Okay, it’s time once again for me to take off my reporter’s hat and put on the opinion-editorial beanie.
Many analysts and media folks have been singing Apple’s praises for the new iMac, iPhoto, iPod and Mac OS X, but one voice of dissent is coming from Business 2.0’s Eric Hellweg. Hellweg just posted an article called Trouble at Apple’s Core. Please don’t click on the link, by the way. Why give such a blatant piece of flame-bait the traffic?
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Responding to the excited and enthusiastic response to Apple’s new products that seem to grace many chat rooms and other sources of tech-talk, Hellweg posited, “Apple’s current sense of well-being may be the delusions of warmth that hypothermia victims feel shortly before slipping away.”
This obviously explains why Apple has a US$4.4 billion war chest and some of the healthiest profit margins in the business, the new iMac not withstanding. Yup.
Unfortunately, that’s about the nicest comment this guy has to offer. The rest goes downhill from there. Hellweg calls Apple’s business strategy a “Bauhaus fantasy,” obliquely referring to the company’s small marketshare. He says that Steve Jobs wants to keep Apple small, and rants about Amelio-age comparisons made between Apple and luxury automobile makers as “arguments that fall flat.”
Hellweg also said the new iMac will cannibalize Power Mac G4 sales — a suggestion that Apple CFO Fred Anderson flatly refuted during a question and answer session with analysts following a conference call last week. Anderson cited various differences in the architecture of the Power Mac G4 and the new G4-based iMac, including expandability, bus speed, memory speed, Level 3 Cache and more. There seems to be very little doubt from certain quarters of the Mac camp that Apple’s on the verge of introducing an updated Power Mac G4, anyhow.
Clearly, Hellweg also totally disregards Apple’s retail strategy, summarized by the slogan “5 down, 95 to go.” (The reference is to Apple’s marketshare, which Hellweg insists is more like 4.5 percent.)
Apple opened 27 retail stores last year and plans to open more in 2002. The stores are focused on opening up Wintel users’ horizons to what the Mac has to offer by showcasing not just Mac software and hardware, but showing how Macs offer solutions to real problems that non-Mac users have to suffer with, like editing digital video and music, cutting CDs and DVDs, accessing the Internet and more.
No, from Hellweg’s perspective, Apple must do two things to help gain market share — improve network compatibility (umm … hello?) and move away from the PowerPC microprocessor. In fact, Hellweg managed to find an analyst that shares his delusions.
“Don’t be alarmed: That whistling noise you now hear is the sound of steam escaping from MacAddicts’ heads,” said Hellweg. I’m not quite sure why Hellweg finds it necessary to denigrate us as a population, but it surely adds to the perception that he may be an anti-Mac bigot.
Why Intel instead of Motorola? It’s apparently all about the marketing muscle of the dominant CPU maker, rather than any technical reasons. Apple should go Itanium because Intel’s marketing budget is bigger than Motorola’s, suggested Hellweg.
Now, does anyone who actually uses Macs for a living seriously think that things are going to be any easier or better if Macs were using Intel processors, even from a marketing standpoint? Last time I checked, Intel’s ubiquitous television ads don’t actually specify which computers use them. It’s all about brand identity. The only upside I can see to such a move is that we’d finally have Blue Man Group pushing something related to Mac hardware, on which they already depend backstage. Well, I’d prefer Blue Man Group to those big-eyed grey aliens who start disco-dancing every time a Pentium 4 chip is dropped into one of their anal probe devices.
Besides, numerous benchmarks show that Motorola processor-equipped Power Macs still pull ahead of Intel hardware for various graphics-related functions that most Mac pros rely upon to do on a daily basis. And regardless, dropping an Intel-based chip in a Macintosh tomorrow isn’t going to magically make Macs compatible with Windows software — it’d just really badly muck up an operating system strategy that’s finally starting to see some benefits, almost one full year into its release.
If Hellweg’s ignorance of the Mac market wasn’t clear enough already, he completely loses credibility when he next tells readers that Macs can’t easily network with PCs. Where does he get this brilliant nugget of info? From the same analyst who told him that Macs need Intel chips to survive, of course.
“To this day, it’s far more difficult to plug an Apple computer into a Windows network environment than it is to plug in a comparable Windows machine,” said Hellweg.
Huh. I did systems management in heterogenous environments for more than half a decade, and I never found it particularly difficult or awkward to get my PCs and my Macs talking together. I did, however, run into occasional resistance from IT staff of other persuasions that didn’t believe Macs could be used for what we needed them to do — convictions that would change after I showed them otherwise. In fact, for years Microsoft has made software available for their servers that enable Macs to talk with them. Macs have run TCP/IP — the world’s most widespread networking protocol, and the backbone of what makes the Internet work — for many, many years as well.
He alleges that the educational market is fleeing the Mac platform in droves because Macs simply “won’t plug into the Microsoft backend.” (A keen observation seemingly disproven by actual market data.)
While there is software that Macs won’t run without an emulator like Connectix’s Virtual PC, networking isn’t the major issue. In fact, Hellweg seems to be living sometime in the last decade, when system managers said that Macs running AppleTalk were too chatty for their networks or couldn’t operate without messing up servers and other clients. Like I said before, it’s nothing that a little education won’t fix. No pun intended.
In fact, multiplatform networking on the Mac is better than it’s ever been with Mac OS X, which is now the default operating system in new iMacs. Since 10.1 was released, users of Mac OS X have been able to connect with AFP servers over AppleTalk, which enables them to connect to older AppleShare and Windows NT servers. Windows NT, Windows 2000 and SAMBA-based file servers working in UNIX are all natively supported with Mac OS X’s built-in SMB client, too.
“Coming off the Macworld high, these are grim facts for Apple to face. Jobs deserves all the credit he has received for ‘saving’ Apple when he returned to the company in 1997. But it may be time for someone else to come onboard to save the company from Jobs. The looming question that Apple shareholders and employees should ask themselves is, What happens when the iMac wave crests?” queried Hellweg.
Someone is high here, but I don’t think it’s Apple.