OpEd: Do we really want our Cult to go Mainstream?

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Pete’s post below got me thinking. Apple’s star is rising, and they absolutely are eroding the market-share of Windows. Every quarter this thing of ours becomes more and more mainstream, and it’s not impossible to imagine a time when the Mac will at least have a significant degree of parity with Windows. This raises a bigger question: would we ever want Apple to eclipse Microsoft?

The first thing they teach you in strategic planning is to perform the following assessment:

“What are the benefits of a course of action, versus, what are the negatives of following the same. What are the possible unintended consequences”.

Now certainly we are all excited about Apple’s continued rise, but there may also be come cause for concern. In the rest of this article we’re going to play the “Unintended Consequences Game”.

Consequence #1: There might be no benefit.
Presently my CTO uses a Mac, I have a Mac, several folks in position to make strategic decisions within our corporate IT use Macs either personally, or professionally. Our corporate network is as Apple friendly as it could possibly be without irritating our #1 business partner –The Borg.

This coupled with the fact that every college student I know uses a Mac, means increasing support for our platform within the “Enterprise Ecosystem”. As a result, I can do pretty much anything our retarded Windows cousins can. And yes, per Pete’s point, all my clients use Windows machines, and a few of them raise eye-brows when I whip out the MB Pro. But our clients don’t hire us based on what machines we use (that is not entirely true, Dell is also a client).

The point here is that we’re already reaping the benefits of increased market-share,  I’m uncertain as to what additional benefits we’d hope to realize.

Consequence #2: We’d stop being cool
Nick Carr wrote in ‘Does IT Matter?‘, as any technology becomes more commonplace, its ability to be a competitive differentiator is diminished. The same holds true with any fashion accessory. Lets face it, that’s what Apple products are. Sure they’re damn capable, and price for performance competitive with any platform out there, but many people buy Macs because they’re trendy.

In fact, it is because they’re trendy that even when consumer spending recedes, Apple’s market-share increases. A luxury product like a Mac has a totally different buy-cycle than a utility product like a beige box. On products from Rolex to the Macbook Air, exclusivity is part of the draw.

Now you may think I’m playing an over emphasis on being cool, but really: I’m married, and nearly 40 –what else have I got?

In all seriousness, the ubiquity of a product can also be it’s downfall. My general contractor has an iPhone now. Heck, it seems like everyone (but me) has one, and you know what, I don’t even want one. So now, when I go phone shopping, I shop for features, rather than style. Honestly, there are phones out there with better features of those that I will use all day.

With software as a Sservice, and cloud computing both right around the corner, the differentiator that is OS X will become minimized. Apple already overly relies on cultural cache to move product. If that’s removed, their success could wind up becoming their Achilles heel.

Consequence #3: 114,000 Viruses? Maybe on a Mac
By the end of 2005, there were 114,000 known PC Viruses. At that time there had never been a virus in the wild for OS X. This was in fact a marketing slogan for Apple. Now OS X is a lot more secure than Windows, and certainly better architected. But we also have our own vulnerabilities. The primary being that for too long Mac users have relied upon Security Through Obscurity.

Almost no Mac users have  anti-virus software installed. What’s more, we lack as a part of our cultural DNA the suspiciousness and fear of software dominant in the Windows world. Sure we have active security measures like having to enter an administrator password to install some software, but how many of us just do that, without question?

With an increase in popularity, so will various forms of malware propagate. We are vulnerable, the “pwn to own“ contests have repeatedly demonstrated this. We are going to need to make active security a greater part of our life-style regardless.

Consequence #4 – The “M-Word”

It’s a game, copyrighted by Parker Brothers. But more than that, it’s a real fact of the Macintosh platform. Apple controls the hardware, OS and much of the software on the platform. Our position as a niche player has protected us from anti-trust litigation for the most-part (the current iTunes lawsuit is baseless). But as the platform becomes more popular, the baselessness of these lawsuits will become less and less apparent.

