Apple under Steve Jobs has always kept it’s own council. From Michael Dell’s recommendation of shutting Apple down way back in ’97, to more recent “good advice” saying Apple had to get into the netbook business, Apple has always ignored the pundits.
Now that Steve Jobs is no longer behind the wheel of the vehicle that is Apple, will it stay on the highway, or will it waste a lot of time driving down side roads? One thing is clear though; there is no stopping people who think they know what Apple should do.
Analysts J. Gerry Purdy and Tom Wheeler of Mobiletrax think they have the answer:
- Rename iTunes
- Make iHome (Basically, make any and every electronic device that is located in any given house)
- Buy Tivo
- Make iPhones in different form factors
- Make a 7″ iPad
- Change iPad aspect ratio from 4:3 to 16:9
- Publicly support Adobe for capitulating in the flash wars
- Allow non Apple products to use iCloud
I get the seemingly simple logic behind this. iTunes no longer is just about music. Rather it is both storefront, player, organizer and syncing software for music, tv-shows, movies, books and apps. It is a behemoth application that ties iOS and Mac OS together.
Apple itself is of course aware of this as well, and has taken steps, some would say, in redefining what iTunes is by changing the icon from a CD to a more generic “musical note” icon.However it is something different entirely to abandon a brand that is as recognizable as iTunes. Few pieces of software has a similar position. The Microsoft Office suite is the only one that comes to mind.
Why should Apple change this? The iPod generation has come to know and love/hate iTunes, and it is part of even the average Joe’s vocabulary. Apple has a long history of abandoning or changing technology that other companies and people have seen as indispensable (see floppy disk, optical media, Final Cut Pro), but not Apple marketing has never been as fickle. One exception to the rule is that AirTunes changed to AirPlay when the service started to support more than audio, but AirTunes was never the brand that iTunes is.
Apple has played this game to some degree before, when Steve was not at the helm. It is a game several other companies play: be everywhere, make everything. Sure Apple could manufacture stereos, printers, tvs, radios, dvd players, vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, digital photo frames and so on. Samsung does, after all. And if they really wanted to all of these devices could be made to work beautifully together, in typically Apple fashion. But as Steve Jobs said at the All Things D conference in 2004: “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do”. The active choice that Apple makes about to what it will an will not do is, what I think, what makes Apple able to make the things they do be really great.
Why would Apple gain from buying a company stuck between a rock and a hard place? Disrupting the TV content industry has been a long time coming. Tivo had it’s shot, but in the end wasn’t able to crack the nut. Why buy Tivo when Tivo has already failed? I am not saying that Tivo is a bad company, or has bad product, but the industry changing disruption that Apple has pulled off time and again is out of Tivos reach. I agree that TV needs disruption. But the Tivo angle of attack is not the solution.
The more general advice of this bullet point was acquisitions in general, which remains a valid point. Apple is after all sitting on a pretty big (growing) pile of money. But in many cases, why buy a company when Apple can compete in the marketplace with it’s own products instead?
iPhones in different form factors
This one we have heard before: “Why doesn’t Apple make an iPhone with a physical keyboard? No way Blackberry users will ever put up with this touchscreen crap”. Fast forward a couple of years and we all see what happened.
To be fair the different form factor argument now is more about a possible smaller screen iPhone. The iPhone Nano if you will, and changing the iPod touch into iPhone without voice or messaging, but with data plans. Frankly I don’t see either of these being done.
The iPhone Nano would mean a serious fragmentation of what is arguably the iPhone’s greatest strengths; it’s application ecosystem. To force developers to adopt a third screen size (after iPhone and iPad) for their apps just to make a smaller/cheaper phone is a lose/lose/lose proposition for Apple, developers and users. I would rather see Apple keeping around an entry level iPhone at increasingly cheaper levels when the hardware reaches a “good enough” threshold. I believe this year might be the start of exactly that.
