Apple Afraid to Compete on the Hardware Side?

by Chris Seibold Nov 29, 2005

The people of France love the French language. It isn’t hard to see why. French, spoken properly, does possess a certain melodious sound pleasing to the auditory senses even when issuing from the pie hole of Gerard Depardieu. Unfortunately, French is generally considered to be a dying language. The government of France, in an effort to stave off the inevitable, not only subsidizes French speaking foreign nations but additionally uses legislation to ensure all government correspondence utilizes French exclusively. Thus if you are a government employee and wish to acquire a ping-pong table for an after school program you are forced to use the more cumbersome appellation “tennis de table” on the requisition form. That preceding is but one example, a complete list showing the inflexibility of the hard core Francophile would run for page after amusing page. The interesting aspect of this behavior are not the entertaining lengths the French will go to prop up a dying language but rather that the artificial measures taken will ensure the continuing slide of French into obscurity by removing the adaptability necessary for a language to thrive.

Apple is in a similar situation with the upcoming switch to Intel. The change in the hardware isn’t a huge deal, people buy Macs without a lot of regard for the chip inside, but the change in the OS is huge. Where OS X was a RISC processor/Macs only affair since the introduction of the PowerPC it will soon be the computer equivalent of Madonna, a system that will run on just about anything with a pulse. Or rather, OS X would be every machine’s best friend if Apple wasn’t trying to artificially lock OS X to hardware produced by Apple’s subcontractors. Apple’s reasoning behind the move is transparent; hardware sales subsidize software development. Therefore, an OS X free for all would seriously undermine Apple’s profits and, by extension, their ability to continue to develop new versions of OS X.

While the motivation may be as clear as the worst cola ever produced the underlying assumption needs to be examined. That tenet is as follows: people buy Apple hardware solely because it will run the Mac OS. The statement seems true but trivial, what other reason could there be? Why, industrial design of course. Apple’s machines look incredible on the low end (eMac excluded) and set the bar for accessibility (and in the case of the G5 towers, sturdiness) on the high end. There are a significant number of people who buy Macs, particularly the PowerBooks, not because of OS X but rather in spite of OS X.

Two overheard conversations while traveling illustrate this behavior. In a sandwich shop located in Mid Missouri, two people were discussing a brand new PowerBook. The conversation was inexpertly recorded but went something as follows:

“I used my cousins for awhile and it was fantastic. I had to get me one.”
“You like it?”
“Yeah, except it doesn’t run Windows. That sucks.”

While the use of “me” in the conversation was puzzling, the reasoning behind his choice was clear. Compare that conversation with one that occurred in the St. Louis Apple Store:

“I had an original iMac. I bought it because it looked so cool. I just stuck with them after that.”

Another person swayed by the industrial design. Now extrapolating two personal experiences to a market moving trend is a stretch worthy of the most deft sideshow freak but the point is obvious at this point: Macs are far more than simply a vehicle to deliver OS X.

Someone, undoubtedly, will argue the negative by pointing to the clone fiasco. Those who remember the days of Mac OS licensing will remind us that the clones were not only faster but also generally cheaper than Apple produced products. An interesting comparison to make but, perhaps, not relevant given the current state of Apple hardware. During the days of the clones Apple manufactured their own machines and were less flexible with regard to component and price changes. Subcontractors manufacture Apple’s hardware now so the flexibility that was once so problematic for Apple should no longer be a driving issue. The other key thing to remember is that when the clones were being produced Apple’s industrial design consisted of circuit boards in beige cases. It is hard to get excited about beige cases and thus, with the exception of the multihued Apple logo, there was no major visual differentiating factor between the Apple machines and boxes produced by the clone makers.

One question must be considered: If Apple releases OS X without all the protection where is the incentive for value minded folks to buy an Apple machine? One of the pricier aspects of computer manufacturing is customer support so expecting Apple to offer support for just any machine that a person slaps OS X on would be a mistake financially and a slap in the face of people who actually buy Apple branded products. Fortunately, the solution is simple: Only offer support for Macs. In that fashion, Apple can sell boxes of OS X with great big warnings that say “Mac ONLY!” and then decline to support callers who lack a valid Macintosh serial number.

If Apple’s hardware can’t compete on a, more or less, equal footing with Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sony machines then Apple either needs to make their products compelling enough to compete or leave the hardware business altogether.  Much like the long ago mentioned attempt to prop up an increasingly irrelevant language, trying to prolong the life of Apple hardware, if it doesn’t provide a positive, tangible benefit to Apple customers, is merely staving off the inevitable while wasting resources that would be best directed elsewhere. Apple should stop worrying about creating hurdles for hackers to jump through and focus on designing great hardware.


  • I was not under the impression that French was a dying language; perhaps you were thinking of Latin?