The first step in regulation, will be to unlock the hardware –count on it. As soon as that’s mandated on Apple, OS X will essentially become a better Windows, but one open to all the vulnerabilities having to support thousands of 3rd party drivers.

———————–

There are more, I’m sure. Now I’d ask you all to weigh in, is our platforms rising popularity worth the potential risks we might face as a result, clearly like any highly dedicated fan-base, we crave the status that increased popularity of our platform creates. But are we really ready to go mainstream?

46 responses to “OpEd: Do we really want our Cult to go Mainstream?”

  1. Ian T says:

    “Heck, it seems like everyone (but me) has one, and you know what, I don’t even want one.”

    Are you serious lol?…
    It just kind of seems like you’re waiting for 3G/GPS/Improved everything and that you don’t want to spend $400 for something that you’re gonna want to replace for the next three years because the new one is coming in June.

    Honestly, I’m so used to my iPhone doing everything for me and being so easy to use, that if I had to use a regular cell phone (ie. a razr) for a week, I would most likely go crazy.

    The iPhone literally can do eevveerryytthhiinngg you need it to do (for an electronic device).

    If you used an iPhone for a week and then went back to your regular phone, I think you wouldn’t be saying that you don’t even want one and would DIE to have it back.

    And for a response to your entire article, I’m excited for the Mac and the Apple brand to explode throughout the world. I don’t think Apple will ever make Mac OS an open platform for other computers so we’re just gonna see Mac OS improve, the Mac itself improve, new mac models, and more industries for Apple to step into and take over. Apple will one day own the electronic world and that’s fine by me. I trust them.

  2. nak says:

    Did you go to the Pete Mortensen School of Journalism? Cause, like, your write-ups are starting to be as ridiculous as his.

  3. leigh says:

    @nak:

    If you’re suggesting or implying that I might somehow be on par with Pete (even if just in ridiculousness) I’ll take that as a complement.

  4. Thom says:

    You made some interesting arguments with this post – but rather spoiled them by not proof-reading.

  5. Goran says:

    This is the first article I’ve enjoyed reading on this blog in months. Here’s why:

    I’ve been sharing the author’s concerns for the last couple of months, seeing how quickly Apple products are becoming ubiquitous in my surroundings. It is a mixed feeling, really. Possible benefits of Apple’s user base expanding would be standards in IT becoming Apple-friendlier, the software choice will become more varied (which is especially good for niche applications)… there’s more for sure.

    It’s a question of whether the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks. What I like about the article is common sense and objective thinking, which have been missing a lot in this blog.

    Seriously, upon first subscribing I thought the title “Cult of Mac” signified a blog that calls on overenthusiasm in the media and in the user base, sort of a “Daily Show” of the Mac user base, if you will. Well, shortly thereafter, I realized this blog IS those overzealous people! There is a lot of bashing, often making use of weak arguments, of anything that isn’t Apple-friendly. The blog comes across as more of a means to satisfy posters’ self-righteousness than a rational commentary. If you fall in love with somebody or something so blindly to overlook its shortcomings, you’re in for quite a disappointment in the future. Walking with a hand over your eyes and telling yourself there’s no precipice won’t keep you floating in the air.

    That’s why I read one post out of 100 headers, and this one was well worth it. Kudos to the author! Finally someone who brought rational thinking back. Thank you.

  6. Alex says:

    Consequence #2: We’d stop being cool

    You haven’t been cool for a long time….

  7. C Rolls says:

    Responses:

    #1 — How would there be no benefit? With a bigger market share, Apple could handle putting out that often dreamed of mid-range tower that you all seem to have wet dreams about.

    #2 — iPods are everywhere and yet they are still “cool.” Ubiquity really only ruins products that weren’t all that cool to begin with. You relate OSX to a Rolex but fail in your analogy. You focused too much on style and not on function — and as Mac users know, Macs have a strong point in useability. Yes they are beautiful products, but that isn’t the only reason we purchase them.

    #3 — Agreed — viruses are going to be more of a threat as Apple’s market share increases.

