How can I possibly consider the Mac to be like BlackBerry? After all, the BlackBerry brand died a slow and agonizing death over many years, while the Mac just reigned in another quarter of record sales.
We all know we’re moving rapidly into a mobile technology world and whatever existed among computer users in the past– desktop PCs and notebooks, I’m looking at you– are slowly becoming relics of the past, the cars that are being turned into slickly appointed pickup trucks, but trucks nonetheless. Can the Mac become the BlackBerry?
Numbers Can Lie
By most accounts, and Apple seems to be the only company capable of divulging sales numbers these days, the Mac is doing well. Sales are at record levels. Again. But even in the Mac line, the shift toward mobile is apparent, with around 75-percent of Mac sales going to the MacBook and MacBook line, not the desktop iMac or Mac Pro, both of which are languishing and drifting away from frequent updates.
It’s a sign of the times. Mobile is where it’s at. Nearly 70-percent of Apple’s revenue and profits come from the iPhone. The Mac is yesterday’s news. But still sells at record unit levels. What’s going on?
The BlackBerry effect.
Alright. Let me re-phrase that as a question. “Could it be the BlackBerry effect?” No, that’s not a thing, though it should be. BlackBerry is just one of many companies in technology that were doing great one day– absolutely stellar financial performance– only to start a long, slow, and then dramatic decline into obscurity. Remember Nokia? Same thing. The brand of both tech giants remains, but are mere hollowed out shells of their previous selves because they could not change fast enough to keep up with a sea change in the smartphone market; started by the iPhone in 2007 (so it’s not like they couldn’t see it coming, right?).
Analyst Horace Dediu has a great graph which pictures BlackBerry’s rise and fall but only back to 2013. Since then, the company is no longer the same, the brand was sold off to a Chinese manufacturer which resurrected it into the Android hive.
The numbers are stunning because BlackBerry had record sales for years after the iPhone came online. The Mac is not the BlackBerry. But it could be.
On Replacing The Mac
What happened in the smartphone industry that derailed BlackBerry? Could something similar– or, is something similar– happen to derail the Mac?
BlackBerry suffered and then failed because the company failed to see the threat the iPhone and Google’s Android OS brought to the industry. Hey, sales were at record levels quarter after quarter. What? Me worry? It was as if Alfred E. Neuman was running BlackBerry. The changes in the market were obvious to many, but not to those running BlackBerry, Nokia, Microsoft, and others.
It may have seemed like slow motion, but sometimes a change in technology can move swiftly through the market. Fortunately, the Mac does not have an iPhone-like or Android-like competitor?
Or, does it?
The one area of personal computers that is showing some growth is at the low end and it’s not because of cheap prices. Chromebooks are hot sellers because what they do, they do very well, and just as the iPhone was the antithesis of BlackBerry and Nokia, the Mac is at the opposite end of the scale from ultra cheap, Linux-based notebooks. 2017 might just be the year of Linux on the desktop, but not Linux distros as much as very inexpensive and more capable Chromebooks.
Can a $500 Chromebook replace a Mac? Yes. And, no. Because it depends on what that Mac is doing. If it’s the heavy lifting of Office or Photoshop or other such professional level applications or suites– Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro, or even iMovie and Garageband come to mind– then, no. Not at all. But for what many tens of millions of personal computers need– writing, browsing, music, photos, utilities, and a few games– a Chromebook is just the ticket. Fast enough. Cheap enough. Secure enough. And, thanks to the new generation which also runs many Android apps, packed with little utilities that do what can also be done on their Android smartphones. This is not Windows vs. the Mac. This is a slow and steady sea change in the personal computer industry that Google wrought with a free operating system. For now, Windows is being hurt even more than the Mac.
Chromebook’s rise in capability and competitive stature indicates the Mac has a weak spot, and over time it could erode those record sales and industry leading gross margins, just as BlackBerry hit record sales for years, then followed it up with few changes in the product line designed to compete with iPhone and Android smartphones, and sales started to fall and never improved. Yes, Apple could do without the Mac and hardly anyone would notice the difference in the balance sheet or P&L.
We could ask, “What is Apple doing to make sure the user base continues to grow in number, and competes effectively with growing threats like Chromebooks?” Just as BlackBerry and Nokia could not compete on ease of use, features, and applications from the iPhone and Android, Apple cannot compete against steadily improving Chromebooks on price alone.
The Mac could be Apple’s new BlackBerry. That’s why I worry.