The Mac Market Share Reality

In an article a day or two ago, I discussed the real Mac market share myth – that market share doesn’t matter.

In this article, I (how arrogant can you get) will offer the first step to a solution to the problem of the Mac’s declining market share. The first step, as always, is to put your finger on the real problem.

This issue has been pretty intensely discussed in the Mac online media lately, with a variety of solutions from cutting prices to headless (no monitor) consumer Macs being proposed.

Many of these are good ideas, but they start from an assumption: Macs are too expensive.

This is not necessarily a wild and crazy assumption, and it may be an assumption that makes sense to most tech-savvy people, but it is an assumption. And I think it’s the wrong one – at least the wrong one to use as your starting point.

Why? There’s another problem – one that’s farther up the food chain. One that causes the high price issue, that has a direct bearing on the market share issue, and that must be addressed BEFORE any of the others. And what is it?

Simple. Aesthetics.

Yes, that’s right. Drop your jaw all you want. Apple’s major, defining, Achilles-heel problem is aesthetics. It also happens to be Apple’s key strength, but that’s how life (and business) often works. The one thing that makes you strong is, from another perspective, your greatest weakness.

What I mean by this is simple: under Jobs, Apple’s first priority is aesthetics – in all its ramifications. Whenever new product X is being considered, these types of questions are asked:

  • what does it look like?
  • how does it feel?
  • what’s the packaging?
  • what’s the story?
  • is it elegant?
  • how does it work with other apps?

Everything from the site to the product to the container to the shipping box to the instructions to the user guide to the interoperation with other applications is designed to offer up an incredibly sculpted, unified, and delectable offering on the altar of the end user’s aesthetic sensibilities.

And Apple does an incredibly good job at this (possibly, according to some, even to the actual detriment of usability). And don’t we Apple fans love it.

But. But. But.

This emphasis and concentrated focus on aesthetics and elegance has its cost. And the cost comes in a variety of ways.

One is actual cost of goods to Apple. When you must create a masterpiece, you must spend money. So, where Dell ships a hunk of plastic, metal, and silicon out the door at a dirt cheap price, Apple must focus energy and attention and money on design first, and more expensive materials second, and (often) more expensive manufacturing processes third.

One is speed to market.

First, putting all that time and energy into (physical) design stretches out the product cycle. It can’t help but! In fact, as Jobs recently admitted in a news story on the design of the Apple stores, almost all Apple product designs have been basically shelved and re-created prior to shipping. Second, building the software so that it is elegant in appearance and functionality also takes longer.

One is limiting your market. Frankly, and this is the cruel truth, many people’s taste is all in their mouth. That’s elitist and nasty and horrible and awful and ugly, but a fact. Whether it’s half or more than half or less than half, a huge proportion of people don’t appreciate – and in fact may not even notice – good design.

However. However. However.

All this is NOT to say that Apple shouldn’t focus as much energy and attention on design and aesthetics as it does. As we’ve previously said, aesthetics is Apple’s biggest strength.

Don’t get confused here; I’m not being contradictory; and I will wrap this up in a way that makes sense.

Apple should focus on aesthetics, as it does, and should do a great job at it, as it does, because for it’s hard-core fans, that is the key differentiator.

But it also needs to reach out to the mass market.


That’s what I’ll talk about in my next article.

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