PCs vs Macs in the Long Run

Thanks for your feedback. You raise several points I have had to contemplate more as well. For instance could Intel and AMD begin creating ARM super-chips as you say to compete in the market? I actually wrote a story reflecting on that: Intel, ARM and the Innovators Dilemma.

Basically my conclusion was that I think it will be hard for them.

As for the vertical integration of Macs vs the openness and flexibility of PCs. If you have watched the industry since the 80s, I think you have seen the same kinds of patterns repeat again and again.

Apple and other hardware makers with complete vertical integration are often able to move ahead in innovative ways much quicker than the PC platform, or any platform which is very open. Thus in some periods you see the PC being clearly behind.

I remember back when I used an Amiga 1000, just how far behind PCs where. And I bet when the original Mac was released that PCs looked really dated. But of course when these kind of fully vertically integrated companies fail to innovate fast enough, an open platform like the PC will eventually catch up.

There was a lot of trial and error for Microsoft to get out a descent Windows. It was crap compared to MacOS and anything we had on Amiga for a long time. But eventually they pulled it off, and then they could leverage the fact that the massive competition and wide selection in the PC market is really hard to beat for price conscious customers.

I think this kind of cycle is always repeating. We saw when Apple switched to PowerPC, they enjoyed an advantage over PCs for a while.

I think now we are entering a new cycle. I don’t know for how long, but I would suspect Apple with their ARM based Macs will enjoy some years in the sun now, while PC users are looking over at them with some envy.

Eventually the PC world will be able to transition to ARM. Eventually they will standardize on SoCs with various co-processors for higher performance.

Apple Today is a Different Company

Still I think it would be a mistake to view this as completely inevitable. Yes, we have been through this stuff before, but Apple today is a radically different company from the past. Today Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world. They take something like 90% of the profit in the Smart phone market. That they only sell 20% or so of the Phones is thus irrelevant.

The point is they have a lot of legs to stand on and have far strong dominance and cash flow than in the past. Their PC competitors are much weaker relative to them today than they where in the past.

Designing chips is getting really expensive. Unless you can manufacture a chip at really high volume with high margin, you are out of the game: As Chip Design Costs Skyrocket, 3nm Process Node Is in Jeopardy

This really plays to Apple strengths. They are far more aggressive than their competitors in keeping their number of models to a minimum. They also reuse almost all the IP they developed for iPhone and iPad chips in making their Mac based chips. Their competitors simply don’t have that benefit of scale.

Just look at the huge number of different chips Intel and AMD make. Or the large number of different PC models Dell and HP sell. It means Apple may be able to pull the old Intel trick: Outcompete everybody because you produce chips in higher volume.

To be clear, I don’t think Apple will ever take over the majority of the market. That seems highly unrealistic. People have too many varied preferences and Apple doesn’t cater much to the budget oriented buyer. However a 7% market share may be a thing of the past. Instead I don’t think it is impossible that Apple over time could manage to get into a 15–20% market share.

Personal Views on Macs vs PCs

I do really love Macs, because I value the design, ergonomics, ease of use, quality products, flawless integration. Stuff just works. However I agree with you that it is frustrating with the limited ability to upgrade and modify. I still fantasize about a return of the beautiful G4 Towers:

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Mac G4 Tower

These where in my view both the most beautiful and practical Macs ever made. Handles on the edges was awesome. I remember how awkward it was to haul those old heavy PC towers around with nothing to grab onto.

The way the interior could be folded out easily for easy access to motherboard for expansion was a combination of beauty elegance and practicality. The essence of Apple to me. I currently have a Mac Pro (2013 model) which I have had for over 5 years. I’ve lost track of how long. I love this machine. It works great, but it is frustrating how I can’t easily upgrade the internal harddrive. Memory is easy to upgrade fortunately. But upgrading the hard drive requires this special kit. Secondly I wished I could put a Blue Ray burner inside it.

So Apple doesn’t really give me what I want. But while PCs are more flexible, I simply cannot stand Windows. I am a peaceful guy but very opinionated and in all honesty Windows just makes my blood boil when I use it. I have use a lot of operating systems which I quite like AmigaOS, RISC OS, BeOS and Linux (Ubuntu). But Windows simply rubs me the wrong way in every possible way:

  • The constants popups.
  • All the crap software you get installed.
  • The poorly thought out UI
  • The sheer number of inconsistencies
  • Everything about the file system: path separators, drive letters. How you cannot delete files in use and all these little details that easily drive you nuts when you are used to a sane OS.
  • The hideous look of the whole thing.

Ubuntu Linux is not too bad, but there is just too much quality software I use on the Mac which it lacks. Thus I have to put up with Apple’s narrow choice of hardware and annoying insistence of making super small computers which cannot be upgraded or extended.

But should Apple drop the ball, Ubuntu is definitely my backup solution. I am happy that Windows is not the only choice ;-)

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Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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