GOING FOR THE JUGULAR
I love riffing on "what-if" scenarios on technology and what technology companies could do to get ahead and hurt competitors, or just drive them a bit crazy.
One of the best "riffers" of "techno-strategy" "thought experiments", is veteran tech columnist Robert X. Cringely.
He has an article up titled "Has Google Peaked?", in which he explores the scenario of Google having peaked in terms of its corporate contribution. He posits:
"But what if everyone is mainly wrong? What if search and PageRank and AdSense are Google's corporate apex. Most companies would be content with that, but Google isn't supposed to be like most companies. But what if they are? I hear a lot of talk about Google doing deals for video and music distribution, but where are those deals? So far it is all just talk.
I hope Google does pull off a couple more spectacular product feats, but I won't be all that surprised if they don't. It will take the company another five years just to mature the businesses they already have.
So it could be that Google isn't the Microsoft-killer many people -- including Gates and Ballmer -- fear the company is. Going a step further, it is even possible that Gates's conviction that he'll eventually be taken down by a startup is wrong, too."
He then goes on to explore another company that could be a bigger threat to Microsoft than Google. I talked about this company a few days ago, as a possible future direct competitor to Google. Robert goes on to say:
"Here's where I go out on a limb, but I think Microsoft's clearest threat still comes from Apple, though not the way most people expect. Yes, Apple is about to take Microsoft to the woodshed when it comes to Internet movie distribution. Yes, Apple already super-dominates the music player market where Microsoft doesn't even really exist. But the real jewel is one Microsoft has to lose, not gain -- the PC platform, itself.
What could Apple do to take down Windows, with or without the help of Intel?
What seems to me to be the answer came to me this week from a reader who had a disruptive idea that I gleefully embellished."
What is this idea? Well, Robert goes on to "gleefully" riff on a subject that has been the subject of several recent posts by yours truly. You can see them here, here, and here.
Here's Robert's twist on this idea:
"Here are the clues. Microsoft is woefully late with its next Windows upgrade, while Apple is far ahead with even the current version of OS X. Apple is moving to Intel processors and hackers have already shown that OS X can run fine on non-Apple hardware. But Apple doesn't want to give up its profitable hardware business to compete head-to-head with Microsoft. And remember, Apple totally dominates the portable music player market and will probably sell 25 million iPods or more this year.
Every one of those iPods is a bootable drive. What if Apple introduces OS 10.5, its next super-duper operating system release, and at the same time starts loading FOR FREE the current operating system version -- OS 10.4 -- on every new iPod in a version that runs on generic Intel boxes? What if they also make 10.4 a free download through the iTunes Music Store?
It wouldn't kill Microsoft, but it would hurt the company, both emotionally and materially. And it wouldn't hurt Apple at all. Apple hardware sales would be driven by OS 10.5 and all giving away 10.4 would do is help sell more iPods and attract more customers to Apple's store."
Now I don't think Apple is likely to give away an "older" version of its OS just to spite Microsoft, but it's a great techno-strategy riff by Robert.
Here's my version of the riff, half-baked as it may be, on what Apple COULD do instead.
It has everything to do with Apple's recently announced strategy to transition its own and its developer community's software to the Intel architecture in two years (by June 2007). My earlier posts on this can be seen here, here, and here.
But first let's summarize what we know so far:
- Apple so far seems to be on or ahead of schedule in this transition effort.
- The developer version of the Mac/Intel operating system seems to port to off-the-shelf Intel PCs with little effort.
- Developers have been able to set up Intel PCs with dual-booting operating systems, i.e., the user can choose whether to boot up the Mac or Windows XP operating system at boot up.
- Steve Jobs/Apple continues to be dead-set against licensing the Mac OS to third-party PC vendors, something that was attempted by Apple in the past in the "Jobs-in-exile" phase of the company's history. Steve shut that effort down upon his return.
- Apple continues to be "hard-core" about maintaining its control on ALL mac operating and application software.
Given these realities, here is what Apple could do when they finally launch new Macs on Intel-based PCs. It involves two steps, both taken simultaneously.
1. They could offer a Mac desktop and/or laptop that has TWO hard drives in it. One has the latest and greatest Mac OS on it. And the second has Windows XP/Windows Vista on it, which of course, the customer pays for.
This makes it VERY easy for the user then to boot up into EITHER operating system, and have both Windows and Mac applications (and their own related files), on the same machine. They'd just be on two different drives on the same machine.
The customer then gets a machine directly from Apple that supports BOTH operating systems, provides the best of both worlds in terms of application software, AND...
has special Apple-enhanced, cool software that makes working with both operating systems seamless and easy. In effect, it encourages the customer to "SWITCH" operating systems AFTER buying and using the PC, rather than forcing them to commit to one or the other operating system today.
Very simple...Apple thus becomes a Windows reseller, which benefits Microsoft in the near-term.
But longer-term, it gets customers to try a Mac while buying a Windows PC...a no-lose proposition.
2. At the same time, Apple could announce a twist on Robert's idea above. In two years, iPods with a 100GB or more in storage space will be an affordable reality.
The company could offer a "Mac iPod", loaded with the latest Intel based Mac operating system, which the customer DOES pay for.
The user can plug this into any existing Windows PC, whether it has Microsoft Windows XP or the new Windows Vista software, and in effect have a dual-boot computer that turns into a Mac. Of course, Apple would bundle all its cutting edge application software that it already delivers with every Mac.
It would be the new "Mac Micro-Mini"! And it could be priced under $700, possibly less.
Can you imagine the design possibilities, especially after what they did with the Mac Mini already?
Now that could be interesting for the company's market share in a couple of years.
But it does take some big, proactive steps by Apple, and either step is not so far-fetched technically. Iomega already offers "micro-mini" USB hard drives.
This proposed strategy also doesn't violate any business strategy issues that Apple holds sacrosanct to date.
So that's my half-baked techno-strategy riff for today.