Apples Marketing Mojo: Readers Respond

 
 
By Matthew Rothenberg  |  Posted 2002-06-17
 
 
 

Apples Marketing Mojo: Readers Respond


If my excitement over Apple Computers recent spate of activity is delusional, it seems to be symptomatic of a mass psychosis—at least judging from the flood of responses my last column provoked.

In that installment, I took a look at Apples aggressive new advertising campaign aimed at Windows users as well as the companys latest steps to focus its sales and marketing to the education and server markets.

Combined with lively turnover in its hardware lines and the robust cross-platform standards on tap for this summers major rev to the Unix-based Mac OS X, I mused aloud that Apple might finally be on track to pick up a few points of market share—perhaps even within the long-forgotten enterprise. (The recent rumblings Ive gotten that Julys Macworld Expo/New York will finally see radically redesigned, mid-GHz pro desktop systems will immeasurably boost that industrial-strength appeal.)

Ive got a few reasons to be biased toward this scenario: My own household has made a significant investment in Mac gear, I still enjoy tracking the company and using its products more than the competition, and I happen to believe that Apples efforts contribute to a robustly heterogeneous OS ecosystem.

However, Microsoft is still the big predator in that environment, and it will continue to top the food chain for the foreseeable future, at least on the desktop. Wooing corporate and institutional customers beyond the graphics department wont be an easy task, as a variety of IT pros made painfully clear to eWEEKs Ken Popovich in a recent story about the Xserves enterprise prospects.

However, Im pleased at the enthusiasm voiced by eWEEK readers in the scores of e-mails I received over the past week. Many of them expressed well-founded concerns about Apples track record in supporting education customers (currently its largest institutional market) and about its ability to follow through on this new campaign.

Nevertheless, there seem to be plenty of cross-platform-savvy computer users who share my belief that the next 12 months could see Apple claim a significantly larger sliver of the PC pie.

Heres a small sampling of reader responses:

Im one of those Windows diehards/IT professionals who have migrated (at least in the notebook arena) to the Mac. Just a little over a year ago if I accidentally wandered into the Mac section of the computer store, I needed to almost rush home and take a shower! Little did I know that in just a bit over a year I would be addicted to one myself.

I probably would not have touched a Mac without it actually running Unix, a respectable, preemptive-multitasking OS. Apple has a good product. I wish they would see themselves between Linux and Sun-like OS in the marketplace. I dont want to hear from writers and graphic artists about Mac—give me the IT pros and "real" business people! The adds are a start, but theres a long way to go to not look like Macs are still adult toys.

Andrew A. Barzyk
Interface Computer Communications


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After viewing the "Real People" commercials as QuickTime movies, all I can say is, "Where was this in-your-face approach in 1984?"

I bought the original Mac 128 as soon as it was available. At the time, I was studying the SmallTalk language. The Macintosh embodied everything that was great about object-oriented architecture.

Now that I own 14 Macintoshes for my personal use, including Mac OS X on a new Titanium [PowerBook], I have never regretted making that initial purchase.

I have written code for mainframes, minicomputers, micros, fault-tolerant servers, parallel processors, PDAs, and smart-chip cards using MVS, multiple flavors of Unix and Windows. Only on a Mac do I spend all of my time developing instead of debugging.

It is about time that the simple fact is brought to the front. Gurus and neophytes alike hate the problems associated with Windows.

RJ Cummings
Phoenix


Xserves mission is less to deliver cutting-edge hardware than it is a counter to Microsoft in terms of server licensing. With no per-seat software licenses and no onerous schemes like the Software Assurance Program (a shakedown by any standard), Xserve offers superior value to a comparable W2K server, as well as roughly equivalent bang-for-the-buck in hardware performance and manageability.

I dont doubt that there will be some nibbling away from other Linux/Unix vendors at the low-to-medium end, but Suns products are designed and priced for a completely different market, and there is also a completely unique set of software for Solaris as well—these things dont run Office and Photoshop.

Apple is going after education and Big Science first and foremost; when Oracle releases that native version of 9i, and a few more key enterprise players line up behind it, then well see. (That being said, I wonder why theres no implementation of J2EE on OS X?)

There will always be IT buyers who insist on Big Honkin RISC Boxes with Ultra160 SCSI RAID, and migrating from an all-Solaris setup might be simple but not trivial. The trigger will be when key Solaris apps move to OS X en masse and Apple expands the Xserve line with its RAID offering and a series of Xserves to fill other market niches (quad-processor, more than 2GB RAM, onboard UltraSCSI RAID et al.)

A 42-high stack of Xserves might say "teraflop supercomputer" to some, but until Apple markets it as such—with a free rack, Gigabit Ethernet switch and clustering software, for example—Id say Suns high-end market is secure.

As for Apples new ad campaign, I think I echo a lot of readers when I say "About frickin time!" Now they need to back up this campaign with a series of interviews of people like [analyst] Tim Bajarin and some Forrester Research/Gartner Group types, quoting from their studies about how the Mac increases ROI—quoting some hard numbers, and specific examples of ease of use, much like that old "75 Reasons" document Apple had in the old days. ...

