Sunday, January 31, 2010

What's Next From Cupertino?

As part of their internal communication strategy, Apple likes to hold town hall meetings to distribute strategic thoughts to its employees when times of change are imminent.  This is not only an outstanding way for Steve to keep his employees on the same page with regard to where they're headed, it can sometimes be a great foundation from which the rest of us can begin to ponder the types of products that are wrapped in chicken wire and duct tape in the vault that must be Apple's R&D lab(s).  

As a result of the latest rally, we know that Apple is focused on Google and Adobe as stakeholders in the marketplace.  In some ways, these are competitors, and in others, they're partners, but we know they're on the scope.  Regardless, I think the big take-aways from the meeting should be what we know about what's on the horizon for the Cupertino giant.  

Expect a bigger-than-normal step up from Apple in terms of iPhone software and the frequency with which it's released.  Apple software is, by nature, generally closed.  Arguably their most significant competitor in the mobile marketplace, Google, has taken a different route:  Google builds software that's accessible to the masses.  Both companies are pumping out updates, but for very different reasons.  Android fits with Google because the more platforms they release to use Android, the more of the advertising market they stand to gain.  Apple just wants to sell something with it's own name that works.  Both are a means to an end, but for very different reasons.  

Either way, Apple understands who their competition is in this market, and they're focusing on speeding up the process they use to deliver revolutionary utility.  And they think they can do it with hardware and software.  

As iPhone climbs the mountain of Apple revenue generation, folks lose sight of the foundation of Apple's business (for now).  Mac sales haven't quite put up the numbers that iPhone have, in terms of units or market share, but from Apple's perspective the slow and steady climb to the top may ultimately win the race.  Mac (including iMac, MacBook, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro) sales have steadily grown, with the MacBook line accounting for the largest gains.  With each update of the iMac and MacBook, Apple reinvigorates sales; This year will see even more significant changes to these products. 

Changes to Mac haven't always proven positive, though.  The latest 27" iMacs have been plagued with display issues, tarnishing Apple's reputation for building and selling products that "work right out of the box."  Let's hope that the changes we may see in 2010 prove ready for prime time.  

There are as many guesses out there about what 2010 will bring as there are possibilities, but here are some debatable guesses as to the potential for some of the more common additions:

  • Blu-Ray:  Keep dreaming.  Although they have a reputation for bringing revolutionary products to market, Apple isn't in the habit of pushing out technology that isn't neat and simple.  Blu-Ray is anything but.  The software to implement it, even in simple systems, isn't organized enough for Apple to take advantage of.  Don't expect it this year.  
  • iTunes:  Apple's acquisition of Lala is significant, but we're still trying to figure out what it means for the way they sell music.  Stay tuned for some 2010 updates to iTunes and the business model, but at this point, your guess is as good as mine.  
  • iPhone on Verizon:  I'm guessing that this will happen, but not in 2010.  There are mixed reviews about when Apple's exclusivity agreement with AT&T actually ends.  Even if it ends this year, I think some technologists out there underestimate a) the challenges of implementing an iPhone on a different type of network (requiring a full re-work of iPhone hardware) and b) the jump that Android has on Verizon customers. I think this change is inevitable, but Apple isn't really in a hurry to make this happen.  
  • Flash Support on iPhone and iPad:  Again, keep dreaming.  Whether Adobe will admit it or not, the days of Flash are numbered.  Apple knows what causes their systems to crash, and from their perspective, Flash is almost always the culprit.  HTML5, however, has promise, and the guys at Apple (and all of their competitors) understand that.  But the move to HTML5 is more gradual.  If we see mobile products running it this year, I'll be surprised.  
When it comes to the guesses, I always hesitate to take a firm stance.  However, I do think we'll see big hardware and software movement for the iPhone and Mac lines this year.  Regardless, 2010 will prove to be an exciting year for the mobile and computer markets, and the most devoted of nerd-dom will standby for the next big thing.  

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