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Apple and the power of brand

Yesterday morning Janice and I were discussing my decision not to buy a MacBook Pro.  I ended up buying the HP Pavilion DV6000, an equivalent piece of hardware to a low-end MacBook Pro for $999, versus the Apple's $2,199. The only major difference is that the HP product runs Windows Vista instead of MacOS.  

Apple masterfully delivers cutting edge technology packaged in gorgeous industrial design, and people willingly pay a premium for it.  The value of that premium lasts only as long as others can't copy it. Once copied, you're buying a brand. In that sense, Apple is the Sony of today.  We could both remember a time when if you wanted the best television, you bought Sony.

Michael Robertson's Nine Things an iPhone Can't Do is worth reading. Robertson points out that iPhone is missing many things. The iPhone has a couple of signature features in the touchscreen and iPod integration, wrapped in a beautiful industrial design.  But like Robertson, most people in the industry agree that it's a pretty average phone. One could argue that the iPhone is a brand extension of the iPod, rather than the revolutionary new product Steve Job's claims.

Does anyone remember the first Sony Vaio's in their distinctive purple titanium casings?  Everyone wanted one of these tiny wonders.  The lesson for Apple is at retail today.  While my local FutureShop can't keep Apple's Macbooks and the HP Pavilion DV laptops in stock, when I asked about the Sony Vaio on display (closed, I might add), the sales consultant confided in me that they hadn't moved any in a long time.  People no longer view Sony as a premium brand… now it's just an over-priced PC.

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Mitch Brisebois September 10, 2007, 5:33 am

    The value of the premium isn't necessarily the industrial design – it's the fact that Apple delivers a stable platform (HW + OS) that doesn't require you to have a family IT tech living in the basement just to keep the PC alive and kickin' another day. In essence that's what may have happened to Sony – brand alone can't command a premium for very long.

  • Roland Tanglao September 10, 2007, 7:27 am

    debating MacBook Pros at home are we? hmmmm? sounds like the family IT tech will eventually give in and buy a Mac :-) !

  • Peter Childs September 10, 2007, 7:49 am

    Part of Sony's problem may also be due to the "RootKit" fiasco of a few years back.

    I know I'd wonder what could be lurking in the BIOS if adding a root kit to a CD was seen as acceptable.

  • Stuart Henshall September 12, 2007, 4:18 am

    Alec, while I agree and intrigued by your statement that most in the industry consider the iPhone as generally mediocre I think the industry has their blinders on. It matters not what the industry thinks; it's what customers do. I wrote a post today on what I expect will be a request from my teenage daughter for an iphone. It is pitched perfectly to take her to the next level of mobile communications. I saw Michael's post – all his points are valid. They just don't matter to iPhone users yet.

    Frankly, I'm surprised that you chose to buy a PC. Something has clearly tipped out there in terms of adoption. Two years ago there was a perceived risk in changing. Not today. It was certainly considered by you. The MAC once not even considered by former PC users like me is more than just a hot product. Like on my Nokia N95 I find new features all the time. For the most part these discoveries delight me. My observation…. once Mac's were just for the designers… and before that perhaps even with the school programs. Over the last four years I've watched more and more geeky and tech savvy users adopt them. I'm not that technical. However, in the latest guise it enables one to program and test across multiple operating platforms . This seems to have made them a must have for that group. I got mine… and loaded up XP. It's been like that for three months. Now I find that is only a parlor trick for my work and requirements I don't need it.

    What you have missed out on is programs like Keynote — forget powerpoint. As I now experiment with numbers and page these programs are telling me they are easier to use and more powerful at the same time.

    I'm not convinced any of us have to have a MAC. I am convinced that early adopters, proponents of new technologies, who innovate in an uncertain world should test it out. There is real thought going into iwork and ilife related products and I've not seen the same innovation in the Windows office. The developer community, the widgets, little things are different. Your choice reduces your exposure to these things. In your case I think the exposure was worth a 1000 bucks. Any action you can do that doesn't frustrate your business and productivity where you learn about new things or can expose yourself to new things is in my view a good thing.

    I don't mean to pick on your decision; I think that trying a Mac at the moment is similar to encouraging someone to use Facebook. They may not be the end game; still both are broadening our horizons. It's why I will succumb to buying my daughter an iPhone to live through here experience. I don't want one yet for all Michael Robertson's reasons and more. I'm also not there target.

    My last PC experience was truly horrible. Still I've had a semi meltdown on my mac that made me glad for backups. I don't have total trust anymore in what I'm using; and you know now why I am using it. As a tool to help me think a little differently.

    Enjoy your PC…. reconsider getting a Mac and have you bought an iPhone yet. Cheers Stuart

  • Mike David September 17, 2007, 10:52 am

    The themes above are spot-on. It is difficult to compare pc's and mac's on face-value alone. They are different beasts. One (the pc) is a safe, standard purchase. Less expensive initially, with lots of competitive choices. HP stands out there now as putting out a respectable wrapper for a Microsoft product. But you will, absolutely, have IT nightmares with it, because it is a PC. Sony's VAIO in my personal opinion only made things worse by adding cute but tragically crappy 'value add' Sony software, and terrible SW support, to what was already an unstable operating system — making a dicey experience even worse.

    The Mac is a different story. The operating experience is wonderful in comparison. Still frought with glitches and weirdness that only a computer can do, but not nearly as infuriating as a PC. For that alone I would pay more than a Microsoft PC. But the icing on the cake is the packaging, which celebrates it's being different by being an object of desire, and continues the theme of actually delighting vs annoying.

    I actually held out for several years, waiting for Vista, with my ancient Sony VAIO. When Vista arrived, I realized 'heck, if I need to update all my software anyway, I'll make a real change" and bought two mac's for the family. I haven't looked back.

  • dt September 18, 2007, 2:14 am

    i think we also need to not forget the amount of advertising apple has gone through to build their brand. they rightly have position their products as a fashion accessory.

    I'm trying to say that their great products are not responsible, on the contrary, it is because of their marketing that the world knows how great their product is.

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