The Missing Apple

Is Apple missing out on a desktop for tinkerers?

A few weeks ago I was chatting it up with Whitey over what could be a missed opportunity for Apple. You see, Whitey is one of those power desktop prosumers when it comes to computers. He’s like me… he’s never been particularly interested in purchasing a branded computer. We’ve always built our computers and compared them as though they are penises:

“d00d I just got an Nvidia 666 with 666 mb of RAM.”

“No shit?”

“Seriously. The GPU is supposed to be awesome. But I need to add more system RAM and my motherboard is 10 minutes old, so I can’t use it.”

“That sucks. Well, I got an ABIT Samurai.”

“No shit?”

“Yeah, seriously. The fan on the CPU is made of metal blades, so if your power supply cables get too close to it, something bad might happen.”

You get the idea. We like to tinker. We like to tinker a lot.

So now here I am talking to Whitey and he’s expressing something I felt about a year ago. Microsoft is in a rut. Vista sucks hard, the requirements to run a decent kick of Vista are just too insane and overall, it sounds like he’s just ready to bail from that sinking ship.

“Great,” thought I. “I’ve had this fantastic Macbook Pro for the past year that work bought for me and let me tell you, it’s the single best thing that has ever happened to me!”

“Yeah, but Macs are just too expensive.”

That’s not so anymore and I corrected him on that. The cost for cost comparison, when you boil it down to software and hardware, does not balance the way it used to. These days, the Macs come out right about even – or even cheaper.

But there’s a catch.

You see, we tinkerers are used to piecing our computers together as we can afford them. Think of it as a perpetual loan. We don’t go for the package deal. We like to tinker and since our measly IT jobs in the southeast U.S. pay about as much as the beggar at Toys R Us gets in a month, we have to stretch our budgets to squeeze those heavy hitting parts into the case. We’re not equipped to take a chunk of change and plop it down all at once.

The iMac, while quite cheap, caters to the users who want power and a decent home machine – but aren’t interested in opening it up. It’s an even better value when you factor in the costs of a 20″ or 24″ monitor that is included and a very robust operating system. But… you can’t open her up like you want. You have to… gasp… use the damn thing… and not spend your time futzing with it.

So along comes the Mac Pro. This caters to the people who like to add and remove parts, but the price of entry is a bit steep for this class of user. Not to mention, midrange gamers do not necessarily need a server-based chipset.

So is there something missing here? Is Apple missing out on a midrange prosumer product for those tinkerers who long to get rid of Windows but cannot afford to sink that much cash at once?

Why not take the guts of an iMac and turn it into a desktop?

I had a conversation with a senior Apple engineer last week at WWDC expressing these very sentiments. He listened intently, then brought up the point that Apple is trying to sell the “full experience” of software and hardware as a Zen-like harmony kind of thing. Apple sells based on the experience and not having to worry about parts going bad or software that is incompatible. They want to be the BMW of computing; they want to cater to those people who will flash a credit card and sink that much cash at once.

“But again,” I retorted to him, “It’s an opportunity. There is only one person I know in my circle of friends that has loaded Windows Vista and kept it. Everyone else has reformatted and gone back to XP or Ubuntu.” (side note: I sure would like to know how many of those 20 million something licenses of Vista that were sold this year are actually in use). At the time that I made this statement, I was thinking of that one person… who happens to be our Microsoft Technical Account Manager. Of course, he’s not going to get rid of Vista… even if he hates it.

(note: since that conversation, I discovered one more person that kept Vista on his new HP laptop, but he doesn’t speak highly of it.)

Anyway, back to my point. Vista is not doing well. Sure the sales numbers look nice on paper to the investors, but the real world truth is that people are uninstalling the crap. Why does Microsoft care about that anyway? They already made the money on the sale, who cares if the users actually use the software? Well, if no one is using the software, how are you going to justify all those certifications you need to sell? What about the after-market boot camps that support that business? What if the IT people just aren’t interested in supporting it any longer?

They’re going to be looking to Apple for a viable alternative. Park a Windows person in front of OS X long enough and eventually they’re sold. Thus, the opportunity.

Most of those IT people are exactly like Whitey.

So is there a missing Apple?

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