OP-EDS

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October 20, 2006

Apple Computers: the power of creativity and intelligence

For everyone who knows me now this may come as a shock, but I was a bit of a nerd when I was in high school. Specifically, there was an eminently forgettable period of my high school career in which I became obsessed with computers. This was not manifest in the traditional ways—an insatiable craving for computer games or a mastery of the most forgotten-about corners of the C++ coding language. I was too lazy for all of that. Rather, for some reason, in the winter of ninth grade, I decided that I wanted my boring PC to look like a Mac, and I just became obsessed with fooling myself into thinking I had a Mac. This was long before the Steve Jobs renaissance, the iPod, or even OS X. In fact, I suspect that this was some sort of rebellious urge to control and create my personal space. As my parents had long since deprived me of that right vis-a-vis my bedroom (honestly, who needs 12 decorative pillows on his bed?), I guess that controlling my virtual space was the best available substitute for putting up posters in my room.

I downloaded some program that changed the appearance of all of my desktop windows, and I configured them so that they would look and act like a Mac’s. I somehow changed my startup and signoff screen to look like the Apple ones, and I even configured the sounds so that I could hear that odd little “dripping” sound that used to be on the old Macs. To a large extent, I succeeded, until the brilliant gray facade of the fake Macintosh began to crack, choking my sluggish Windows 98 machine with the sheer amount of crap I had loaded to hide the truth. The computer ended up completely shriveling to a slow death, until I had to format and reload everything. As I said, I was a bit of a nerd in high school.

That inexplicable urge I felt in high school to have an Apple seems to have spread virulently to pop culture in an entirely quantifiable way, to which Apple’s explosive fourth quarter profit reports attest. While no one doubts that its products’ chic image and near-flawless functionality have powered the company to its current position, the recent numbers are particularly arresting because they were not fueled by the iPod—rather, it was its Macintosh computer that was, as BusinessWeek calls it, “the belle of the earnings ball.”

This is particularly significant because it reflects the success of Apple’s shrewdest business decision yet—Apple’s switch to Intel chips. Many experts credit the company’s switch to Intel chips for its Macintosh computers with allowing the company to leave its cozy niche in the computer market to become a dominant player. According to BusinessWeek, Macintosh computers currently trail the PC–based Gateway computers by 38,000 units. Gateway itself is the third-leading seller of PCs, trailing only HP and Dell. While it is tempting to point to the Intel-switch as the particular impetus for this growth, the numbers tell a different story. Macs experienced a 12 percent growth in sales during the third quarter (after its Intel release), a number which shot up to 56 percent growth in the fourth. Something must have happened before the fourth quarter.

In fact, shortly before the fourth quarter, which began July 1 and ended September 30, Apple released a piece of software that allows users to dual-boot Windows on their machines and run Windows programs. Thus, while the new Intel Macs had been released in February, the real gains weren’t seen until summer—after software was released allowing Mac users to run Windows programs. The significance of this piece of software cannot be underestimated. Previously, Apple computer sales were frustrated by Macs’ lack of compatibility with the rest of the world. Now, it seems, the final barrier to Apple world domination has been broken. Continued growth in computer sales, which comprise 45 percent of the company’s total revenue, will mean a steady stream of ridiculous quarterly reports like this one.

Indeed, the sky seems to be the only limit for Apple in the coming future. In addition to hotcake-esque Mac sales, insiders allege that Apple is preparing for a frenzied reception of its new iPhone, as ThinkSecret reports that the company is preparing to sell 25 million units in 2007 alone—which is half of the 50 million Motorola RAZR phones sold their 2004 introduction. Most importantly, though, Apple’s brilliant campaign to convert PC–users by simply removing reasons not to buy their irresistibly well designed Macs will likely drive Apple to become the third-largest computer maker in the U.S. Couple that with another new video iPod release, and Jobs will only continue to shit in Bill Gates’s proverbial soup.

All of this goes to show that I wasn’t that far off during my excessively nerdy fall into Apple-lust in high school. Few companies operate by the same raw creativity and intelligence that Apple does—compare Apple’s recent history with Microsoft’s or Dell’s, and the contrast between wild growth and total stagnation is telling. It is rare that a company stays so creatively in touch with what its consumers want (most recently, compatibility), and it is only fitting that it should be rewarded so abundantly.