I was thinking about this over the weekend, but came to a different conclusion. Relying on fashion is not the winning strategy for a company that is this large. Nor is relying on what used to sell - gizmos.
I am an Apple computer/phone/watch/TV user. I'll probably buy AirPods. But as a stock holder, I don't want Apple to stay there. I want Apple to move into healthcare and financial services and be willing to abandon computer power users along the way.
Shoes are a great analogy, they move to a diminishing market. I want Apple to thrive, and I think it is time to move out of the diminishing phone and computers business and into services. If I could delegate Apple resources, I'd put some of the best folks they have on healthcare and finance.
What does that make the phone and Mac? Loss leaders in 2020. Important to have but not the future of the company.
So I guess that I am hoping Apple does the reverse of your last paragraph.
Thanks for letting me think aloud,
There's a lot to be said for Apple and services, but it's a matter of convincing the right people to write up their thoughts for us. :-)
I think Apple is making some smart moves in the healthcare and IT spaces, especially with its IBM partnership. But as someone who uses Apple computers professionally, I don't want to see Apple become like IBM, moving entirely out of the end-user market to focus on back-end stuff.
The iPhone is still by far Apple's largest revenue source, and the Mac users who create things for it are the backbone of that market.
The day that a teen puts a poster of Marco Arment on the wall of their bedroom is the day that I will believe that the professionals you're talking about with regards to Apple are comparable to Tony Hawk.
Ha! Teens may not idolize developers, but they certainly enjoy the apps they produce, including maybe some of Marco's. You could argue that Snapchat today is what skateboarding was 20+ years ago, though that's sort of a lousy analogy.
Another way to think about this is: imagine walking into a coffee shop and instead of MacBooks, everyone was working on Surface Pro tablets. Given enough scale, that'd certainly have a network effect.
Something Gladwell describes in his book, which I didn't go into in the article, is how trends develop. You first have what he calls innovators, oddballs who do new things. Then you have other groups who translate those things for the masses, like mavens and connectors. My point is, to put it in Gladwell speak, if those innovators drop Apple for another platform, over time that could trickle down to the masses and quickly eat away Apple's bottom line.
They may enjoy the apps, but I doubt that 1 in 100 of them know the name of the developer who wrote it. And that breaks the link between "I have to wear what Tony Hawk is wearing" and "I have to code on what Marco Arment is coding on."
I can equally imagine -- in the coffee shop analogy -- the teens being horrified that the "old people" are using the same thing they are, and fleeing Apple en masse.
Finally, I don't find Gladwell's arguments particularly convincing. He seems to me to regularly take a small part of a social science finding (10,000 hours of practice, eg) and blow it up into a much larger and simpler conclusion, one that makes a good pop-sci headline but doesn't really tells us much about the real world.
The narrative at the moment seems to be that Apple is neglecting pros and that's going to cost them, but what I've mostly seen is a range of strained arguments about why it's going to cost them, ranging from possibly plausible to pretty outlandish.
I agree about Gladwell, which is why I didn't go too much into his theories in the article. However, outside of the linked interview, his book was the best source for the Airwalk story.
The problem with arguments in favor of the professional markets is that there are a lot of intangibles there. In the case of Airwalk, it likely made total sense to dump the pro skater market for consumers — I'm sure they made far, far more money from Foot Locker than local skate shops. However, that turned out to be an enormous mistake, one that wouldn't appear on any spreadsheet.
I think I'd like to see more than an anecdote before I buy into a narrative that is highly convenient for the people telling and reading it.
One might say the same thing about your arguments. There's a whole truckload of wishful thinking there. Just from a local perspective, the predominant healthcare provider in my area, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, has excellent computerized records and services. They work on Windows PCs, not Macs. Other medical professionals use tablets, though they're not iPads, because they have to link with their non-Apple computer systems. Which is to say, without a Mac backbone, medical providers are not going to be using Apple products and services. Sure there are some highly visible Macs on some popular medical TV shows, but again, those are the Macs you so blithely dismiss. Great product placement, by the way. As Josh says, Macs are at the core of Apple's business. Without the Mac, the iPhone is just another gadget, here today, gone tomorrow. You know, like the iPad. And without the Mac, there will be no Apple products in medicine.