    Anyway, Apple has made it clear that their Intel machines will be able to run Windows. As a matter of fact, there is almost nothing they can do against it. So that is not creating a hurdle for hackers, it seems, it is just another encouragment for people to buy Apple.

    The consequence of course will be that OSX will die a slow death, when a larger and larger part of the customers is going to buy Apple hardware for running Windows.

    TGV had this to say on Nov 29, 2005 Posts: 4
  • French is not dying anymore than is Japanese (which I speak). In fact, Japanese is nationally spoken in only one country, as is Korean, Hungarian, Tagalog, Thai, Czech, etc. but no one thinks these languages are dying. The difference between, say, Japan and France is that the Japanese embrace foreign words and incorporate them into their language, while the French government seems to want to protect the Frenchness of their language to the point of absurdity. If dying for a language means absorbing outside influences then perhaps French is dying. Judging from the last sentence of your first paragraph you understand that languages must adapt. But let’s leave the French government alone to continue believing the fanciful notion that foreign influences are killing French. French is doing just fine. The French government’s idea of French? That’s another story.

    On to your article. Only offering support to users of Mac hardware is bad idea. A separately packaged OS X would still be an Apple product. To not support your product simply because the customer didn’t buy your other product is simply bad business. While it’s true that value users may stop buying Mac hardware if OS X runs on cheaper Dell hardware that’s still a software sell for Apple. After all, despite recent stumbles Microsoft is still the world’s most successful computer company.

    I don’t see why Apple has to make hardware for everyone. Porsche doesn’t make a car for the money challenged and it’s the world’s most profitable car company. So low-end users will buy and use OS X on generic hardware, while Apple junkies and mid- to high-end users will buy the whole Mac package. Sounds like a good deal for both Apple and the users to me.

    terrandabo had this to say on Nov 29, 2005 Posts: 7
  • I was under the impression that the one of the keys to the unified “Apple Experience” is the tight control between hardware and operating system, which you don’t have with windoze based machines.  It was my understanding that that lack of control can cause some of the glitches and crashes that occur in Windows.  Whether that’s true or not, it does seem to me that that philosophy is a viable reason for Apple not wanting to let OS X run on other boxes.  If problems occur due to some variation in the design of the motherboard, it will reflect poorly on the OS and thus poorly on Apple.

    I’m also curious as to why everyone assumes that the chips that will be running OSX will be the same Intel silicon that’s inside a Dell box?  It’s never made much sense to me….

    domarch had this to say on Nov 29, 2005 Posts: 12
  • I have a sneaky suspicion that Intel will be providing Apple with some sort of custom chips that differ from the rest of the Pentium and Co. line-up.

    That said, and bash my day dreaming as you will…

    Apple getting out of the hardware business may not be bad - we can’t know until they try it - but, letting any ol’ computer user pick up OS X and install it just sounds like a Pandora’s Box to me. First off, OS X quite clearly supports a limited amount of hardware, due to Apple’s “all by us and by our standards and intentions” Total Apple Experience method. In order to support, say, the latest SLI-capable, a gazillion GB of RAM-capable, 1 million gigabit ethernet capable, Super-Wi-capable motherboard, custom-made drivers might be required because it might be that Apple wouldn’t care to offer support for such hardware anytime soon.

    I have to go to work, so I’ll try and sum this up:
    Whether or not I’m right, one problem with Windows is the multitude of drivers, third party utilities, and other doodads and optionals that either create IC and I/O conflicts, bottlenecks, or unexpectedly exploit a bug in the OS (lsuch as bad DLL linking). OS X is very, very controlled. That’s not to say third party kernel extensions, utilities, and command-line tools and scripts don’t exist, because they do. The difference is that so few Mac users make use of that stuff. I for one am not the sort of Mac user that would try and get the latest Generic Device A working on my Mac by hunkering down and writing my own driver(s).

    TGV, Latin IS a dead language. Not dying. It is not spoken anywhere as a native language. It still exists (as I’m sure there are countless missing languages), but it is dead. I’ve heard people say English will die (at least here in the USA) to give way to this unintelligent harpy-speak all the “kids” use. I say, “No, it will still be English, just not English the way we grew up speaking it. That’s the beauty of English as a living, thriving language. It ages, it matures, it learns, it adapts.”

