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Apple Again

by Glen Emerson Morris

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Apple is still facing an uncertain future, but some things are becoming clear about their new strategy. Apple has decided to concentrate on its two most successful market segments, education and professional media production, and at least temporarily quit trying to be a general purpose computer manufacturer. This approach is based on the reasonable assumption that these two vertical market niches are big enough to keep Apple alive, even if it loses the general business and home markets completely.

Apple's strategy is good news for the advertising and marketing industries dependent on the Macintosh for media production. Apple is not only likely to survive for years, but it will be targeting the needs of professional media production with its nearly undivided attention. This is a major change from Apple's previous policy of leaving the professional production market to Radius and Adobe. With Radius a minor player in the market now, and Adobe currently making half it revenues from Windows products, Apple was in a position of either supporting the market itself, or ceding it to Windows, which it very nearly did. Finally, Apple has decided to fight for a market.

Apple's chances of being more than a vertical market player are limited, but not out of the question. Much of Apple's fate will depend on how well their new operating system competes against Microsoft Windows NT which, unlike Apple, supports true multi-tasking processing for advanced networking capability. While Windows NT already has a big lead, it's getting a record for being complex, arcane, and unreasonably expensive to maintain (qualified NT systems administrators can make $80 to $130 an hour, if you can find one.)

The Macintosh is a much easier computer to network than Windows machines, giving it a critical cost advantage in terms of setup and support costs. Apple's planned new multi-tasking operating system could put the Mac even or better with Windows NT in terms performance, and make Apple a serious player in the business network market over night. With networking becoming an increasingly important aspect of the business computer market, the Mac is poised to revolutionize computer networking much the same way it revolutionized media production with desktop publishing. The potential market is huge; a lot more small business are going to need Internet and Intranet servers than are going to be able to afford $80 an hour network systems administrators.

Whether Apple will be able to capitalize on this potential is uncertain, but at least their current strategy gives them a chance to. As pointed out in the book "Apple-The Inside story of Greed, Egomania, and Business Blunders" by Jim Carlton, internal politics kept Apple from marketing a number of innovative technologies, including a version of the Macintosh operating system that ran on Intel based computers. Apple can't afford such mistakes anymore, and seems to have realized it.

There are still significant problems for Apple to overcome, but it is making progress. After several years of defections of key Macintosh engineers to Adobe and Microsoft, Apple has finally launched a well funded recruitment campaign to lure back engineers familiar with critical apple technologies. Salary offers in the $100,000+ range have brought back some very qualified talent. The Open Transport group, responsible for Apple's critical network architecture, has brought back Steve Ussery as lead engineer, the person generally regarded as the most knowledgeable authority on Open Transport available. Other groups are also doing well in getting essential talent in place for a recovery.

Not everyone may survive in the new downsized Macintosh world. The most likely major casualty will be Quark, makers of QuarkXPress. Adobe's PageMaker has been closing the gap over the years and as this has happened Quark's long time reputation as a company that "does not play well with others" has sent former loyal customers defecting to Adobe's PageMaker in droves. It's kind of sad, since QuarkXPress is an excellent program, but the aggravation of dealing with Quark is proving to be too much for too many people. Even Ed Nies of Mel Typesetting, the first service bureau in Colorado to support QuarkXPress, has declined to sign on as an official QuarkXPress service bureau this year.

Ultimately, the advertising and marketing industries can survive without Quark; but not without Adobe, and preferably not without Apple. Fortunately, it's beginning to look like they won't have to try. Apple's new strategy of specializing in the vertical market niche of professional desktop publishing and media production should keep it going for years.

It's reassuring to see Apple with a sound marketing strategy, but it's still somewhat ironic that it took the near destruction of Apple to get it to pay attention to the market segment most responsible for the company's success. Well, better late than never.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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