'iAnywhere' thumb drive devices: Google did it, Microsoft did it, and so did Dell. Why not Apple?

'iAnywhere' thumb drive devices: Google did it, Microsoft did it, and so did Dell. Why not Apple?

Summary: It's a nice idea and would fall in line with other companies reaching out to the computer-on-a-thumb-drive makers. But would Apple go for it? Depends how badly it wants the desktop enterprise market share.

(Image: CNET)

Plug in a thumb drive and attach a keyboard, and you're all but up and running. In some cases, the first part is enough alone.

Google has the Chromecast wireless media streaming device that plugs into your living room television set through a HDMI port. And one of the little know features to Microsoft's Windows 8's operating system is "Windows To Go," a way to put your entire computer on a USB stick that you can take anywhere you go. 

And not to be outdone, Dell became the latest to drum up a thumb drive computer — although it's not strictly a USB device in that it plugs into a HDMI port. And while Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth came close to this very idea, the funding campaign dried up.

You're starting to picture the scene. It's not necessarily about what your desktop or tablet can do anymore. It's about what that obnoxious, space-taking device in the corner of your home living room or work conference room can do when you plug in a mystical stick of wonder.

The only major player yet to embrace this new wave of thumb drive devices is Apple.

But J.P. Morgan analyst Mark Moskowitz thinks it may not be long until it takes the idea for its own.

In an investors note released Wednesday, Moskowitz said a weaker smartphone market could be jumpstarted by effectively joining its iPhones and iPads to "dock into a specially configured display to run as a computer."

Describing it as a "leapfrog event," he said it would "jumpstart... iPhone and iPad growth as well as peripherals and cloud-based software and services sales."

A few things to consider:

Apple said it doesn't want to converge iOS and OS X

The "iOS-ification" of its OS X desktop and laptop operating system continues, with a bevy of new iPhone and iPad-focused features slowly making their way to the big screen. But it's not the direction many thought it was going.

In an interview with Macworld to celebrate the Mac's 30th birthday, Apple's software chief Craig Federighi and marketing chief Phil Schiller wasted no time in saying the smartphone, tablet, and desktop platforms shouldn't merge. "What a waste of energy that would be," Schiller said.

Even Apple chief executive Tim Cook said, "You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but you know those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user."

Enabling iPhones to turn a "dumb" display into a computer would not break that promise per se. And while Apple would be the first to come up with a functioning product (even if it wasn't the first to invent the idea), it flows against the grain of Apple's ethos to keep the devices in sync but very much separate.

iPhone is the company's cash cow. Its desktop share is minimal, but still crucial

iPhone makes up 58 percent of Apple's quarterly revenue, based on its fiscal first quarter 2014 earnings. That equates to roughly $32.5 billion in revenue for the December holiday quarter.

Apple still drums up 5 percent of its revenue from its range of Macs and MacBook Pro products. With the profit margins so high, it's a non-starter for Apple to ditch $6.4 billion for each fiscal three-month period for the sake of a feature that would probably not affect the price of the iPhone or iPad it came with.

Apple would still maintain its core OS X platform for its traditional desktops and notebooks, Moskowitz said. While Apple doesn't break out its desktop Mac versus MacBook products, the general consensus is that its notebooks are more popular by a long shot.

Any such "iAnywhere" product would need to utilize a "dumb" display. That's not such an easy task when you're sat in your local Starbucks hammering out your new screenplay. 

Could this in fact be Apple TV's next move?

Forget a television set. It's been said a million times before, building a low-volume yet high-margin television makes no sense for Apple.

Television sets are replaced maybe every five years, which falls far short of Apple's release cycle. While the software could be upgraded regularly, a half-decade product cycle would fall far behind the latest technologies. 

Latest rumors suggest Apple could be pitching a smaller device — even smaller than the device you can already fit in your hand — that plugs into your living room display for content streaming and video downloading. 

There's no reason why Apple couldn't shrink the device down into a HDMI or USB-based thumb device that streams local music and video content over the airwaves.

If Microsoft can put an operating system on a flash memory stick, and Google can create a streaming device that fits in the palm of your hand, smash the two together and you're onto something interesting. 

Topics: Apple, Enterprise Software, Enterprise 2.0

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Enterprise?

    If you think a thumb drive is going to get Apple into enterprise, your badly mistaken. They need to fix; proprietary software limitations, lack of central computer system management, advanced server tools, and last but not least price gouging.
    Sean Foley
    • Ignorance is bliss...

      They have all that stuff.

      You do realize all those Macs in the Apple Stores are remotely managed. They have had that for years, dating to the Pre-OS X days.

      The server stuff is all open source under the hood. Learn to manage that. They also have great GUI tools.