As for financial whatever, all Apple does now is provide an access point via Apple Pay for consumers to the real financial service providers. They don't actually provide any of those financial services, nor are they likely to do so. Though they make a tidy profit with every Apple Pay transaction. You want to buy a Mac on credit through Apple you'll be using a Barclaycard, one of the highest interest rate charge cards on the planet, to whom Apple is only an intermediate business.
In other words, I don't think your ambitions for Apple growth are grounded in anything like reality.
As for shoes being a diminishing market, what planet are you living on? As large third-world countries like China, Mexico and India grow more prosperous, shoes will continue to be a growth industry. Just like iPhones. Which is why Apple is working so hard to break into the Indian market with lower price, recycled iPhones. That's where the growth is for them—and for Nike.
The iPhone is the primary driver for the App Store, Apple's most prosperous service niche. And the App Store sells apps. And apps for the App Store are developed on Macs. Without the Mac there would be no apps and no App Store and, for all practical purposes, no iPhone. And no Apple.
While Microsoft's Surface PCs are not yet a dominant product, Microsoft is clearly thinking long term, hence their huge investment in product placement in the NFL. The Surface Studio is coming out this year and will eventually, I presume to predict, make a significant dent in Apple's base among design professionals. Unless, as Josh hopes, Apple begins to take their professional base seriously once again. If I were twenty years younger I would certainly take the Surface Pro seriously.
I share Josh's hope, but I don't share his optimism. If the new MacBook Pro is Apple's idea of a professional computer, with only 16GB of RAM, they've lost their way big time. They've taken their obsession with thin well past the point of diminishing returns. In the meantime, Tim Cook is good at blowing smoke at financial analysts, but as has been pointed out elsewhere in this issue of TidBITS, Apple's record first quarter was a week longer than the same quarter last year. In other words, Cook is using accounting gimmicks to draw a false equivalency between the two. Adjusted for that extra week, Apple's sales and profits are far less rosy than Cook would have us believe. At best they are flat, year over year.
Is Apple making lots of money right now? Sure. Even with no growth they're still a rich company with money to burn. But they don't appear to be burning any of it on serious R&D. Like, perhaps, a touch interface for the macOS that can compete with Microsoft. iOS does touch just fine. But Cook refuses to acknowledge the need for it in OS X.
Apple is riding high right now. But there's an old expression, what goes up must come down. Put another way, in business if you're not growing, you're dying. Implicit in Josh's argument is the proposition that Apple may have reached the peak of it's growth and success. They won't fail overnight, but that doesn't mean they're not failing. If Tim Cook is not aware of that, as he seems not to be, then Apple will be going downhill from now on. There may be a blip of success here and there, but that won't halt the downward momentum.
Tim Cook is a nice guy and Steve Jobs was a jerk. Still, some might say the biggest difference between them is the vision thing. Steve had it. Tim does not. But I think the biggest difference between them is that Steve Jobs would not tolerate mediocrity. Time Cook seems to tolerate it all to well.
Thanks David for giving me a jumping off point for my rant. I would have made it anyway, but you gave me a convenient place to start.
I agree with Josh's premise, but I'm more skeptical than he is. Josh is politely suggesting that Apple needs to return it's attention to the Mac and the wide range of professional users who depend on it. Unlike Josh, however, I feel no need to be polite. Tim Cook needs to wake the f*ck up.
You're certainly welcome. None of what you said was in response to my actual points, enough that I was wondering if there was another David in the thread. Apparently not. If you'd like to engage with my actual arguments, you're welcome to do that, too.
The PC 'enthusiast' market (broad term, basically power users of yore) is the only growth/margin market in the PC business.
Apple are leaving money on the table by not addressing the enthusiast.
and... they are not mutually exclusive.
But Timmah! has other priorities...
What a thoughtful and well-written analysis.
Regarding Peter Meyer's comments, I understand that Apple has it's own unique needs. What I would add is that what may be good for Apple (i.e. corporate expansion, diversification) may not be good for end users, specifically Mac users.
I wish Apple to succeed as a company only as far as it concerns how they can continue to meet my needs and not theirs, my needs, not as a content revenue stream, an iPhone user, an iPad user, but as a MAC user.
