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OS X Lion strategy

When I read in the run up to Apple’s Mac OS X Lion being released that it was ‘going to bring a lot of iOS features to the desktop’ my heart sank. Apple strategists are making a fundamental business error here, getting their markets and products mixed up.

I can see where they’re coming from. For years Apple’s share of the overall PC market loitered around the 3% mark while copycat Windows dominated with monopoly power. Since OS X was introduced this share has now doubled to 6% but it’s still small. Cue the iPad and everything changed. Suddenly, Apple had a product that wasn’t just a big seller, it became the market leader in its sector with 80% plus market share and above.

With almost instant on boot times (actually, wake from sleep – a full reboot takes a lot more time) and an intuitive user interface that 18 month old toddlers as well as 80 year old grandparents can work out on their own, the new iPad seduced the top people at Apple into believing all they had to do to increase the market share of their Mac desktop range was to make Macs more like the iPad.

Except they’re not.

Look at scrolling for instance. For thirty years, scrolling to the bottom of a page on a computer screen has used intuitive downwards finger gestures to go down, upwards gestures to go up. It’s a universally implemented and practiced method that hundreds of millions of computer users are completely happy with.

On the iPad, the gesture is still intuitive, but works the other way because your finger actually moves the item you are viewing to where you want it, the connection is direct. This works because you are pointing with your finger, a gesture we are all familiar with from moving a piece of paper around on our desks in front of us. But it’s just not transferable!

Let’s look at who the Mac users are. Apple says that 50% of sales in their Apple stores are to people switching away from Windows, at least for their home computing needs. Many still have to use Windows PCs at work. That means these people need as much similarity of the unconscious part of operating a computer as possible. Heck, I do too and I’ve been using Apple kit for over 6 years now. Changing the scrolling methodology is going to put them right off using Macs. They’ll take one look and decide it’s not for them.

That’s squandering the iPad advantage. Instead of getting people to switch over, it’s going to act as a barrier to adoption. Go into any Apple Store and practically the first thing newcomers to Mac will notice is the upside down scrolling method. Even if it can be switched off, the very fact that on a showroom desktop it is now counter-intuitive will switch off these potential switchers.

Apple: a Mac is NOT an iPad!!!

There are lots of other issues with the new but buggy OS X Lion operating system, but they are covered in many other places. Far from being a simplified, and therefore faster, OS, speed tests show Lion is slower than Snow Leopard, while Gizmodo says:

If it weren’t for the fast, rock-solid Unix, graphics and networking cores, Lion would be Apple’s very own Vista.

One of the biggest issues even if none of the above are problems is backwards compatibility of older apps due to losing Rosetta, followed by a whole host of lost features that seem to have been replaced by ‘toy’ features (although to be fair there are switches to turn some off and workarounds or apps to nullify others, including getting Front Row back) and rather too many iPad inspired gestures. As a mouse person who hates trackpads (and I do have the Magic Trackpad and the Magic Mouse) I remain to be persuaded of the benefits of gestures on a desktop computer. On my iPad, yes, why not, but on a desktop they’re in an alien environment.

TBH, even on my iPhone and iPad I find remembering all of these gestures challenging, and that means they have ceased to be intuitive. It’s like learning a new sign language that has simply too many bits. There’s one finger swipes (easy) two finger swipes, three finger swipes with curves in (err, was that a two or three finger swipe?). It doesn’t help that there is no standardised behaviour with some gestures needing two fingers in some places and three fingers for the same gesture in others.

It’s worse than trying to remember those stupid stylus gestures my Compaq iPaq personal organiser thought would be a good substitute for writing when I wanted to make a quick note. Well, we all saw what happened to those devices – the iPad with its simplicity crucified them but captured the same market.

So, will I be buying a new Mac mini with it’s fantastic new specification? Sadly, probably not. Apple are just putting too many barriers in my way. It’s crazy, Apple’s insistence on me using a $30 piece of software (which they make no profit on at all) is stopping me paying over $1,500 for a new Mac that they would make a profit on. Crazy.

I won’t buy an iMac in its place either due to the screens only being available in reflective, glossy glass and I want matte. I’d probably upgrade my home iMac if it wasn’t for the screen. Another barrier to purchase.

Now there’s a new CEO in Tim Cook, a man who has shown himself to be an excellent COO looking after the details in the background, we shall see if he can straighten out these more strategic problems. If he brings his full logic to bear on the problems I feel sure these stupid barriers to adoption can be removed with little effort on Apple’s part.

Here’s hoping… but I’m not going to hold my breath.

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