Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Unimaginable reversal of market share

As part of my job promoting our school and its programs, I visited three college campuses in Boston this week (plus two more schools related to research).

My last stop before flying home was Wellesley College, which I last visited in a previous century as an MIT student taking a music elective my semester prior to graduation. As with other stops, this took me to the science building. The Wellesley Science Center has a large open interior space that reminds me a little of the Hyatt Embarcadero in SF (only much smaller).

As I wandered through the common area, I kept noticing young women typing away on their Mac laptops. After a while, I decided to count. In the cafe area, library and other open area of the science center, I counted 22 laptops: 19 Macs, 1 HP, 1 Lenovo, 1 Dell. (This doesn’t include the Macbook Air in my bag).

Admittedly college isn’t representative of society or an expensive private college representative of colleges. Still, the numbers were stunning.

When my original dissertation topic fell apart in 1997, I decided to study how people were abandoning the Mac. Apple’s overall US share (nearly 15% in 1993) had fallen under 5%. Even in marketing organizations, Macs were being replaced by Windows (aided by Aldus and Quark who launched their businesses on the Mac but by then were platform indifferent).

To get started, I did an exploratory study of organizational (de)adoption decisions, which for access reasons included some universities. Most universities were pushing out Macs, by requiring technologies (such as email) that lacked a Mac client or refusing to support or fund Mac users. (I spent 8 years at UCI’s business school, which banned Mac purchases in the name of efficiency and standardization).

In 1996, I even started a website to keep track of stat software that was still being updated on the Mac — so that those of us who needed stat software could stay on the Mac. Stata stayed with us through the darkest days (and won my unending loyalty), but now most of the major math and stat packages are dual platform (with the exception of the troglodytes at SolidWorks).

Back in 1997, I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to find a pocket — any pocket — where Macs would be dominant again. The last one to bail from the platform was supposed to turn off the light, but instead people started flocking back and turning up the light. At some points the Macs will run iOS (instead of OS X or OS 8) but it looks like they'll be around for another decade or two.

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