Apple's New Status

Let's take a real look at where Apple stands today. This is my third recent Apple Status article, with my previous being Apple's Status and Apple Comeback. Unlike the other determiners which judge the whole computer industry in an "interesting" way, I can present some real problems and some real solutions. You don't have to take my word for it though, you can read up on what I wrote, and what later happened.

Yet again, my previous article was a success. In the text, I made sure to address Apple employees , which again read the page in good numbers. I'll want the same for this article as well, but do I really need to hit that as hard? I also mentioned the education market concern with Apple. In the recent news, we did see Apple take a stand on bringing the Mac to the educators. Actually, qualified education persons can pick up a leftover Power Mac G4 for $1221, but you certainly cannot buy in volume. An important point that I stressed was with the release of new products. I was concerned that when Apple released new Power Macs, the old ones would still be in great stock. We saw that with the release of the Gigabit towers. It was important that this problem should not occur again. I explained that a price drop may help, but the finances would take some flack. A few weeks later, we saw Apple drop its price on the G4, Cube, and PowerBook. This helped to move out the inventory, but amounts still remained in stock. Then of course, the new products were released. The high amount of sales in December helped, but the fact remained that so many people would have had to buy a new Mac to devour all of the inventory. Now, you can buy a leftover or a new release. Clearly, the sales on the new models are being hurt because some of those potential sales are going to the leftovers. This won't help Apple's current position, but the rut they were in was too deep to get out of in a short amount of time. They did, however, manage to dig out of it to some extent.

Another issue I addressed was the power of the Power Mac G4's. We simply needed to overcome the 500 Mhz barrier. It was finally done, along with some other cool features as well. Now we are at 466 and 533 Mhz, with the 667 and 733 Mhz coming soon. The built in 8x4x32 CD-RW drives are a great deal. They hold fast speeds, but not the industry's best, which is an overkill for some. It is interesting though that Apple decided to give DVD to only the top model. Did they find that average G4 users simply don't use the DVD feature? Speaking of DVD, the new mastering software and DVD-RAM drive is an amazing feature to add on to high level machines. Some larger hard drives were added, along with new (optional) graphics cards, and a rearrangement of ports. This all comes at a slight cost to the consumer, just $100 more.

Apple released its quarter numbers a little while ago. Many expected a loss close to $250 million and a good amount of inventory still in stock. Actually, after the figures were completely calculated and somewhat manipulated, Apple took a loss closer to $175 million. They seemed a bit surprised about how many machines they sold during December and even beat their inventory estimates by a few weeks. Still, the problem mentioned above remains.

Before the MW SF Expo, nearly everyone expect to see a new beefed up PowerBook, sporting a G4 inside. Apple did release the G4 PowerBook, but also included some very appealing features. The huge 15.2 inch screen blows away many PC laptops. The titanium case is quite neat looking; it is something that Apple went back to a straight and sleek look. On the titanium version, everything is under an inch thick (thin), and it is easy to look at. (Although, I'm a bit puzzled about how much actual titanium was put into the materials, as Apple claims 99.5%. Is that a coating or is it solid to the interior of the machines? How did Apple manage to get their hands on all that titanium?) The iBook on the other hand is curved in many ways. Perhaps Apple has done some research on their customer's thoughts. The prices of $2600 and $3500+ may scare off some PC users, but the Mac users will eat these up. Apple's failure to quickly get these machines on the market and into customer's hands is an issue. Why don't you just hang a piece of bloody meat above a shark and tantalize it? Apple needs to release the future products, which they have done here, and push them into the hands of consumers, which they have failed to do here.

So the iMacs as we know them are dead? They have reached the end of the line, or perhaps a rebirth. Today, a machine running at 350 Mhz is practically laughed at when a PC resides next to it and claims 1.5 Ghz. Sure, these speed comparisons are not totally true, but those numbers don't look good. So what can we look for when Apple introduces a new iMac or something to replace it? I don't see the new machines operating with a G4 processor. Think about it. These are in limited supply, and the entry level Power Macs start at 466 Mhz. Apple cannot have the iMac sizing up the new Power Mac. So the iMacs will probably sport a 500 to 700 Mhz G4 processor, and I would like to see 96 or 128 MB of RAM in the entry level machine. The hard drives should get a small boost since they are quite inexpensive today. Some CD-RW drives should be placed in the high end machines, but it's a bit difficult to see 17 inch screens in place of the 15 inch ones. If Apple changes the colors again, I'll have to laugh at all the third party accessories that were flavored to match. I could see the prices remaining about the same, starting at $800 and working up to about $1500. We'll have to keep a lookout for what Apple actually releases.

