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The blogged wandering of Robert W. Anderson

Why Apple Won’t Dominate Next Gen Computing

Alex Iskold of ReadWriteWeb tells us Why Apple Will Dominate Next Gen Computing.  He is wrong.

Apple’s success isn’t about the software

Alex Iskold’s premise is that Apple’s software platform is superior, therefore they will dominate.  He says . . .

Apple’s secret sauce has been its software.

First off, this is not Apple’s secret sauce.  Apple’s not-so-secret sauce is their ability to deliver highly-polished total product: hardware + software + services + image.

Controlling the hardware and software is a baseline requirement for a company to do this, but they go beyond that to build beautiful, desirable, and highly functional total products.  A good part of this is observable beauty and another part is pure marketing genius: the creation of desire and belief in the hipness of the product. 

Compare Apple’s total product approach with . . .

  • Microsoft licenses Windows Mobile for a variety of devices, not being a handset manufacture, it doesn’t control the total product.  For example, Samsung Blackjack.  Popular phone?  Yes.  Windows Mobile a flop?  No, but for user experience it compares very poorly against the iPhone.
  • Microsoft licenses Windows Vista to a wide range of OEMs.  Same story.  A little worse because when they did have influence over the total product, they botched it.  Example? The Vista Ready campaign and surrounding lawsuits.
  • Palm?  They had the slickest PDAs for quite some time.  They controlled the total product but forgot the services part so Blackberry beat them handily.  There death nell was selling of the software and licensing WM5.
  • The XBox 360.  Microsoft builds the hardware + software + service.  Runaway success.  Home run. 

My point? 

It isn’t the software, it isn’t the hardware, it is the total product. When a company controls the total product they can achieve Apple-level success.

Why Apple won’t dominate

To dominate, Apple has to penetrate into the greater computing space (and stop being a high-priced niche brand).  Either

  • their hardware becomes ubiquitous; or
  • they broadly license their platform to other hardware manufactures.

The first one is ludicrous:  user preferences are too varied for a single hardware vendor to be the one solution.  Apple has mostly done it with the iPod, but that is a piece of consumer electronics and pales in comparison to the complexity of computer systems in general.  If they believe this to be a good strategy, they would likely have to greatly broaden their product mix and lower their prices.

The second one, while certainly possible, would greatly complicate the Apple story, Apple software quality, messaging, etc.  And still, broadly licensing technology will not result in domination.

Only if Apple chooses one of these approaches can they possibly dominate next-generation computing.  And then they have to execute brilliantly.  And then several years have to pass for people to be in a position to replace hardware.  And then a huge migration has to occur.  And then, Cocoa what?

Anyone think this is Steve Jobs plan?  No way. 

And if it is?  Short Apple.  There is too much choice out there in terms of hardware, developer platforms, better licensing models, nascent cloud platforms, etc., for Apple to dominate.

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Q to 700w

For some time I have wanted a new smart phone, but I have been lazy about it — as a gadget-user I am not easy to please.  Choosing a smart phone is an exercise in compromise.  And the few minutes of time with one in a store isn’t sufficient.  My musts are:

  • For me it needs to have a pen (for writing w/Graffiti 2);
  • email / calendar sync (push);
  • extendable (tweakable);
  • and, of course, be a usable phone. 

David Sugarman* of Microsoft gave a Treo 700w to my business partner Nathan — this gave me the chance to take a hard look at a phone.  I’ve played with other phones extensively too (some Blackberry models — they’re all right, but they smack of proprietary platform).

Anyway, the 700w is a solid piece of hardware.  I have really liked the Palm hardware since their Tungsten line.  (I was a user of the Palm OS too, but abandoned that when Palm Source was sold).  I still have a T3 in excellent shape.  I should have sold that the minute I stopped using it, but I have a hard time parting with gadgets (any one want an Apple MessagePad 100?).

Anyway, I didn’t act on my lust for a new gadget.  As much as I wanted one, I have far too often bought something because I thought it would make my life easier only to find that I did not.

Then the hinge broke on my cell phone.  It still worked.  It just had the annoying habit of hanging up on people when I flipped it open. 

So David offered me a Motorola Q.  No pen, but I thought I’d give it a try.  After all, the penless UI (i.e., for WM Smart Phone) has some advantages over the Pocket PC UI. 

I explained the advantages of the penless UI to Nathan — a light bulb went off in his head.  He had thought that WM5 was just a little harder to use than WM-2003 (his old phone), but he realized that he was comparing an older penless model with a new penful (?) model.  It was the pen that was an impediment to his 700w experience; not the version of the OS.  

So . . .

Nathan has the new Q and I have the (pretty new) Treo 700w.  I am pretty happy with it.  It has some shortcomings, but all in all it works great.   The best thing about this phone is the push synchronization of contacts / calendar entries through Exchange.  The thing I would most like to change is that there is no good push e-mail solution outside of Exchange (or across multiple Exchange servers, for that matter). 

Thanks, David! 

*Industry Partner Manager and Mobility Lead, Capital Markets, Financial Services Group.

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