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This case uses Apple Inc. (Apple) and its Mac line of personal computers (PCs) to allow for an analysis of competitive positioning and the building of sustainable competitive advantage. In spring 2020, as Apple evolves its various product offerings, a product manager at Apple must think about how the Mac fits into its broader product portfolio. What is the future for desktops and laptops broadly and the Mac specifically? The case facilitates an exploration of Apple’s underlying capabilities and broader market dynamics, in the face of uncertainty over the industry’s future direction, and it highlights the way in which Apple made deliberate strategic choices for the Mac that have worked to alleviate the typical competitive pressures of the laptop industry. The case provides a historical summary and an overview of the current forces in the PC industry, including market-share trends, mobile computing, cloud computing services, the Mac portfolio of products, and competitors. The case offers the opportunity to conduct a five forces analysis as well as explore to competitive advantage and market position. Crucially, the case highlights the possibility of carving out a valuable competitive position even in an industry with difficult competitive dynamics. This case is used at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in “Strategic Thinking and Action,” a required course in the first-year core curriculum of the MBA and EMBA programs, and the students’ introduction to the discipline of strategic management. This case can be used to introduce or build upon the five forces framework and connect theory with action.
Assess the industry’s competitive dynamics using a five forces analysis. Analyze the strategic evolution of a firm’s product line. Conduct an initial, introductory capability analysis. Understand drivers of competitive advantage and explore sustainability.