First, there was a lot written about Steve Jobs this week. Perhaps too much. It’s absolutely a seminal event that Mr. Jobs has stepped down as the CEO of Apple, and that marks the end of an era. But it seems to me that, while news organizations wanted to keep readers informed, some went out of their way to either sensationalize the event for the sake of ratings or took it as an opportunity to call a successful future for Apple into question or, worse, rolled out some of their Steve Jobs obituary material. Geting through the noise has been tough.
I thought TMO did a good job of reporting the news and adding some color around the edges. What really interested me, however, is that the people who cover Apple 24 x 7 are fairly optimistic about Apple’s future. And then there are the people you’ve never heard of who say that Apple is doomed. Par for the course.
Here’s a cogent, visual recap of the progress Apple has made under Steve Jobs since 1997. Amazing.
As for the other events this week, what I think I’m seeing is the sudden impact of the post-PC era on the minds of senior executives. Smartphones and iPads, that is, mobility, is the future, so until the followers can get their act together, they’re litigating to mark their territory on the battlefield. (I guess they could also try peeing, like my cat.)
But that’s not all. Building PCs has become a low profit margin business for Hewlett-Packard. And so, they came to the same realization that IBM came to previously when it sold its PC business to Lenovo. There’s no money to be made anymore selling PCs, and it’s time to bail. Some may pick up the crumbs and ride the continued, remaining wave of world wide demand.
More importantly, some serious strategic thinking is going on. For example, there are only four viable tablet OSes: Android, iOS, webOS, and Windows 8. If Apple could, for example, acquire (or simply threaten to acquire) HP’s webOS patents, those companies being sued into oblivion over Android would have to turn to Microsoft. And we all know how hip Microsoft is when it comes to tablets. So Samsung might be thinking defensively in the face of Apple’s hugh pile of cash. That takes time and money and drains a company of cash reserves need for R&D. It really is like an 18th century naval battle with guns amidships blazing away.
In short, all these acquisitions, product failures, patent law suits and strategic moves are designed to position companies so that they can compete with Apple. The only problem is that Apple has a huge head start, and only a small percentage of the consumer base likes to go with niche products. Beta never caught up with VHS, Mac OS never caught up with Windows, and tablet competitors are never going to catch up with the iPad. And as the competitors, in panic, reshuffle their deck chairs, they’re not really developing the technologies they need to get caught up. Or, if they do, they’re very, very late to the game. So there’s trial and error and carnage. You might even call it particle debris: What to do with your HP TouchPad?
Of course, when you work these deals, you hope that it will all work out. It may not. Henry Blodget makes the case that the Google-Motorola deal won’t. “THE TRUTH ABOUT THE GOOGLE-MOTOROLA DEAL: It Could End Up Being A Disaster.” He makes some good points. And I’ll make my own: We know that Apple has become wildly successful by avoiding acquisitions of failing or even mediocre companies. Seldom do we see a huge success from one company trying to infuse its own company with another. (Apple’s absorption of NeXT is an exception because Apple got Steve Jobs in the deal.) So, by definition, Google isn’t likely to benefit greatly by acquiring Motorola. Again, the process will drain and distract Google.
The net result of all this squabbling and distraction is that none of the current tablets are really getting any traction. Don Reisinger has made a list of the tablets he thinks should just call it quits.
All the above makes me think that none of the current tablet makers can give Apple a run for its money. New players, having learned by watching, will now emerge. But, again, they’ll be getting an even later start.
Here’s an interesting story, filled with anecdotes, about why the PC makers can’t seem to catch up with Apple’s MacBook Air. For one, they can’t risk change. “Windows Laptop Makers Can’t Catch Up to the MacBook Air.”
The record labels dragged their feet while Apple dragged them into the future. The turmoil in that industry has been staggering. Now, the same thing is happening in the textbook industry — the publishers are dragging their feet and can’t quite figure out how to make money with textbooks on iPads, and it’s creating frustration. See: “iPad, I Saw, I Waited: The State of E-Textbooks.”
Have you wondered about the age profile of iPad owners? It’s obvious when you think about it. Older users just don’t want to fuss with Windows-based computers nowadays. Here’s the not unexpected shift as the over 60 crowd jumps on the iPad bandwagon.
And last but not least, here’s an in-depth exploration of that very iPad phenomenon. Its everything you wanted to know about why every day consumers will give up their wretched desktop PCs and switch to tablets. This is highly recommended: “The Future of Desktops and Design of the Workstation OS,” by Josh Marinacci. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and savor this one.