Perhaps it is time Apple set macOS X free

Apple is more capable than ever of delivering the world's most high-end computing experiences

Apple, iOS, OS X, macOS, hack, clone, Mac, PC

Apple’s decision to refrain from announcing that macOS Sierra will ship on September 20 during its iPhone 7 reveal set me thinking. I love Macs. I love them for the same reason I always did – they are the world’s best creative tools to enable creative people to do creative things.

Everyone should have one

Everyone should have a Mac. Jack Kim, who hopes to sell the HacBook Elite, agrees. His product is selling refurbished PCs running OS X at about the same price as two sets of AirPods (the ones you first get and the replacement you get when you lose set one). Kim hopes Apple will allow him to pursue this idea.

It probably won't happen.

Apple traditionally stamps out attempts to run Mac OS on non-Apple hardware. The decision to license its OS to third party PC manufacturers saw sales of its products annihilated. Apple almost collapsed. It didn't then have the deep pockets or state-of-the art process and manufacturing technologies to create Macs that were sufficiently different from what the licensed cloners could come up with.

Things have changed.

Today’s Apple isn’t reliant on the Mac income. Today’s Apple is focused on its growing mobile device ecosystem, across which it is building a hugely profitable services arm. That’s not to say Macs don’t make the company money, Mac sales bring in around $5-6 billion in revenue every year.

Where innovation happens

When it comes to Apple and mobile I think everyone at the company is truly excited at what they are making happen, particularly innovations in process and manufacturing technologies.

Ceramic Apple Watches that are twice as hard as steel? New highly complex production techniques to create piano black iPhones? This focus on state-of-the-art materials no competitor can match is part of what sets the iPhone apart in what can be seen as a fairly homogenized market.

Apple is following a similar path for Macs, despite which it never seems to be able to dent market share. Why?

The reason it cannot dominate the PC market is because many of the PCs purchased each year don't need to do anything particularly great. They don’t need the bells and whistles of the full Mac experience. They are servers, POS systems, data entry tools. They are cheap and boring.

Sure, you can replace a lot of these functions with iPads, but no enterprise CIO will ever want to spend the extra bucks it might cost to get a full-fledged Mac. They may consider a Mac mini, but Apple is clearly not at all focused on that product line, which has seen no innovation in years.

Connecting everything

Instead when it comes to the Mac the company is focused on mobility, platform unity (Continuity) and advanced materials and technologies.

This whole widget approach in which software and advanced hardware create unique experiences is highly profitable, but creating lower end Macs hobbles the company’s R&D.

Would Apple not be happier if it could focus on delivering the world’s most advanced computer systems, while allowing the macOS itself to proliferate across less advanced machines? Could it not profitably create incredibly advanced computers no competitor could match using proprietary components and production processes, while enabling everyone to enjoy running some version of OS X on whatever machine they could afford?

Think about it, doesn't the task of supporting the low end of its Mac business actually hold the company back? Why not set the OS free to seed the entire PC market, while focusing the company on delivering unsurpassable computing experiences?

What would Steve Jobs have done?

I’m not alone in thinking like this. Steve Jobs thought in tangential ways, too. Don’t forget that when Apple engineer JK Scheinberg completed the project to get OS X running on Intel chips, Jobs’ first move was not to begin making OS X Macs, but to jump on a plane to meet Sony’s president to propose putting OS X inside production Sony Vaio laptops.

More than ever before, Apple today has a huge opportunity to seed the macOS across the entire PC market, and so long as it builds distinctive Mac systems (festooned with unique features) I see no reason it would lose too much in hardware sales. I think it would boost loyalty, attract new customers and generate a huge spike in services income.

Where I'm at, I think everyone should have a Mac, even if it’s just some entry-level PC system with a stripped down version of the OS, dedicated to running Excel spreadsheets. I suppose I think it is time to accept that even Macs are becoming trucks. That Hell has already frozen over and now we all need to learn to skate.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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