Obama’s Mac: Will it accelerate the Mac move into the mainstream?

Posted by Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

Analyst Opinion - Earlier this month, Windows dropped below 90% market share for the first time in over a decade and the beneficiary was the Mac, which has enjoyed a strong resurgence. This resurgence was driven by a number of factors  - the success of the iPod and iPhone, a continued focus on customer satisfaction (Apple has the strongest NPS scores of any PC vendor), and some compelling products like the Macbook Air. But the biggest accelerator could be a charismatic U.S. President who has, as his personal choice, a Mac.

Charismatic leaders tend to drive those who admire them to copy certain products they use. I believe President-Elect Barack Obama could have a huge and positive impact on Apple. Why? Look at the frenzy he causes when he is seen with a new product. It is amazing how many people got excited when Obama was seen with a Zune and we even saw the term “Zunegate” in relation to it. And we know that he also uses a Mac laptop.

A certain promotion is one side of the story. But Obama’s Mac may also cause some scrutiny that Apple has not enjoyed in recent years, because this laptop and others like it, which may soon show up in government, will become an obvious target for hackers both as a challenge and because foreign governments want access to them. Apple still seems to take the view that security isn’t its problem and governments have a tendency of disagreeing with positions like that. Obama’s Mac may change Apple in ways that it has been resisting since Steve Jobs returned to the company. The Mac may have to become corporate again.   

Apple’s Presidential opportunity

We haven’t had a superstar President since John F. Kennedy and not many of us are old enough to understand what that really means. What it means is that there is a huge focus on what he and his family do and there is a massive fan base that has the desire to emulate the Obama’s. This alone will have a huge impact on Apple sales along with every other product he is seen using. For the sake of the car companies, let’s hope he drives a domestic model.    

This isn’t just in the United States. Obama is gaining a star status worldwide and could become a stronger and much more visible promotion tool for the Mac than Steve Jobs is - simply because Obama will be vastly more visible.  If he keeps his laptop with him, and this seems likely, he effectively becomes a walking endorsement for Apple, which should pay massive dividends to the company.
The Mac could literally become one of the physical representations of a popular president and even Apple couldn’t top that kind of promotion.

Cost of mainstreaming

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, the company abandoned corporate sales, government sales, and largely abandoned education to conserve cash. Apple has not embraced any of these segments as much as they had done before. Particularly when it comes to big business and government, the company has fallen substantially behind on security. Apple seems to take a view much like Microsoft did in the last decade - that security isn’t its problem and its products lack things like Trusted Platform Modules, fingerprint readers and smart card readers. And while Absolute Software’s LoJack for PCs will work on the Macs, they are rarely configured with it.  

This last one is interesting, given what an attractive item Macs are for thieves. Finjan’s recent report highlighting a shift of focus from the OS to the browser for thieves implies a higher security risk for anything that runs a browser, including a Mac.  

There are not many targets as juicy as the U.S. President in terms of inside information and I am sure there are national level efforts to compromise Obama’s Blackberry and Mac even as I write this.  Obama’s visibility plus the likely ramp of Mac sales should focus hackers on the Mac like never before and probably force Apple to step up its security responsibilities more aggressively.    

Most of the independent analysts were recently put on notice that we will likely be called for a massive number of class action law suits currently in initial phases as law firms facing the impact of the economic downturn and change business models - to target companies with large amounts of cash.  Apple continues to be a class action magnet, as is Microsoft. Security, or the lack of it, is likely going to be a natural place for some of these firms to focus on.  
 
In the end, Obama’s support may finally force Apple to embrace once again the painful and often expensive process of supporting large business and government which, while increasing sales, will do ugly things to margins, because these entities tend to buy in bulk. But it could also force Apple, much like what happened to Microsoft around 2000, to rethink security and the more companies are focused on addressing this problem, the better off we all are.   


Wrapping Up

Obama’s Mac may have a major impact on the spread of Macs in business and government, but it may have an even more significant impact on Apple, which will be forced to step up to the related market requirements. It will result in many more Macs, but it may also bring a changing Apple and I wonder if Apple will see these changes as a positive trend.

In the end, I think the change across the board will be beneficial to all of us. It will be nice to once again have a U.S. government that is doing things for us rather than to us.  

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts.  Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them.  Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.