Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

Summary: At WWDC 2011, Apple announced new features for OS X Lion and iOS 5 and pushed content to the cloud with iCloud. Is the company finally able to close the loop?

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In a keynote speech during its Worldwide Developers Conference event, leading tech company Apple announced new features for "Lion," the next version of its desktop operating system OS X; the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 5; and a new service, iCloud, which stores content in the cloud and automatically syncs it across multiple devices.

In doing so, it demonstrated how quickly the company is circling the wagons on its computing ecosystem, shutting out outsiders unless they play by strict rules -- and nearly doing away with alternatives altogether.

This is hardly the first article ever published about Apple's distaste for working with partners on any grounds but those it sets ahead of time, but in today's keynote speech, chief executive Steve Jobs made it expressly clear that if you want to reach a significant portion of the market for laptops, smartphones and tablets, you'll have to play by its rules.

It's good to be the popular girl, isn't it? Here's a list of 10 proof points, based on Apple's announcements today:

  1. Software, via the App Store. The Mac OS X App Store was announced months ago, but Apple reinforced it with numbers this time: it's now the No. 1 channel for buying computer software, ahead of Best Buy and Walmart. With the Mac installed user base growing 28 percent year-over-year -- the PC is declining -- and MacBooks occupying almost three-quarters of all notebook sales, that means Apple is increasingly able to pressure developers through its App Store chokepoint, just the same as the App Store in iOS. Which means a cut for Apple and rules as to what kind of content can be sold there. That includes its own operating system -- OS X Lion will be sold exclusively through this route, locking down the channel for that and making it a little harder to make a Hackintosh.
  2. E-commerce, via iOS Accounts. Apple said it had more than 225 million accounts with credit cards and one-click purchasing. That's a serious customer base for any kind of e-commerce endeavor, and it means anyone who uses an iOS device -- or Mac App Store-enabled PC -- is in this boat.
  3. Advertising, via iAds. If you want to show an add anywhere on this platform, save for the World Wide Web (and even then, Adobe Flash just won't do), you'll need to use Apple's advertising platform.
  4. Books, magazines and newspapers, via iOS Newsstand. Any of these that you subscribe to, you can now do through Apple's offering. It instantly gives publishers a way to get in front of iOS users, particularly those with iPads -- under Apple's rules, of course.
  5. Music, movies and TV, via iTunes in the cloud. This is a big one: no more multiple downloads/payments for the same piece of content. My CNET colleague Greg Sandoval has been doggedly reporting on Apple's sparring with record labels over royalties for this kind of thing -- let's just say the legal kinks aren't all worked out -- but the bottom line is that it's the last damn time you're paying for Led Zeppelin I.
  6. Games, via Game Center. iOS is now the world's most popular gaming platform, besting console makers by a significant margin in terms of installed customer base. And it's social, thriving on more usage by others around you.
  7. Contacts and calendar, via iOS sharing. Now you can share your contacts and calendar with other users, allowing iCal the potential to make significant inroads against Google's offering. Still, without significant enterprise support (most shops are using Exchange or Google Apps), this is more of a consumer play -- and contacts without Facebook seems to take the teeth out of this.
  8. E-mail, via iCloud. MobileMe is now absorbed into iCloud. And it's for free. Fans of MobileMe shelled out $99 a year for a suite of helpful services, including the @me.com e-mail service. Now it's open season -- anyone can have this.
  9. Documents, spreadsheets and presentations head to the cloud. Pages, Numbers, Keynote -- all of the files managed by these are traditionally Microsoft territory (with Google Apps leading the resistance charge) and that company has resisted letting Apple's iWork suite make any inroads against it. But if these apps are easily available on any iOS device, can they begin to turn the tide?
  10. Direct messaging, via iMessage. Think of it like BBM for the Apple set: direct messaging for iOS users only, over Wi-Fi or 3G.
  11. Peer-to-peer file sharing, via AirDrop. Replacing the run-across-the-room-with-a-USB-stick phenomenon.
  12. Photo Stream. Share and sync photos across devices, in conjunction with iPhoto.

So let's review:

If you're a business and want to sell software, music, movies, TV, books, magazines, newspapers, video games or ads to the growing mobility-minded population that also happens to be increasingly favoring Apple products, you'll have to play by Apple rules.

