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Commentary
12/5/2009
08:21 AM
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The Causality Behind Apple's Success

Apple's new 21-inch iMac was October's best-selling desktop computer, according to retail analyst firm NPD. While sexy, the sales success was partially due to a slowdown in sales of competing PCs prior to the launch of Windows 7.

Apple's new 21-inch iMac was October's best-selling desktop computer, according to retail analyst firm NPD. While sexy, the sales success was partially due to a slowdown in sales of competing PCs prior to the launch of Windows 7.No it wasn't.

Much has been written about the demise of clarity and objective truth in this Age of Blogs and infinite, incessant opinion in which we live. Old codgers like me bemoan the disappearance of proper spelling and grammar, as well as the lack of civility in daily life. The sizes of packages on store shelves seem to have shrunk. Service is worse. The days are getting shorter. You know the drill: what is can't hold a candle to what was.

My entry into this litany of losses would be the proof of causality, especially in business theory. Nowadays, things need only happen concurrently to be connected; trends cross space and time via the Internet so that they appear not just parallel but inexorably intertwined. Much of what passes for analysis today requires no tangibly real proof of cause and effect other than that two topics can be surfed during the same online session.

It's silly to presume that people bought iMacs because retailers were clearing out inventory prior to Windows 7. If anything, any clearance efforts on Vista boxes would have been a competitive pressure on Apple, meaning that its success was greater (selling in spite of redlined PCs). If consumers were waiting for Windows 7, that wouldn't have translated into Apple sales whatsoever; it would have depressed overall PC sales, though I have trouble believing that the vast numbers of Wintel boxes and retail outlets were so badly hit by new OS anticipation to make Apple's sales numbers shine so much better.

The causality of consumer choice drove 21-inch iMac sales, and I'd guess it boiled down to very specific factors like functionality, in-store experience, and price. There's a ton to study and synthesize on these points, most notably the fact that the success came from a company that owns a single digit fraction of a product category, distributes through an even smaller percentage of retail outlets, and charges its customers more for the privilege of buying its products over similarly-configured alternatives.

Any schlub can see connections where none exist, and it makes for a fun read when analysts make these grand, expansive declarations from high above. But it's usually a description of a theory, at best, and a fantasy, more often. The causes of Apple's success have everything to do with what Apple does better, more creatively, authentically, and consistently than its competition. I think Microsoft or its hardware partners don't fully understand this phenomenon. It's what dooms them to suffering its effects.

Jonathan Salem Baskin is a global brand strategist, writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Bright Lights & Dim Bulbs.

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