Is Apple at another "Tipping Point"?

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By martytri
April 20, 2006

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All right folks, deep breath, inhale, pause and reflect...

Looking back on the past quarter, it's been a pretty eventful one with the introduction of the Intel-based Macs, BootCamp and rumors of the iPhone coming to an Apple Store near you. Having spent the last week traveling back to Boston and sitting in various airports, restaurants, and the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I really noticed the brand name penetration that Apple has made.

Which makes me wonder if we're seeing another potential "Tipping Point" (by Gladwell) for Apple (assuming iPod was the first one). Check out: Wikipedia and The Tipping Point if you're not clear on the concept.

We have a bunch of loyal, devoted Apple fans/groupies/fanatics - a small, but vocal group. We're the Early Adopters (I'll define Apple as the Innovator). New version of OS X - already got it. New version of iLife, iWork, etc- check, check, and (write another) check), etc, etc. How big is your iPod collection? Own an original iPod, as well as version 2 (more storage!), the Mini (smaller) and the video iPod? Then you're an Early Adopter. Also seriously thought about getting the U2 iPod because you're a U2 fan? Then you probably need some help, or just a very early adopter. I'm the latter, hopefully not the former.

The next and larger groups are the Early and Late Majority. The iPod has hit the late majority full-force. I counted less than 10 (ten) non-iPod players over a 7-day period. I couldn't keep track of how many iPods I saw. And it's not the numbers of iPods, it's the types of folks that own those iPods that are important...(that's a BlueHerring concept.)

You expect the college and twenty-something crowd to be the early adopter, hip crowd - They all bought those iPods a while ago. Now it's the majority. And even the Laggards (Late Adopters) turn. But I was seeing 70+ year old women with iPod Shuffles around their necks...then it hit me that Apple's design team is even smarter than I realized...they already figured out how to make a music player that is completely simple to use - no screen. Just hit "play" and plug on in. If you're a technophobe, how easy is that? Its brilliant! And I'm a little bummed that I'm just figuring it out now...

So the consumers are hooked. But I'm sure someone in the back will stand up and shout - but that's only Apple, what about the other businesses and companies out there? Are they going to support Apple? That's a good and relevant point. If Apple is off by themselves, they could outgrow their support and start to wither.

Look in a non-Apple stereo store - how many of these places now sell iPod accessories including stereo/speaker set up? Every music/stereo store I looked in had some type of iPod section.

So Apple has a "Tipping Point" with their iPod. I don't think even Dvorak or Hiawatha Bray can argue that fact.

So it begs the question if the Intel-based Macs and BootCamp (or whatever it morphs into) is the start of another "Tipping Point"?

Apple has developed a large, positive mind-share with their iPods. Cool, sleek, functional, ease of use. All words that come to (my) mind when thinking about the iPod. There's the power of association.

Business Week reported that about 50% of new Mac purchases in an Apple retail store were "first time Mac buyers". Apple reported 77,000 of these "new Mac" folks. They don't say how they counted them, so I just someone could say they counted those folks upgrading from their Apple II+ or III to their first Mac...

"WHAT ?!?!?! 50% are switching from another type of computer?!?"

That's HUGE, folks...If this is truely a "Tipping Point", then that's the last part of our Early Adopters and the start of the Early Majority right there. And those purchases, since they were the last quarter (Jan-Mar) were all made before BootCamp was announced.

So what's the impact of BootCamp? It's going to be interesting. I hear a number of folks that never considered Macs before to be considering them. In psychology (or marketing) that's moving from the pre-contemplation stage to the contemplation stage - the most difficult change to make - from never considering doing something to actually considering it. There are physician groups that never considered Macs before that are now asking on our email list "What's up with BootCamp and Intel-Macs?" My brother is a Realtor that has to run a Windows-based program for work, who has always had Dells, but just announced he's getting a Mac laptop when do we see the 70 year old woman with the iPod shuffle sitting in Starbucks with her new Mac?

Companies spend millions just to get us to "contemplate" using their product. I spent a good amount of time riding the T (subway) in Boston. Almost every train has the iPod ads running the length of the train. There's a lot more iTunes commercials on TV in the past month that I've noticed. So is Apple focusing on the contemplators and trying to get them into the next group?

Apple looks like [they] set the table with the iPod, and are getting ready to serve the first course with Boot Camp. What's the main course? (more Intel Macs?) What's for desert? (iPhone?)

Hmmm....and who's picking up the check?

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