It appears to me that there is no longer any strong financial incentive for Apple to support and innovate their computer hardware and software as that segment continues to shrink in comparison to phone and content revenue. Continuing to complain about ridiculous mistakes in design and implementation and continuing to beg Apple to innovate and improve in the areas which matter the most to Mac users are losing propositions in the long run.
If Apple wanted to do a great service to its various "niches", in my un-expert opinion, it would spin off the Mac and its system software and core apps into a separate company and let that company focus and innovate to meet the needs of its "niche" of Mac computer users at its own pace and peril. I'm not a investment guru, so I leave the financial merits of spin-offs for others. From an end-user endpoint, it seems to be the only way to get someone to pay closer attention to the very specific needs of computer users.
I think that would be courting the death of the Mac, honestly.
As I argued in my other comment, the halo effect runs the other way - more people are buying Macs because they have used and liked Apple's consumer products. I think the main reason Macs have been bucking the overall decline in the computer industry is because they have Apple's strength in the consumer market to support them. If you cut the link there, you cut the main driving force for Mac market growth.
Thanks for the kind words, Zac. However, I disagree with Apple spinning off the Mac. Tight integration with other Apple devices is still one of the Mac's strengths, and a spin-off would threaten that.
I agree that the popularity of the iPhone and other Apple products helps drive Mac adoption. No argument there, and I think that's also still an important market for Apple.
If Apple could value the Mac well enough to spin it off, they could value it enough to develop it internally. The problem is Apple doesn't seem to care one way or the other.
While Peter's suggestion that Apple get out of the hardware business strikes fear into my heart, I think it also misses Josh's key message. Why should a prudent investor like Peter assume that Apple can compete effectively in Services? This is an area where Apple has no particular expertise, and no intrinsic advantages. There are dozens of companies who understand Services better than Apple, and have both a deeper background and more agility. Airwalk survived as a fashion company, barely, and Apple might survive as an also-ran Services company, but as Josh indicates, this looks like the path to obscurity.
Apple is a significant force in Services at the moment, because they are rich from hardware sales, and incredibly well known, from their integrated hardware, software, and lifestyle sales. Tossing all that out is, as Josh says, a losing strategy. Apple will not make its investors richer by proclaiming, "Think Conventionally".
Sigh. Another day, another 'Apple is doomed because they aren't catering to Important Users Like Me' article.
The glaring flaw in this example is that it argues that people are drawn to Apple's consumer products because of the popularity of their computers among the elite - the halo effect. But if anything, the halo effect has run in the opposite direction, and has since the heyday of the iPod. People are buying Apple's consumer products, like the experience, and buying Macs to go with them.
I've argued this before: Apple has, from the very first Apple ][, *always* catered to the ordinary user above the elite. When 'personal' computers were bulky S100 boxes that needed a separate dumb terminal and the arcane C/PM OS, Apple released a cute, streamlined all-in-one that hooked to a TV and booted into BASIC. When IBM introduced the designed-for-cubicles PC, Apple introduced the novice-user-friendly Mac. When smartphones were geeky tools, Apple released the iPhone. That's who they are.
So you're saying that none of your less-technical family, friends, or clients buy Apple hardware because of your recommendations?
In my experience, most people who know they don't have the technical chops to make an informed decision buy based on social influence.
Are his family & friends a sufficient sample to generalize?
Actually, seriously, yes. I've been asked for advice on *which* Mac to buy, but everyone I know who bought Mac in the last year decided to go that route on their own.
This is a discussion, not a research study. :-)
I obviously don't know the specifics, but unless you're well known for being platform agnostic, I doubt people would ask you for advice on other platforms. Your social influence to recommend Apple products is likely well known. Lots of people ask me for my opinions about what to buy, but they're always aware that I know Apple technology.
But the article's point is that if you'd said, "Apple's hardware is stagnating and you'd be throwing money away if you didn't look at an Android phone or Windows PC" would those people ignore you and still buy Apple gear?
In other words, if you as a tech influencer switched away from Apple gear, how many people would go with you eventually, purely because of your influence?
I'm not arguing that Apple is doomed. I can't count how many times I've written here something to the effect of "Apple is far from doomed." However, I do think shirking the professional market is an enormous mistake.
Nor would I want Apple to drop or lose focus of its massively successful consumer line. The professional and consumer sides of Apple help build its strong ecosystem.
