Wake up, Apple… the competition has!

Apple needs to wake up... the androids are here!

Apple needs to wake up... the androids are here!

Yesterday I wrote a long blog post on the rtfm blog about installing Ubuntu linux on a Mac. I am unashamedly an Apple fan boy but sometimes it is a good thing to flagellate oneself so one does not loose context. The flagellation turned out to be less of whipping then expected. As a matter of fact the experience of installing Ubuntu on an old Mac was pretty smooth. Recently Apple has begun sliding down a slippery slope with the management of their application store. Developers do not want to risk a development budget on the whimsical ways of Apple’s approval process to get their programs into the store and once they are in there they can not be certain of a smooth sales experience.

This particular issue concentrates on the app store and does not affect the still smooth experience of using Apple products but it does reflect badly on Apple’s ability to notice and respond to real world problems and may be a symptom of an underlying problem: Apple’s inability to cope with their rapid growth. In other words: they suffer from scalabili-itus.

So I decided to try out a different OS on my Mac just in case the mother ship were sank and I were left with just a paddle but no canoe. You see, I am not able to run out to the store and buy myself a different computer to upgrade my digital life. Not because I live a long way away from a computer store but because I suffer from a different affliction than Apple: zeromoney-itus. So what happens when my hardware still works but my software is too old to cope with the demands of online publishing? Enter free as in free Linux. But would a recent version work on my Mac? Read the full story on the rtfm blog but the short answer, as I already indicated, is yes.

An alternative found I began to think further about our digital life and Apple’s recent success in it. The Internet has become a big part of our daily lives. Although much of our needs are still met in the analogue world, the Internet is beginning to take over. Especially in the provision of entertainment. The computer is still the de-facto way of accessing the Internet for most people. But this default is shifting. The smart phone is no longer the tool of the executive with an Armani suit. The line between smart phone and ordinary phone is blurring. Before long everyone who owns a phone will be able to access the Internet. Apple realised this and developed a mobile Internet tool that was many steps ahead of the competiton: the iPhone coupled to the iTunes store. Strict control by Apple meant that the experience of using an iPhone was a smooth experience.

Combine these two lines of thought: Apple’s strict control over every aspect of their product line and ubiquitous Internet access. Total control on one side, total freedom on the other. There does not necessarily need to be a conflict there, the former can exist within the universe of the latter. However, there seems to me to be a gravitational force that pulls users towards a standardised way of doing things. Windows is the best proof that the standard way of doing things does not always have to be the most comfortable way. For Apple to be able to exploit big platforms like the iTunes store there needs to be a large enough user base to make it economically viable. To sustain the iPhone, the iPod and the iTunes store, Apple needs to be in the race to become or actually be the standard bearer. Drop the ball to often and the user base will turn their backs and head for greener pastures.

With the iPhone Apple has entered a market where every year or every two years, the customer can choose a new platform due to expiration of the contract with the telco. Development in the mobile communication market (I hesitate to call the current devices telephones) is very rapid indeed. And can take unexpected turns. Motorola has been dead in the water for some years after the success of their Razr phones. Suddenly they are back. The Motorola Droid is getting rave reviews everywhere and it has become a serious competitor for the iPhone. Its Linux underpinnings ensure an easy and open development platform. As a matter of fact as the Droid is running Android 2.0 there already is a barge load of apps available for the Droid.

The speed with which the iPhone has conquered the smart phone market has been dramatic but Apple seems to have difficulty with supporting the decisions they made when they launched the platform. They had two choices: give free rein to developers and let any app onto the app store or strictly control which apps were allowed. They chose the latter option which committed them to a very large amount of work: the screening of thousands upon thousands of apps. Judging by the way they have handled it, they were not ready for this task and they should have been. They can not hide behind the ‘we did not know it would take off’ attitude. The iPod showed them that this sort of thing can take off and take off very quickly and I can not believe that Steve Jobs gave the go ahead for a project on the scale of entering the mobile phone market if he did not fully believe it would take off.

So Apple made an error and a costly one. The customer is a fickle being. The developer is as well. Loose one or both of these and the platform Apple launched may fall as quickly as it rose. Apple has had a small but very loyal following for many years before they became popular. They have now stepped outside that fold and entered the arena of a hotly contested global market and it is a lot colder out there. Ubuntu on my old G4 Mac is just an illustration of the fact that the tool does not matter much in the big, bad world outside. I want to be able to do my job, which involves me being on the Internet a lot. When one of the links in the chain starts acting up my loyalty is to my job, not to the tool. I can write with any pen on any piece of paper, hell I can write with a sharp stick in the sand. I can get onto the Internet with any phone and with any computer. As long as Apple provides me with the best tool in the box I will keep using Apple products but as soon as they drop the ball I’m off to some one else’s toolbox. And judging by the many grumblings I read on the net these last few months ranging from app store woes to broken iMacs I am not alone in this.