    Waa had this to say on Nov 29, 2005 Posts: 110
  • Thanks to domarch for pointing out the obvious. I wonder about what is the point of this article? OS X is compelling on its own, Apple hardware is compelling on its own - while I know some people will say that “the hardware used to be better in the day”, just open up an iMac G5 or a G5 Tower, the industrial design even on the inside it is nothing short of stunning - the “Apple Experience” being the entirety of hard- and software, and stemming from the mesmerizing attention to detail on both ends. I have neither use for crap software on great hardware, nor for great software on cheap hardware. I will not dig out the cheap meat / cheap knife analogy again, I’m tired of it. In fact I do wonder why writers on Apple Matters do not seem to “get” this, since it came up in a number of articles. What makes a Mac a Mac is the whole thing.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Nov 29, 2005 Posts: 371
  • ^ I know, man! Let’s boycott this stupid website and its stupid writers! =D

    ...nah, I’m out.

    I agree that a large part of Macs are the hardware. I can put myself in the position to being able to install OS X on my PC, and would I want to? Um… yes, knowing what it’s like. But otherwise it’s just another OS to me.

    When you think of a Mac you think of allll of it together. The awesome hardware with the cool bluetooth and the wi-fi and the aluminum base and that cool apple logo light on the back. Yay!

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Nov 29, 2005 Posts: 299
  • All you need to do is look at the influence that S Jobs and J Ive bring to the Mac to understand that Apple today is more of a computer company than it has been since the original Mac was introduced.  The effort of all involved in bringing a new Mac to the Market far exceeds anything in the PC world and the success has been significant. 

    Th result of the Mac’s success is a R&D budget of about half a billion dollars annually, with more hardware and software being released.  Everything from the iPod environment to the just released Aperture.

    Actually, I think the term “environment” best describes what Apple is all about.  Investing in a visual design for the hardware to the same degree as the software is one of the key factors and this is one of the key factors that will keep OS X off of Dull boxes.

    The other factor is the “Apple Tax” that everyone pays to enter this environment.  People who bought a Mac in the past paid this tax, which supports R&D for the products you buy today.  We get to stay current with a new version of OS X by paying $129 for a full version of the newest cat (not an update) as we have previously paid the tax.  Gonna put OS X on a Dull?  There will be a need to add the Apple Tax to the price of the box - let’s say a retail price of $300.  That puts the screws to the current Mac faithful.

    Right now Apple is on a roll.  They have exceptional people delivering exceptional products because they control the whole widget and work hard to make it the best possible.  They invest heavily in the future and have a large cash holding to get them through tough economic times.  Throwing away the Mac environment would be foolish and, in the long run, unprofitable.

    MacKen had this to say on Nov 29, 2005 Posts: 88
  • I think the point, BB, was that both the hardware and software are compelling. I think that Macs can compete just fine on hardware alone. Yeah they are more expensive than a Dell (on the low end) but not so much when compared to Sony. I “get it” I love the Apple hardware and software and I think both can stand on their own. Apple thinks otherwise.

    I am also all for Tuesday Thursday AM boycotts. Boycott the stupid writer! The other guys are pretty good.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Nov 30, 2005 Posts: 354
  • not that it’s the point of the article, but please, FRENCH a dying language?? i’m not french and am certainly not defending those nasally fast-talkers, but in my book i’d have to say that ENGLISH is more of a dying language, what with frequent attempts made at designating a second official language in the US (Spanish) or the complete deviation from the rules and structure - not to mention simple enunciation and proper pronunciation) that is language and allow us to communicate effectively with one another (“ebonics”).

    but hey, whatever lol. great site, kutgw.

    monkeesiemonkeedu had this to say on Nov 30, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Anyone else get the feeling to want to actually say, “lol”?

    ...just me then?

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on Nov 30, 2005 Posts: 299
  • A few points:

    Apple could provide similar reliability for Windows on their hardware. They know the hardware and only have to supply a limited number of drivers. Rejection of all other drivers will improve stability.

    And Waa, I know Latin is a dead language (except in the Vatican). I was only using it since French is quite alive and Latin is one of its (dead) predecessors.

    And “why everyone assumes that the chips that will be running OSX will be the same Intel silicon that’s inside a Dell box?” Because the current developer systems that Apple sells are like this and not in a million years (ok, not in five years then) is Intel going to develop separate chips for Apple. If it wasn’t profitable for IBM, it isn’t for Intel. Apple wants Intel because of the development they do, not to get stuck on another dead end. And it has been said that the new Apple systems will run Windows, so yes, they will be “similar” to Dell boxes, but hopefully with a somewhat better construction.

    TGV had this to say on Nov 30, 2005 Posts: 4
  • I’d have to say that ENGLISH is more of a dying language, what with frequent attempts made at designating a second official language in the US (Spanish) or the complete deviation from the rules and structure - not to mention simple enunciation and proper pronunciation) that is language and allow us to communicate effectively with one another (“ebonics”).

    I’m going to have to take issue with everything in this paragraph by monkeesiemonkeedu. I have not seen anyone attempt to designate another language as an official language in America in the past 10 or 15 years. The few times I remember it coming up in Congress was attempts to pass legislation declaring English as the official language—usually as a grandstanding measure to play to anti-immigrant sentiment.