    #4 — Also agreed — Apple’s closed loop system does give off the “m-word” vibe (though to be honest, I love it when programs and hardware work in concert with one another).

  8. leigh says:

    @ CRolls: #1 was really: There was a benefit to an increase in market share, we are presently experiencing it. The question is, are there any more benefits to be gained to us cultists. Apple could release the wet-dream-mid-tower any time they want.

    A rolex is also a high precision, very functional device, it does however lack the accuracy of a 200 dollar quartz watch. Your point however is correct: Mac **USERS** know… but not all Mac OWNERS feel the same way.

    @ Alex: Yeah… I know… that’s assuming I ever was.

  9. Dann says:

    A quick comment on #4:

    So Apple isn’t a monopoly now, but has the potential to be in the future even if they continue on the exact same path? Are you then implying that the Mac will suddenly be a monopoly when it becomes popular? More people buying Macs will suddenly push Apple, Inc over the cliff into the throes of anti-trust lawsuit paperwork? I don’t know about others, but I bought my Mac because i wanted the hardware AND the software. If I wanted to install Linux, I would’ve bought a cheaper beige box and fooled around with it. I think that Macs are in no danger of monopolizing because their user base wants both the hardware and the software. What? Just the hardware you say? There are millions of windows boxes out there that are cheaper and have the same components. Just the software? They already sell that.

  10. C Rolls says:

    @author

    “Apple could release the wet-dream-mid-tower any time they want.”

    But would it be successful? Is there a big market for it now? I’d say no, but with more people using Macs, there could be a larger market for it in the future and therefore a better chance that it would be successful.

  11. leigh says:

    @Dann: first I agree with your premise: I too bought a Mac because I was dog-tired of fooling with stuff. I wanted a seemless computing experience. The platform delivers in spades, have some cool-aide.

    That said, there are essentially 2 predicates to being a monopoly:

    1. that an company has control of a market – Apple does (they have 100% control of the Mac hardware market).
    2. that in the exercise of that control they act to the detriment of consumers – Apple does not. IMHO.

    #2 is very much a matter of opinion. If Apple were to wake up one day, and have say half the personal computer market. One might argue that the same degree of control they presently exercise over 3rd party hardware and drivers is anti-competitive.

    Recall: Apple is currently (baselessly IMHO) being sued for anti-trust due to iTunes/iPod integration. I could literally cure your insomnia with an explanation of why this lawsuit is bogus. As the platform becomes more popular these kinds of lawsuits will happen more often. Some of them based in some degree of reality (for example, is Apple’s doing away with 64-bit Carbon an effort to attack Adobe?)

    @C-Rolls: Apple could release a manual grocery list creator (read: a pen and paper, in black and brushed aluminum) and folks would buy it in droves.

  12. razmaspaz says:

    Leigh,
    I have to respectfully disagree with many of your arguments. First off the “Does IT Matter ” argument. Carr’s argument was that a technology becomes a commodity and thus fails to provide a competitive advantage. The flip side of that is that you need to continue to adopt the bleeding edge to remain competitive. Working on the newest version of OSX, at least in theory, will keep you on that edge.
    Second the virus point. I don’t run virus protection on Windows and haven’t had a virus in 5 years, despite heavy use of the web and email. I stand as a firm believer that virus protection is only as good as your last update, which is never new enough, and that security is only as good as the user. You don’t need virus protection on Windows, and you certainly don’t need it on the Mac.
    Lastly, a Monopoly? Seriously? Even at 90% market share, you still have ot show that Apple is doing something anti-competitive, and thats a stretch. Cross that bridge when it comes, and you will still be able to buy hardware from an Apple preferred hardware vendor.

  13. Jason Hoffman says:

    I think the thing that would bother me most is that now, they (the Hodgemans) love to hate us, and we (the Longs) love them hating us. That beautiful relationship would be gone, just like every other I’ve ever had after about three minutes of soul searching or psychotherapy.

