Back in the 1990s, Apple created an official clone program that allowed several vendors to legally make Macintosh clones. The program lasted for a few years until Steve Jobs came back and stopped the program in 1997. According to Jobs, the program was launched as a last-ditch effort to expand market share and to compete with Microsoft’s market share – an effort which by that time was impossible to do given Microsoft’s dominant position. Instead, the clones had ended up eating away at the most profitable products Apple had – high-end mac systems.
Fast forward to today, perhaps the time is ripe for Apple to consider once again allowing legal Macintosh clones to be produced. According to one estimate, Apple’s Macintosh products only account for roughly 11% of the company’s value, with the iPhone and iPad constituting nearly 70% of Apple’s valuation. With computers no longer accounting for a substantial amount of Apple’s valuation, Apple has little to lose and potentially lots to gain in licensing the MacOS.
Apple’s profits no longer come from the Mac – they come from iOS and the devices that run iOS. While the iOS App Store has flourished, the Mac App Store hasn’t had nearly the same growth due in part to the considerably smaller user base. Adding millions of MacOS licenses (priced more fully near $100 rather than the cheap app store price) on various PC gear would have the potential to do the following:
- Give Mac App store developers millions of more users to sell to
- Give Apple a new revenue stream to provide growth – at the admitted risk of cannibalizing some mac computer revenue
- Give I.T. administrators the ability to virtualize Mac OS Server in their heavily virtualized datacenters (VMWare ESX, etc)
- Give Apple better control of how users interface between their iOS devices and their computers
This last bullet is a key one. While some will use iOS devices as standalone devices, many others continue to use them as companion devices. Apple’s software for Windows is absolutely horrendous. iTunes is not only buggy but has so many user interface quirks that it doesn’t even feel like an Apple product. When dealing with photos, it is clear that the proper computer companion application to use is iPhoto, but iPhoto only exists on the Mac.
In the end, I think people who currently buy Apple computers will still buy Apple computers because of what Apple is doing with industrial design, and those who may opt for Windows may give loading MacOS onto their computer a second look because of how well it works with their iOS devices and the Apple ecosystem they have bought into.