09 January 2006

Myth or Reality: CONCLUSIONS

Last week, I covered 4 areas of discussion on likely Apple moves regarding timing, pricing, performance and functionality, setting out the possible myths being rumoured and attempting to point out what could be real.

The scores came out as 2 1/2 for myth and 1 1/2 for reality. That sounds to me like a recipe for a MacWorld letdown. So how can Apple play this?

Apple has a real balancing act to do. If it is to release the low end machines that seem to feature in most rumours, then it has to push these to the non-Mac community. By doing so, it can expand it's market and not suffer as much from Mac fans/pros moving to lower end machines. But in doing this, it will likely disappoint many of the people who are its biggest supporters and who are expecting so much.

I think Apple's first introduction of Intel Macs will be a relatively conservative affair (though of course SJ's actual presentation will not be conservative). The machines they will release will look good and attractive to potential switchers and low-end users, but will conspicuously miss features needed by the market for high end, high margin machines. These early introductions at the low-end will add fuel to unrealistic expectations about the timing of Intel-based iMacs, PowerBooks, PowerMacs and XServes (but which are unlikely to be realised at least until later in 2006 for PowerBooks & iMacs, and possibly early 2007 for PowerMacs). So, Apple will finely balance the pricing and the functionality to make the machines attractive to those on a low budget and those who might switch. It will want the mac fans to applaud the machines, while turning their noses up as not being the machines THEY actually want (hard to do). Design will, as always, be a critical component, and has not been covered much here or in most of the other sites I've seen. Apple will continue to use design to differentiate it's products from the rest of the market. They will be targeting a rapturous reception from the mainstream press without letting down the mac "extremists".

And, because of the latter camp, Apple will want to do more than introduce Intel Macs. It will need something for all Mac users. So, I think the area of home media convergence and better iPod integration will all get serious attention. Many or most of these things introduced will run on any currently available Mac with either USB2 or Airport Extreme connections. I think it will finally start to try to tie the iPod success into a virtuous cycle of success for the Mac platform by clearly offering more to iPod users who also are Mac users. The PC-using iPod users will still have a great and unique experience (they have to, or that market will disappear more quickly than iPod-loving mac users) but they will find they could do more if they used a Mac instead. And if Apple makes it easy to run two OS's and/or run Windows applications simply on an Intel Mac, it stands a much greater chance of converting those people over. This is the moment Apple must seize to make the so-called iPod halo effect a reality.

MacWorld 2006 represents Apple's biggest opportunity and also it's biggest challenge yet. How it makes it's case(s) to the different contingents ranging from Apple-sceptics and the outside world through to the most serious Mac bigots (don't take away my Firewire!) is critical to both its short term and long term future. There will be an unparalleled amount of dissection of the introductions and keynote with some clever insights and the usual wild conspiracy theories too. Much fun awaits...

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