John Gruber over at Daring Fireball wrote an great piece last Friday about Apple’s recent advantages in the market with regards to being able to build a first-class device at a price competitors are unable to compete with. He followed it up today with a post on keeping score in the mobile phone market, and how Apple is wiping the floor with their competitors.
I couldn’t agree more with John on these topics, and I think that Apple’s advantages currently with the iPhone and iPad are blatantly obvious to the mainstream market and average user. They’re the best devices in their respective classes and Apple’s reaping a huge percentage of the profits as a result.
But there are two areas in which I feel Apple can still grow immensely and reach potential beyond anyone’s current expectations; the television and the Macintosh. While it’s always difficult to predict how Apple will move, I believe that there’s a good deal of evidence that the company is going to make major shifts in the way in which we view each product in the next 18 months or so. These will be paradigm-shifting changes, much in line with how the iPhone and iPad revolutionized the mobile phone and tablet markets. And its in these potential changes that Apple’s next big advantage lies, but it appears as if no one (and especially Apple’s competitors) haven’t even began to recognize the ace that the company is currently holding.
The need for a better television solution has been quite apparent for a while now. I think that it’s obvious that conquering the TV has been on Steve Jobs’ mind for at least the last five years. The company insists that the product has and will continue to be a hobby, but I don’t see this as the full truth. Apple’s recent (probably considered internally as the post-PC) product history has given us the death of small-market products such as the XServe or even Final Cut Pro (as most geeks imagine it), so it doesn’t make sense for Apple to keep themselves in the television market unless they plan on establishing a serious presence. Under the philosophy of Apple, if you’re going to do something, you do it to be the best in the world. And you’re not the best in the world if you’re just a “hobby.”
I’m not sure it’s this year still, probably more likely to be mid-2012, but I think we’ll see a major revision to Apple’s TV platform. This will come as either a full-fledged television itself (if the company can produce a high enough quality set at a comparable price), a revision to the current set-top box, or some sort of combination of both devices. The device will probably have it’s own native app system, as the device currently runs iOS, as well as a way to connect to iPhone, iPad, or Macintosh products over AirPlay and wireless screen mirroring. Television is really the final frontier for Apple with regards to creating a successful product for every typical product in the home-computing spectrum. While I have difficulty imagining a world in which Apple produces their own television set (I feel as if the current set-top experience is fine enough), I think Apple has to make an advance here and they recognize this.
The second monumental shift that I see Apple making in the next 18 months or so is with the Macintosh. Call it a gut feeling, but I believe serious winds are blowing inside the Cupertino offices with regards to everyone’s favorite product.
We’ve seen a few rumors about this change already, when leaks of an A5 powered Macbook Air surfaced back in May. The rumors didn’t carry much weight however, with many questioning as to if it would be possible to run OS X on an A5, or others suggesting that the prototype was more of a bargaining chip against Intel than anything else.
But I think the truth is, Apple’s still very much at work at an A5 Macbook Air. And there will be no need to worry about the OS X to ARM conversion much either, as it will be running iOS. That’s right, I’d venture a wager (or worse yet, dare to be bookmarked as claim chowder by Gruber) that we’ll see Macbook Air revisions released by mid-2013 that will be running a new iOS operating system.
The reasoning behind all of this is the ace Apple currently holds that I had mentioned earlier; convergence. When Apple finally follows through with this revision schedule, they’ll have what none of their competitors are capable of producing. A unified operating system that works flawlessly on a phone, tablet, desktop computer, and the television.
I don’t think I need to go into much detail on why this would be beyond ideal (and this post is already getting long enough), but the opportunities are endless. Buy an app once and it could be universal amongst all of your devices in a single binary package. Use your television as a second monitor to preview work instantaneously on a big 50” display when working in Final Cut Pro. While it’s not extremely difficult for Mac developers to pick up iOS now, imagine just how much lower the barrier for entry would be if there were only one operating system. Desktop applications could easily and nearly effortlessly develop cross-devise companions, where the iPhone or iPad is used as an interface aid and the complete experience would be flawless.