    Next up, if you fear for the corruption of the spelling and structure or proper pronunciation of English, you’re too late by at least several hundred years. Yes, we pronounce things differently, spell things differently, lost an entire set of declensions and conjugations, and we’ce completely shifted pronunciation from what they were four centuries ago (“The Great Vowel Shift”). None of those things killed English. Unlike most other languages, we don’t have some academic body like the Académie française regulating use, and for that we can easily coin new words, or steal words from other languages when needed. Of course there is bad in this arrangement—we’re stuck with the word “blog”, for example. Other languages it takes years for the academics to approve words, or in the case of Académie française, reject them for not being “French enough”.

    And finally, “ebonics”... In the case of Ebonics, or African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), the level of misinformation is staggering. No one ever advocated teaching kids ebonics, or even to say that ebonics was on the same level as proper English. Oakland school board politicians were wrong trying to declare Ebonics a separate language, but the idea was that since it has enough idiosyncracies as a dialect (as a sort of bastidization of English with the syntax structure of Creole and some west African Languages, the remanints from 200-400 years ago when the African slaves in the country had to learn the language with little help from their masters). By that matter, ‘ebonics’ is pretty much like the pidgeon language people first speak when learning a new language by immersion, when they can get the words, but not the structure or syntax.

    Ster had this to say on Nov 30, 2005 Posts: 12
  • I have Macs: powerbooks, iMacs, iBooks, G4 towers, G5 towers as well as Lenovo (IBM) Windows boxes at an Educational Technology centre I work at.  When a visitor to the centre walks by a 20” iMac or I open up the G5 tower to let them have a look inside to see the acrylic ductwork and the 5 seperate and silent fans, they are amazed.  Mac hardware is the Cadillac.  Sure OS X may work on a Chevrolet in the future, but that won’t stop Cadillacs from being sold.

    As for differential pricing for OS X for Mac or OS X for Dell.  Purchasers of Mac computers could simply be requested to submit their serial numbers for a rebate on future OS releases. No Mac serial number, pay a higher price for Mac OS X….

    Nobody is stopped in their tracks when they walk by a Lenovo.

    whoppingsteps had this to say on Nov 30, 2005 Posts: 3
  • About french legislation and FYI:

    The purpose of this french law is not protect the french language per se. The purpose is to protect the consumer/citizen from ads or user manuals that would not be written in french and therefore reduce his/her capability to understand the terms and conditions of a contract or just for safety reasons: what if you cannot read and understand how to properly use a risky device ?

    It is true that the government documents must be written in french but no more as official senate documents must be written in english I suppose… Can you imagine an american law written in, say, german or swahili ?

    French is certainly a dying language (by numbers) as are maybe 90 % of the languages on Earth.

    And this is terribly sad thing - from a cultural perspective - because language richness translates to conceptual accuracy and philosophical wealth; reducing the language(s) is reducing our capability to ... think as it is outstandingly described in ‘1984’: to prevent political opposition, the government chose to narrow the capability to think by reducing the number of available words (NovLang).

    While the internet could have been (and certainly somehow will…) a thrilling opportunity to increase the cultural exchanges, the “free” market which is taking over it will certainly actually decrease them, by pushing everybody towards a common standard that, I am convinced, will not be the highest one…

    From this influence, the day-to-day french is acquiring a lot of english words that participate to its enlightment. But as does english with french words (“cliché”, “force majeure”, “coup”, etc.).

    If the world ends up only with Mac Do, Disney and Coca-Cola and only them, we will be collectively losing.

    That’s why, I think, this french law is a good thing.

    PS: Please excuse my poor english, which, obviously, is not my mother tongue.

    I am french: nobody’s perfect… wink

    Frenchie had this to say on Dec 01, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Mh…

    Chris, your comparaison to the “dying” French language is quite inappropriate. I speak English and French fluently, as I’m born English and live in Geneva, Switzerland since 1979.

    French is spoken in France, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Belgium and Québec. France extends well over its borders: Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon (in the Atlantic, right off the Canadian shores), French Polynesia, New Caledonia and Wallis et Futuna (Pacific isles), Guadeloupe and Martinique (Caribbean isles), Guyana (South America), Mayotte and La Réunion (African isles around Sri Lanka) and the Kerguelen isles are all French states (Départements) where French is spoken, as well as regional French-based dialects (Créole).

    Most of the the mentioned territories collectively have a huge literary output. French equally has a healthy following in Russian and some Asian cities.

    Frenchie’s comment about government language normalisation refers to Novlangue, which is the french translation of Newspeak as described in Orwell’s 1984.

    flyermoney had this to say on Dec 06, 2005 Posts: 9
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