On Why Apple Better Watch Its Ass.
I want an iPad 2. I don't need an iPad 2, but I want one. I'm not even sure I can tell you why, other than I was kinda sorta thinking about maybe getting a tablet this year. Then I watched the keynote announcement of iPad 2, and if it wasn't for the March 11th launch date, all you would have seen in my office was a swiveling chair and some cartoon *PIONG* lines indicating my rapid departure for Best Buy. Maybe a couple of dollar bills floating gently to the floor for comedic effect. And I don't think I'm alone. To say that Apple has hit it out of the park with iOS is an understatement. According to the iPad 2 keynote, Apple has sold 100 million iPhones and 15 million iPads, which I'd like to remind you came out LAST YEAR. Whatever the "secret sauce" is to the iOS ecosystem, Apple's definitely got a hit on their hands- which is precisely why they need to start watching their ass.
Why? History, baby. History. Not that long ago, in our own very galaxy, another come-from-behind player had emerged victorious and was dominating the market. Windows, in relatively short order, had become THE operating system for mainstream Earth. And shortly thereafter, things started to get ugly. Licensing disputes, and claims of anti-trust violations started to circle. Independent browser companies felt that packaging Internet Explorer with Windows unfairly pushed them out of the market. And it's difficult to say they were wrong- Does anybody remember that you used to have to pay for the higher end Internet browsers? It was over a decade and hundreds of millions (billions?) of dollars in fines and legal bills later before the dust started to clear.
So what's this have to do with Apple? Simple. They're teetering on the edge. Steve Jobs proudly proclaimed that the iPad had outsold in one year all the other tablets ever sold, so it's safe to say they're the dominant player in that market. I love Android, but I just don't see the Android tablets as being anything but second fiddle to the iPad 2 anytime soon. As for the iPhone, depending on what report you read, approximately 50% of all smart phones are iPhones. That's pretty damn good too. Finally, how many people to you know that have an MP3 player other than an iPod? Not bloody many.
"Big deal," you say. "So what if they're successful?" It's not their success that the problem. It's the scrutiny that comes with success, and Apple's begun to throw their weight around a lot lately. Already we are hearing grumblings from developers and partners regarding Apple's cut of the proceeds when it comes to subscription services. Apple forces subscriptions to sell for the same price outside the App Store as they do inside. Combine that with their strict application regulations, and you start to see some cause for concern in the ability for the "little guys" to compete fairly in the market.
The strongest possibility for a source of an unexpected ass-munching comes from something that most people have seen as merely an inconvenience: the fact that all roads travel through iTunes. Apple needs to change this. Fast.
If you look at the Microsoft troubles, they didn't come, for the most part, from other operating system developers- they came from the browser developers (which is why the European Union now requires a browser "selection" screen on all Windows installs to level the playing field- Sleipnir, anyone?). If an attack is to come on Apple, it will come from the media sales and playback front. Apple requires you to install iTunes to set up your iPod, iPhone, or iPad on both Mac OSX and Windows. Having device software is nothing new, but why does all of this have to go through, what is, for all practical purposes, a media player? The answer is both obvious and dangerous- it drives traffic to the iTunes store.
For most consumers, the path of least resistance is the way they go, so why would the averege consumer even consider using anything else like Winamp, or Windows Media Player when iTunes is right there? And why would they consider using another MP3 or video store like Amazon or Emusic when iTunes is right there? Hell, iTunes even opens when you plug your device in!
Why is this any diferent than the Microsoft anti trust suits? Apple is using its dominance in a hardware market to push itself in a software market and a media sales market, and if they don't watch themselves, the next bite out of the apple logo isn't going to come from Microsoft or Android, it's going to come from the US Justice Department or the European Union. Fortunately, though it's an easy fix and it's not too late. All they need to do is offer a software utility that handles most of iOS to Desktop/Laptop functionality ("iManage" anyone?). They can keep all the iTunes integration they want- it's their software, so it should be convenient to use, but there needs to be a separate utility that is the first point of contact for the consumer in order to make their new purchase functional. They can "recommend" iTunes, but it can't be the only way to get your media onto your device, and they have to make it easy for other stores like Amazon, and other media players like Window Media to send and retrieve media files from the devices.
I think if Apple makes those two concessions, it will go a long, long way towards keeping the anti-trust investigations at bay. What do you think?