Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tipping Point

From  Philip Elmer-DeWit of Apple 2.0:

Gartner: Mac grew 20 times faster than the PC market in Q3. IDC gives Apple an even bigger edge, with Mac's U.S. shipments outpacing PCs 80 to 1.

Malcolm Gladwell defined a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." Of course, we normally don't recognize the tipping point until after it has long since passed. Have we reached a "tipping point" with the Mac? I would contend that we passed the tipping point long ago.

I've often wondered what it would take to return the Mac to the mainstream. Twenty years ago, the Mac entered a vicious cycle - a death spiral - that few products ever recover from. The Mac was viewed as a toy, and then a niche product and then, worst of all, as a product that was doomed - destined to disappear forever. In the world of platforms, where software is crucial and developers only develop software if they think there will be sufficient customers to pay them for their products, loss of confidence in the sustainability of the platform is a death sentence. But Apple's fanatical following kept the platform alive - against all odds, against all common wisdom, against all common sense. Slowly, painfully, inch-by-inch, step-by-step,  Steve Jobs halted  and then reversed this patten. The Mac moved from a death spiral to a virtuous cycle. And then, the Mac's integrated business model leveraged its modest market share into massive profit share. If this wasn't a miracle, it's about as close to one as it gets.

Now the Mac's profit share is not only growing, it is growing by leaps and bounds, a sure sign that sales have passed the "tipping point" and propelled the Mac into the mainstream. So what does this mean? It means that you ain't seen nothing yet. The Mac isn't just outgrowing the PC hardware market, its growth is accelerating. The stigma that Macs were doomed has long since passed. And the stigma that Macs were niche products has passed too, allowing consumers and even businesses to buy Macs without hesitation, without feeling that they have to somehow justify their purchases either to their bosses or to their spouse or tot themselves. And the stigma that Macs are just toys? Well, if by "toy" people mean that their Macs are fun to use, then perhaps the Mac will never outgrow - will never want to outgrow - that "stigma".

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