Apple still makes the best computer out of the box in my opinion. There still is no real alternative to an Apple computer if you want to be productive the moment you have unpacked. But these symptoms of Apple loosing sight of the ball need to be addressed. If they want to stay the Rolls Royce of (consumer) computers, they need to keep developers on their side and they need to keep the buying public on their side. Wake up Apple, the competition has!

8 gedachten over “Wake up, Apple… the competition has!

  1. Pingback: Index of a writing week #4 – tdaonp hub

  2. Ted

    cut Apple some slack, they have approved over 100,000 apps, just a couple handfuls haven’t made the grade. so it’s a problem of shear numbers, not the approval process.

  3. Louis Wheeler

    You are reading too much into this. Life is made of give and take, advance and retreat, problem and solution. Much of what you obsess about will pass away. Apple has many things on its plate, but will get back to satisfying your needs, eventually. How Apple does that will give you new things to complain about.

    It’s the customers who make the market; they decide what is successful. The developers attract the customers, but Apple is having no trouble with its customer base. The Apps store is a phenomenal success. Apple is very interested in the image that it wants to project. Some developers want to trash, tread on or violate that image, so they must be stopped.

    The problem with Apple’s app store is that it can get out of hand and turn off the customers if the developers have free rein. It is not a mistake to restrain it. It is part of the natural process for new markets. Until Apple can create the ecosphere where people know where they fit, Apple needs to be careful.

    Linux is no competition for Apple because of the features that you like about it. The problem is that the Linux community has had ample opportunity to ride rough shod over Apple. It failed to do so, because Linux is developed for geeks by geeks. FOSS steadfastly refuses to make a Linux which is easy for the casual user to operate. There is no linux appliance OS.

    Google’s Chrome OS may become that, but FOSS will set out to sabotage it immediately. They will extend and corrupt it with their complexity. Google will have to fight them tooth and nail. You will complain about that.

    The customer is not fickle; you are fickle. You are simply saying that Apple is not catering to your needs. That is proper of Apple, because you are a rare breed. The vast percentage of iPhone and Macintosh users are unconcerned about the issues which you obsess about. They just want to get their work done, make a few calls and enjoy their equipment. They are not into social movements.

  4. Brett

    There have always been Apple grumblers and bashers on the web. Apple can’t please everyone (just the vast majority of their customers as indicated by independent user satisfaction surveys). Don’t let the whiners and complainers influence you with FUD. I’m not surprised that the doomsayers are now implying that tight control of the iPhone apps store will lead to its demise. I call Bullsh*t.

    Apple is on a roll. The iPhone and iPod Touch installed base is snowballing. I’m not defending all of Apple’s app store policies, but for every disgruntled developer who makes news by loudly abandoning the iPhone, two others will quietly replace him. And the issue of Apple’s “app store control” doesn’t extend to the Mac.

    It’s good that you are checking out the state of Ubuntu. I’m sure it keeps getting better all the time. But do you seriously believe that the day is near when there will be more high quality, useful applications running on Linux than on the Mac? The Mac’s arc is still ascending.

    Apple doesn’t have to get everything right the first time. They just have to stay ahead of the competition. Apple has shown that it knows how to improve and refine its products and processes to stay competitive. They’ve been doing that for a long time– just not fast enough for the whiners, and those looking to seize every opportunity to denigrate Apple.

  5. Henk

    As I stated I am an Apple fan boy and still think Apple makes the best hardware / software package money can buy. However, Apple is not invulnerable. I am old enough to remember the days when Steve Jobs was not at the helm. Those products and the product line mess were awful then. Steve Jobs’ involvement in Apple has been less intense for a while and we have seen some mistakes being made in that time.

    I agree that Apple will probably rectify the app store situation (hence the ‘wake up’ in the title instead of some more final statement). However, I do not agree with there being no alternative in the Linux camp. The thought that Linux is only for nerds is 100% untrue. There are many netbooks out there that satisfy their user’s need perfectly with Linux. The Android market is rapidly growing and the experience of using one of those phones is no worse than any other smart phone OS and probably a lot better, bar the iPhone. In other words, the many millions of none iPhone smart phone users will have no problem using an Android based phone.

