If there’s one overriding reason why Steve Jobs has been a huge success at
Apple, it’s that he has managed to demolish the old truism that Apple =Mac.
Nowadays, in the eyes of the general public, Apple is much more associated with
iPods and iTunes than it is with Macs; indeed, Apple’s own iMac
marketing campaign is essentially attempting to leverage the iPod brand to increase
The mass success of the iPod and iTunes owes everything to the fact that they
are Windows-compatible. In the world of computers, on the other hand, Apple
was until recently very much a control-freak company. Unless you got a super-high-end
tower system, if you wanted an Apple computer then you got Apple everything:
computer, keyboard, screen, mouse, software, the lot. Now, however, with the
Mac mini, all that has changed.
"Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse", says Apple: we don’t
care if they’re ancient, ugly things, what really matters is the operating
system under the hood.
Which is why the report
today that Steve Jobs has been approached by three PC manufacturers about letting
them run OS X is so intriguing. Here’s the juicy tidbit:
Most tantalizing of all is scuttlebutt that three of the biggest PC makers
are wooing Jobs to let them license OS X and adapt it to computers built around
standard Intel chips. Why? They want to offer customers, many of whom are
sick of the security problems that go with Windows and tired of waiting for
Longhorn, an alternative.
As Pete Rojas notes,
we can assume that one of those PC makers is Sony; what we can’t assume is that
Jobs is going to say yes. But he should. Apple is still languishing
in tenth place on the list of the biggest PC manufacturers, which is pretty
weak since Apple sells 100% of all the computers running OS X, which is probably
the best consumer operating system in the world.
While Apple has always been very good at designing computers, and it certainly
seems to have mastered the art of designing operating systems, it’s never been
very good at selling computers. Apple’s market share has been wallowing in the
3% range for as long as I can remember, and although a lot of people say that
the success of the iPod means that many more Macs will be sold in future, so
far those predictions have yet to come true.
Jobs is clearly happy with people running OS X while using ugly keyboards and
monitors: that’s the whole raison d’etre of the Mac mini. So why not let them
run it while using an ugly computer as well? I have no doubt that Michael Dell,
were he so inclined, could double the market share of OS X more or less overnight.
In turn, that would mean more developers writing software for OS X, as well
as the ability, for the first time ever, to make a like-for-like comparison
when it comes to the perennial question of how much more expensive an OS X machine
is when compared to a Windows box. You could have exactly the same monitor,
keyboard, box, processor, and everything: only the operating system would be
different. No longer could people say that they were buying a Windows machine
only because they couldn’t afford the Apple one.
Those of us who remember Apple from pre-iPod days also remember the clones:
computers by companies you’d never heard of, running Mac OS on the same crappy
old Motorola chips that Apple was putting in its own computers. It was an experiment
by Apple which didn’t really work, and it was born out of desperation on the
part of Apple. This time around, however, things have changed. It’s the big
PC makers who are approaching Apple, and they, one assumes, are willing to pay
whatever it costs to rebuild OS X for Intel chips. No longer would Apple be
at the mercy of Motorola or IBM, waiting months for promised processors to be
delivered. If OS X ran on Intel chips, you would have something of a dream combination:
a super-reliable operating system running on chips from the most reliable PC
Apple would lose some of its own hardware sales to competitors, of course –
but it could make up for that by pricing OS X accordingly. More mouthwateringly,
Apple would finally have a choice of chip manufacturers, for the first time
ever. Rather than simply having to accept whatever IBM gives it, Apple would
be able to start putting Intel chips in its own computers if they were faster
or cheaper than Big Blue’s. Indeed, if OS X was rewritten to run on Intels,
it would probably run on chips from other companies too, creating real competition
in the market to supply Apple with chips. Whenever there’s competition, the
All this is much easier said than done, however, I’m sure. Huge questions remain
unanswered: would all OS X applications have to be rewritten for the Intels,
or would rewriting the operating system be enough? What would happen to Apple’s
reputation if the new machines turned out to have all manner of bugs and glitches,
even if those bugs and glitches were the fault of the manufacturer and not the
operating system? And if Apple’s own hardware sales fell significantly from
their present low levels, could the company still afford to spend all that money
on hardware design? In other words, could this move mark the beginning of the
end of Apple as a computer manufacturer?
It hasn’t happened yet, of course, and frankly I’d be surprised if it ever
did. But it’s certainly an idea well worthy of consideration, and I, for one,
would love to see a Sony computer running OS X.