The wonderment of Apple

The wonderment of Apple

Summary: Apple's current success is truly astounding when you consider the state of the company in 2000. Today, they are the company that essentially owns that segment willing to pay most for client device customizations.

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The protagonist in the book "Looking Backward," a 19th century novel by utopian author Edward Bellamy, awakes sometime late in the 20th century and proceeds, over the course of the book, to recount what he sees there. In Bellamy's case, the protagonist saw a socialist Utopia well entrenched in the year 2000. Clearly, prognosticators have a hard time making accurate predictions about the future (and have a tendency to project their own desires into what they see there, just ask this guy).

The world of IT moves a lot faster. Imagine a programmer hit by a bus on the way to work in 2000. He goes into a 10-year coma, awaking on November 30, 2010 with a raging desire for Chicago stuffed pizza (and who wouldn't). Given that his memory of computers stops at 2000, he might be forgiven for assuming that Microsoft ruled not only desktop computers, but cell phones, tablets, tables, refrigerators, cars, and any other device that can make use of CPUs and memory chips (though he might have thought there would be several Microsoft's at the time, as he couldn't have known that Penfield Jackson's break-up ruling would be overturned by Collar-Kotelly).

The reality, of course, would be shocking to him. Who would have expected that today, Apple, a company that was nearly on its deathbed in 2000, is now the most valuable company in IT from a market capitalization standpoint, or that they would stand atop the heap in the new device category that is proving the fastest growing segment in computing?

Nobody would mistake me for a fan of Apple products, though it's hard to discount their success. I recently received a Brookstone catalog in the mail, and was astounded by how much stuff there is that touts its compatibility with iPod, iPhone and iPad. A recent article on Ars Technica touted iPads and MacBooks as this Christmas' "goods of desire." It's all-but impossible to escape the Apple logo around LA these days, whether it glows from the back of a laptop perched on a table in a local coffee bar or is emblazoned on a gigantic ad along the Sunset Strip (though Apple seems to have given up the gigantic 12-story ad along Santa Monica, something you could easily see from the Hollywood sign).

It seems a position that will be difficult for anyone to displace. Google certainly seems to have gained  traction for Android, and as Informa noted in a presentation I saw a few weeks ago in Puerto Rico, Android will balloon in market share in the coming years. Market share, however, doesn't necessarily translate into revenue for application developers, a point John Gruber made in a recent post on his blog. Apple seems to have collected for itself that segment of phone users who like to customize their phones. That's a useful trick, and goes a long way towards explaining why Apple continues to have overwhelming dominance in terms of the number of applications available for an iPhone. As Gruber noted, developers go where the money is, and the people who are willing to part with it seem to gravitate around Apple products.

That, to my mind, is not surprising, as the thing that Apple understood long before any other company was that devices that you carry on your person are different. People who like to make statements about themselves tend to gravitate towards products that specialize in cultivating what Thorstein Veblen would call "invidious distinction." This is why I don't think Apple should lose much sleep over Android's market share gains. Apple shouldn't want to grow its share too high, as that undermines the statement ownership of an Apple product makes. So long as they keep investing their products with that "something special," people will still want to upgrade their phones to the latest every year, which appears to be a unique characteristic of iPhone users. Shortly after iPhone 4 came out, I was surprised how many people walking the streets in LA converted their version 3 devices to the new platform.

Who would have thought so much could have come from dominance in digital music players?

From hindsight, it makes a lot of sense. Back in the day, I used to argue with proponents of Java (and I counted myself as one at the time) whether Sun would have much success in the client space with its new Java runtime. I thought they wouldn't, as Sun, as a server company, didn't understand the needs of client environments very well.

You learn what kinds of things customers need and want by trying your hand at the market. Apple's experience with the iPod taught them how to make devices that are easy to use and personally identifiable. Well, to be honest, personally identifiable was more part of Apple's DNA than any other company (candy-colored iMacs could only have come from Apple), but easy to use takes work. The iPod was their laboratory, and iPhone and iPad sprung from its beakers spraying money in all directions.

Cultivating the iPod was an interesting way to displace what everyone thought was Microsoft's unshakable grip on the world of computers...though I hesitate to say Jobs was completely aware of the potential, even as I credit him for the directions the company took. Apple didn't invest most of its energies in making a frontal assault on the PC dominance of Microsoft, a space to which the old Apple confined itself almost exclusively. Instead, they created an entirely new market segment, one that didn't have a well-entrenched competitor, built it into a powerhouse, and used that as a beachhead from which to launch into phones and tablet devices.

I may grumble about it, but it worked. Android might squeeze Apple, but they will never displace it in phones. And in tablets? Heck, they seem on their way to running away with the category the way they did with iPods. De facto standards are hard to displace...just ask Microsoft.

As much as I hate to admit it, Objective-C and Cocoa are going to be important tools in my client development toolbox. Server technologies will always be in demand, and those are far beyond the control of a company that is essentially a force on the client. Web skills are also not to be displaced, as every device must support web apps as a baseline feature. But if you are doing anything more advanced, well, Apple has a right to demand you pay attention to their APIs. Developers know that, and the more that sinks in, the more entrenched Apple and its APIs become in the marketplace.

