The Back Page - Apple Death Knell #43: Apple Must Change, Or Die

by - September 16th, 2004

"If Apple doesn't change its ways, the company simply won't survive." This is the latest Apple Death Knell to hit the Internet, this one courtesy of Paul "Reality Check" Thurrott in his column at Connected Home Magazine.

I started the Apple Death Knell Counter simply because I wished for their to be a specific chronicle of all the numbnuts who consistently predict Apple's impending death. As we have been doing this for a couple of years, however, I have also found myself simply fascinated by the people saying these things. It's just amazing how people can maneuver and posture themselves in their efforts to interpret Apple's success as evidence of the company's impending corporate suicide, especially since the release of the iPod.

There is seriously a dissertation waiting to be written about this subject, be it in the field of psychology, business, communications, or philosophy.

Paul Thurrott's latest thing to be wrong about is how Apple's closed and limited iPod/iTunes combo is going to kill the company in the face of overwhelming choice and options available from Microsoft's "open" Windows Media Player (WMP) platform.

I've already deconstructed these arguments on other occasions. Microsoft's WMP isn't open, it's licensable. Apple's iTunes DRM scheme is also not open, but Apple isn't licensing it, at least not to iTunes and iPod competitors. If one wants to argue the merits of that, fine, but don't call WMP "open."

As for Apple getting clobbered by all this choice available to consumers, there's no evidence to support that. Apple's market share in both downloads and music players is growing, not shrinking, and it's Microsoft and its licensees who are left scrambling.

Not so, says Mr. Thurrott. The Dell DJ is cheaper and has a longer battery life. Rio's Carbon offers 5 GB of storage (compared to the iPod mini's 4 GB), and has a longer battery life. It's smaller, too. Wal-mart's online music store is cheaper than the iTunes Music Store. All of this choice, according to Mr. Thurrott, means that consumers are going to eventually dump Apple and go Microsoft.

This leads him to issue the Death Knell:

Apple's short-term success is very real and quite admirable, but the company's inability to see coming trends in video, subscription content, and interoperability suggests that Apple is repeating the mistakes of the past. In the 1980s, the Mac held an early lead over the PC but was quickly buried after the industry standardized on a common Microsoft technology. Today, that series of events is repeating itself, and online music services -- and to a greater degree, the digital delivery of all media types -- is very much at a nascent stage. If Apple doesn't change its ways, the company simply won't survive.

Blah blah blah. There's a lot more about how DRM is good (it figures that Paul Thurrott would say that DRM is a good thing), and how people really want to rent their music. He also goes on a bit about how Apple is royally screwing up by not making a video iPod, and he backs this up by pointing out that he watched a movie on a Portable Media Center on an airplane.

His analysis is so childishly crude, it hardly needs to be deconstructed, but I'll make a few points.

The Dell DJ doesn't sell well because its interface is terrible. The same goes for all of Rio's product line, Sony's horrid little new Walkman, Creative's line, and all the other iPod competitors. People love using the iPod because it is a pleasure to use. That's why cheaper and longer battery life hasn't helped the other players out there.

Wal-mart's cheap online service is likewise a horror to use, and all of the other services are hardly better. Microsoft's service might come closer in terms of ease of use, but it can't touch iTunes. iTunes is easy to use, has a number of cool features, has more songs than any other service, is consistent, and "it just works," just as all Apple products "just work."

More importantly, unlike the Mac of old, iTunes and iPod are available to Windows users, making things like "choice" even more of a non-issue. It also makes comparisons to Apple's decision not to license the Mac irrelevant.

The biggest thing making Paul Thurrott's comments look even more foolish is the fact that Apple is gaining strength. The iPod continues to gain market share, and iTunes downloads are doing the same.

As for the issue of a video iPod, I think it is painfully obvious that Apple will not release a video iPod unless and until it makes sense to do so. If and when that happens, Apple will enter the market with a device that makes sense, is easy to use, and will be a must-have. Furthermore, I will state that the market for these devices will lie stagnant unless and until Apple enters that market, and that it will explode after, and only after, Apple does release a product.

Again, it's weird to see the sort of mental gymnastics that people like Paul Thurrott go through to arrive at such erroneous conclusions. In fact, we should probably give him a gold medal for mental gymnastics. (Un)Fortunately for him, I'll be preserving this in the Apple Death Knell Counter for all to see.