Does Apple Have PC Envy? (or Netbook Envy?)

Tuesday May 5th 2009 by Rob Enderle
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Apple's excess focus on Microsoft is causing the company to lose ground even as Google is ramping up to undermine Apple on the way to its ultimate goal of displacing Microsoft.

Watching the latest Apple commercials you have to wonder if Steve Jobs is really coming back. Microsoft is actually running a better campaign (how often does that happen?) that mostly uses real people (one actress got in) who are making real decisions and talking about why.

The word lame keeps coming up for most of Apple's new spots, which often happens when you run something too long. They seem to be excessively focused on PCs, much like Sun was excessively focused on Microsoft (and we know how that worked out). And while the result in both cases was better Microsoft products – and in this case, better PCs – you have to wonder if Apple management is drifting to Scott McNealy level stupidity.

I think they are showcasing that there really is something called "PC Envy." Apple has it bad. It’s either that, or Steve is truly gone and those left really can't run things.

Given that the last time we surveyed the Apple base we discovered it was far from young and trendy and tended towards old and retired. You'd think they might want to focus less on Microsoft and more on getting younger users.

In addition, Apple seems to be under the mistaken impression that they are losing market share to Microsoft again. And while this is partially true, Microsoft isn't particularly happy about this situation either, because it's likely the lower margin Netbooks that caused the move.

Let's talk a bit about Apple's PC envy – and why it is likely to bite them in the butt when Windows 7 and Android Netbooks launch later this year.

Apple's PC Envy

It must be tough for Apple fans right now. Their technology god, Steve Jobs, is out and may never be coming back.

Instead of talking about things that are new and different with the Mac products, Apple seems to be in a loop of pointing out either phony faults with Windows, or faults that have been corrected months if not years ago.

They don't seem to be able to come up with anything truthful, new, or different when it comes to even bashing Microsoft. And while this is great for Microsoft it is increasingly making Apple look, again, Scott McNealy lame.

Sun did this for over a decade. As they drop into oblivion as a company it is good to remember that, while they did do Microsoft damage, they also ensured their premature demise. Sun customers were known to ask, after a Scott McNealy event, "We get that Microsoft sucks, but what is it you offer?"

Since Sun, there isn't another company in any market that seems so fixated on their competitor as Apple. It creates the impression that they are scared to death of Windows 7. Evidently for good reason. I've been running Windows 7 in beta since June and it actually has run better than Leoptard , er, Leopard initially did after it was released (right that is Apple's beta).

How Apple Made Windows 7 Better

Apple gets a lot of credit for making Windows 7 better than it likely would have been. By constantly bombarding Microsoft's founders and employees with messages while using a surrogate for Bill Gates that made him look stupid, Apple provided motivation to these people that I doubt anyone else could have done.

Think about it. Remember in the Olympics when the French relay team trash talked the US swim team, suggesting they didn't have what it took? It just focused the US swim team and Michael Phelps went on to win a massive number of gold medals.

By picking on Microsoft over and over again, not only did Microsoft work to make Vista better (patching virtually everything Apple complained about) but they took Windows 7 to a whole 'nother level. It's faster, more secure, less annoying, more backwards compatible (some versions even run a full virtual machine), and it will be a native 64-bit installation on the vast majority of hardware.

Next page: Apple Motivating the PC OEMs

Apple Motivating the PC OEMs

Apple didn't just piss off Microsoft, either. They have all the PC OEMs in a massive race to see who can create the best looking product at the most affordable price.

The PC OEMs already build a more reliable product, as this widely circulated user video comparing a MacBook Air to a Lenovo X301 showcases. Each one first competing to be the first to say "Hey Apple you can kill my …" at first and not focused like lasers on each other to make sure no other OEM does it better than they can. And for the first time in over a decade the PC OEMs are in lock step on the Windows 7 launch.

This design focus has already had an impact. For instance in this month's consumer report, for the first time I can recall, a non-Apple All-In-One computer took the top spot, and it was from Dell.

Without Apple constant nagging I doubt that would have been the case.

In addition, many of these firms are looking at matching Apple with Smartphones touting next generation designs coming from HP, and even Dell is thinking about getting into this mix. Though it is RIM, Palm and Google they really have to worry about.

By doing this campaign, and doing well in the market, Apple has placed concentric circles around its products and brand and the PC guys are taking aim.

Where they are already hitting hard is with Netbooks.

Netbooks: Apple's Blind Spot

The big change we will be seeing over the next several months is with Netbooks and not just those from Microsoft. Google is in test with several of the big OEMs and one is already apparently working on an enterprise version of the product.

Lenovo is supposedly working on a ThinkPad Netbook offering that will likely have technology like a TPM and biometric fingerprint reader for security and centralized management back end to make it all work. Initially most players will be based on Windows 7 and Windows XP, but Google Android is coming – and Google plans to really stir the pot.

This last is kind of interesting. Because of all the cell phone platform vendors Google is actually the closest to Apple in the market. And they are already prepping their second generation hardware to go against the third generation iPhone.

Google already has nearly as many developers as Apple does and, with a number of hardware vendors ramping up (including HTC, Motorola, and Samsung on record) they will have a wider choice of phones on the market about the time that the latest generation of iPhone launches.

Recall that Sun's excess focus on Microsoft made them miss the Linux wave that slowed Microsoft's growth but obliterated their UNIX based market. Google is attempting to build a platform that has Apple's user experience and Microsoft's multi-hardware vendor approach.

In effect the first vendor that Google will be applying the "embrace, extend, and extinguish" model to isn't Microsoft, its Apple. And this probably won't end well for Apple unless they wake up and smell the roses.

Does Oracle Buy Apple?

Apple's excess focus on Microsoft is causing them to drift towards Sun's model at a time when Google is ramping up to move into the market and possibly take Apple out on their way to their ultimate goal of displacing Microsoft.

This could repeat the Linux attack on Microsoft which, while not intending to take UNIX out, had that result even though the initial Linux effort was supposed to be targeted at Windows.

Apple needs to get over its PC envy, find a way to respond to the Netbook, PALM, and Google threats, and figure out how to survive without Steve Jobs. It faces an event like it hasn't seen since the Windows 95 launch, a Windows platform that is vastly improved, better marketed, and comes at a time when Steve Jobs may no longer be able to function in his traditional role.

In short, they need to go back to reminding people why they should want a Mac before Oracle buys them (they tried before), and shuts them down, too. Granted, Larry is probably one of the few people that might be able to replace Steve Jobs so this might not entirely be a bad thing. But I have a hard time believing that the Apple fan base would be particularly happy with this outcome.

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