Why Apple Missed The Niche

28 May 2006

Apple missed an important demographic by introducing a consumer-level portable instead of a smaller professional portable: Me. I don’t dare assume I’m in the majority (of Apple consumers) by being a graphic designer and a [wannabe-]mobile-professional, but I’ll take some liberty in saying that I’m part of an influential niche market – one that’s been ignored by Apple’s recent offerings. Especially considering the very latest, the MacBook.

With a 13.3-inch, glossy, widescreen display, an Intel core-duo processor, and cool, showy features like the mag-safe power connector, built-in iSight camera, wireless remote, and motion sensor protector, the MacBook seems like a viable “upgrade” for me. I’m using a now-archaic 1.67GHz PowerBook G4, introduced not even than 18 months ago. So why does the potential upgrade feel like it would be more of a downgrade to me?

I’ll tell you why.

Firstly, I’m a professional; or at least I like to consider myself one. I design graphics and websites, and as such, use a computer as my primary tool. Technical requirements aside, I demand a certain level of quality for my tool(s). The MacBook, though “designed by Apple in California”, does not meet that demand. It’s a consumer product, not a professional one. If feels cheaper, looks cheaper and is cheaper than my PowerBook.

Secondly, while it’s not directly the fault of Apple, the dilemma of Adobe not updating their products to run natively on the Intel processor means s-l-o-w performance from Photoshop on the MacBook (and MacBook Pro for that matter). Trust me, I know. I’ve managed to install and use Photoshop CS2 on a borrowed MacBook Pro. (That’s another story entirely.)

Finally, should I decide to order a MacBook, I will first have to sell my PowerBook – something I don’t want to do. Not that I’ve built some attachment to Caspain II (okay, maybe a little bit of sentiment), but I don’t think I could get near what it’s worth for it … to me. Similar models are getting between $1100 and $1300 on eBay; less than half what I paid for it just over a year ago.

So what could’ve Apple done to get me to upgrade (without hesitation)? A smaller than or 13.3-inch, ultra-portable, aluminum, backlit, duo-core, non-glossy, iSight-equipped, feature-laden, not-too-hot, no foam MacBook … called “The Macintosh ProBook”. And I suspect others in my demographic would follow me in throwing down their credit cards for something like that, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the MacBook is a great product. “I Approve™” it still, and will still recommend it for anyone considering. Apple nailed it when it comes to offering a near-perfect consumer portable, I doubt it not. There’s not a better laptop, PC or Mac or otherwise, in its price range or class. Bottom line: The MacBook rocks.

It just doesn’t rock me.