What has been Apple’s biggest strategic mistake since Steve Jobs’ death? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Glyn Williams, on Quora:

Apple’s biggest strategic mistake since Steve Jobs’s death has been to concede the power-user market.

Apple no longer makes anything that could be regarded as a high-end workstation.

Apple has only the (trashcan) Mac Pro, which has been a bit of a disaster. That machine is too constrained to have general purpose utility. The most powerful iMacs cannot support a desktop class GPU.

Apple has a group of loyal users in the academic community. It has loyal users in the visual effects community and loyal users in game development & VR. There are even a significant number of common-or-garden software developers, all of whom would gladly pay-out for a machine with lots of RAM, lots of cores, and a giant smoking GPU.

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By not offering a suitable machine for these users, Apple has burned a pile of good will with its most influential (and wealthiest) customers.

In pure commercial terms, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this decision. The amount of actual revenue this market represents is less than a rounding error on Apple’s bottom line. By dropping the top-end machines, Apple’s engineers can focus on other products which really do generate profits. The return on investment for high end workstations will be far less than phones, consumer computers or even watch bands.

But I still think this is a strategic blunder.

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And the reason is Formula 1.

Car manufacturers participate in motorsports. They burn piles of cash to make ridiculous vehicles which are not even for sale. This is not a profitable endeavor for the companies concerned. But they still do it. Why?

  • The coolness of Formula 1 rubs-off on consumer cars.
  • It makes the fans happy, and creates loyalty and brand awareness.
  • High-end motorsport technology trickles down into the low end products.
  • Pushing the engineering envelope is a good thing to be doing.

I think the exact same arguments apply to making fast computers. An Apple workstation division, even if it ran at a loss, would still make a positive contribution the company’s image. Apple hardware would be visible in academic science labs. Cutting-edge development could be done on Apple hardware once again. Those loyalists would finally get some red meat. It would bolster the reputation of the company as something more than a gadget maker. It might help shake the impression that the company is becoming dominated by a bean-counter mindset.

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(Not to mention that Apple engineers might have some equipment better suited to their needs than iMacs.)

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