Apple’s Next Big Thing: Personal Computers

Michael Gartenberg asked yesterday what’s going to be Apple’s next big thing, noting “If you’re screaming ‘television sets!’ calm down … The entire television-set business is worth about $30 billion dollars.” Jon Gruber agreed, arguing that even though today’s Apple event isn’t “a ‘here’s the next big thing’event” it’s still worth talking about.

But what if we did just see the next big thing?

Not the iPad Mini which, though nifty looking, is clearly just a defensive move against the rise of cheap 7-inch tablets. The 13-inch MacBook Pro. When the 15-inch Pro was released it was greeted in a curious way by the Apple press. Basically everyone agreed that it was the best computer they’d ever used, but relatively few people actually recommended that you go out and buy one. I had the same reaction, personally. I was blown away by the power of the machine and the quality of the display, but I simply didn’t want to buy a laptop that large. I carry my computer back and forth every day on a 30 minute walk between my home and my office, so the best computer for me is the lighest computer—the 11-inch Air—which I then hook up to a large display at my desk.

But if the 13-inch had been available at the time, it’d have sorely tempted that. That’s a pretty damn thin and light computer as well as an incredibly high-performing one.

And the interesting thing is that as best I can tell nobody else is really trying to play in this space. The overall PC market has been stagnating—or possibly even shrinking—which has been greeted with a lot of hand-waving in the direction of tablets and Windows 8. And maybe when Windows 8 is released everyone will love it and rush out and buy new PCs. But compared to Apple’s aggressive efforts to push the envelop on displays, it looks like stagnation to me. And that’s probably oriented toward the entire Windows market’s orientation toward the enterprise market. Unless you’re in a very unusual job, you don’t “need” a much nicer computer screen and your boss doesn’t want to pay a price premium for one. But if you’re a consumer, maybe you want one and thanks to Moore’s Law maybe you can afford one. Over the long run if “making computers people want to buy” continues to grow as a driver of success in the PC industry this could be a huge growth opportunity for Apple while low-margin competitors keep churning out Ultrabook look-alikes.