When it comes to an iPod touch with a 3G/4G radio I can see the appeal. However does it make sense financially for Apple to do this? I don’t think so. iPod touch is the gateway drug to the iPhone. It is also a catalyst for iOS platform adoption. And it is dirt cheap. The actual price of an iPhone seen from Apple’s perspective is around $600. It is the carrier subsidies that hides most of the cost. iPod touch pricing starts at almost a third of that, at $229. Obviously Apple would prefer people to buy iPhones. As such, why not reserve some killer features for the iPhone? Mobile data being the biggest killer feature of them all.
Also the iPod touch in itself has some advantages over the iPhone. It is thinner, and has options for more storage capacity than the iPhone has.
Make a 7″ iPad /Change aspect ratio to 16:9
Apple made some deliberate choices when it made the iPad. 9,7″ screen, 4:3 aspect ratio. It all comes down to what it was made for. Is the iPad a portable video player? Yes. Is the iPad an ebook and digital magazine reader? Yes. Is the iPad meant to be held in landscape or portrait mode? Both. Yes, watching videos would probably be better with a 16:9 device. However it would suffer whenever you wanted to hold it in portrait mode when reading a book for example. It would also suffer in both orientations when surfing the web for example. Apple did not choose the 4:3 ratio by accident.
Even if you strongly disagree, and believe that 16:9 is the better choice it is simply too late. All apps for the iPad would have to be redesigned for the new aspect ratio and essentially set Apple back to february 2010 when it comes to the iPad app ecosystem. Even worse during the hypothetical transition period where both 4:3 and 16:9 iPads are in use, where developers would need to support both formats.
7″ iPads would face many similar problems. Why introduce a third screen size when it will lead to fragmentation? Apple didn’t choose the 9,7″ screen by accident. It did so because it believes that a 7″ screen doesn’t give users a significant better experience than simply using an iPhone or iPod touch. So far the market seems to have proven Apple right. People simply aren’t buying 7″ Galaxy Tabs or Blackberry Playbooks in droves. They are buying 9,7″ iPads. Some people would attribute that to the so called Apple “Reality distortion field”, but you cannot completely discount Apple’s internal testing for this, and consumers response to the iPad compared to the slew of 7″ competitor tablets.
Publicly support Adobe
Why? Adobe has thrown in the towel to stay relevant for web publishers, but what is there to gain from making a public show of it? Flash on mobile is dead. Apple knows it, Microsoft knows it, anyone who has tried to watch flash video on android knows it. And now Adobe apparently does as well.
Sure, at this point Apple could say that flash sites that uses Adobe’s new HTML 5 conversion technology to remove one bullet point in Apple haters’ list of iOS flaws. But I think most people have put this issue behind them. iDevices sell phenomenally well and there is less focus on this issue as more and more sites choose standards based solutions (read HTML 5) for their interactive content.
Allow non Apple products to use iCloud
iCloud is the cloud integration that Apple device owners have been waiting for. PC-Free, seamless access to documents, pictures and media. In the increasingly competitive landscape of mobile computing, why give your competitors access to a killer feature? Doing this would effectively negate any “leg up” Apple will have from iCloud. You could compare it to Microsoft Office, a software suite which is available not only for Windows, but for Mac OS as well. However there is a disconnect here. Office is a separate, highly profitable, product. It also gives Microsoft market share, if you will, in the area of file formats. As in when all your co-workers, business contacts, fellow students etc. sends you .doc (MS Word) files you are at a disadvantage if you are not using the same software.
iCloud however costs nothing*, and the purpose is to add value to Apple’s hardware business. Giving the same capabilities to a competitor does not make sense.
They could potentially licence iCloud to the likes of HTC and Samsung, getting an income through licence fees. But being both a licencor and a licensee is not without it’s flaws. As Horace Dediu of asymco puts it:
“The lesson (and warning) was that a licensor that is also a licensee makes other licensees uncomfortable. The supplier is also a competitor. This is classic channel conflict and never ends well.”
All in all, I think the cons weigh out the pros on this one.
A lot of speculation has taken place concerning how much of Steve’s philosophy has been ingrained in Apple itself. Myself I believe it has in a big way. As Steve’s protege Tim Cook takes the wheel he, and many others at Apple know the road that has been planned out. Some analyst “besserwisser” is not going to change Apple’s vision.