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Just a Thought - Keeping the Apple Smelling Sweet

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- August 19th, 2005

The Sweet Smell of Success

I'm an realistic optimist; that means that I know crap happens, but I smile because I also know that it relieves constipation. I'm also a strong proponent of Change: It's gonna happen regardless of what we do or don't do.

The good stuff happening with Apple at the moment can't always stay at the current level of goodness, it's gotta change. The momentum behind Apple has been building for a while now: iPod and Macs, iLife, iWork, and Tiger have all contributed to the rising floral-scented breeze of Apple's current good fortune, and it means that, at least in the short term, things will be smelling sweet for the crew at 1 Infinite Loop.

In order to keep that momentum, to keep the breeze blowing in  from the apple orchard, and not from the local landfill, Apple has to keep its product line fresh, keep the competition guessing, zig when they expect a zag.

There's been lots of stories in the news lately about Big Redmond and others putting together iPod killers; devices with form factors and accompanying services so compelling that potential buyers won't even bother looking at the little white music player from my favorite computer company, but instead buy this heir-apparent to the portable music player throne.

It could very well happen. Apple is not the sole purveyor of innovation; it is not the only promoter of style and cool, form and function. Other companies with Jonathan Ive competitors or clones can just as easily put together a set of hardware, software, and services that would make the iPod, iTunes, and the iTunes Music Store look as appealing as yesterday's oatmeal.

With the strength of nearly bottomless pockets, and a web of influence that would shame Spider-Man, Microsoft could, indeed, create a killer of today's iPod. It's bound to happen, so why can't it be The Redmond Gang that does it?

Another possible threat to the security of Apple is the rampant use of OS X on anything other than Apple hardware. Hackers have learned to bypass the hardware security built into the developer's machines, it seems only reasonable that hackers will accomplish the same feat on production Mactels and the version of OS X  meant for them. And I believe that as surely as clones were bad for Apple's health, so will be any program that allows OS X to run on any PC but Apple's.

So, what does Apple have to do to stay the current course, to keep that sweet smelling breeze blowing?

You can't click an Apple centric news site without finding an article about what analysts think: Apple must open OS X, Apple must open the iPod, Apple must open the iTunes Music Store, or else it will succumb to the rising tide of competition.

Much of it is analytical waste based on data that is often old or poorly understood, but one thing does ring true; Apple has to keep moving forward to keep moving forward.

If that sounds like analyst double-speak, you may be right. Sometimes I put on my pointy analyst hat and try to divine what Jobs and Crew must do to wrestle more IT and consumer computing turf from Microsoft and Dell. Thinking with that hat on is hard work, and it's little wonder that the folks who claim to be analyst have a hard time coming up with anything substantial to say about Apple, but it is possible to do if you understand the market Apple addresses.

iPod Prime

Anyone who has handled an iPod (with the possible exception that guy over at Electronic Engineering Times) knows that you truly get what you pay for with this device. It is a first class music player supported by first class software (iTunes) and first class services (iTunes Music Store). It can do more and interface with more peripherals than any other music player, which is why the iPod continues to outsell the competition.

Yeah, it's good, but what do you do for an encore?

Go wireless, of course.

Incorporating Bluetooth and WiFi is an obvious next step, but how do you use these technologies to really make the iPod and iTunes sing?

Well, Apple hinted at what might come next with Airport Express, being able to get your music on your Mac to your home stereo is good stuff, but simple wireless syncing and control of your iPod and iTunes should be part of the picture too.

Everyone is anticipating video on the next gen iPod; that could happen to, but I would prefer more integration with the other gadgets we use: A closer tie to cameras, both still and digital video, is a must, but also with our cellphones. We should be able to move info back and forth between phones and iPods easily.

iTunes should feed music info to my stereo, and videos, album covers, and other stuff I find about an artist to my TV. iTunes Music Store should let me buy videos and other artist memorabilia (T-shirts, posters, so on).

In other words; iPod and iTunes will do more and be more.

Macs: The Next Generation

Whether or not you believe the so-called 'iPod Halo Effect' is behind the sales results Apple has announced for the last quarter, one thing is undeniable; Macs with Tiger are hot items.

I happen to believe that the recent surge in Mac sales has more do with the rock solid hardware and software that makes the Mac, along with the seemingly incurability of Windows security ills, than it has to do with the iPod. The Mac mini is a great idea done right, the iMac is sleek and fast, and Power Macs are still industry workhorses. Toss OS X Tiger, iWork, and iLife into the mix, and even Michael Dell might admit that Apple offer some really good stuff that just plain works.

Still, to keep the Switchers Switching; Apple needs to do something more to make owning a Mac every bit as cool as owning an iPod.

Mac Mobile?

What if you could take your current environment -your playlists, the document you are currently working on, the game you are currently playing- and pick it up from one Mac and move it to another? Better still: what if you could continue working on that document, or creating that playlist, or composing that email while you sat in the theater awaiting for the movie to start, or on the subway? You don't want or need to lug around a laptop when all you need is a small screen and a way to input and modify data.

IBM has come up with a way to move your current working environment from one PC to another similarly configured PC; they call it The SoulPad, and you basically pick up what you are doing and move it physically to a new machine and start working exactly where you left off. Office workers trying to put together PowerPoint or Keynote presentations could stop at work, go home, and finish almost without missing a beat. With someway to  modify files, this would be something that anyone could get use from.

Currently, IBM uses an off the shelf iPod to hold the stored environment, but Apple could come up with an iPod/Mac hybrid which might finally be a reason for Apple to get into the tablet Market or back into the PDA business.

Of course, all of this is so much pie in the sky; my pointy analyst hat does not double as a soothsayer's crown, so my prognostications carry no more weight than a pipe dream. Still, if Apple is even considering any of the stuff I've mentioned, I think they will be able to hold the course, and continue to savor the sweet smell of success for some time to come.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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