2 people would go with me. Which would reduce Apple customers for the last quarter from 96 million people to 95,999,998.
Even if there were 50,000 tech influencers who took 2 people with them, it would reduce Apple's customers from 96 million to 95,900,000 last quarter.
(all numbers either approximate (customer numbers, people I influence) or made up (number of tech influencers)). Math done badly and on the fly.
I'm not arguing that Apple is doomed, either, though I'm more cynical on the subject that Josh is. For one thing, doomed is a vague and melodramatic term. If Apple fails to innovate and improve the Mac, then their base of support will be eroded over time because, as I said before, the Mac is the core of Apple's business. Without it Apple's other business interests would fail to flourish. And that's putting it mildly. In my opinion, without the Mac there is no Apple.
But I don't see Apple killing the Mac. After all, it's still making money. What I see happening, as Josh points out in more polite terms, is that the Mac appears to be declining in importance for Apple. This doesn't spell doom, but it does spell stagnation.
Meanwhile, Apple competitors continue to innovate. As an artist, the Surface Studio is the first Windows PC that has ever piqued my interest. If Apple continues to rest on it's laurels Microsoft is going to eat their lunch. Now that they are making good hardware, Microsoft is playing in the same ballpark with Apple. And, like macOS X 10.12.x, Windows 10 is a solid and accessible OS.
And there are areas, like cloud services, where Microsoft far exceeds Apple's success. So do Google and Amazon. Services aren't going to save Apple's bacon. The Mac is the only thing that can do that, not because it makes the most money, but because it's central to the success of every other Apple venture.
What I don't understand is why Tim Cook doesn't seem to know this. His desultory remarks about the future of the Mac are not encouraging. Another incremental update to the iMac or the Mac mini isn't going to get the job done. Nor are incremental improvements to the macOS. As I've said before, at the top of my wish list is a touch screen interface for the macOS. Without this it's very hard to see how Apple is going to keep up with the competition.
So glad I'm not the *only* [25-year Mac] user who can see this!
HALF-A-BILLION people bought iPhones because they *wanted iPhones*! Not because some Mac fan told them to. The entire world's Macs could be raptured to silicon heaven tonight, and 95% of iPhone users wouldn't even notice the difference tomorrow.
It is astonishingly egotistical, not to mention excruciatingly self-deluding/dishonest, for Mac fanboys to say that they and their beloved Macs are what sell iPhones, not the other way around. Next to such folks, even Toddler-in-Chief "The Donald" looks like Buddha by comparison.
The thing that Apple is certainly doing right now - seen from a user perspective - is that _all_ of their systems are much more reliable now than they used to be. I very rarely have to reboot, if one app crashes the rest of the system carries on unperturbed, I can go seamlessly from my Mac to my iPhone to iCloud on a windows machine without ever loosing a comma in the text I'm working on. It's like magic compared to not so many years ago. And Apple has got us all happily hooked on its services with iCloud at the centre. And I mean happily, thinking of the days back with Excel 1.04, swapping disks on my Mac SE or more recently trying to keep my iMac from crashing every time I switched from Mail to Word to Excel to ... Apple keeps a lot of customers happy and deeply dependent.
That is a great point. Thank you!
Apple does enjoy tremendous lock-in, which certainly gives it staying power. iCloud is one of the weaker service bundles, but it's bolstered by the popularity of the hardware, which in turn benefits from iCloud lock-in. Not to mention dependence on iMessage.
A quick addition if you don't mind. I am going to express my opinion, not fact.
I don't think that Apple will abandon the larger Mac and phone and iPod markets (or TV or iPads.) I am looking at these devices as critically important. Not important as computing devices, but highly valuable as data devices.
What is the difference? Computing takes place in a small fairly closed environment. Data is fed by and then feeds a larger system. (I think of the Mac Pro as being about computing, the iPad and Apple TV as being about data.)
If I look at this as an investor, I see that data system as services with end point devices. The devices are either commodity products or are really sophisticated at handling data to and from the user.
That data is the core of the future services. (Again, this is me as businessman, not as the guy who is really enjoying this MBP right now). Apple should, absolutely should, stay in the end point market and make exceptionally exciting devices like an iPhone so light that you need a lanyard to hold it in place.
