Will Artists Still Love Macs Tomorrow?
Apple wants a bigger chunk of the desktop computer market, but it's unlikely to head downstream with stripped-down consumer offerings. Artists and designers are loyal customers, but Apple already owns that segment. The enterprise is likely the most fertile ground for expansion. Can Apple deliver a high-end product that meets both corporate and creative needs?
03/26/09 4:00 AM PT
Michael Gibbs, an illustrator based in Northern Virginia, describes working on a Mac Pro in terms that suggest a Zen-like trance: "I can't explain it well, but you are not even really aware you are using a computer program -- the design applications are that intuitive."
He can easily tell the difference between applications that are natively designed for the Mac -- anything Adobe -- and those that have been retrofitted for the OS X environment, such as Microsoft Word. The latter, he told MacNewsWorld, "are just plain cumbersome."
In 1985, Gibbs got his first Apple computer -- complete with floppy disks -- and he's never looked back. Fortunately for him, he's never had to. Almost every creative commercial shop is Mac-based. As far as Gibbs is concerned, the story ends right there.
Apple, though, has other considerations in mind. It wants to increase market share and is unlikely to drop its Mac Pro price point to make inroads into the lower-end consumer market. That leaves the enterprise -- which has a completely different set of feature-and-function needs than those of a graphic artist.
The question is, will the creative community -- Apple's early and hard-core user base -- remain content with the Mac Pro if it morphs into more of a corporate tool?
To be sure, Apple's inroads into the enterprise are nascent, at best.
"There has been some movement in this area," Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at IDC, told MacNewsWorld. "The solutions for running Windows on a Mac are getting better. If you use a virtual client, you can run it on a Mac."
"Every day, we see evidence of the Mac moving more and more into enterprise software," said Ned Lilly, president and CEO of xTuple, which offers an open source ERP (enterprise resource planning) system that runs on Mac OS X and Linux. "We have a lot of customers running whole businesses on Macs, and many more running a grab bag of hardware -- both PCs and Macs."
Oftentimes, the CEOs of SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) request Macs for all their upper management, he told MacNewsWorld.
Those business forays rarely matter to the creative community, though. While it's true that the design and sex appeal of the Mac do powerfully resonate with them, what they really care about is its heavy-artillery computing and processing power. Indeed, it is for those attributes, O'Donnell said, that commercial artists will always turn to a Mac -- no matter how its image may change.
Web 2.0 Drivers
Indeed, the growing enterprise demand for dynamic online content and Web 2.0 functionality all but ensures that creative professionals will stick with their Macs, Dave Anolik, chief creative officer of Quango, told MacNewsWorld.
Increasingly, commercial media producers are crunching video files and building content for dynamic Web sites, he said. "The need for a heavy design platform that is stable is more important than ever before."
One reason Macs rarely crash is that there are far fewer viruses aimed at the OS X platform. That is changing, of course, but Windows inarguably remains a far more vulnerable system.
Companies' graphics departments often run Mac, while the rest of the organization may be Windows-based, noted Anolik. Macs adapt well to hybrid environments. In fact, OS X is fundamentally based on Unix and Linux.
The tipping point -- when enterprises realized Macs and PCs could happily coexist -- came when Apple switched from a Motorola chip to the Intel processor. "The [OS X] software was more in sync with how the Intel chip worked," said Anolik, who worked for Intel for several years. "It was the perfect marriage between process and capability."
Macs also last practically forever, Anolik remarked. Quango uses Mac for its creative work but also has PCs in order to remain seamless with its clients, most of which tend to be PC shops. When the PCs reach the end of their lifecycle at the firm, "we donate them to nonprofits who repurpose them. Our Macs, though, they just don't bust -- ever. If they stop having the processing speed necessary for heavy rendering or design work, we transition them into legacy equipment to run scanners or as test machines."
Eventually, they become obsolete when their OS is so many versions behind the current one it is too much trouble to update, he said.
Even if Apple were to funnel more of its future research and development resources into designing enterprise-friendly features, the Mac Pro would remain strong enough to keep the creative community happy.
"Apple may be shooting for the masses -- especially with its laptops and less-expensive products," said illustrator Gibbs, "but it is still paying a lot of attention to the desktop."
As an example, he pointed to a backup program incorporated into OS X that saves pictures of recent desktop files. "If you inadvertently trash a file, you can retrieve it, if it wasn't that long ago."
At bottom, graphics is a memory-intensive business that requires a big, powerful computer, Gibbs said. "Apple has never forgotten that."