    Otherwise, dead on, except coming from behind kind of implies “duopoly” rather than “monopoly” and the public just isn’t smart enough to get really riled up about a word they don’t know that well, and even Elliot Spitzer in his heyday couldn’t have pulled off a case like that. You’d have to make the bunny show his FANGS!

  14. media_lush says:

    “The first step in regulation, will be to unlock the hardware”

    ….almost had me interested until this numb nuts comment

    I always find it useful to use a car analogy in these kind of discussions – it’s like Ferrari saying “yes, you can buy the engine block and you can buy the blueprints for the body shell” – but at the end of the day is it a Ferrari?

    It’s the whole aesthetic that is unique.

  15. Bill Coleman says:

    I won’t start worrying until Apple is back to the state it was in the very early 90s (just before Windows 3.0), where they had a 15% share of all the computers sold in the US.

    Heck, even a double-digit share would be nice.

  16. leigh says:

    @Bill:

    Apple’s market share is already like 18% of all laptops, and ~30% of all laptops over 2K. Of course that doesn’t include desktops, but as I’ve lamented here previously, Apple’s not in the desktop business (they have the Mini which is an appliance, and the Mac Pro which is a workstation).

  17. Andrew DK says:

    “Consequence #1: There might be no benefit.”
    Buy AAPL stock, then look me in the eyes and say that. o_O

    “Consequence #2: We’d stop being cool”
    A new form of cool will emerge: Apple power-user coolness. As easy to use as Macs are I’m constantly finding new features and new software to do all kinds of cool new shit or be more productive. When most Mac users are non-tech-savvy, showing one some kick-ass new feature they can use will be def cool.

    “Consequence #3: 114,000 Viruses? Maybe on a Mac”
    Key word being “Maybe”. Ubiquity sure won’t help security, but the level to which it will hinder it is tenuous at best. You shouldn’t lose sleep over this.

    “Consequence #4 – The “M-Word””
    As an economist I would have to call this one Absurd with a capital “A”. Clearly, the confusion revolves around this idea:
    “1. that an company has control of a market – Apple does (they have 100% control of the Mac hardware market).”
    That’s akin to saying ‘Rolex has a monopoly on the Rolex watch market’. The market in question has to be broad enough to include any adequate substitutes (and you must realize that our definition of an ‘adequate’ computing experience probably differs from the DoJ’s definition). Also, if Apple had monopoly power on the WHOLE computer market AND was abusing it, it would by definition be able to control the market RIGHT NOW. Now, this assumes Apple doesn’t release their nefarious automatons on the nescient public in the near future, but… damn, I’ve said to much…

  18. Bill says:

    Leander–

    Really you should run your columns by someone with some technical expertise in the Mac.

    The Mac has not “relied” on “security thru obscurity”, the Mac is fundamentally more secure, and has been since the late 1980s when there *were* a lot of viruses for the Mac.

    Apple products are not selling because they are “cool” or “trendy”. My mom has an iPod. You think that’s trendy? Yet they sell tens of millions a year because they provide a much better value for the dollar.

    The reason Apple is able to sell its products so well, as you should know by now, is that integrating hardware and software is a valuable thing- people appreciate products that do what they want reliably and don’t require a degree in Chinese to figure out.

    Its sad to see you slip into the clueless perspective of Apple that all the PC Weenies have. And its also sad to see that Wired bears less relation to a geek magazine every year. They should just name it “eCondeNast.com” and we can all ignore it. In fact, I do ignore it, I wouldn’t have seen this article if someone hadn’t linked to it (and they weren’t being kind to you) and now I remember why I stopped reading you years ago.

    Really, its ok to talk to geeks and see if your thinking passes muster and then revise it when it doesn’t.

    Its better than totally missing the entire point of why apple is resurgent and Mac OS is more secure.

  19. leigh says:

    @Church: Per #1 clearly the shareholders of AAPL benefit. I was referring to our perspectives as Mac users. What additional benefits do you think we’d receive as a result of greater market-share, More crappy software? (I say “crappy” because for what I use my computer for, the software is already world class, sadly we do not, as a platform have 15 different types of buggy cookbook shareware programs to choose from, and this is likely our only real growth area).

