I originally wrote this editorial based on the assumption that Apple would introduce a new digital device at Macworld. (No, I didn’t fall for the iPad hoax, just the claims of all the other rumor sites.) I have since edited it based on the announcements that were made. While it may not be as timely because there was no new device, I feel it still represents a way to increase Apple’s market share, along with the quality of products it offers. Hopefully, Apple still has time to at least give this idea consideration before introducing future devices.

The recently introduced iMac represents a monumental achievement in innovation, both of design and function – much as the iPod did just a few short months ago. However, while the iMac seems to have every element needed to bring needed attention to Apple, the iPod has one crucial flaw that prevents it from helping Apple as much as it could: its lack of Windows compatibility.

The Argument

Some Apple enthusiasts have made claims that the iPod should only work on Macs, making justifications ranging from that only Apple users deserve such great devices to that adding compatibility is not worth Apple’s time. But Windows compatibility for the iPod and future devices should not be overlooked, as it offers the potential for substantially increasing Apple’s total sales and market share, not only now but in the future.

The first aspect of how adding Windows compatibility will help Apple is fairly obvious, so I won’t go into too much depth about it. Simply put, providing PC drivers will increase the number of potential customers 10-fold. Granted, most PC users don’t have all of the needed hardware for the devices – Firewire, for instance. But more users would be willing to consider a $50 upgrade card than buying an entirely new system. Additionally, PC manufacturers Dell and IBM seem to finally be catching up, including Firewire ports on several of their new models.

No matter how great of an mp3 player the iPod is, it is still just that – an mp3 player – and people can’t justify spending thousands of dollars on a new computer system just for that. Granted, Steve Jobs told stories to the contrary at his keynote on Monday, but everyone can admit that these are the exception, not the rule.

Apple sold 125,000 of the little devices in just over a month. That figure is staggering in and of itself, so just imagine how many it could have sold if PC users could have immediately used it with included software.

However the real benefits for Apple come months and even years down the road, when PC users with these devices decide to buy a new computer. Having used an Apple produce first-hand, they will know how well Apple products work, how easy they are to use, and even how appealing anything non-beige can be. Granted, some will end up buying a Dell or an HP, but even if 20 percent of these individuals were to end up buying Macs, that could lead to a noticeable increase in Apple’s market share.

As amazing as the new iMac is to look at, current PC users will only be aware of that: how it looks. They will have no idea how stable, fast, reliable and easy to use Apple products are until they try one of their own.

The Benefits

Increasing its number of users will directly help Apple as a corporation. More sales mean more profits, and in the business world, that’s all that matters. But this increase will also cause substantial benefits for Apple users.

First, more profits will allow Apple to spend more money on research and development. Long story short, more people buying Apple products now mean that it can invest more on designing groundbreaking computers and digital devices in the future.

Second, based on the simple principle of supply versus demand, the more products Apple sells means that it becomes cheaper for it to do so. As a result, the cost of Apple products will decrease as its number of customers increases.

Finally, having more users also means that software and hardware developers could stand to make a large profit by selling Mac products. As a result, users will have more options. Companies will be more willing to offer everything from drivers for peripherals to games, assuming they see enough of a Mac contingency to justify spending their time and money.

The Rebuttal

Other columnists have made similar points in the past, and there has consistently been opposition to those supporting PC compatability. One major argument against it states that if Apple were to offer top PC software – iTunes for Windows, for example – PC users would have no reason to consider other Mac products. After all, they would have all of the benefits of an Apple computer – at least in terms of using their new digital device – on their PC. However, this position is somewhat flawed. The previous point that using Apple products first-hand gives consumers a better appreciation of their quality and will cause them to consider buying a Mac in the future still stands, no matter how great PC versions of Apple software are.

Nonetheless, the claim still has some merit. For this reason, I would suggest that Apple offer PC drivers for their devices but only stripped-down versions of the accompanying PC software. For instance with the iPod, Apple should include software that is stable and works well at allowing users to drag their songs onto the device, but that can do little else. Thus, PC users could buy and use an iPod, but still not have all of the benefits they would have if there were using it on a Mac.

Some might say that this is exactly what XPlay will provide. However, native compatibility cannot be underestimated. Most people don’t know much about their computer. They might be scared off by being told they had to purchase more software just to use their device, but if they could get started with their product immediately after taking it out of their box, they would be much more likely to make a purchase.

Additionally, XPlay only adds to the cost of the unit. After adding a Firewire card and buying additional software, the cost skyrockets from $400 to $500, making PC consumers even less likely to purchase an iPod.

The Conclusion

The most important thing to remember is that consumers who know next to nothing about their computer make up most of the market, and consequently they constitute the majority of sales. Apple has to reach out to the average consumer, give them a chance to own an Apple product and by doing so, show them exactly what they’re missing.

Read the Reader Rebuttal: Digital Devices by iLounger, Josh Schoenwald


Vini, Vidi, Velcro. I came, I saw, I stuck around...