No Low End in Apple’s Future: Thanks Google Chrome

by Chris Seibold Sep 04, 2008

If there is one consistent article Apple fans and watchers write it is the one outlining what Apple can do to grab a bigger slice of the computing pie. The reason these articles get written with such regularity is twofold. First off, the people who write these kinds of articles usually love Macs and those that love Macs generally think the world would be a better place if the market share situation was flipped. The second reason articles like this pop up at least monthly is because the solutions are painfully obvious: license OS X, sell cheaper machines etc. For a really well written and argued example of this type of article see the recent Ars article by Don Reisinger.

Reading Don's piece is an exercise in uncontrollable nodding, every paragraph that scrolls by causes the reader to unconsciously bob their head in agreement. But if the answers are so obvious why isn't Apple jumping on board? Why isn't Apple producing (or letting others produce) really cheap Macs? Finally, why can't you go to the local Best Buy and pick up a copy of OS X that will install on any old Windows box?

The easy answer to these questions is that Apple is worried that the moves would damage the brand or that Apple is all about hardware profits. Valid objections one supposes but not really an issue if Apple gains more dough in the long run. After all Steve may say the company exists to make really cool products but ask any shareholder and they'll be able to tell you the truth: Apple exists to bring in the cash. With that in mind, were the return for the risk great enough Apple would happily license OS X and/or crank out $100 laptops.

 That Apple isn't doing either of those things (or any of the other things people constantly recommend) tells us that Apple doesn't see the future the same way as onlookers. So what is Apple seeing that keeps the company from trying one of these sure to expand market share moves?

 Time to think about Google Chrome. You can't click a link anywhere on the internets the past couple of days without hearing about Google Chrome. Just in case you've been in a cave or have had a locked up iPhone for the past two days Google Chrome is a browser from Google. A browser by Google? What's not to love! But Chrome will be more than just a browser, web apps will open in their own window and it is easy to imagine that with the right UI tweaks Chrome will go from just a browser to a complete web solution. Why bother with Word if you have Google Docs? What is the point of  MS Paint if you've got… well what is the point of MS Paint anyway? Is there a difference between minesweeper on the web and minesweeper on your hard drive?

 At this point a lot of people are going to note that this sounds like a recipe for thin client computing. Those people are right. If you're doing all your stuff via the web how much computer do you need? Exactly enough machine to run the browser comfortably. But, the same people will object, thin client stuff has ben tried for years and failed each and every time. They're right but each of the tries has been hampered by bandwidth issues and an internet that wasn't quite robust enough to do everything people wanted. Those days will soon be behind us, bandwidth is increasing and there isn't a lot you can't do on with a web based application.

 Of course web based applications won't be good enough for everyone. Sure, Mom and Dad can get by with Google docs but if you're writing a book you'll still need Microsoft Word. There are also privacy concerns, do you want everything you create indexed by Google? There are many other issues as well, even with increasing bandwidth it is going to be a long time before you could comfortably the equivalent of iDVD over the web.

 That there are limitations to web apps noted we can move on and say that web apps, properly presented, will be plenty for most folks. Not everyone, but for anyone who is a casual computer user web apps will offer everything they want. They won' have to steal them from work, backup is automatic and if the process is transparent enough a large group of people won't ever know they are actually using web apps.

 A future controlled by web apps is something Apple can't compete with by going low end or licensing OS X. If the OS is irrelevant the reason to buy a Mac goes completely away. In the long run there is nothing to be gained by going low end and gobbling up market share if the market is going to change to a web based world.

 Staying high end is a different story. Not everyone will be happy with thin client situation. Some will want to do more (I love iMovie), some will need a machine for professional work (Bakari Chavanu won't be able to do the things he needs to do with a thin client) and some people will simply demand more than a thin client has to offer. If you want a better system, if you need a premium computer right now the default choice is a Mac and OS X. In the thin client future peoplpe who want more, and there will be a lot of them, will be turning to Apple.



  • A future controlled by web apps is something Apple can’t compete with by going low end or licensing OS X.

    I think your conclusion is completely off the mark, Chris.  Nothing you’re arguing about really changes the dynamic.  The “pro” crowd that wants to use Macs already does.

    What you’re missing is that the thin-client crowd, or those who don’t need bother with power and processors, will move away from Macs.  Why pay $1200 for an iMac when all you need to do is now built into your browser?

    So I don’t think they gain any market share on the high-end and potentially lose a huge base on the low-end given your thin-client argument.

    So the long-held conclusion remains the same:  Apple should produce a low-end computer.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Sep 04, 2008 Posts: 2220
  • I see what you’re saying Beeb, and to an extent you’re correct the pro crowd already does use Macs, why if you were a film maker or something you might be forced to use a Mac.

