Apple?s Leopard Strategy: Screw Microsoft, Kill Dell, Save the 4th Quarter

This week Apple’s Leopard Strategy became more clear and it seems to have less and less to do with Microsoft and Windows Vista. In fact, looking underneath the covers it would appear that Windows Vista may run just fine on Apple hardware along with Leopard (if that’s what a user wants), even though they increasingly may not need to go that route.     In looking at the detail coming out of the Apple developer’s conference my conclusion is that while Microsoft may be a target for the purpose of publicity and media, from the standpoint of competition, Apple is putting the cross hairs more appropriately on companies like Dell. This is where they should have been from the very beginning.    Embracing Windows (Initially)   If you’ve been watching the latest Apple Ads and if you’ve noticed what Steve Jobs said, you have probably realized that Apple isn’t really positioning directly against Windows anymore.  In fact, it is starting to feel more and more like Apple is a way to get a better Windows experience. They even go so far as to promote Windows on the Mac, something they have done poorly in the past but, with the benefit of both Apple and third party software, are increasingly doing very well.     If you look at Microsoft products like the Windows Media Center edition, these products are progressively becoming more like two products in one. With the many flavors of Windows Vista, that sense of multiple OSs on a single platform will be increasingly promoted.      On the desktop the Apple platform is a bundle of applications, much like Microsoft Office, but focused more on media. It hardly competes with Media Center right now, and seems targeted at the usage model that is as complete for entry level media content creators as Office is for business users.   The Dell Surprise       Now Windows users will never, as a group, move away from the applications and user experiences they are used to. However, most aren’t doing media creation yet. This is expected to change. Thus, if Apple can give these users the Windows experience they need with the media creation experience they want, then Apple can make these users comfortable with both platforms. The resulting strategy could, for once, grow their installed base significantly.   This is the Dell surprise, because companies like Dell can’t do this.  If this works, then a level of differentiation will be established that virtually all of the OEMs are looking for, however with the exception of Apple none will be able to accomplish.    Granted this is initially only a consumer play, it could have parts that will resonate with education as well. Business won’t be as easy, but we’ll leave that and Apple’s flawed anti-Open Source server strategy for another day. Today we’ll focus on the positives.    Screwing Microsoft   Microsoft is focused like a laser on the European Union right now and needs a strong example of interoperability with a UNIX or Linux vendor to drive the point home. What better company for that than Apple? Plus, Microsoft is incredibly likely to be willing to help Apple in any way to make their platform work seamlessly with Microsoft’s offerings.     However, Steve Jobs is the master of being your best buddy while planning to stab you in the back. His biographies are filled with stories that do more than suggest that if he wants what you have, you’d better grab it and run for the hills. HP’s ex-CEO was the last to learn this lesson very painfully with an iPod partnership that should never have happened.    So, while initially Apple will likely promise Microsoft that their OS is safe, the actual plan will probably be more like this: once customers are comfortable with the Mac UI, they will gradually train them to use the MacOS exclusively, and then use the then very robust emulation technology to run a declining number of Windows applications without running Windows.     Of course this depends on Microsoft not seeing the plan coming and, given the history between the two firms, Microsoft will probably be skeptical to begin with. But, even seeing it coming, given the European Union problem what can Microsoft do about it?   Saving the 4th Quarter   Another of the primary reasons Apple isn’t being forthcoming about Leopard is the fear that if people get too excited about a product coming early in 2007 they will stop buying in 2006.  So, Apple is intentionally not telling you about the great multi-media features in the new product, the security enhancements that will make the existing line obsolete, or the massive jump in application performance on what will be a fully optimized product on the then current Intel hardware.     Certainly you’ve been left in the dark about enhancements that will increase notebook performance and battery life, allow you to seamlessly move between 802.11n, WiMax, and Cellular data networks, and even more quickly create peer-to-peer relationships on the fly.     The UI improvements that better make use of the then current enhancements in graphics technology are hinted at but you won’t see the real power until the OS is released when the true power of the visual experience can be a real surprise (and it is believed to be stunning).     If you get too excited about what is supposed to be an incredibly amazing product you simply won’t buy a new Apple this year. That wouldn’t be a good thing because Apple would like you to buy both years, if possible, and that means keeping you in the dark about what is coming. It is a typical Apple after all.    Of course I’m reading a lot into what Steve Jobs didn’t say at the Apple Developer’s conference, but read the coverage, go over what he did say, do you really think I’m that far off?    

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

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