It has never been easy to be an Apple VAR. Many who started out selling Apple IIs and Macs into education accounts were cut loose by Apple in 1992 as the company decimated its K-12 channel.
More recently, the few VARs still in the mix had to contend with Apple-owned and operated retail stores competing with them on sales and services.
A few have made a go of it but now face customer questions about the future of the company many believe offers the most innovative technology in the market. Now that Apple co-founder Steve Jobs resigned as CEO, there is uneasiness about the company’s prospects -- uneasiness that may be unwarranted, several Apple VARs said, citing the company’s R&D spending and recent track record. The problem is Apple and Jobs became so intertwined that it was hard to tell where Jobs left off and the rest of Apple began.
Michael Oh, founder of Tech Superpowers, a Boston-based Apple reseller, said there’s been a lot of discussion about Jobs’ exit, but he has not fielded many pointed questions from customers about Apple’s future.
That may be because Jobs departure comes at a fairly good time, in Oh’s view.
“The iPhone 5 is coming soon and so is the iPad3 in the next six to nine months. Those products are well within the rumored pipeline so people know innovation is coming,” he said.
There is also a very strong set of Mac offerings that should fuel Apple’s market momentum, he added.
“In my opinion, Apple’s track record has been so strong for so long that if there is an impact it will probably be a long-tail impact. Maybe we’ll look back and see 2013 as the pinnacle because of all the R&D Jobs put in place,” he said.
Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point in Green Bay, Wis., is another Apple long-timer. His company was an early Apple K-12 partner and managed to survive Apple’s partner purge in 1992.
He too is optimistic about a Jobs-less Apple. “This is a big company and probably has deep leadership in technology and in R&D. And,” he said, “Apple customers are very loyal.” That is certainly true. Many C-level execs have forced their IT staffs to welcome iPhones and iPads into the corporate fold. And Apple stores are full of business people buying and training on Macs to supplement company-owned PCs.
“You’re in a Starbucks with your iPhone and people ask you about the iMac and you start talking. The common theme is ‘my notebook is a piece of garbage and I can’t take it anymore,’” said Jeff Matthews, an investor and author who himself dumped his HP laptop for a Mac last year.
Matthews recounted seeing a Manhattan Apple store full of 40- - and 50-year-old business people getting trained on new Apple laptops. “Every one of them was a loss to Microsoft and HP or Dell or whoever,” he said.
“I have a closet full of Dell and HP notebooks and I’m embarrassed to take them to Staples to get them refragged or whatever. You finally hit a point where you go to the Mac,” Matthews said,”and lots of people are at that point.”
Windows remains king of the desktop OS, but numbers show its share eroding to below 90% this past year.
Other Apple watchers wonder if Jobs’ departure might mean new hires in Cupertino. Jon Rubinstein, who spearheaded Hewlett-Packard’s TouchPad push may be looking for new pastures given HP’s decision to nuke the device. Rubinstein, aka “the Podfather,” was a former Jobs protégé at Apple.
Others, including some Mac fans, see trouble ahead for Apple that would be an issue even if Jobs were still day-to-day leader. Android-based smartphones are taking a huge chunk of the market, and they also see Microsoft perhaps finally making some headway with Windows in the smartphone market.