Apple Sells a Product, Not a PC

While speaking with a co-worker today, the topic of OS X being unavailable for use in VirtualBox led to a tangentially related discussion regarding Apple’s licensing restrictions for OS X. We shared the same sentiment: If Microsoft were to require users to purchase a PC from them as the only method to acquire their operating system, there would be a lawsuit. So, why does Apple get away with it?

Immediately after the conversation, I came to the realization that I, and many others like me (programmers, computer geeks, tech bloggers, etc.), have always thought about Apple in the wrong way: Apple as a computer company. I realized that Apple can control their operating system the way that it does because Apple doesn’t sell an operating system nor do they sell computers, they sell a product.

When you buy a GPS device for your car, do you get upset that you can’t install the operating system from that particular device onto a competitor’s device? Of course not. The operating system is specifically designed for that particular hardware and it would be ridiculous to think that it could (or should) be able to be easily ported to any other device. The hardware and the software are designed simultaneously in order to work together in as integrated a manner as possible. You are not buying the GPS operating system, you are buying a GPS device.

Apple wants (has wanted) to change the way we think about computers. This is the whole premise behind the “Think Different” campaign. Once this realization set in, a comment Steve Jobs made during an interview at D8 immediately made more sense:

We never saw ourselves in a platform war with Microsoft, and maybe that’s why we lost. We just wanted to make the best thing — we just thought about how can we build a better product.(Steve Jobs at D8)

We never think of Apple this way because our experience with computers comes from the likes of Microsoft and the various Linux variants. We’ve become accustomed to installing an operating system on any combination of assorted motherboards, processors, drives, etc. and then just installing the necessary drivers to make everything run as it should (in some cases this is a serious pain in the ass2). But this isn’t how Apple operates. They don’t sell you computer parts. That’s why they make it so hard to do hardware upgrades or to access the battery, because you’re not supposed to.

For consumers to think of Apple products as appliances, not as computers, is what I believe Apple wants. It explains many of the decisions that they have made regarding the iPhone, iPad and iOS. When you look at things from this perspective, it all makes perfect sense.

Those of us who don’t understand why people “drink the Apple ‘Kool-Aid’” don’t get it. And the reason we don’t get it is because we look at it the wrong way. Apple isn’t about tech specs, customization, or feature lists because the only people that care about that are geeks like me. All people want is a way to check their email, browse the web (i.e., FaceBook, Twitter, etc.) and not worry about what’s under the hood.

This, I think, is why so many iPhone vs. Android flame wars erupt on tech blogs. It’s like comparing a luxury car to a Formula-1 race car. One is all about speed and performance, the other one just wants you to get to where you want in as comfortable a way as possible. It’s ridiculous to compare the two and people who try don’t “get it”. They’re not even in the same category. Apple doesn’t want to be in the same category. That was never their intention.

As for me, I think I finally “get it”2.


1. In the past I have spent days trying to get integrated Intel graphics chips to work properly in an earlier version of Ubuntu.

2. One might expect an iOS developer to understand why people would choose Apple products, and I thought I did. But I found that despite the fact that I enjoyed my various Apple purchases, I could never explain or justify them to others. I think that now I can.