    But it isn’t just the pro crowd that uses Macs it is also the “I’m need more than the average guy” folks who use Macs and upscale PCs (Sony and whatnot) to put a finer point on it:

    “Why pay $1200 for an iMac when all you need to do is now built into your browser?”

    Which I will change to (you’ll be able to tell I changed by the pixels)

    “Why pay $1200 for an iMac when all you need is a cheap PC?”

    Which is a valid statement even for most Mac users. The answer is, of course, that people want something better. Vista seems to be something people want rid of. And at the price Google is offering Chrome for there will be a steady shift to the web based stuff.

    But for people who actually want hard drives and local data they’ll be willing to pay more. And when they come looking fo rthe step up they’ll come looking for Macs.

    I’m guessing of course. A year from now I might be writing from a thin client manufactured by Dell if chrome is awesome enough.

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Sep 04, 2008 Posts: 354
  • it’s funny you know, four years ago when I was still in IT, I was evaluating different thin client devices, and the Mac mini was a genuine contender. (Unfortunately, I lost that job before I finished that project.)

    Chris Howard had this to say on Sep 04, 2008 Posts: 1209
  • The Microsoft blue screen of death is the reason Apple doesn’t license out so someone else can make low end machines. When you build the hardware and the software, you can make the whole package work seamlessly. When someone else cuts corners to make cheap hardware, problems arise.

    MarkG had this to say on Sep 05, 2008 Posts: 1
  • I still say Apple will license OSX to an Intel ODM in a controlled manner - meaning Apple must approve the design or Apple gives the ODM a hardware reference.

    No matter how huge Apple becomes in the next 10 years, they will not be able to blanket the global PC market by themselves. There will be investor pressure to grow revenue when the iPod platform flattens out as the enthusiasm for the music players and the iPhone and iTouch glow starts to dim.

    Apple, after all, is still Mac to the core for the foreseeable future. The Mac switcher phenomenon will eventually tap all the low-hanging fruits in the next few years at roughly 10-15% of the whole market, and then what?

    Apple will be pressured to offer lower-priced units. Apple will be pressured to manage license OSX to ODM partners. Time to resurrect Power Computing as a subsidiary of Apple <yeah>. This sort of like Mini (maker of the fine Cooper minicars) to parent BMW. That would be the best solution to this OSX licensing future.

    Robomac had this to say on Sep 06, 2008 Posts: 846
  • I’m not sure I follow the reasoning in this article. When people want more than a thin client - they’ll still have the same choices they have today - Microsoft or Apple.

    There is such a low profit margin on sub-$1000 desktops, that it would seem that’s a good reason for Apple not to play that game, though I’m still not sure that Apple couldn’t make a nice OS profit if it released purely for sub-$1000 Dell desktops (since Dell has such a high marketshare in home and small businesses).

    Anyway - back to the Thin Client ideas - if the net is moving towards thin clients, then Apple has 3 markets it can approach
    1) stick with their high end solutions (as above)
    2) produce thin clients. Clients that look like iMacs but run Safari only.
    3) produce hybrids. Simple machines that work better when online but still work offline.

    Come to think of it… Google Chrome still requires a fast and sophisticated client device doesn’t it?

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Sep 06, 2008 Posts: 228
  • A future controlled by web apps is something Apple can’t compete with by going low end or licensing OS X

    The day Google will make Chrome an OS onto itself with a custom “thin client” hardware is when elephants (or pigs, for that matter) gains the ability to hover in the air.

    Google is an AD revenue generating machine. Google will never be a software powerhouse. Google will never be a hardware powerhouse. Those titles are intrinsically bestowed to the likes of IBM, Apple, and yes MSFT. MS cogs like Dell and HP do not qualify, unfortunately. They are merely followers and praises the Redmond altar.

    Google Rust, er Chrome, is but a defensive move by the G to defend its AD revenue stream from the upcoming IE8. MS is busily refreshing the IE franchise with perhaps some ‘surprise’ features that might not be to the G’s liking. MS is able to do this without the blessing of the standards gods - W3C. They have done it before and they will do it again.

    We like it or not, IE still controls the great majority of web pages served around the globe every day (>75%) with Firefox a distant 2nd fiddle with ~20% and Webkit browsers such as Safari, Opera, and now Chrome at less than 5%.

    This is literally the reasonings behind Chrome. It is here to protect the AD$ whether it be a big success or not. Chrome will help Webkit become a de-facto contender when Firefox eventually adopts it as a replacement to Gecko.