Those devices are data portals, and the real economic engine for what might be the most valuable company on the planet will be the data services. They actually might subsidize the hardware experiments that many of us love.
For those hardware experiments, my credit card vibrates in anticipation. My business mind is looking for services in healthcare and automobiles. The hardware is what we know, the services that we do not yet know will be our future, just as the pocket computer once was.
So much for me being quick. Josh, Adam, thank you!
The analogy seems a bit contrived, and the conclusions a bit overblown.
Part of what we have always loved and respected about Apple is its intent and ability to skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it is.
If we think about these issues from that perspective, we might make the following observations:
1. As device buses get increasingly powerful, and as the pace of technology change quickens, and as the desire for smaller computers increases, it will make sense for users to do "upgrades" by adding or swapping out peripherals, not through changes to the internals of their computers.
2. As SSD, memory, networks and microprocessors all get faster, the simple desire for ever bigger numbers -- faster chips, more RAM, etc. -- becomes less and less relevant for most users.
3. While Apple needs to provide core apps and services to make the average consumer happy, Apple's primary contribution to the larger app ecosystem is to make better tools for developers, not to make "Pro" level applications themselves.
4. As security becomes more and more of an issue, tight controls on the App store become increasingly important; however, third-party software suppliers still have the ability to deliver apps to their customers outside of the App store, so customers can have the best of both worlds.
5. As it becomes easier and easier to develop Mac applications, and as the Mac development tools grow stronger, and as the number of specialized apps continues to grow, it becomes ever harder to see why the Mac would need a special department for "Automation Technologies" for those few users who cannot find already developed solutions to their problems, yet who are also unable to develop new solutions themselves.
So, yes, in all these cases, there are some short-term bumps in the road for many of us, and some more difficult issues for a few of us, but isn't this what we've always expected from Apple?
Excellent response and a much more focussed overview, great respect to Josh but like so many "old" Apple users you still expect them to be a computer company which they no longer are.
I have been a user since 1987 and an investor since the 2000s and have to say I am completely satisfied on both accounts.
A very well run company which clearly knows where it is going just that it doesn't share it with us until the time is right.
Have you seen the stock price today?
Per your point on automation — I think Apple sees Swift as eventually overtaking AppleScript. That's fine with me, but Apple also needs to continue to create automation tools for professionals who aren't programmers.
I agree. Unfortunately, Apple has a habit of dropping the ball on good ideas and technologies. For example, iWeb was overtaken by the competition because Apple lost interest in developing it. The same goes for Aperture. Now Apple Script and Automator are threatened with extinction, with no accessible replacement in sight. Apple Script and Automator enable the user to plug right into the OS and their applications. They are essentially programmable apps. Swift, on the other hand, is a programming language not an application. It's hard to imagine a third party developing a program with Swift that will have the broad capabilities of Apple's native apps.
If history is any guide, apprehension is called for.
No, Apple sees *Siri* as the future of Automation for the billions of users who aren't programmers.
The problem with this is that Siri-based Automation will be limited only to those capabilities Apple and App developers add to Siri. Which means that instead of a BILLION USERS adding their own Siri vocabulary for doing what what they want to do, there's only a million programmers adding what they *think* we users should have.
Yet we ALREADY KNOW programmers can't be trusted to add everything we need—else we wouldn't have to learn Automation just to work around the endless limitations and stupidities in the Apps those programmers gave us in the first place!
All that said, AppleScript is just as *utterly useless* as Swift at making Automation accessible to the TWO BILLION users in the world today. So it's a failed design too. But at least it's one from which Apple could learn huge lessons in order to create NEW languages that finally do deliver TRUE USER AUTOMATION FOR ALL.
You forgot bonehead moves like killing Apple Displays, AirPort, and now it looks like the iPad lines will be next. Possibly even the desktop Macs.
Tim Cook needs to be canned.
Indeed, I should have mentioned the loss of Apple displays and the apparent abandonment of AirPort routers. The latter is a thorn in my side at the moment, since my Express is on its last legs, and I'm distrustful of others on the market.
Right you are. Both Apple Displays and Airport routers have been overtaken by the competition because Apple has apparently lost interest in supporting and improving them. This has the look of a tradition at Apple. Or a disability, like ADD.