If you're one of the millions of consumers who use an iOS device and want to send a short message, e-mail, photo, file or business document of any kind -- or want to buy something online -- Apple has solutions that are not just available, but preferred on your chosen ecosystem. You have to go out of your way to find an alternative, assuming it's available through the channels I've outlined above -- after all, Apple's the gatekeeper.

It's a services world, baby, and you're just livin' in it.

A lot of this isn't new. Apple has for a long time offered products that compete with dominant solutions made by rival tech firms. The difference here is that with ubiquitous connectivity, Apple can far more effectively police its network -- that's too strong, perhaps merely "enforce its preferences" -- on a very large group of customers. Facilitating and reinforcing it all is the new iCloud, which keeps all devices in sync and by extension ensures consistency and upgradeability across devices.

Since its inception, Apple has been a walled garden company in many ways. But it was always the minority, far behind the PC in market share, especially so in the age of the Internet. But then a funny thing happened: its computers started becoming popular again. That's not a big deal on its face since the populace looked to the lawless Internet for functionality -- but then Apple rapidly blew past the competition in the mobile space, riding the success of the very-closed "app." Now, the dominance of the mobile platform is seeping in. The iPad isn't a product that no one knows what to do with; it's the new magazine, the new day planner, the new GameBoy, the new in-business-class-and-reviewing-my-presentation device. And now it syncs seamlessly with all the other devices in your life.

The mobile world is moving away from the chock-full-o'-content web and increasingly becoming a world of closed pipes of content, with Apple, Google, HP and Microsoft regulating the flow. Tech fiefdoms scattered across a vast open land have expanded into warring nation-states with adjacent borders. The Mac vs. PC vs. Linux argument from the early days of consumer computing has lost a great deal of its luster in recent years with the development of cloud computing on the open web, but the concept of platform wars is quickly making up for lost ground with the development of cloud computing in the closed mobile space.

Every tech company wants users to use its solutions over those from other companies. But with such a sizable lead in phones, tablets and (lately) computers -- plus the syncing tentacles of the cloud at its disposal, and the inherent nature of the mobile platform -- Apple is making it very hard to offer alternatives from within.

Which nation will you choose?

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    Topic: Apple

    Andrew Nusca

    About Andrew Nusca

    Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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    41 comments
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    • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

      Which nation will iChoose? (see what I did there?)
      Will be the 'nation' where I can do what I want, my way. I'm happy to hop from Windows to Linux, to BSD to OS X - as long as I can do what I want, my way.

      In the words of Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit
      "This time I'm 'a stand up and shout
      I'm 'a do things my way
      It's my way
      My way, or the highway"

      The information highway, that we affectionately call the Cloud. But not the iCloud. That's too closed and not so much a cloud, but a big padlock where the only key is in Steve Job boxers.
      Jayton
      • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

        @Jayton So are you saying that you'll choose the vendor with the ecosystem that best suits your needs? What if none do?
        andrew.nusca
        • Right

          I choose the vendor that is releasing products not press releases. As predicted Apple's WWDC has far reaching impacts, we can see why MS has been pushing out video demos.

          The new direct sales channels present a great opportunity for smaller developers. An eye must be kept on Apple policies, however the AppStore model smashes the cost of traditional software distribution. A revolution.
          Richard Flude
        • Richard Flude. I do not doubt that you can not see

          @Richard Flude
          the trees for the forest.

          But then any post that gives you a chance to insult Microsoft is something you can not seem to pass up.

          Which is why no one takes what you say seriously.

          :|
          Tim Cook
        • Too bad you don't have any emotions Spock

          @Mister Spock

          You miss out on all the fun of laughing at Richy Flude like most of us do! :)
          Will Pharaoh
        • What do you do Andrew when they don't carry you favorite ice cream.

          @andrew.nusca

          You take the closest match and add on what is missing.

          That leaves either Windows or Linux as the obvious choices to get closest to what you need.
          Will Pharaoh
        • We just have read from Edward Burnette and Samuel Diaz how genius Google's

          @andrew.nusca: ... cloud is comparing to Apple's, and now you are saying that Apple's iCould is so tempting that it almost prohibits competition -- even though, in reality, it does not: everyone will be as free with sources to buy sofware for Macintoshes as ever?
          DDERSSS
        • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

          @andrew.nusca

          <i>"If you?re a business and want to sell software, music, movies, TV, books, magazines, newspapers, video games or ads to the growing mobility-minded population that also happens to be increasingly favoring Apple products, you?ll <b>have to</b> play by Apple rules."</i>

          Sorry, but <b>this is a misleading, slanderous cliche by Andoid/Google "fanboys"</b>. HTML5/CSS3/JV (Web2.0) is perfectly free platform of any Apple's rules -- any web developers, media business, whoever else can do whatever they want on it, and it will work as smooth as this technology allows -- for example, Google Docs. And, on Mac platform, no one prohibits anyone creating their own AppStores, or selling apps and media directly anyway possible. The same is with "jailbreaken" of iDevices, which is perfectly legal, and Cydia works well with it.
          DDERSSS
        • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

          @DeRSSS

          I'm afraid you are dead wrong.

