Does Bill Gates have the Prescription for Apple’s Market Share Blues?

by Chris Seibold May 04, 2005

For a great number of Mac users Apple’s share of the computing market carries a disproportional amount of interest. When queried about the over arching interest in Mac market share people will ardently maintain that their passion to see the Mac regain some long lost market clout is due to a tangible benefit. They will argue incessantly about economies of scale lowering the price of Macs, increased access to software and games or invoke Apple corporate health. When fully analyzed the validity of most of those arguments is easily dispatched and, upon further discourse, one realizes that the reason most people truly wish to see the Mac market share rocket is due to the desire of their choice in computing to be tacitly endorsed by a larger mass of computer users. Or they just really, really hate Microsoft.

In either scenario it is nice to note that Bill Gates sees the light at the end of the tunnel for Mac users and is kind enough to lay out a roadmap of sorts for Apple’s continuing growth. Naturally enough Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire didn’t come right out and say, “The Mac is going to get more popular, and here’s why…” An admission of that sort would be very out of character for Mr. Gates who enjoys taking the occasional swipe at the Mac.* Instead we will have to satisfy ourselves with some quotes from a recent Engadget interview. The initial pertinent part of the discussion:

Well I believe in Tablet and I’m never the best person to know what the ramp up will be like. We’re not mainstream yet and we are hardcore, we’re going make it better and better and get this thing to be mainstream. I’m very encouraged by this sales growth we’re seeing right now. The last three months has been the record by far. You know, it just takes time.

Now obviously Mr. Gates is talking about the Tablet PC. But note the applicability to the situation of the Mac. The Mac could hardly be called “mainstream” yet few would deny that Apple is a “hardcore” computing company. The first thing Mr. Gates thinks should be addressed is making the platform better. Tiger is here, part one of Bill Gates’ plan is accomplished. The second issue is the price premium. Apple has addressed this issue (or at least the myth of the cost premium) with the introduction of the mini. Part two=Check!

When asked how long it would for the Mac errr Tablets to achieve substantial market traction Mr. Gates had this to say:

I’m not good at predicting that. I’ll be bold enough to say two years away, 2 years away. It’s very non-linear. It’s not like you go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. I mean you go you either go one, one, one, one, one, or you go one, ten, 15, 20

This good news for Mac users, apparently a product can mired in the doldrums and suddenly explode. Bill describes the process:

And we need the word to spread. We need people to sit on a plane and see somebody next to them who’s using OneNote and they go, “Whoa, what is that?” We need people to annotate things and mail it to people and when they get it they open it and say, “How did that person do that, that is so cool the way they’ve circled and underlined and done those things.”

So what Mac users need to hope for is people to looking over their shoulders while they’re using Dashboard or be wowed by the iLife programs. Seems likely. Bill continues:

But then again, when you finally get that magic thing where you get the right hardware and software and right marketing it’s never really the size of the marketing budget, it’s more how you get the exposure. Because after all, all marketing does is take enough of a group that loves the thing and gets them talking to their friends. And we have a little bit of that right now. The people who own Tablets, many of them are rabid Tablet evangelists, and so we need about ten times as many of those before we’re moving towards the mainstream.

Hmmm, Bill thinks that evangelists are crucial if a product wishes to move from niche to mainstream. It will come as n surprise to any Apple fan that that part of Bill’s master plan is already well covered. Check!

So if Mr. Gates analysis is correct the Mac is poised for a huge upswing. Nice to know that someone as successful as Mr. Gates thinks the Mac has a legitimate chance of rejoining the mainstream. One may question the applicability transposing Mr. Gates roadmap for tablet PCs to the Macintosh yet the parallels are too striking to be ignored. Recasting the steps required by Mr. Gates for mass acceptance we have:

Better hardware (G5)
Growing market share (Apple is outpacing the rate of growth of Windows PCs)
Lower Price Points (mini)
Increased awareness (the coverage of Tiger has been phenomenal)
A rabidly loyal fan base (no problem)
Wow factor to impress non-users (Expose, Dashboard, Automator, iLife….)

So it would appear that Apple has all the bases well and truly covered. If Mr. Gates is correct in his analysis the future could be very bright indeed.

*The latest swipe: “Super small market share guy” followed by “You can always tell if you’re working on a Mac or a PC. Just take your applications and stick them in there and see if they run” He’s right of course, I can think of 97,467 programs that willingly run on PCs that won’t run on Macs.


  • Great analogy Chris.

    You missed one tho…

    Bill says “...How did that person do that?...”

    The analogy is iWork - especially Pages.  I know, recently wowed people with a report I spiffed up in Pages. My response to “That’s impressive!” was “I cheated. I used a Mac”  (Which would make a nice little advertising slogan)

    Also, iMovie and iDVD and iPhoto Books.  All have that “How did they do that?!” effect.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 06, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • Damn! Now I’ve got all these ad ideas running thru my head.

    Ad 1:

    Person flicking through an iPhoto Book. “Wow! How did you this?! It look’s great!”
    Book owner: “I cheated…”
    Person flicks to inside back cover and we clearly see the “Made on a Mac” logo
    Book owner: “... I used a Mac”
    Pan to a Mac
    Close to logo and slogan “Do it the easy way, get a Mac”

    Ad 2:

    40 something guy on phone “I got your DVD of your holidays, Dad, it looks fantastic! How did you do that?!”
    Late 60’s guy on phone: “I cheated, I used a Mac”
    Pan to Mac
    Close to logo and slogan “Make life easy, do it on a Mac”

    Ad 3

    Boss has reports scattered on desk. All are plain and boring, black and white, no flair. Except one.  Picks it up and begins flicking thru it.
    20-something woman knocks and enters. “Oh, I see you got my report”
    Boss: “This looks fantastic! How did you do it?!”
    Woman. “I cheated. I used a Mac.”
    Pan thru his glass wall to a Mac on her desk.
    Close to logo and slogan. “Take the easy way. Get a Mac”

    so you get the idea.

    PS Thanks Bill!

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 06, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • oops! Ad 2 should show some of the flashiness of the DVD eg the contents page.

    All these ads could be done in 15 seconds.

    The slogans need some work! But I think the theme is good.  I also think Apple has used this approach before but taken from a negative perspective.  They told you how good the Mac was by bagging Windows.  Which obviously didn’t work. It just makes people defensive about their choice of platform. You want to make people want to change.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 06, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • Nice Ads Chris. I’m starting to think that it is about time for a media blitz extolling the mac’s virtues (as in your ad ideas) not showing off the hardware. I mean the mirror imac sticking out its tongue was okay, and the guy getting blown through the house was somewhat interesting but those things don’t really say what the mac can do for me…

    Chris Seibold had this to say on May 06, 2005 Posts: 354
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