    Also, remember what I wrote about loyalty to the job, not the tool: when I am working I switch on my computer, get on the Internet to use web apps or start a text editor and start to work. Whether the startup splash on the computer gave me an Apple logo or a penguin does not matter to me. This is the case for many people: you run certain tools and what OS is behind the tool is of minor importance. The only thing that makes me loyal to Apple is the fact that I know that when I switch on my computer it will just work. It will not ask me to click twenty times because the computer decided it was time to update my virus scanner and other stuff I’m not interested in. A story just hit the roof of my head and I just want to write.

    This is going to be even more important when more and more of what we do is going to happen in the cloud. The OS will become less of an issue.

    So the OS is less important to me than it used to be, Linux is not for geeks only and alternatives exist that give me the tools to work with. This is not just the case for me but for many people. Many people are agnostic to the OS as long as they can use the tools they need.

    Apple has some great brains working in their company so I am sure Apple will come out with some breathtaking devices early next year and I’ll probably rave about them. They will also respond to the issues that reflect badly on them. But I never loose sight of the fact that even Apple can make costly mistakes. It happened before and it can happen again. I think it is a good thing to be aware of that and make sure you have your escape hatches tested before shit hits fans.

  6. Louis Wheeler

    Let me reiterate that it is the customers who makes the market, not the developers. The App store is very new. It is obvious that there would be conflicting interest groups tugging at it. The developers are no less self interested and selfish than Apple is. Nor should you assume that all developers want the same things.

    Apple will need to work this out by trial and error. How much freedom should Apple allow? 100% is unlikely for Apple to offer, since that could sabotage Apple’s brand and image. We can quibble on what is the right figure.

    What Apple has in the App store is an efficient marketplace but an imperfect one.

    The software market was very poor; there is much theft of developer’s apps. Therefore, the apps had to be high priced to pay the developers back for his time and effort. The lower price on the Apps store encourages people to be honest. And that is reason alone to inspire developer loyalty; they get paid. Hence, I think your concerns are over blown.

    You may be unaware that Apple has its plate full, right now, with the move to 64 bit apps. Apple’s own Pro apps were still in 32 bit Carbon API’s at SL’s launch. They need to fix that.

    When Apple kicks in the 64 bit kernel by default next year, some fundamental changes will take place. Most of those changes are hinted about, but we can find few details. I suspect that a great deal of development work is going on at Apple to prepare for that change over.

    It is only reasonable that some things will be let slide. Is that a mistake? We don’t know. That would depend on how important the things are which Apple is hiding.

    Meanwhile, I see no threat to Apple from Linux. Google’s Chrome OS is a year away and will be quite limited, initially. It will not attack any of Apple’s markets.

    Ubuntu is a great Linux OS, but I see no evidence of wide appeal. Non technical users would find it rather hard to use. Would your shop-aholic mother or cheerleader Aunt want one? That is unlikely.

    Even Win7 is no threat to Apple. It’s too soon to know how successful Win7 will be in moving the Windows XP users, who comprise 70% of the computer market, to upgrade or buy a new computer.

    It looks as though we are in for slack technical news for a while. Apple and Microsoft have already positioned themselves in the market, but the results will be unknown for months.

  7. Alan Williams

    There is no App store situation. There is no mass deflection of programers or customers away from the iPhone/iPod touch to other platforms. Your building that straw man does not make it reality.

    Android is going to kill Windows Mobile and inherit all of Microsoft’s mobile problems. Android is not in direct competition with the iPhone, Motorola’s Droid is. There are 10,000 Android Apps, most of them do not work on the Droid. That’s the problem with Android. The software is made by one company and the phones that use it are made in all screen sizes by several competing companies. Ask Microsoft how that scenario worked for Windows Mobile.

    Your premise is wrong so your solutions are invalid.

  8. Henk

    I do not remember proposing solutions, only alternatives. So how can they be wrong? I also do not say there is mass deflection of programmers. I specifically write I discern symptoms. The fact that a premium Apple developer, who has had a long term relationship with Apple walks away is a serious indication of something being not right (Rogue Amoeba). That’s not the same as building a straw man.

    Your argument about programs not working across the board on all phones, how does that work out on the iPhone again? Do iPhone apps work on other phones? I thought so. But I do not have a problem with that as long as the tool I use does what it wants. I don’t care that iPhone apps do not work on the Blackberry. I don’t care that Droid apps don’t work on a G1. As long as the device I have does what I want it to do. For the most part they are all closed systems. It would be great if they weren’t but we haven’t matured enough to be able to handle that yet.

    Again: I discern symptoms of Apple being in trouble. I am not saying they are going out of business, I am even specifically saying they will probably solve the problems but a problem they do have and I say to them “Wake up, because your not almighty, you are vulnerable like any one else!” As an Apple fan boy I say that because I do NOT want them to go out of business because I love their products and want to keep having the Apple experience!

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