    @Bill: I’ll take the blame, it was me, not Leander who wrote the article.

    On the notion of Security through Obscurity… I stand by that. Clearly OS X has a better core architecture than Windows. So? It still took Charlie Miller all of 2 minutes to gain total control over a Macbook Air last month.

    I assert and stand by the fact that we don’t suffer as our windows cousins in large part because we’re not being attacked. Not because we have some impenetrable fortress.

    What’s more, because we typically don’t use any kind of virus protection, we are in some respects considerably more vulnerable.

  20. Kobi says:

    MacHEADS movie will have more on that subject, is Apple losing it’s faith as a community and becoming “just a brand”
    Apple CEO Steve Jobs shared his thoughts as CNET News.com’s Tom Krazit’s wrote “A question somewhat tangentially related to the MacHeads movie Jobs was asked whether the company’s runaway success of the past several years has broken the bonds between the company and the longtime Mac community, and whether Apple “still cares” about these people. Some of these folks see Apple as the local rock band that made it big, losing some of its innocence and humility along the way. Jobs acknowledged, “We have a lot more customers now.” There has been some angst among longtime Apple users that the company is getting away from its Mac roots with projects like the iPod and the iPhone, which manifested itself during some early problems with Leopard, the latest version of Mac OS X. But “we do care…We drop the ball sometimes, when some of those customers have a problem, but the vast majority do well” with their Apple experience,” he said, citing high customer satisfaction ratings.

  21. Bill says:

    @Leigh: You really shouldn’t stand by your security position. It did not take Charlie Miller 2 minuts to gain “total control” – as he, and all the other contestants were frustrated in their attempts the organizers of the contest lowered the bar and made it easier for them to get in. Thus he was able to use a technique that his friend spent many hours – not 2 minutes – developing, and even that only worked when security was initially compromisd by the runners of the contest..

    We don’t suffer because the vectors of attack simply do not exist. The reason viruses are a problem on windows is because MSFT has left methods open for their own use that the viruses use. Apple has not done so. This is not to say there’s not security issues on the mac, and these are actively “under attack” in the sense that they are being discovered and fixed every month. So even the literal obscurity part of your claim is bogus.

    But, the fact that you “stand behind” your assertion just confirms the general principle that journalists really don’t care about accuracy, and nothing they say should be taken too seriously.

  22. leigh says:

    @Bill:
    1. Not a journalist – I don’t even pretend to be.

    2. your assertion that “The vectors of attack don’t exist” is flawed. They do exist, the frequent security pathes and updates demonstrate this.

    It’s amazing to me that the simple logic of: “As you get more popular, you will get targeted more often, thus there will be more successful attacks” is such blasphemy.

    I am not now, nor have I ever intended to suggest that there are architectural issues with OSX, it’s certainly better than anything else out there.

    Seriously, even if you wear a bullet proof vest, the more often you get shot at, the greater your chances of being wounded.

    —————–

    An interesting find: there seem to be 6 active viruses for OS X right now. FIVE OF THEM use expolits found in Microsoft Office code.

    A better advertisement for iWork you’ll not find anywhere.

  23. rocketjam says:

    Quote:
    “Apple already overly relies on cultural cache to move product.”

    Spelling police here. Going to have to issue you a citation.
    It’s CACHET.
    cachet (number 4 is the one you are attempting to use):
    1. an official seal, as on a letter or document.
    2. a distinguishing mark or feature; stamp: Courtesy is the cachet of good breeding.
    3. a sign or expression of approval, esp. from a person who has a great deal of prestige.
    4. superior status; prestige: The job has a certain cachet.

    cache:
    1. a hidden storage space (for money or provisions or weapons)
    2. hoard: a secret store of valuables or money
    3. (computer science) RAM memory that is set aside as a specialized buffer storage that is continually updated; used to optimize data transfers between system elements with different characteristics
    4. hoard: save up as for future use