The not likely enigmatic, and potentially un-researched Brian Caulfield at Forbes (hello Brian) recently asked the question:
“Would you build Apple clones if you got a green light from Cupertino for it? Would you buy one?”
You can read the entire article, as uninspired as it is, here: Apple Cloner Wants To Be Declared Legal.
But, here’s a taste:
“The Florida startup is determined to build a business putting Apple’s software on its computers. Would that really be so bad for Apple?”
I dutifully responded to Brian’s article. You’ll see my thoughts there. But, to make it easier I’ll add them right here on this post – because it’s the point I want to make.
Thusly, both my experience and thinking is:
“No. Historically, when apple permitted “clones” to run it’s Operating System, the user experience, and always, the customer service, was awful. Apple insists that the entire experience be best-of-class from where you purchase your reliable and state-of-the-art technology (the Apple Store), through the user and application experience, to the Genius Bar, in the rare times there is a problem. When other manufacturers are involved Quality Control has to be a major concern. And Pystar is much too unproven in this arena. In, fact, it’s likely this law suit is more about grabbing attention than legitimate business strategy and desire to compete.”
For perspective (certainly to help Mr. Caulfield to remember to research before you write), I’ll add a a bit of history to my experience…
By 1995, Apple Macintosh computers accounted for about 7% of the worldwide desktop computer market. Apple executives decided to launch an official clone program in order to expand Macintosh market penetration. Apple’s clone program entailed the licensing of the Macintosh ROMs and system software to other manufacturers, each of which agreed to pay a flat fee for a license, and a royalty for each clone computer they sold. This generated quick revenues for Apple during a time of financial crisis. From early 1995 through mid-1997, it was possible to buy PowerPC – based clone computers running Mac OS (though OS 7), most notably from Power Computing. Other licensees were Motorola, Radius, APS Technologies, DayStar Digital, UMAX, MaxxBoxx, and Tatung. In terms of exterior styling, Mac clones often more closely resembled generic PCs than their Macintosh counterparts.
And, of course, quality was an issue for everyone. We tried to use them in our businesses (we’ve been Apple evangelists since 1984 just as I was graduating from college and figured out early I did not want to bother with telling a DOS computer what to do). It was never a satisfying experience.
Soon after Steve Jobs, triumphantly, should add, returned to Apple. He quickly backed out of recently renegotiated licensing deals with OS licensees that Apple executives complained were still financially unfavorable. Because the clone-makers’ licenses were valid only for Apple’s System 7 operating system, Apple’s release of Mac OS 8 left the clone manufacturers without the ability to ship a current Mac OS version, and effectively ended the cloning program. NOTE: Apple bought Power Computing’s Mac clone business for $100 million, ending the Clone era.
Jobs publicly stated, taking a good and solid jab at the outbound CEO (whose name must not be mentioned), that the program was ill-conceived and had been a result of “institutional guilt,” meaning that for years, there had been a widely held belief at Apple that had the company aggressively pursued a legal cloning program early in the history of the Macintosh, consumers might have turned to low-priced Macintosh clones rather than low-priced IBM/PC-compatible computers. Had it pursued a clone program in the 1980s, in this view, Apple might have ended up in the position currently occupied by Microsoft – an extremely powerful company with high profit margins and a wide base of consumers perpetually dependent on its system software products. Jobs claimed it was now too late for this to happen and the Mac clone program was doomed to failure from the start, and since Apple made money primarily by selling computer hardware, it ought not engage in a licensing program that would reduce its hardware sales.
This is a great lesson in terms of having a clear vision and executing through it. Apple’s products and services are, indeed, considered best in all categories, and they have the delighted customers, profitable bottom-line, and satisfied shareholders to prove it.
By the way… The very fact that Pystar, the cloning company, wants their machines to be declared “legal” obfuscates the fact they know and understand that they are illegal. And, this is a real story that should rile the Apple faithful.
Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.
Brian Patrick Cork