AJ Kandy
Design Coordinator
Marketing Department
Interstar Technologies Inc.


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Who cares what Sun thinks? I have one Sun Ultra 30, and hey, Sun should be king of Unix, the one doing Unix right. They have been working with it since the dawn of Sun, right?

Wrong. Solaris is very possibly more stable than OS X, and it perhaps runs better on SMP machines with oodles of processors.

But when it comes to getting things right, Sun is, despite its long lead, some steps behind Apple. I was surprised to find out that Solaris still enables telnet login by default, and that SSH is an optional install in Solaris 8. It should be the other way around, as in OS X. (They have sort of fixed this in Solaris 9—pretty late, if you ask me.

And their webjump installation program really is among the worst installation programs on any *nix today. Dont have a network cable connected to the Ultra 30 while starting a freshly installed Solaris 8? Oooops! Be prepared not to find any Ethernet interface, even if you try to add one via ifconfig.

What if you connect the cable to a hub? Ooops! Still no home Ethernet; you really need either to fiddle around a bit or reinstall.

What if you install Solaris on that Ultra 30 again, in another place with no router to the network, just an hub? Be prepared for the fun of having the installation program stall, since it really wants you to have a router out there somewhere. It can be fixed via some params to the installation program, but hey, should such thing happen these days?

In short, I really look forward to Apple getting into the drill and pushing Sun, because Sun sure needs some competition to get better. (Its ironic that Cobalt, owned by Sun, was started by ex-Apple veterans like Mark Orr.)

Orjan Larsson
Sweden


Somebody at Apple (probably Jobs) is finally saying "Lets enter these markets and compete and not worry about reprisal from the other players." Lets hope they are finally in a position to do so.

Now if they would write generic TWAIN drivers like they did for digital cameras (pre-iPhoto), all would be right with the world.

Doug Haker
Haker Design


Its about time. [The ads are] very good. However, Apple doesnt show the product!

Why not a brief glimpse of the iBook or iMac or TiBook at the very end? In the two-page print version, they show the computer in question. It wouldnt hurt to do so on the TV ads.

Peter Kline


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As a scientist (not an engineer) I can tell you that OS X has huge appeal in this small but possibly influential community.

The common expression "Its a Windows world" is amusing to me. My little world is a Unix world. When the organizers of a physics conference recently sent the program around as a Word document, the reaction was outrage. Unix geeks are often snobs regarding all non-Unix systems, including pre-OS X Mac and all Windows, as "toys." In my opinion theres a lot of truth in that. Also, we tend to buy our own hardware with grant funds and are independent of bureaucratic IT manager decisions.

Since science is a Unix world, and Mac OS X is a Unix system, it is now squarely in the mainstream. The combination of Unix plus the Apple GUI is much stronger than anything Microsoft can offer. I have already had one theoretical chemist colleague switch laptops from Linux to OS X and one theoretical physicist switch from Windows to OS X. I switched my lab from all SGI to a combination of Mac and SGI. Its nonsystematic, but I think Im seeing more and more TiBooks at scientific meetings.

Again, with the Unix orientation the competition to OS X is linux, not Windows. Since Windows is NOT entrenched in the scientific world, I think this is an area where OS X can really take off.

Tom Keyes
Professor of chemistry
Chemistry Department
Boston University


I am a longtime Mac user with a good, small local outlet from which Ive been buying computers since CP/M days. They used to do good business with local public and private schools here in the Philadelphia suburbs.

When Apple consolidated educational sales some years back, my dealer was no longer allowed to make educational sales. Only one dealer in the area, according to my sources, was allowed to make those sales. That meant that all smaller schools—even good-sized public systems—had to compete for attention with the Philadelphia public school system.

I am told that sales started down then and have never fully recovered.

If that timing is accurate—sales starting down when educational markets sales could only be made by specified outlets—then changing that part of the system seems an obvious starting place to change those sales numbers.

Within 10 to 15 miles of my office, there are more than 50 schools and colleges. For all practical purposes, most of them have nowhere to go for educational sales of Apple products. They wont get the time of day from a dealer that sells to the Philadelphia public schools. If I have been correctly informed, Apple really shot itself in the foot back in the pre-second-coming days, and nobody has recognized it yet.

The products are now far better than ever, and prices are more competitive, but the supply channel for education has to be as well prepared as the products.

I would be interested to know if my information was correct and if educational sales are still restricted. If so, Apples educational sales are not going to improve much. Someone has to have a vested interest in selling to the schools, but just making a product that suits them.

Nick Eiteljorg
Center for the Study of Architecture (CSA)


A few observations:

  • I think Apple is increasingly more solid in the consumer space and will continue to make inroads there. The new marketing campaign will help this, as will the fact that they have Unix underpinnings and cool (if expensive) hardware.

  • Despite Apples recent moves in education, I fear for the company in that space. Dartmouth Colleges recent apparent full-scale defection is a microcosm of Apples problem in education. However, there is some hope there. Microsofts licensing push with XP could possibly alienate schools, and Apples introduction of the eMac and Xserve, its PowerSchool [Web-based school-record tracking]—as well as the Mac OS—Unix core, could help turn the tide. Well see.

