Apple can benefit from lukewarm Windows 8 reception

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A funny thing happened recently. A survey of 45,000 PCWorld readers found that a majority prefers Apple laptops. While that’s just one perspective from one audience, it represents a trend that Microsoft and Windows PC OEMs should be concerned about.

Large enterprises are too entrenched in Windows to shift the entire IT ecosystem to Mac OS X. It could be done, but like stopping a train, or turning a cargo ship—it would take some time.

Small and medium businesses, however, are more agile and can switch platforms on a whim. And, according to a report by Intermedia, recent SMB tech purchases are overwhelmingly favoring Apple. BGR states that nearly 70 percent of all smartphone activations for SMBs in the most recent quarter were iPhones, and more than 90 percent of the SMB tablet purchases were iPads.

Apple laptops received higher reliability and satisfaction scores than PC rivals.

iPhones and iPads are mobile devices, and don’t represent any real threat to Windows. But, if you combine the SMB demand for iOS mobile devices with the popularity of Mac OS X laptops indicated by the PCWorld survey, it paints a picture.

Looking at those two things together makes sense as well. Apple’s iPhones and iPads integrate with and sync with Windows PCs to an extent, but using Mac OS X unleashes the true power of seamless cross-platform syncing. Many of the native iOS apps like Calendar, Contacts, Notes, and Reminders have Mac OS X equivalents, and the information is automatically updated across all devices. The iMessage app allows you to receive and respond to text messages sent to your iPhone phone number from your Mac.

Windows 8 is a dramatic overhaul of the traditional Windows operating system, and there is a learning curve to getting familiar with the features and conventions. That’s true for any new software, but the difference between Windows 7 and 8 is significant enough that some SMBs might see it as an opportunity to just switch to a different OS entirely.

Again, iOS is capable of syncing contacts, calendar events, and other data from Windows PCs and Microsoft Outlook as well—especially for organizations that use Exchange Server. However, the reliability, support, and overall customer satisfaction scores for Apple laptops in the PCWorld survey are good reasons to consider a change.

The “Apple tax” is becoming less and less of a factor as well. Apple products are generally perceived as expensive, premium gadgets that cost more than similar products lacking an Apple logo. At the same time, comparable smartphones and tablets cost essentially the same as their iPhone and iPad counterparts, and the deluge of ultrabooks designed to take on the popular Macbook Air are priced roughly the same as the Apple laptops.

The threat is certainly not imminent, though. Microsoft won’t be going bankrupt any time soon. Mac OS X is nice, but many of the software applications that SMBs rely on simply don’t exist for it…yet.

Large enterprises may purchase tens of thousands of PCs or Windows licenses at a time, but there are tens of thousands of SMBs out there for every massive enterprise. If enough SMBs and consumers jump ship to Mac OS X, it will also be a more viable market for developers, and for third-party peripheral manufacturers—which could attract more people to the platform. It’s a self-feeding cycle.

Truth be told, Windows 8 is a great OS, and SMBs will appreciate many of the features and benefits once they get through the learning curve. However, Apple has an opportunity here to snag significant market share.

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