Taking Stock Of Apple

Friends, I feel that it is time once again to pause, and take stock of the company that many try to emulate but never succeed in duplicating. I speak, of course, of Apple.

As we are poised to ponder processors, while we lay hold of a lacuna, and languidly lapse loquacious about laptops, might I direct your digital deliberations toward what the future may hold for Apple, and for us?

Goodness knows thereis been a bucket-load of news coming from all corners of the computing world. It is widely known that Apple is not where it use to be in education sales. Blame it on a bad economy, blame it on mediocre offerings to the education market by Apple, blame it on Rio, but Apple needs to shore up that end of the business.

On the plus side Apple is making strong inroads in the IT world, Apple laptops are all the rage, and iLife is making life easier for Mac users everywhere. iPod is still the darling of the MP3 world, although I have to agree with John Kheit that the little white box is getting a bit long in the tooth. Other positives include Safari, the quick and easy Apple only browser, Keynote, which is slick enough to make business execs want to drop-kick their Dells and buy a 17" AlBook, and, oddly enough, .Mac. The little revenue-generator-that-could has survived the less-than-optimum switch over from free to paid, and now seems ready to offer something to really make it worth having.

But all of that is the "now;" what does the future hold for us Mac users?

First and foremost, it is my considered opinion that the future does indeed include Mac users. With the aforementioned goodness emanating from I Infinite Loop washing over us like the Summer Sun on an overweight sunbather, as surely as that sun rises and sets, so will there be an Apple; and why not? Apple has become the unofficial pulse of the computer industry, at least in the US. If Apple stops pumping out well designed, industry leading, innovative hardware and software, then the computer industry would become a zombie: soulless, heartless, existing merely for the sake of existing. I know I want no part of such an industry.

Second, and you can quote me on this, there will NOT be an Apple branded PDA. I just donit think Jobs and crew are that interested in producing a device that might put a dent in Palmis business (unless Apple uses Palmis OS, which would be silly because all theyid be producing is another Palm clone, and what fun is that?). Of course, thatis not to say that PDA functions wonit appear in a device from Apple, just not in a specific device for the purpose. For instance, Apple could expand the iPodis functionality to include mobile input, perhaps make the screen big enough to display more data. The iPod would not become a PDA (a PDA with a 20 gig hard drive! Funny!) but it would have the most-wanted functions of a PDA, which would be cool.

Tablet Mac? Iim just not sure about this one. Being able to write on a screen doesnit really do much for the average user. While Apple does have Inkwell, handwriting recognition software included with every copy Mac OS X 10.2, I just donit believe that a tablet Mac would be widely used. There will definitely be niche markets for such a device, but MS beat Apple to it, so they will fill those niches. Unless Apple comes out with a new design for the iBook which allows on-screen input, I donit see that happening, though an iBook with a fold-back screen would be interesting.

How about Apple branded phones and other digital devices? I donit buy the Apple phone idea either. Thereis too much of a logistical nightmare for Apple to deal with in getting the phones to service. An Apple branded camera is out of the question, too. Apple has been there and pretty much created the whole digital photography industry. Thereis plenty of great cameras to pick from, so an Apple camera wouldnit do anything new.

I do think Apple will come out with a remote display device. As much as I hate to admit it, Microsoftis Smart Display concept is a good idea. Iive said before that MS will bungle this cool concept, weighing it down with restrictions and licensing. Apple could merely leverage functionality already in OS X for the software side, and, now that Bluetooth and 802.11g are becoming standard on Macs, the communication side is solved. Just come up with a cheap display based on the iBook, charge less than $500 for it, and Apple may have a winner.

One thing Apple could do is marry their IT efforts with a consumer offering. Make a consumer Xserve and sell it with remote displays. Such a system would be pricey at first but it would be oh so cool.

Apple has done a lot of R&D during the past few years. While many other computer companiesi R&D budgets are so tight their engineeris eyes are constantly bulging, Apple has continued to fund their idea factories, and the company has chosen a path they believe is a good one. When the currently depressed economy picks up steam again Apple will be ready with some amazing stuff.

So, taking stock of Apple, literally, may not be a bad idea.

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