There was a time when third-party routers did not support the Mac with decent setup software. Airport routers solved that problem, though they tended to be less capable than the competition. They had the virtue of being simple. That time is past. Though various routers handle the matter differently, their setup software has improved. For instance, I can get into a Comcast router's built-in setup software with a simple URL, as I did with Linksys routers in the past. AT&T has always bumped me to a web site where I entered the appropriate information and the web site passed it to the router. This was particularly useful in the old days when routers and modem settings often got corrupted. If something went wrong, pop, there I was at the AT&T setup page. Nowadays routers are more reliable and such problems are rare—though not unheard of.
Apple eventually improved the simple Airport Base Station by including a hard drive that interfaced easily with Time Machine—the Airport Time Capsule, an appropriate name at the time. And the Time Capsule has improved over the years with a space saving tower configuration and larger hard drives. Though you can still get the Airport Extreme which is a simple router without the hard drive. It's comparably priced with similar routers, except that you still need an external modem, which might be a disadvantage, unless you're used to setting up modems.
That said, I don't know why Apple is apparently dropping their WiFi product line. They work perfectly well. Perhaps sales have declined as service providers now so often provide their own routers and independent modems are less common. Airport routers still require an external modem, which puts them behind the curve. I used to like a separate modem because they tended to fail more often that routers. But now I rent my router from Comcast and if it fails for any reason I just pop down to the Xfinity store and get a replacement. The same goes for AT&T. I haven't had occasion to set up an Airport router in years.
Still, I don't think it's a good reason not to get a replacement Airport Express if your Airport Extreme orTime Capsule is still working OK. Current models have the fastest WiFi, 802.11ac, and they are still for sale on the Apple web site, as is the Airport Express. Replacing the Express seems to me to be simpler than regigering your entire system with a new router and a new repeater. But then if your router is also having issues, there are less expensive alternatives to the Airport, depending on your setup.
Great analogy and thinking, for the Mac platform. I liked the idea the combination of (1) techical brilliance, as seen by the recognised "experts" and (2) some hype (better call it "intelligent design") is a key factor of success for the Mac. Remove one of the two pillars and the structure collapses. To remember, I still have on my LC-475's screen saver (not used any more) the picture of a snail carrying on its back a rival PC's Intel CISC processor. These old macs used Motorola RISC processors, deemed faster by the "experts".
You may have called to the bar Michelin, whose tyres for trucks (trucking fleets are the tyre equivalent to the Mac's "expert" users) are in demand for their durability (mileage), while car drivers don't measure mileage but simply benefit from it without knowing. Car tyres benefit directly from R&D invested in truck tyres just as the Mac for me [ordinary Joe] directly benefits from the Mac used, misused and challenged by its professional users (the "experts").
I am not so sure, though, the above analogy works for the iPhone, iPad and iWatch lines (is it still true that the iPhone for the Presidents is called "Blackberry"?).
Thanks for the brain teaser.
The PC 'enthusiast' (segment of the PC) market stands alone with growth and high margins.
As Apple are, effectively out of the pro market... Why not...
Sell the macOS for $500 - restricted to 6 core+ (ie X99) motherboards, only from (a few) vetted vendors.
This is NOT suggesting that 'clones' get in. Its a way for Pro's to Roll Their Own - yeah, its similar (to clones) but not quite the same.
No manufacturing costs.
Pure profit once initial outlay of programming is covered.
This is a very different time to when Apple ONLY made good money on their desktop lines ie the Scully/Spindler/Amelio years.
"Die-hard Mac users kept Apple afloat in the dark years"
This is such a non-justification, it's embarrassing. SO WHAT? Apple owes all those die-hard Mac users ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
If Apple can win new 1Bn-user iDevice markets by dumping its old 10M-user Mac market, that's exactly what it *should do*. A small company chases chickenfeed markets because that's the MOST it can hope to win. If it wants to become a large company, it uses that initial income to expand the company to the point it can now tackle big markets.
Big markets provide economies of scale, and in e.g. personal computing generates massive network effects too—which in turn creates more sales, more revenue, more profits.
To then squander significant time and manpower by still chasing all those little old chickenfood markets is HOW NOT TO DO BUSINESS! It's a free invitation to all their more focused, less sentimental, competitors to steal those big markets for themselves. Just as Google and Amazon are now doing! QED
Respectfully. They are not mutually exclusive.
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