    Robomac had this to say on Sep 07, 2008 Posts: 846
  • Robo, got a news letter I can subscribe to?
    What you are saying makes loads of sense but I suspect that plenty of manufacturers would gladly chuck microsoft and go all web all the time. And if Google could serve ads the whole time you were using your computer, instead of just things you did with you browser, that would make google very happy.
    The increase in bandwidth kind of makes everything a new day. I suspect google would love to have your startup screen contain a small unobtrusive ad…

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Sep 07, 2008 Posts: 354
  • Chris, I agree that someday in the far future, everything we do will be in the ‘cloud’ or the web as you surmise in your article. You need no further proof than your next movie rental. Today it is Netflix ordered online shipped snail mail. Tomorrow is pure web delivered HD directly to your TV.

    The future you can feel but not quite here just yet. But it will be. Just ask the RIAA.

    As for MS suddenly losing its x86 market dominance to Google is unthinkable. I will even say here that Apple will never gain more than 30% piece of the global pie - and that would be remarkable even to imagine knowing where Apple is now, less than 5% worldwide share.

    As for the G to convince these hardened MS cogs - Dell, HP, Acer-Gateway - to now offer a Google OS would be suicide. They have a customer base to protect and to grow. No biz will be willing to throw that away just to cuddle with the big G. And what do these cogs get in return?

    So, the G has a purpose for Chrome - to keep the ad revenue flowing happily to the tunes of a $B-major scale. Larry & Sergei think they can dominate every market they enter - a la MS in its heydey - but they will be proven wrong. There will be a startup or an established player that will eat their lunch, just as they have done with Yahoo! and MS in the search market.

    So, no, Apple or MS won’t have to worry about some Google OS just because the G came out with their own Webkit browser. Apple has a Webkit browser on its Macs and now, the iPhone and yet we are not declaring Safari will rule the world.

    The operating system ≠ web browser, ever. An OS can stand on its own while the other needs an OS to just come alive.

    Robomac had this to say on Sep 07, 2008 Posts: 846
  • Um, isn’t the iPhone and iPod Touch exactly a cheap computer and a thin client?  I think Google’s move is an attempt to revolutionize the web-information experience again, but what they are really doing is bringing the web to the desktop, whereas Apple is trying to bring the desktop to the web.

    As far as why Apple doesn’t license the OS or allow white boxes, I have finally settled on the conclusion that it is paranoia more than greed, with a spoonful of pride. 

    It is very difficult to get somebody to recognize their own fear or pride (see current political parties.)  The great irony, of course, is that the Big Brother in the 1984 commercial ruled from populist fear and elitism.  (Even Hitler was a populist elitist.)  You always become that which you fear, so you should choose what you fear carefully.  Steve Jobs wanted to become/defeat Sony and Microsoft, and that is what Apple is becoming.

    Steve Consilvio had this to say on Sep 07, 2008 Posts: 47
  • So Steve, you’re saying that you think Apple wanted/want to become Sony and Microsoft - and that’s what they’re becoming - and that they are afraid that if they license the OS they will lose that?

    Of course - being “afraid” of lose something (marketshare/support) and “thinking” they’ll lose something are similar things. So I assume you mean that Apple is incorrect or over-reacting?

    Greg Alexander had this to say on Sep 07, 2008 Posts: 228
  • I never said they were ‘incorrect,’ but rather it (partially) explains why they did not.  They lost the battle with Microsoft primarily because of pride, I believe, and it has been uphill ever since.  The story of Apple is ‘how does bad software become the standard when good software exists?’
    Apple is now ‘winning back’ only what they lost originally.  It has never been solely a technological race, but rather a personality difference.  Bill and Steve is very much a tortoise and the hare story, but it is two races simultaneously, one at the tech level, and another at the revenue/marketplace level.

    Steve, unfortunately, still focuses primarily on ‘selling sugar water to kids.’ (AKA Pepsi and Sculley.)

    Steve Consilvio had this to say on Sep 07, 2008 Posts: 47
  • “selling sugar water to kids”

    Steve, you still think the iPhone, the iTouch, OSX Leopard and soon Snow Leopard, and the surging Mac hardware are just “sugar water” to kids?

    Umm, if I am a kid and I feel like one when I open those miniature retail boxes, I wouldn’t mind those fun things you call “sugar water” - they are really “sweet!”.

    As to Apple losing the masses early in the Mac’s history you got it all wrong. Somehow you need to read Andy Hertzfeld “Folklore” issues (just use the big G’s search box for it). There, your flawed, opinionized Mac history will be straightened out by the men who really created the Mac - and that is not SJ, OK?


    Robomac had this to say on Sep 08, 2008 Posts: 846
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