Another point at the Expo was that of Mac OS X. The launch date of it is March 24, 2001. Apple claims that it has a few more secret changes to the final release. The OS won't be included with new machines until July, and it can be bought for about $130. Let's pull back a bit on this picture. What year was it when you first heard of Mac OS X? It was indeed a long time ago. From what you knew at that time, you expected OS X to be a huge feat in the whole computer industry. Nearly everyone couldn't wait for the day it would become available, and to see what it was offering. The mystery and surprise of it has been broken. Has it been thought too highly of, and did people expect more than what it is? All the leaks about the OS and a public beta have given consumers a good taste of what it is. Now that we know what OS X is about, will it really be a great marvel in March? Will it be just another Mac OS to upgrade to? Perhaps OS X was too radical and Apple decided to ease the users into it. The public beta would do just that, and OS 9.1 is claimed to prepare users for OS X. With all the time that users thought about OS X, they expected more. Of course, Apple couldn't keep the whole project secret, as third party companies had to code their products to work with OS X. It will be a much needed feature when Apple includes some new and previously unknown features in OS X. Users should have something to bump them over the edge, and then they can go and pay more than they ever had before to grab OS X. (BTW Apple, I've got a question about OS X. Clearly, Mac OS X differs in title than from anything before, such as Mac OS 9.0.4. What will the updates to OS X be titled? Inevitably, it will need an update for some reason at some time. Do I see OS X.0.I or X.0.1 or what? Version upgrades could be easy, just OS X.V, but what about smaller upgrades? Anyone?)

There was a stir about how Jobs presented himself at the expo and also about Apple stores. When the important and large resellers listened to Jobs speak, they heard profanity along with harsh language. Sure, some of the resellers don't really care enough about selling the Mac machines, but there are resellers that do care, who are listening. Did Jobs have a much higher reason for his actions? He also claimed how the online Apple store dealt with about a third of all the Apple sales. Perhaps he sees that resellers just aren't upholding the quality that is needed to sell Macs. Perhaps he wants to offend them so that they will stop selling his products. This will allow Apple to handle all of the sales, insuring that quality to consumers is completely upheld. (This should get you thinking a bit.) The Mac only resellers would become extremely upset, as they would probably be out of business. The mixed resellers would probably be able to handle it, and some of them would applaud the end. Most corporations want to expand their product sale locations, not limit them. But, there are some quality businesses that strictly limit them. If you want to go buy a Porsche, do you go to your local car dealer? You go some distance to find a Porsche dealership, which may also sell Lamborghinis, Bugattis, or Hummers. When you arrive at a place like this, you do receive quality customer care. Those car manufacturers don't allow their cars to be sold at just any place, though there are various reasons for this. One of them is the quality experience they want their customers to have. This will satisfy them and bring them back, to buy again. Apple, if you play the situation correctly, you could parallel yourself with these car manufacturers. The opening of physical Apple stores will allow for more than just online orders, as customers can walk in and be pampered. If you want it done right, must you do it yourself?

A final point that I discussed in my previous article was about media exposure and advertising. The TV ads appeared to be displayed on very few channels, and the same topics were hit. Surprisingly, I saw more Apple ads on TV, mainly the PowerBook G4 edition. I even saw one of these run on the Discovery Channel (I looked twice as to what channel I was watching, then smiled). Perhaps Apple is getting the advertising act together, but it still could use some improvement. Here's what I would like to see fill the ad slot on TV. Have two tables set up on a simple background, a fast P4 or P3 on one, and a G4 on the other. On the PC, load Office 2001; on the Mac, load Office 2001 For Mac. Now run and test the programs and see which one gets done the same task in a shorter amount of time. Imagine it, a Mac running originally designed PC software faster than a PC with the software designed for it. (I've never tried or heard about these test results, but would hope the Mac would pull far ahead.) I don't know how this type of exposure would settle with Gates and MS. Perhaps they would cut the future development for Mac products or intentionally slow the processed code. Still, it would be a great ad that would surely raise some eyebrows.

Here I am again, concluding this most recent Apple situation. Perhaps, Apple will read it and discuss the issues along with the possible solutions. Perhaps, Mac users will ponder the thoughts and gain more knowledge from it. With this, we can pull together the Mac industry and boost Apple's market share. The stock price is cheap now, but the current forecast doesn't call for much immediate ascending. With the presence of new machines and new hardware, we should take back some of the computer industry in the short future.

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