  • I await Apples inspired next marketing push: into the enterprise. But, again, I dont hold out a lot of hope in this space. I have been a longtime Mac and Windows user, and have watched over the years as companies have slowly but surely locked Macs out of the mix, even to some extent in the art departments. Unless Apple can shape a compelling message that would enable companies to slowly transition superior Apple products into the infrastructure, while slowly transitioning out Windows, or maintaining the two platforms indefinitely and relatively painlessly, they will have a hard road back to the enterprise.

    In any event, it will be fun to watch.

    Jim Cahill
    Principal technical writer
    RSA Security Inc.


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    You start off your column by suggesting that Apples recent announcements of new hardware might somehow get them above 5% market share, without mentioning that this would mean the totally unbelievable feat of doubling their current market share in a relatively short time.

    Then in the very next paragraph you go on to dream about getting their market share into "double digits", which of course would mean (though you again fail to mention it) another (totally fantastic) doubling of their market share from the dream world level that you previously postulated.

    This isnt journalism, and it isnt analysis; it is only cultism, pure and simple. You are nothing but another Apple cultist, and the very fact that you will deny this is only proof that you are sucked so far into the cult that you cant see it.

    Either that or you are a total fraud.

    Either way, not one that any rational person would pay any further attention to.

    You may "run" my e-mail as long as you do not include anything that would identify me or my email address in any way. I dont want to be hearing from a bunch of your fellow cultists.

    Name Withheld by Request


    Its going to be an interesting six months or so. Apple has been making all the moves that pundits and fans have been asking of them for years and going us one better in many areas. The question is whether this makes any difference or not. Is there any potential for real growth for Apple, or is the Wintel lock-in something permanent?

    I think the best thing they have done is focus on each market separately: informatics, film/multimedia, education, Unix, developers, servers, home and now "switchers." They seem to have a coherent set of tools and a marketing plan tailored for each group.

    On the negative side, there are some speed issues on OS X combined with the lagging G4 development. However, evidence is accumulating between various hardware and software buyouts that Apple is seriously targeting the professional video/film market, which requires more horsepower than just about anything else. If they come out with a killer video coprocessor, address some of their audio deficiencies, and get either Motorola or IBM to provide them with an accelerated G4/G5 ramp, just about any criticism will be void.

    But what if they do all of these things and still fail to grow the platform? What if Dell continues to low-ball their way through all of Apples education market? What if Windows entropy and the IT bureaucracy continue to slowly weed Macs out of the corporate marketplace? What if USB 2.0 kills off Firewire? All these things are possibly beyond Apples control, no matter what they do. So the next six months will tell, I think, whether Apple has control of its own destiny or not. They are making all the right moves—its up to the marketplace to say whether its enough.

    Mark Stewart


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    Apple is showing a bolder marketing strategy not just because they must expand their market share but also because they finally have the pieces in place to pursue that goal.

    For the first time in a decade, Apple has an operating system competitive with almost anything else, in terms of usability; stability; and perhaps most important, potential. This is not to say that OS X can match Windows in all respects, particularly when it comes to Microsofts many back-office technologies and vast developer base. But as someone who uses both platforms, OS X is excellent and solid. In addition, Apples hardware is more reliable than ever before and displays a creativity that is sorely absent elsewhere.

    Further, Apple is showing a prudent strategy of picking fights in verticals and niches where it stands a good chance of success. The companys recent acquisitions in high-end compositing products suggests that Apple is looking to build market share in the film and television production industries, like it has in advertising, graphic design and apparel design.

    While the assertion of Ken Popovichs well-balanced article, "Apples Xserve to Face Tough Sell" is that Apple will have a big challenge in penetrating enterprise computing, I really wonder if that is Apples main strategy. A case in point: Apple is openly wooing Windows users with its new advertising campaign. But I sense that their expectation is not to win over the core Windows user any more than the company can expect to win over the hearts and minds of passionately pro-Windows IT managers.

    Core Windows users are as passionate about their OS as Mac zealots are about theirs. Instead, I suspect that there is an outer fringe of Windows users who are far more ambivalent about Windows and potentially more receptive to Apples marketing messages. In a similar vein, I suspect that Apples true target for Xserve is in market niches where it has an equal chance: education, video production, scientific research, high-end graphics, and corporate marketing and advertising departments.

    With respect to the IT enterprise, perhaps Apples new slogan might be "Think Humble." I have to believe that Apple understands that the IT enterprise will be a very tough sell. The company is a late entrant to a highly competitive marketplace for rack-mount servers, where Windows and Linux are already deeply entrenched.

    It will take time for Apple to prove that, finally, its commitment to the enterprise is serious and steadfast. Instead, my hunch is that Apple is doing this in part to ensure that corporate penetration of their desktop products and software will continue.

    Brian Teeter
    Communications Manager
    HNC Software Inc.
    Irvine, Calif.


    Mac veteran Matthew Rothenberg is online editor for Ziff Davis Medias Baseline and CIO Insight magazines.

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