Apple's market share and the curse of success


Apple’s PC/laptop market share is now 20% in the US and 10% worldwide. That’s cause for celebration, right? The underdog, the computer for weenies and artists, is making inroads in the mainstream. The halo effect of the iPod and the iPhone is convincing kids to pick up a MacBook — or two — and make Apple shareholders happy. All is right with the world, right?


In the electronics industry, success is a dangerous thing. Back when Apple was an “exclusive” company selling “special” products, the Mac fanboys were fine and even accepting of the few problems that cropped in in Apple hardware. You could head down to the Apple in your artsy, urban area and get one-on-one help without much of a wait and when a screen broke or you dipped your iPod in water, you went and bought a new one.

Now, however, Apple has new support issues: supporting everyone else. Consider Sony. They are immensely popular and a well-known electronics brand. But what do you hear about most? Their problems. They overload their laptops with junk. Their batteries explode. They install malware on your PC. And that’s just the big news. Read forums around the world and find complaints and problems and scams galore. Apple, it seems, no has to deal with the average Joe and the average Joe is considerably more cranky than some turtle-necked fanboys in their loft in SoHo.

Support is one of the biggest money sinks in the electronics industry. Do you know why all the stuff you buy says “Do not return this to the store, call 1800YURDUMB?” It’s because they don’t want to deal with a slow tech at Best Buy boxing up your possibly not broken PS3 or gas grill and sending it back at the company’s expense. Instead, they want to send you a few parts and hope things get fixed before they have to start shipping boxes, involving warehouses, and handling service calls. They would rather, in most cases, send you a new device than have to face your wrath. You being on the phone or in a Genius Bar costs Apple, Sony, and everyone else sometimes more than the price of a new device, provided the support problem is their fault. This is doubly true in the era of blogging. You can get your story out to millions of people in seconds if its compelling enough. Try to get your pro-Sony story out there (“Sony sold me a great product. I’m happy with it.”) Crickets.

If the problem is your fault, however, God help you. Steve will email you himself telling you you’re a moron and ignore your pleas.

What brought up this little rant? We saw a scam today in which some kid burned his iPhone to make it look like it overheated in order to get a replacement. This kid was not an Apple fan, per se. He was an Apple user. Companies spend most of their marketing budgets to gain fans and settle for users. Users, on the whole, want their money’s worth, are upset by system failures, and will scam a company to get their cash back. Fans will sit quietly on their hands while their iMacs and Vaios and Escalades burst into flames and politely give their beloved a second chance. Apple’s success, like Sony’s, is throwing a spotlight on everything bad about the company. While there is plenty to be happy about regarding Apple’s rise in market share, there’s plenty to be afraid of.