The use of iOS across all major platforms would be magnum opus of Steve Jobs’ final years at Apple. In 1984, he set out to create the computer for everyone. By 2013, he will have driven the creation of a computing ecosystem for everyone, where without hassle or need for configuration, all of our devices will “just work” in harmony. This convergence will create an even better app ecosystem for all devices, as programmers will be able to build better applications with much less work and users will be able to pick up a new device and immediately understand and interlink the new product with their existing catalog of applications, music, documents, videos, and digital life.
None of Apple’s rivals in could compete with such a universal line of digital products. Microsoft currently depends upon Windows Phone 7 for the phone, Windows 8 is anticipated to be the future for tablets and the desktop, and the XBox 360 looks to remain the center of the television experience for the next few years. There’s absolutely no simple way for a Windows user to tie together their experiences as elegantly as this potential Apple solution.
The closest competitor with a chance to accomplish this is Google, and even their current strategies have significant roadblocks. Android is wildly successful on the phone, but it can’t gain traction in either the tablet or television markets. On the desktop, Chrome OS and the web apps in the browser remain supreme in the eyes of Googlers.
This becomes problematic as the company has truly backed a “build once, run everywhere” mentality with regards to solving the problem of software and as such, most developers of the platform refuse to upgrade their application to better support tablets or instead stick with developing web-based applications that can’t compete with the slickness or responsiveness of a native app.
It’s when looking at Android that Apple’s strategy comes full circle, in that by using the same core operating system and working extensively to perfect for each platform, users are given an exceptional app ecosystem full of amazing applications that are tailored for each specific device while allowing developers to produce in one common native language. It’s absolutely brilliant.
But of course, my ideal strategy relies upon the successful development and release of an iOS Macbook Air. The hardware in it’s current state seems ideal for the platform, so I’d imagine that it’s primarily a software problem at this point. iOS on the desktop is going to be a drastically different experience than anything that geeks are familiar with, and will likely bear little resemblance to it’s predecessor in OS X. I’d imagine full-screen applications, no desktop or dock and instead a Launchpad-esque default experience, complete file-system sandboxing, all applications will require review approval, and we’ll probably lose the USB ports in favor of only a single Thunderbolt port. To say that this computer will be a drastic change for most users will probably be an understatement.
It’s also obvious that Apple has to move beyond OS X here soon, and I don’t think it’s far fetched to believe that Lion is the final major release platform. Apple’s a company that’s always placed a fair amount of symbolism in their marketing and design, and I don’t feel as if you call your operating system revision Lion or have the default wallpaper for beta developer builds be the peak of a mountain unless you plan on the release on being the end of the road. So what better time than Apple’s next major operating system release, and what better platform than iOS?
And of course there will be critics, foaming from the mouth with future shock mere minutes after Tim Cook and company reveal such a devise on stage. They’ll say that it’s too simple, too locked down, lacking in hardware ports required by power users, or that it’s just an iPad with a keyboard. A product so simple compared to the diverse features and openness of competitors surely can’t win out.
But much like the iPad was just a big iPod touch, this new computer will revolutionize the computing industry. It’ll be the only product that could disrupt the decades old, entrenched market that is the PC market. And if profit share of iOS devices compared to competitors in the phone and tablet industries are any indicator, Apple stands to make a good deal of money on this new product as well.
Powered by the convergence of iOS on the four major platforms in personal computing, there will not be a more complete and satisfactory experience than planning a short vacation with friends using the iPad while on the train, recording a few photos and video in HD during the trip using the high-resolution video camera of an iPhone, editing the video on a desktop computer, and then showing it off to family on a television in the living room. All without ever thinking about final management, transferring video over a wire, burning the final movie to a disk, or connecting an old DVD player to a TV.
Nope, it’ll just work instead. Just like Steve Jobs has always told us it should.