Yes, Virginia..., Apple does need the Mac

Apple not only needs the Mac, but to propose otherwise is simply foolish, analysts contended today when reacting to a Wall Street Journal story that said the Cupertino, Calif. company couldn't afford to spend time and money on personal computers.

"That piece couldn't be more off base," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in a Monday interview. "Apple's objective is to be pervasive in your life, whether it's computing on your wrist, in your pocket or on your desk. You can't take a singular area; you have to look at the Mac as part of a complete system."

Moorhead and others were responding to the argument forwarded by Wall Street Journal technology writer Christopher Mims, who penned a piece labeled "Why Apple Should Kill Off the Mac" (subscription required).

Mims reasoned that because the Mac contributes so little to the bottom line -- just $5.6 billion out of $58 billion in the quarter ending March 31, or 9.7% of the total -- Apple should devote the Mac's time and resources to more important parts of its portfolio, including the iPhone, iPad and now the Apple Watch, or areas where it remains weak, like the cloud.

"Is it really a good idea for Apple to continue to put resources against being king of a last-century technology?" Mims asked as he asserted that Apple was thinly stretched -- he cited the discombobulated nature of its WWDC keynote last week -- and should narrow its focus or risk failure.

Pure poppycock, Moorhead implied.

The Mac, Moorhead countered, is not just a revenue maker and a profit generator -- as Mims acknowledged -- but its contributions to the other lines and to future projects should not be underestimated. "The Mac brings them the highest level of performance on the biggest real estate to develop the next-generation big screen," Moorhead said, referring to the television experience.

Work done on the Mac, especially on the software side, also has helped Apple's other device categories. "I don't think video would be as good on the iPad as it is if they had not done video on the personal computer platform first," said Moorhead.

Others noted different reasons why the Mac is crucial to Apple, its small revenue contribution notwithstanding.

"It's symbolically far too important," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research, in an email. "Apple is a computer company and a big part of the value proposition has become that it offers a computer for every part of your life, and that includes your primary computer, if you need one."

In fact, ditching the Mac would be disastrous for Apple. "Do you want to buy from a company that takes five million customers out of the last quarter and says, 'We're just not going to do those anymore?'" asked Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research. "One of Google's problems is that for all it talks about being an enterprise player, you get the feeling that they could pull the plug on [their enterprise offerings] at any time. No one wants to deal with an untrustworthy vendor."

Which is exactly how Apple would be seen if it were to discard the 31 years of its Mac background.

"And Apple would be leaving immense piles of benefit on the table at the Apple Store without the Mac," Gottheil added. "When you're getting Product Y serviced there, you're looking at the new Product X. Apple is selling a family of devices for a seamless technology experience and its customer highly value that. So you're going to abandon the people who brought you here? I don't think so."

Nor did the analysts buy Mims' rationale that companies in general, Apple in particular, couldn't focus on more than a couple things, and that by tossing aside the Mac the company would automatically be better at other projects.

"I don't think the Mac is the reason why Apple isn't doing better in the cloud," said Dawson. "It's the most mature category by far in Apple's portfolio, and arguably requires far less effort than most of its other products."

"Why can't companies do multiple things?" wondered Gottheil, who questioned Mims' premise. "How much are they distracted at the top by the Mac? I'd argue that they're not, not at Cook's level. But the people at the top of the Mac group are thinking about it all the time, and driving it hard. Every once in a while [the top executives] might ask, 'How are things going? When do you want us to schedule an event?' That's not distractive."

"You have to keep in mind that Apple wants to be everywhere," concluded Moorhead, "and that includes on a desk with productivity apps."

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