in Business Strategy, IT+Strategy, Skills+Tools

Why I bought MBA i.e MacBook Air? What it means to computing Vendors

Macbook Air

MagSafe power plug and USB and headphone and microphone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am (or was) an hardcore Windows advocate and still consider one. However, my recent experience in replacing my reliable Thinkpad taught me that something else is happening in the laptop world that is helping drive MacBook Sales. It seems Apple got the strategy right and all Vendors depending on Windows are losing to Apple.

A bit of background before I explain my experience/analysis. I was a long time user of Thinkpad and still believe its the best work horse any professional. Period. In fact, all of our startup core team members had Thinkpads.

Now my requirements were very simple

  • i5 or i7 Haswell processor
  • 256 GB SSD
  • About 14 inch form factor or less
  • Decent battery life that could get through the day (at least 8 hrs, would have been fine with 6 hrs)
  • One more thing, wanted to have a thinner version that could save me space in my laptop bag (I am a traveling management consultant and fellow travelers would appreciate saving space on laptop bag for that magazine or something you wanted to carry)

To my utter disappointment, I couldn’t find any windows version that comes close . In fact I found the price of Windows 8 or 8.1 version lot more expensive than MacBook Air. I re-searched usual suspects of manufacturers/Vendors – HP, Lenovo, Dell. I even signed up for Lenovo updates, as I was waiting for their Lenovo Yoga pro 2 based on the (claimed) success of the initial version. Here’s what I found during my research and experience

  • Dell didn’t have Haswell based ultrabooks in Oct/Nov 2013 timeframe. As of this writing (Feb 2014) Dell has XPS 13 ultrabook that is priced @$1649 and same config MacBook Air (MBA) to be $1549. Of course you could argue that with $100 more you are getting touch capability. Touch in laptops in general is a topic for a different post
  • As of this writing HP’s Elitebook, the one that most enterprise users want/use is about $1979 (Product Id:F2R72UT)
  • Lenovo. Interestingly, ordered Lenogo Yoga pro 2 the day it was announced for sale. Got it in 2 days and was excited about the clementine color. Paid $150 less than MBA and thought it was a steal. Search closed. This has been a disaster to say the least. First there were firmware issues about the yellow color and believe me after few hours of exposure you will know the pain of the color issue. Secondly, the resolution was way too much for daily activity. Now even the IE had trouble keeping that resolution, had to reset the resolution every time I launched IE. Attempted to do some work, the resolution made it difficult to get adjusted (May be this could be user adaptability issue, which I didn’t see in other products). Finally, Windows 8.1 did put the last nail on the coffin. Being a technologist, I felt an insurmountable challenge in navigating the OS. It was neither a tablet nor a Laptop. I thought of just loading Windows 7 on it, however gave up as I do not want to force fit a solution that should have been straight forward experience. With all the recent advances in technology, I thought it was fair for me to expect a smooth transition to new Laptop

Enter MacBook Air – The sheer frustration and the fact that I needed to replace my laptop quickly forced me to make the decision without thinking about the implications. Finally bit the bullet and ordered MBA thinking that I could return before Jan 1st (if I didn’t like it) as apple had updated their holiday policy to return by Jan 1 if the purchase was made in Nov or later. Note: I have been a iPhone and iPad user for the last 3 years. Pros and Cons of my experience below.

Pros

  • Integration. This has been the biggest benefit that I believe has won me over. Now my iphone, iCloud and Gmail (contacts) are now in sync. iMessage is awesome. I never could figure how people used to send me paragraph texts without any spelling or grammar errors. I later checked all of them used iMessage. I wouldn’t have realized this if I had opted for Windows machine which would have become its own island.
  • Support. Had some issues with Applestore and the support experience was very pleasant. This in a way could be a Con as I never would need to call support (believe me this is the first call I made in my career for PC/Desktop support to Vendor). I knew I could go to the store if needed.
  • Form Factor. Great as you can imagine, In fact I never felt it is in my bag during my work days. During first few weeks, I had to go back to the security check point at the airport to see if I had left it there as I felt my laptop bag a whole lot lighter. MacBook Air was introduced on Jan 15, 2008. It is almost full 6 years and its shame that we are yet to see a rival that can make similar form factor laptop.
  • Others. If you travel regularly, you would have experienced the battery pack and how it takes up space. Never could figure out a good way to pack the battery with its thick cables and used to get one of the ends bent and had to replace (could become fire hazard). I found it simple to pack and carry MBA’s power adapter (did I say it charges faster and is good for 12+hours). There is a quick video that shows to pack without bending the ends.

Cons

  • Learning Curve. I realized how much ingrained the Windows habits were. Had to spend good bit of time learning and using Command button. Gesture took a while, however iPhone experience did help a bit
  • Applications. If there is a biggest miss from Windows that would be Microsoft OneNote (am sure this could become a killer app). I have read tons of posts on this one. If you use it regularly you will miss it dearly. However found Microsoft Word has notebook Layout that is slowly making its way to relieve me from OneNote dependency (wonder why notebook layout is not offered with my Word 2010 on PC). Mail vs. Outlook. Been using both, don’t necessarily have any conclusion yet.

Now what’s point of all this.

  • Apple had taken the position of offering premium products and is succeeding at it really well. However, the Windows based Vendors are reading this all wrong. I understand they are getting pressured to compete on price, however it does not give legitimacy to offer product without matching premium experience in the same price point as apple. For a consumer Apple despite being low priced compared to these alternatives is offering better value. As an example, setting hardware quality aside, Windows 8 machines are sold anywhere from $300 to $2500 and Vendors are using hardware as the means to compete on higher price points. The winner here is Windows as Microsoft makes the same revenue per license (removing volume discounts) irrespective of the hardware configuration. This huge variation in product availability is causing confusion among consumers and are unable to make the decision. Apple has fewer choices (argued that they don’t have OEMs) and positions well with target segments.
  • Hardware is becoming a commodity and competing on that would not be a lasting strategy (although could be an interim ploy to improve market share). Manufacturing costs would go down ultimately leaving no leverage in this market.

What could these Vendors do

  • First they have to understand that world has changed quite a bit from the old Laptop or single device days to multi-device or second screen world. Consumers have become lot more savvy and expect technology to integrate and make their daily lives better.
  • Second, they have to look at the entire consumer ecosystem as opposed to just single product and create value that consumers like. For example, I believe Samsung is tinkering with this concept and is creating an android  VM (virtual machine) with Windows laptop to enable users merge entertainment with work.
  • Thirdly, they need to differentiate better in terms of their offering and the target customer. When there are so many choices, it becomes a challenge for Consumers to wade through those options to pick a product. Target and fine the offering that meets the needs of a specific segment or sub-segment.
  • Finally, they could look at ways to look at upstream and downstream activities within their supply chain to identify opportunities to create value (save costs or improve value of the product)

I have presented my analysis above and would love to hear your take……

– Raja

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