“By 2011, Apple will double its U.S. and Western Europe unit market share in Computers. Apple’s gains in computer market share reflect as much on the failures of the rest of the industry as on Apple’s success. Apple is challenging its competitors with software integration that provides ease of use and flexibility; continuous and more frequent innovation in hardware and software; and an ecosystem that focuses on interoperability across multiple devices (such as iPod and iMac cross selling)”
The reflection about the failures of others it’s directly aimed to Microsoft. In a political analogy, the incumbent presidents are the ones to lose elections.And apart from the recent “downgrade” riots where many users want to go back from Vista to XP, there’s something wrong with Microsoft’s strategy. A misalignment that is growing worrisome for the huge company, accustomed to not being able to detect trends at their beginnings. Let’s think about it.Why is people downgrading from Vista? It’s not because it’s ugly, it is not ugly enough for that, and XP wasn’t the most handsome kid on the block either. People are trying to avoid vista because it requires too much hardware, because takes too much resources to run, because it’s not as snappy as it should be.Think of it from the personal computer cluster’s viewpoint: additional requirements from OSes mean more opportunities to sell more advanced hardware, and thus a growing market. The more sophisticated OSes become, the more complex hardware is needed. And the different companies are, of course, happy to indulge and sell.But that’s not what users want. There are no new necessities covered. Applications are fancier, yes, but there are no new killer applications. In fact I still have to see an application that makes full use of Vista’s new graphics engine. Everything could still be done from XP, no transparent frames, true, but who cares?After seeing Vista, people still prefer to focus their hardware on a better working machine, not on a better looking but buggier one. And they look the other way round… to XP and sometimes Apple.That’s where Apple’s new market share comes from. In evolving their Mac OS X system they have not used the extra power inherited by Moore’s law to rejoice in extra-sophisticated graphics and a huge coverage of legacy systems. Instead they have used it to get snappier applications, providing a secure and limited environment, even excluding their oldest hardware from compatibility. Once their compatible hardware (yes, all of it PC compatible hardware) has been short-listed, they have focused on making it work better.And then they have favoured usability over trendiness (without forgetting the latter). Simplicity over a spree of hidden options, users’ needs over hardware providers’ needs.But that’s not the only thing going around.And there’s still another trend going on here: from more powerful portable computers to simple ones (that are still very sophisticated by the way) but focus on doing simpler things and rely on other machines and network capabilities. We will no longer need that huge hard drive in our laptop when we will be able to store and synchronise our files on-line. Or, as the MacBook Air does, we don’t need to have a DVD unit in our laptop if we are able to access other’s people DVD drives.And sometimes, as gadgets like Blackberrys, iPhones et al have demonstrated, we can do most of the things we are requesting from our laptops if we can have better screens, better connectivity and better input methods.Or with network shared utilities and storage, as well as web-based applications (look out for some Google office hardware soon). Those web applications will increasingly have the ability of working off-line and syncing when needed. That will mean less reliance on your “own” computer and easier usability of both shared and simpler devices.That’s three dilemmas identified in this post:
- Using the additional power to provide snappier applications versus fancier looks.
- Focus on support a limited list of hardware and make the most efficient usage of it or try to keep all users (and providers) happy paying a price on performance.
- Relying on shared and simpler net-powered devices or having your own computer the more powerful the better.
As I see, Microsoft has focused on the second options of the three dilemmas, while other companies, namely Google and Apple, have focused on the first. And it’s the first trend that, IMHO, will dominate. Users do not want or need complete overhauls of operating systems that are operating within normal parameters. Only a big leap ahead in productivity could justify a radical change. That’s not the present case.What users do need are incremental and continuous improvements to operating systems that enhance productivity, stability and security without adding unknowns and uncertainties. And Microsoft is not walking the proper path.Apple, without being that brilliant (Steve Jobs *is* brilliant indeed), is doing much better by comparison… better enough to reclaim part of the market share that the incumbent is going to lose. Try a Mac OS X and tell me 🙂