Apple's Boot Camp Lollapalooza

Boot Camp is going to revolutionize the portable marketplace, and almost no one gets it.

For years Steve Jobs has been dancing around an ultra portable computer: flirting with buying Palm; haunted by the failed ambitions of the Newton; criticized for not developing a gaming platform; watching in the wings as Microsoft tried handhelds, tablets, Origami, pen computers, you name it.  Apple’s laptops were always appreciated for their design, but they were marginalized by the operating system…and then he succeeded wildly with the iPod, a cross-platform solution.

Can you hear the gears spinning in the guru of cool’s head?

Now Apple announces a tiny software hack—Boot Camp--that is going to revolutionize the portable marketplace, and almost no one gets it. Steve immediately turns the tables on the entrenched sellers of me-too laptops. (Read one tech reporter and former IBM laptop advisor’s take on the laptop implications for the only cogent comments I’ve seen yet.)  Can’t an icon get any respect?

The real significance of this dual boot capability is in the laptop universe, not on the desktop. Could it be that the success of the iPod, and the iTunes service, has made Steve realize that the future is in selling mobile devices that are just better than anything else available?  What if he could revolutionize the laptop market the way he did the portable music player game?  Is it so hard to imagine a Mac laptop that plays video, and music, and gets the Internet, and is just better than all the me-too products from today’s bevy of uninspired competitors?  Remember his main reason for switching to the Intel dual core processor?  To get better laptop performance.  QED.

With this development Steve Jobs has just energized Bill Gates’ dead-in-the-water Windows business, and thrown a grenade into the heart of the PC laptop marketplace—the only sector of that industry to have any margins left.  Even better, he has given notice that he is about to assault the laptop/portable/handheld market in ways that will forever change the relationship between computing, the Internet, and each of us.  The rest of us.

By giving Apple the ability to run Windows, as well as Mac OS with all its elegantly crafted music and video integration, in its current portables Steve immediately turns the tables on the entrenched sellers of me-too laptops—none of them can offer this combination.  But by giving the company the ability to take that breadth of capability, marry it to the iPod/iTunes world, and create many future form factors of portable computers that are just more capable, stunningly beautiful, and as always remarkably easy to use, gives Apple a chance to reinvent the handheld the way it reinvented portable digital players. Add his new found relationship with Disney, which provides content and a safe harbor for most parents in an increasingly scary digital universe, and I’d bet that Apple will launch a series of new handheld products later this year that will amaze us all. 

Instead the blogosphere and the Mainstream Media erupt in a hailstorm of comments about dual-booting XP and the Mac OS on a new generation of dual core Macs that completely miss the point.  The handwringing, and the celebrations all miss the two critical issues here: Apple’s gift of OS sales to Microsoft, opening up the last 2% of the personal computer market not controlled by the boys of Bellevue, combined with the departure of Avie Tevanian (father of the Mac OS) indicates that some major rethinking is going on in the duchy of Cupertino; and the gauntlet this throws down into the middle of the laptop industry, where Apple now becomes the big gorilla, ought to be creating a new era of fear and loathing (especially at Dell, where there is already no love to be lost with Apple.) 

On the desktop side this development is like shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.   (I hate to say I told you so but read this previous blog entry.) Operating systems, and their sidekick “packaged software” are so last generation—all that you need to tap into the most exciting applications of our time is a cheap web browser and broadband access to the Internet.   Microsoft understands this and has dumped most of its resources into developing Live, while Vista struggles. Apple is still entrenched in the old world and has done little to develop software as a service.  Is the company so behind the times that it wants to get out of the OS business entirely and will cede that arena to Microsoft?  (John Dvorak even predicted this idea--way to go John!)  If it could replicate the iPod phenomenon, would that be such a bad idea?

Desktop Boot Camp is a market reality check, an effort to sell more Microsoft operating system software (at about $200 a copy), and a chance to squash any lingering doubts harbored by any consumer about buying a Mac for his own purposes.  Case closed.  (Too bad Apple didn’t do something like this when it killed the Apple II and left thousands of elementary and high schools with computer labs filled with boat anchors.) You always wanted a Mac anyway for the house, now you can use it to tap into the office’s networks and run corporate software to your heart’s content.  In the enterprise desktop world, nothing is going to replace cheap (and ever cheaper) PCs.

The real impact of this capability is going to come in the laptop arena, where Apple already had mindshare with its beautiful machines.  Here was the one sector of the computer business where price was not the critical difference between Apple’s premium products and those of other companies—the only difference was OS, and you had to make a religious choice.  No longer.  Top of the line and well equipped laptops run about $3000, no matter who you buy it from. That leaves plenty of margin for Apple, and plenty of room to stratify the market, and plenty of problems for all the other sellers.

Now imagine a whole new line of portables and handhelds that are sexy, cool, powerful, and can run any software you want.  You’re going to buy one, and only Apple can sell it to you.

From where I sit, it looks like Steve is about to have another big win.