Macs, iPads, price hikes and the enterprise alternative

Macs, iPads, price hikes and the enterprise alternative

Although Apple now claims an active installed base of 100M, that doesn't mean the company's computers and mobile devices represent a real alternative to Windows

Credit: Dreamstime

Apple last week refreshed its MacBook Air and iPad Pro lines, adding a high-resolution display to the former for the first time and on the latter stretching the screen nearer the device's edges.

The tech giant also raised prices, boosting the lowest-cost MacBook Air by 20 per cent and the 11-in. iPad Pro by 23 per cent over its 10.5-in. predecessor.

Apple hiked MacBook Air prices in the face of downturns in both Mac and iPad sales. During the September quarter, Mac unit sales were down two per cent year-over-year, while iPad sales were off six per cent from the same period in 2017.

Even so, Apple CEO Tim Cook touted the Mac's popularity. "We're adding millions and millions of new customers every quarter, bringing our total active installed base to a new major milestone of 100 million Macs," Cook asserted during the Brooklyn event where the company unveiled new hardware.

But while that number sounds impressive at first glance, within the context of the global PC base it also illustrates Apple's historic inability to compete for significant share.

Cook's 100 million, for example, represents less than seven per cent of the 1.5 billion machines running Windows.

During the September quarter, Macs accounted for a slightly better 7.8 per cent of all estimated personal computer shipments, research firm IDC said last month.

Apple itself, or in lieu of the firm, its defenders, will argue that the Mac business was never meant to compete in the broader PC market. Pricing of Apple's desktops and laptops implies as much.

More importantly than Apple's aims for the Mac is where the platform's small share - now and apparently far in the future, too - leaves enterprises.

Although the Mac and its accompanying macOS have long been cited as the alternative to Microsoft's Windows ecosystem, or at least the most viable alternative, it's unrealistic to think that's realistic.

"Macs, they play a role in the price band they play in," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "But if you don't have a product in the $500 to $600 range, [enterprises] can't standardise on it."

In other words, the idea that commercial customers have an alternative to Windows is a chimera.

Historically, thoughts that there was a workable substitute for Windows have moved to front of mind when users were dissatisfied with the latest upgrade.

After 2007's Windows Vista had been pegged as a buggy flop, analysts noted an increase in enterprise-based Macs, even as they claimed IT departments were "slowly warming" to the maligned Vista.

The required migration from the traditional Windows 7 to the radically different Windows 10 - that difference concentrated in its release and servicing schedules - might have been another of those phases when enterprise customers rethink Windows.

But even though complaints about Windows 10 have chorused in some IT quarters, there's no evidence that Microsoft's monopoly is at risk. Macs have not surged into workplaces.

Gottheil gave partial credit to Microsoft. "Windows machines don't suck as much as they used to," he pointed out. "And frankly, Microsoft has been the more innovative company over the last six years," he added, ticking off corporate product lines, cloud services and OS enhancements to make his point.

On the other hand, Apple hasn't helped itself, Gottheil said. "They're not offering anything that's new or that's compelling. The most [Apple's] come up with [in the last few years] is the touch bar," he said, referring to the mutable keyboard section on MacBook Pro notebooks.

Apple's best shot at the enterprise market, thought Gottheil, is not the Mac or even an iPad Pro pitched as a notebook replacement. "[Apple is] paying a lot of attention to augmented reality, and that makes sense, that plays for commercial," Gottheil said of the new AR engine in iOS 12.

He dismissed virtual reality as "sticking your head in a bucket," something that would never gain traction in the enterprise. But AR, where real-world and digital views are combined, will be a boon to business.

"AR means location and object orientation in the presentation of information," Gottheil continued. "With AR you don't mistake the part [as you pull it from a shelf]." Other applications, ranging from field service and inventory control to real estate, construction, re-modeling and decorating, would benefit, too, from a tablet-rendered AR view.

"The iPad space has potential, not as a general-purpose device, but connected to specific applications, just the iPad," Gottheil contended.

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