Topics: Hardware, Apple, Laptops, Mobility, Tablets, Telcos

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

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40 comments
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  • RE: The wonderment of Apple

    It is hard to deny the grip that Apple has on these once ancillary devices. Now, I defy you to have anyone live without their iPhone. Now if Steve would let Flash live on the iPad, I would run out and get one.
    moisespagan
    • several millions of people disagree with you on the need for Flash

      which means flash is dying.
      frgough
      • Several million here or there...

        @frgough Another several million people still want flash. Just because a segment of the population - regardless of size - doesn't care about flash doesn't mean it's dying. There are still plenty of people out there who do care about flash.
        guardianmega
    • RE: The wonderment of Apple

      @mdpagan no Flash is a bitter pill to swallow, but I think it is inevitable that executables that run in a public space have outlived their welcome. Time for some new tech.
      CowLauncher
    • RE: The wonderment of Apple

      @mdpagan I've had the iPad since April, don't miss flash one bit since most video sites are moving to HTML5.
      cyberslammer2
      • The problem is...

        @cyberslammer2

        you wouldn't know water if you fell out of a F*ing boat.
        SonofaSailor
      • RE: The wonderment of Apple

        @SonofaPotatoPotatoPeeler Nice try Popeye...I bet you're real tough behind that keyboard...all 400 pounds and 5 feet of you.
        cyberslammer2
      • Such negativity

        Take a deep breath, SonofaSailor.

        Should it really mean so much to you that Cyberslammer can get by without flash? I would be able to, almost, if it wasn't for Hulu.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: The wonderment of Apple

        @goff256 He's just upset because I always have the latest and greatest tech stuff from Apple and am productive on it. I don't miss flash at all.
        cyberslammer2
      • RE: The wonderment of Apple

        @cyberslammer2 <br>Get real.<br>The only place flash really runs poorly is on Mac.<br>I run it on my NexOne and it is great.<br>When I run my i4 and NexOne side by side and browse, you get to really see how much of the internet iOS is really hiding.
        rhonin
      • RE: The wonderment of Apple

        @cyberslammer2

        I have an iPad that I use extensively and find lack of flash to still be a real pain. Which suprised me because I didn't think it would be. Its fine because I have a laptop I can pull out and use if necessary, but it would certainly prevent me from using it as a "primary device" or replacing a laptop with it.
        SlithyTove
      • @zenwalker

        I call BS right now. EVERY review of flash on Android says it's a pig.
        frgough
      • RE: The wonderment of Apple

        @frgough I've had my Droid Incredible for about two months now, and haven't had any problems with flash whatsoever.
        guardianmega
      • RE: The wonderment of Apple

        @cyberslammer2 My wife's employer got one and has been letting their employees borrow it (she works for a library system) to do a hands on tech evaluation (we've also had a Kindle, waiting on a Nook) and I have to admit I really do like the iPad quite a bit. I don't miss the lack of flash either (as I block flash from my browsers and use an iPhone). Admittedly I'm still not quite convinced I "need" an iPad but it is a really neat device.
        athynz
    • RE: The wonderment of Apple

      @moisespagan Trouble is if you put Flash on it you significantly hurt its security (and put a serious ding in the system's lightening responsiveness).

      So, the choice is, slower, with less battery life and less security. Or no Flash. I can live with no Flash (and yes, sure if you could do a magic "Flash without the baggage" I'd take that - but that isn't possible). YMMV
      jeremychappell
    • RE: The wonderment of Apple

      @moisespagan

      You can run flash using Frash or ThinServer

      http://www.aikotech.com/thinserver.htm
      bojanwojan
    • Flash is quickly becoming depreciated.

      @moisespagan

      In the last year, it has amazed me how major web sites have simply started to change to standards based presentation of content as more and more mobile users access their web-sites.

      Over Thanksgiving, my 11 year old Nephew went from site to site to site on my iPad playing games and watching videos. He never once noticed the iPad did not have Flash. It was actually quite amazing and I was surprised.

      Having used Flash on a Droid X, it is still far from prime time ready. The funniest things I read is:

      <i>Just turn on Demand Loading and Flash works great.</i>

      So in other words....

      <i>Flash works great on Android if you disable it.</i>
      <i>Flash works great on Android if you simply don't use it.</i>
      <i>Flash works great on Android if you turn it off.</i>

      I also found that Android was a bit faster by simply removing Flash. As for content? The vast majority of sites serve alternate content now if you do not have Flash. Likewise, many of the games simply are not playable (yes, a few are but most are not due to lag or UI). So you do pick up a few plusses by having Flash. You seem to pickup allot more minuses and the overall experience is much worse.
      Bruizer
    • delete

      delete
      Bruizer
  • RE: The wonderment of Apple

    @Cowlancher, @frgough. I am not in disagreement with you at all about Flash. I moved to real estate from the tech world in 2003(I guess I have been in the "coma" for the last 7 years). My current Multiple Listing Service is Flash enabled so for me, right now, flash is a necessity. I welcome better tech, any day - and perhaps, so will my local real estate board. Till then I look on with envy at all the iPad owners.
    moisespagan
    • The iPad would be a great tool for real estate agents, so

      I fully expect MLS to move to alternate technologies sooner rather than later.
      frgough