      What proprietary software limitations? I can install anything from anywhere on my Macs.
      • Read before commenting...

        Sean Foley
        • I read that article some time ago

          and it downright bamboozled me because (though I've been out of the workforce for nearly 20 years) I wouldn't work for a company that didn't allow me to use a Mac.
          Laraine Anne Barker
          • You would turn down employment because you couldn't use a Mac?

            Wow... that might just be the stupidest thing I've ever read.
          • Wow... that might just be the stupidest thing I've ever read

            No, your comment is, Rib.

            Laraine is probably not in a 'will work for the crumbs that fall from your table' situation.
  • Depends how badly it wants the desktop enterprise market share.

    Do correct me if I am wrong, but should that read "...how bad it wants the..."? Better yet, maybe "...how much...".

    • Badly

      BubbaJones, "badly", not "bad", as written...
  • USB devices such as these

    These type devices are not used in the Enterprise anyway, so this would not be an entry into the Enterprise. Apple would do well to improve their solid UNIX platform to erode the market share that Windows currently has in the Enterprise market. It always makes me laugh when people suggest that Apple should do what everyone else is doing. It reminds me of the late '90s that the executive suite did do things like everyone else and almost went bankrupt. Apple should keep their focus on continually making great products and let everyone else flounder around.
    • Not necessarily agree with the article ...

      ... but apparently you think that HDMI and USB are the same things.
  • Maybe not an iPhone, but Motorola's Atrix and Photons . . .

    Apple would not be the first to turn a phone into a computer. Motorola's first generation Atrix and Photon (pre-Google) included a Webtop app that, when the phone was plugged into a lapdock or special charging stand, turned the phone into a (somewhat crippled) Ubuntu Linux computer, with an AIW feature (Android-in-Window) to allow use of the phone while plugged in.

    Once Google acquired Motorola, this was discontinued. It was, at best, a "neat hack."
  • Advice and pricing...again!

    Really...Sean, if Apple would only listen to you when you point out what's wrong with their company, maybe they'd finally be successful! Oh, wait....
    Zonn Et
    • Dont get Confused

      Apple has always failed to capture enterprise. I think your referring to consumer success lately. Oh, wait...so I am correct.
      Sean Foley
      • always failed?

        I think they are doing pretty good with iphone and ipad in the enterprise...
      • You haven't been paying attention

        As Jean-Pierre says, Apple OWNS the Enterprise Tablet space, if not by sales volume, certainly by sales VALUE. Hell, I'd bet the Fortune 500 bought more iOS devices than Windows devices in the last Fiscal Year, and those devices were all high-margin products.

        Why would Apple even bother with this kind of device? While there's probably some money in it, it's doubtful it is more than AppleTV currently generates, and that platform fits far better into the existing Apple ecosystem than anything else.
        • I think that enterprise players are learning some very hard lessons about


          As they have surely noticed, Apple drops support for a version of iOS after perhaps 2 or 3 new generations have been created, and those older devices can't be upgraded to the latest OS version because of hardware and feature limitations. Apple's iPad was popular with some enterprise players because, it was the first and most popular at the time that tablets started being taken seriously. So, companies that jumped into the iPad craze 2 or 3 years ago had no idea that their iPads would be rendered obsolete after about 2 or 3 years, and I'm pretty sure many of them aren't happy campers after spending so much money on their iPads.

          I seriously doubt that the majority of enterprise players will be investing so much into iPads and iPhones which become orphaned and obsolete after just a couple of years.
          • Sounds like you are just an ignorant hater

            You are so ignorant, that you think that the enterprise and the consumer market work the same way.

            Maybe you should spend a little time educating yourself before posting such ignorant rants.
          • Sounds like you hate hearing the truth, and you're just an

            ignorant cave-dweller, who doesn't understand how the real world works.

            The one who doesn't understand the business world, is obviously YOU. Companies jumped on the iPad bandwagon when it was the "only" game in town. Now that the competition has arrived, and is much better equipped to do battle, iPads will be just secondary considerations.

            The consumer market works much the same way as the corporate world. The corporate world is slower in adoption of hardware and software, but, they eventually take note on what has been developed for the consumer side, and then make their moves.

            So, take your ignorance, and go back to grade school, and start all over again in educating yourself about the real world. Feeling upset that I would tell the truth, won't change the truth on the ground.
  • Is there a disconnect?

    What does a TV have to do with enterprise? Sure we have had TVs for a while in our offices for video conferences, presentations, etc., but would you really want one AS your workstation?
    • The TV woudln't be the workstation; the PC in your pocket would be the

      workstation, and one that can move with you, in your pocket, anywhere you go. The TV would be just the window into the PC-in-your-hand. So, all that would be needed, anywhere you go, is a TV or monitor that your pocket-PC can connect to.