This article in the NYTimes is a throwback, and with all due respect to Mr. Stross, he just doesn’t get that it’s not just about computers anymore and market share isn’t a meaningful metric for success in the broader market, as odd as that may sound.
The best time for gaining market share is when your main competitor stumbles while introducing an entirely new version of its core product. Thanks to Microsoft’s lumbering pace, Mr. Jobs had six years to look forward to the moment when XP would be replaced by Vista.
1) Microsoft vs. Apple meant something when being a platform meant having enough mass to attract application developers. It’s 2007 and everything new runs in a browser… how many installed applications do you use? Microsoft Office, maybe Quicken… both are native on the Mac. Stross mentions this in one sentence and ignores what a significant shift this has been in the industry as a whole.
2) Drivers? People who use Macs base their peripheral decisions on around what is supported on Macs… not the other way around. Your printer doesn’t have a Mac driver? No problem, buy a new printer, they are cheap. I don’t base my computer decision on what printer supports it.
3) Market share or profitability? What would you rather be, a PC maker fighting commodity pricing trends or a niche vendor making a lot of money and practically guaranteed to continue to do so for the near and medium term future? How about market share for portable media players, online music downloads, now phones (okay, Microsoft gets Apple on that one, Windows Mobile has been doing really well for 2 years now).
4) I really don’t think Jobs wakes up every day trying to beat Microsoft at their game. If anything, he has forced Microsoft to adjust to a new landscape thereby positioning them as the underdog. Here’s the deal, you can define your company around a set of competitors or build your company to a vision that transcends competitors and I think it’s fair to say that Jobs has done the latter, therefore the whole Apple has 3% while Microsoft has everything else almost doesn’t matter… I’d still want to be Apple for a lot of reasons that are important, like profitability and market trajectory.
Lastly, Stross makes a big deal about Apple’s retail strategy but keep in mind that Apple’s retail division generates over $2 billion a year in revenue, contributes greatly to high customer satisfaction, and lastly, gives Apple complete control over merchandising and pricing. The fact that the company has gained market share indicates that their retail presence isn’t an inhibitor to growth.
UPDATE: Stross should read Cuban’s post on his switch from Vista to a Mac… “I had gotten to the point where I was embarrassed to be a PC owner”. I’m surprised that Cuban doesn’t know that Microsoft does have a version of Outlook for the Mac, I’m sure he can afford a copy of Microsoft Office for the Mac, it comes with it. I think it’s fair to say that Apple’s “window” is wide open.