has used a Mac would ever tell you they are. They can be frustrating at times, but the entire computing experience is much less of a frustration than what I see the average PC user going through — when I see all the crazy things Windows users have to go through to get things done — dll’s, bat files, registries, viruses, trojans, worms, hardware incompatabilities, etc… It’s all more than I want to deal with, and with a Mac I don’t have to. Again, Macs may cost more, but I see my time as valuable too, and the time I save in not having to deal with all the headaches I hear about from Windows users is worth more than what I’d save by buying a PC instead.

    Another thing I like about Macs is that the hardware ages well. The new G5’s are great, but very few people would really make use of a $2k+ G5. My paying job involves high-end graphics work, and most of it what I do now is on a 500MHz G4 PowerBook that I’ve been dragging around for four years. Could I be more productive if I had a faster machine? Sure. Do I want a faster machine? Absolutely! But the point is that my 4yr old laptop will run the same OS and apps as the newer/faster machines, and thus far there hasn’t been a compelling reason to get a newer/faster machine. If the $2k price for a G5 is too steep, a new G4 can be had for about half that, and most people would be hard pressed to tell the difference in performance between the two.

    I get the impression that most PC users feel that things can’t be any different than what they are experiencing, so they see Mac users as deluded fools, whereas Mac users see that things can be different, and choose not to deal with the frustrations of Windows. And if I had my way, there would be a lot more Mac users around.

  6. Well, one more is in the works. Is there realy not that much performance difference between a G4 and a G5, dave? What concerns me about the G4’s is that your only choice of video card is a Radeon 9000, which is pretty old, at least by PC standards.

    From what you’re saying, maybe it makes sense to go ahead and pony up for the latest and greatest, so you can get a few years out of it.

  7. My PC hardware is aging just fine too. I have a 1 GHz machine at home that I’ve been using for four years with no performance problems (unless you consider random, total, and complete freezing a performance problem…)

    There are several 800 MHz machines around the office here running Windows 2000 that as snappy as they need to be. I was running Linux on a 667 MHz machine the other night, and it was just fine.

  8. “Is there realy not that much performance difference between a G4 and a G5, dave?”

    I’ve had minimal time behind the wheel of a G5, so I can’t really answer that. The later G4’s are fast enough for normal tasks that faster may not mean much to most people. I think the place the G5 machines will shine — especially the dual processor machines — is tasks that are very processor intensive, like photo & video editing, gaming, etc.

    If you order a G4 through the Apple Store you can configure it with an Nvidia GForce Titanium for an extra $100. I guess it all depends on what you want to do with it, and if the extra video horsepower is important.

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