Apple: A Case of Mindshare Over Market Share

By Don Willmott

Way back in 1981, Apple executive Bud Tribble came up with the term "reality distortion field" to describe the vibe around Apple CEO Steve Jobs, a guy whose charisma and evangelism was so powerful that his acolytes – and he himself – would believe anything he said, no matter how exaggerated or overblown it might have been. To Steve, everything was always "insanely great." It’s a management style that’s worked well for him.

Today, nearly 30 years later, the RDF is still in full effect and put on display twice a year when Steve takes to the stage, as he did last week, to announce his latest, greatest iPhone – plus his much anticipated "one more thing." Observers were dazzled by his presentation once again, and only in the fading afterglow did vigilant bloggers start to point out some exaggerations in his spiel, most notably about the true resolution of the device’s new screen. The iPhone made onto the nightly news again. When’s the last time a new BlackBerry rollout caught Katie Couric’s attention?

Yes, Apple is important, but how important? And for our purposes, how important is it to the mainstream IT environment in which you probably work? Well, the good news for Apple is that its share of the PC market has never been higher, and it’s up 0.8 percent from last year. The bad news is that it’s still only eight percent. In the first quarter, Apple sold 1.398 million computers, putting it fifth behind HP, Dell, Acer, and Toshiba. (Side note: the fact that total PC sales for Q1 2010 were up 20.2 percent from Q1 2009 is very encouraging for us all. That stat is one of those leading economic indicators that’s always worth watching.)

And if you spent all your time like I do, running around New York City and visiting the offices of ad agencies, multimedia companies, graphics experts, and Silicon Alley Web startups, you might slip into "distorted reality" and get the impression that Apple has a far bigger slice of the computer market. But it doesn’t. People just think it does. Speaking the broadest terms, IT doesn’t really have to worry too much about integrating Macs into a PC-based shop.

Let’s face it. Steve Jobs doesn’t care about your accounting department, and he thinks your data center is incredibly boring. He’s far too busy changing the world to fuss over print servers and tape backup. The bottom line is that Apple doesn’t need your IT business. It’s an "insanely great" company just as it is, and it’ll sell you iPods and iPads and iPhones on your day off for you and your family.

Having said all that, I do have to make an exception for the iPhone and now for the iPad as well.
Why? Because businesses run on e-mail, and millions of us are now so blindly in love with our iPhones that we’re demanding IT support them, at least for e-mail. It’s encouraging that Apple’s new iOS 4 includes things like multitasking, push notification from remote servers even when apps are idle, and wireless distribution of in-house apps. The iPhone is already pretty good at Outlook integration, although this is one area where Android phones have recently raced into the lead. Both are still chasing BlackBerry, but both are catching up.

There’s no need to get into the whole "I’m a Mac" and "I’m a PC" debate. My point is simply that those funny TV commercials are part of Steve’s reality distortion field because they portray a 50/50 market. Another way to shoot the spots would be to have 92 PC guys standing next to 8 Mac guys. Now who has the upper hand? In IT we talk about tools and solutions, not lifestyles. You should get the job done however best you can. If that means hooking up some Macs to the network and ensuring file compatibility, that’s fine. But let’s keep it real.

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