Mark Rogers has been at the helm of Apple's UK division for the past two years. Here he talks about the efforts he has made to win over new users to the Mac platform.
Tell me about your current advertising campaign. There were posters everywhere and ads in just about every magazine in the run up to Christmas.
What we tried to focus on for the UK market was the key product message around iMac and iPhoto and the integration with the whole digital hub concept, in particular around cameras. Digital cameras have been growing in popularity for several years, but people are saying "I've got a camera, but what do I do with it?"
We're saying: if you've got a camera then here are the other tools that need to go with it to get the maximum benefit. So we focused the campaign around a specific product, but with a message that says it doesn't matter whether you're a PC user or a Mac user. If you have a digital camera then we believe we've got the right tool for you.
Do you think the message is getting across that this is aimed at PC users as well as Mac users?
This is all part of our Switchers campaign, encouraging PC users to switch to the Mac. As long as people visit our website, they will understand. We've got the opportunity to get in front of a lot of new people, and we can show them that there are multiple reasons why you'd want to switch.
So far you've focused on digital photography, but what about the other parts of your digital hub concept?
We've also had some iPod posters. So we're looking at music as well as photography, and we'll come back and do other bits of the hub in the future.
Is this part of a wider strategy to broaden the appeal of the Mac platform to non-Mac users?
Without a question, we're trying to go after 'the other 95 percent'. If you're looking to grow your market share, then you have to go after users who are already using something else. There are not that many people out there that don't have computers these days. So you've got to go after people in the short term who have already made a purchase decision, perhaps on another platform. It's not just Windows users, it's Linux users and Unix users, and we think we've got the ability to do something unique with all those groups and try to attract them to the platform.
So if a long-term PC user were to ask you why they should consider the Mac, what would you say?
I think the important thing is to find out what you use your computer for. What do you do on a PC that you feel you can't do on a Macintosh? When you've established that everything a PC user does, they can do on a Mac, then you show them the other things they can do as well, which they probably can't do on a PC.
That's where we have a very strong message. You start showing them things like iSync, whereby they can synchronise contact and calendar information not just with a PDA (personal digital assistant) but also with a mobile phone.
Just that simple piece of technology alone has been enough to make people switch. If you want to do it, and you want to do it seamlessly with Bluetooth, then you've got to do it with a Mac. I think we've got plenty of applications out there — iCal, iSync, iTunes, for example — that bring added value to the platform, that you currently don't get on a PC.
Have you had any success in persuading people to take the Mac more seriously thanks to products such as the iPod?
It's an important message. A lot of people have Sony televisions, and you ask them "Why do you have a Sony TV?" A lot of them bought the Sony TV because they had a Sony Walkman, or a stereo, and they associate a certain level of quality [with the Sony brand] and therefore buy into [it]. I think if people have a great experience with the iPod, then they'll start to associate that with having a great experience with their computer. So it's important for us to keep building that brand recognition and spreading that brand knowledge to PC users.
Mac users are well-established on what Apple's good at, and they feel comfortable with the quality, the ease of use and so on. I think PC users know what those buzz words are, but haven't necessarily experienced it. Having a PC version of the iPod allows them to experience it in an environment they're comfortable with and not threatened by. They get to use that product independently of their PC, they get used to the Macintosh ethos of product design and user interface. Hopefully that will encourage them to come and look at the Mac.
So how do you respond to the common criticism that Macs are underpowered and overpriced compared with competition?
You have to pick the right discussion to have with the right person. There's not one generic answer. For example, you ask someone if they use FireWire; if you do, not many PCs have FireWire as standard, so if you want it you have to add another £60 or £70 to the machine, and then you have to add software to take advantage of it — for example if you want to capture and edit movies from your video camera. We give you iMovie for free. So you can tick off certain boxes in each case.
If somebody just wants the cheapest machine they can get, then we're going to struggle against some of the very low cost manufacturers. But that's not necessarily where we want to be, because those companies aren't making any money, and we're not interested in selling machines at a price point where we lose money. We've positioned our products at price points whereby we can make a profit and give value to our shareholders, but at the same time offer fantastic technology to as many people as we can.
But with your PowerBook and Power Mac products, PC users will probably think they're not getting a lot for their money.
What we're trying to do is be smart about what kinds of customers we're going after. If you look at our solution experts programs for markets such as professional music production and video editing, we try and put packages together that focus on certain areas of the market where we can show real value to people who understand it.
The search for the generic consumer is the search for the Holy Grail. If you walk into PC World you'll have new machines from Sony, Advent, NEC/Packard Bell — they’re all fighting for the same customer. Their only real differentiation is price, and that's what is driving the market more than anything. We don't necessarily want to play the price game; we are going to try and play the innovation game and bring new technologies to the market.
And if we can convince you as a customer that you want this new technology, then hopefully you'll get past the gap in pricing. If you look at our consumer desktops, the eMac and the iMac, they're very well priced for what you get. If you look at the spec of the 17in iMac, there's nothing that compares in the PC market that gives you all those things at that price.
Are people put off by the 'closed box' metaphor your consumer products use? You can't open up an iMac and change the graphics card or add a bigger hard drive.
When you analyse the marketplace and see how many people are really doing that these days, it's pretty minimal. There's not a lot of technology out there now that's taking advantage of some of these upgrades. Graphics cards continue to push the boat out, for example, but most of the applications that exist today do not take advantage of their processing speeds, and until something happens in the application space to really do that, it isn't going to make a great deal of difference whether you're running at 2GHz or 4GHz.
How has Mac OS X impacted Apple's progress over the last year or two?
One of the key things is what OS X has brought to software developers to enable them to bring their applications to the platform. We've now got some serious players who've never really developed for the Mac platform — companies such as Sybase and Oracle. So in the corporate space, where traditionally people have said the Mac's not a proper business machine, the introduction of OS X with its Unix underpinnings has really helped us to break down some of those barriers. I think we're now seen as a mainstream alternative to the Microsoft platform rather than being on the fringe as we once were. We've had great response to products such as Xserve and OS X Server.
Is it frustrating that just as Apple makes a huge jump with its operating system, along comes Microsoft with Windows XP which is a similarly giant improvement over what's come before?
The competition is always going to do that. But we feel we can continue to innovate and bring better technologies to the marketplace, and in some areas our competitors are still trying to catch up. Sure, it would have been nice to have said well here's OS X and there's nothing to compete with it, but the world's not like that.
What do you feel about Microsoft's current experimentation phase, trying out technologies such as Mira and Tablet PC, hoping it can latch on to the next big thing?
That seems to be innovation for the sake of innovation, trying to create a market. The Wintel market's been pretty stagnant for a while and people see no reason to upgrade their hardware. So what you're seeing is the introduction of all these technologies hoping that at some point there will be a use for them.
Tablet PC is a piece of technology waiting for a use, and no one's yet worked out what the use is. It's an interesting concept but I'm not sure it has a home right now. What it has done is create loads of interest, and it's got people excited about technology again. And if they're looking at technology, that's great because I think they'll start looking at all the alternatives.
If they're going to spend two or three thousand pounds, they're going to be thinking about what they can get for that money. If this is a catalyst to get people thinking about spending, then that can only be a positive thing for the entire technology industry.