What Uncle Ben Taught Me About Mac Hardware

by Chris Seibold Aug 18, 2005

Standing in the local mega store some time back I found myself in a quandary. My attempt to purchase a household staple, a simple task some would think, was becoming very burdensome. You see the product I was after was produced by a myriad of manufacturers and each box claimed, for one reason or another, to be the only logical option. My head was abuzz with the completing claims and I found myself unable to reach a decision due to information overload. As I was reaching for my cell phone to call a more decisive friend a wizened face appeared that seemed to lift the fog. While staring silently the piercing yet friendly demeanor were both reassuring and reproachful. If my hand moved towards a plainish choice the face would become leering and derisive. If my hand drifted towards a more carefully packaged option the face would beam with glowing approval. I chose the box that seemed to be the most pleasing to my newfound advisor and tossed the chosen box of instant brown rice with firm reservation into my cart. When I exited the isle I offered a small gratitude to my grocery guru by mumbling: “Thanks Uncle Ben, I never would have made it without you.” There was an upside to the experience, I realized that Apple could offer OS X for the masses and still make computers profitably. So there you have it, all the naysayers and worriers are dead wrong, Apple won’t be chased out of manufacturing anytime soon. Thanks for reading.

Well, I suppose the conclusion reached above does practically scream for a little more thorough explanation. To begin it should be noted that many people are predicting that Apple will, at some point, release OS X to the wider world. I predicted Apple would take the same road not because of piracy but because software is a more profitable venture than hardware. The natural response to these prognostications is to note that Apple relies on hardware sales for a significant chunk of their profits. A telling observation but not a real hurdle if Apple releases OS X for most and still manages to sell a fair number of Macs.

That notion seems contrary to common sense. Why would anyone buy a Mac if they had the option of running OS X on a Dell? The Dell will surely at least appear cheaper, as will the HP, the Gateway and any computer you felt the need to build yourself. This is where Uncle Ben proved so enlightening. Rice, much like the bulk of computers sold today, is a commodity product. When something is a commodity it more or less means that all versions perform to the satisfaction of most users. To use rice as an example Uncle Ben’s Instant Brown rice performs exactly as generic instant rice. Both varieties are limited governmentally by the number of rat hairs and insect parts present and both cook up precisely the same. Yet a lot of people buy Uncle Ben’s rice. If, as I did, you ask yourself why you’ll realize that in a commodity based market there is room for a few brands to actually be desirable for reasons unrelated to function. Whether the brand is hip, or provides prestige to the buyer there are loads of people willing to buy something that reflects their lifestyle or taste.

That segment is precisely where Apple can shine. There are Linux users out there who use Macs exclusively to run Linux. Sure they will tell you that the equipment is better, that Apple has better quality assurance but really, those people just want to be cool. Which is fine, I am apparently lame enough to think rice brands differentiate me from the rest of humanity, so people in glass houses and all. To take a more concrete look at the matter take a look at the computers Sony makes. The prices Sony charges are comparable to the prices Apple charges. Yet in a sea of Dells Sony manages to sell computers. The reasons people buy Sony computers are the same ones people will buy Apple Macs even if they don’t need one in order to run OS X. Sony has a good reputation for quality, adds a touch of style to their machines and these factors move computers for Sony when folks could get the same machine more cheaply. There is every reason to think that Apple could easily out do Sony in this regard. What, you desire a specific example? I exist to serve: Option A, Option B.

The other major objection to releasing OS X for commodity hardware is the plethora of components out there. Can Apple really support a white box PC with a homemade motherboard and a video card made by Joe’s Video Shack? Of course not. There are a thousands of components out there and just as many drivers. What they can do is sell a version that will only work on Apple Certified equipment. What exactly is Apple Certified equipment you ask? Why it is a revenue stream for Apple of course. Apple would certify that the equipment set up from Computers by Z would run OS X. Then, in exchange for some cash Computers by Z would be entitled to stick an “Apple Certified” sticker on the box.

If you’re not thinking of the clone fiasco right now you’re probably a switcher. For those out of the loop: Apple allowed licensees to produce Mac compatible computers. The Licensees proceeded to consistently make computers that out-performed Apples machines and were substantially less expensive. Apple hardware sales suffered mightily. A replay of that scenario is highly unlikely. One of the reasons was mentioned earlier and that is Apple’s industrial design. When the original clone debacle was in full swing Apple was making plain beige boxes just like everyone else and it very difficult to see something as a lifestyle product if it looks exactly like every other option. Going back to rice: the orange box moves a lot of grain. The second reason is that Apple will not be so easily undercut and out performed this time. Apple was making their own machines at during the clone period and had to endure the associated costs. Now Apple contracts out their manufacturing to Asia and this allows for more competitive pricing and more flexibility in manufacturing.

While it all seems plausible on the surface there are many risks associated with such a move but it is a move Apple seriously needs to consider if they wish to accelerate the growth of the platform.

Finally I would like to cordially invite you to post on Apple Matters new forums. Apple Matters has some of the most discerning and knowledgeable readers of any website and there are many times comments on my articles will exceed the articles quality in both terms of style and information. From a personal perspective I want to hear more of what the Apple Matters crowd has to say, the readers teach me a ton. Thanks.


  • I’m kinda late so I don’t expect many will see this, but anyway. In my opinion a large problem Apple would face if they sold OSX for PC would be that most people would give you a blank stare at the sole mention of installing a new OS. I can’t imagine my mother, who relies on me or my dad to do almost everything beyond email, word and powerpoint, deciding to install a new OS. I mean, she doesn’t get basic concepts about computers, like the other day when she decided that word doc’s where filling up too much of her HD (admittedly it is pretty small, but she doesn’t have more than 100 mbs in word doc’s). There are a lot of people out there who simply would never enter a computer store and decide to buy a new OS.

    martunibo had this to say on Aug 23, 2005 Posts: 37
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