          Apple has not implented a crucial part of HTML 5 - the autoplay tag in audio and video. This means you can't make interactive synchronised web apps as video and audio need to have a controller and the user has to press play. I have interactive web apps with synchronised sound/text/graphics and video using HTML5 or Flash and they'll run on everything but Apple. There was a workaround available until they closed it with the latest release of their iOS dinosaur.

          Now there is some lame explanation about data charges etc etc., but it's really there to prevent the development of interactive multimedia apps without using Apple's appalling development system.
          tonymcs@...
    • Andrew J. Nusca, Andrew J. Nusca

      While I appreciated your use of proper grammar and punctuation, I was driven to distraction by the seething sarcasm and your clear distaste for Apple. I made it to the end of your blog post only to discover you have re-written an article which has been recycled since 1984. Everybody sing along! You know the lyrics: "Apple's a closed system, Apple makes their own rules, Apple doesn't offer as many options as.... zzzzzzz." Andrew J. Nusca, could you be as bored churning this tripe out as I was reading it? Since we all know that Apple's control over its ecosystem is precisely what consumers benefit from and appreciate about the products Apple delivers, I won't bother to repeat it, even though Andrew J. Nusca has set the bar very low in the land of repetition.
      gregv2k
      • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

        @gregv2k No distaste for Apple whatsoever -- I wrote this post on a MacBook Pro.

        I don't doubt the benefits of a closed system at all, but I thought it important to note that this is, in my opinion, by far the most comprehensive closed computing system in history. Just look at all the activities Apple controls now! It's staggering that a tech company has made this much inroads on so many disparate industries.
        andrew.nusca
        • Not just inroads

          They've redefined the sectors. Incredible.
          Richard Flude
        • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

          @andrew.nusca It is pretty clear that Apple is building a vertical monopoly to lock-in naive users.

          BTW, Windows Live Mesh does all what iCloud does (almost) except it is cross-platform compatible and FREE.
          pupkin_z
      • Apple = AOL

        @gregv2k I think Andrew highlighted the fact that if you are interested in vendor lock-in and are happy with reduced functionality, than Apple is an adequate solution. Just like my Grandmother was satisfied with the meager offerings of AOL, sacrificing functionality for simplicity, so too do Mac users choose Apple.
        Your Non Advocate
      • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

        @gregv2k

        A cage with platinum bars is still a cage.
        josh92
      • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

        @gregv2k People appreciate not being able to install their own choice of software on their devices? They appreciate lack of USB connectivity or memory card storage expansion? That's like when China or North Korea claims the people are happy with their government because they impose "order" or Mussolini made the trains run on time. Nobody wants order at that cost, and nobody wants one company to decide for them what books they can read, movies they can watch AND software they can use. That's crazy.
        jgm@...
        • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

          @jgm@... Nobody wants order at that cost.

          Codswallop. Lots (dare I say *most*) of people want/like/desire that kind of order. It's why so many people in the "freedom loving" U.S. of A. say, "government fix this, government fix that". It's why most people were happy with Fascism and are relatively content in China.
          Media Whore
      • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

        @gregv2k

        Now look what you've done. You've brought out the deranged freedom fighters. :/
        dave95.
    • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

      Looking at one of your points....
      [i]Documents, spreadsheets and presentations head to the cloud. [/i]
      Slim and none. One of the biggest failures is the ability for iWorks to properly integrate into MSOffice functionality on the iPad - really ugly functionality.

      Apple needs to change it's name - iSilo.
      It is rapidly building one.
      Sad.
      rhonin
      • RE: Through cloud, Apple circles wagons on ecosystem: 10 proof points

        @rhonin Yes, the business applications are less easily translated (read: translatable between each other) in the cloud. But I suspect as we head to a more mobile platform-dominant computing landscape, we'll see more pressure here.
        andrew.nusca