Apple Is Building An Ecosystem

I try not to be overly critical about any one company and I also try not to be a fanboy either. So it goes with me and Apple. I love some of their devices as a consumer, but I am bothered by the whole application approval process as a software developer. It was with some amount of enjoyment that I wrote a post two weeks ago about Apple going down the same path as they did with the original Mac vs. Windows battle:

Unless Apple decides to open up their platform a little more, they are destined to the same fate as the original Mac platform.

That post was written with the mind of a software developer. I am not the only person that thinks this way either. Many people have complained about the direction Apple seems to be taking, or just the closedness of the iPhone platform. However, when you think about what is developing, this could be a little different than decades ago. Steven Johnson had an interesting perspective trying to figure out what Steve Jobs is thinking:

I’m not so sure that Jobs thinks his Macintosh strategy failed. I think the way Jobs looks at it is this: he built a beautiful, revolutionary machine in the Macintosh, attracted incredible hype for it and passionate early adopters … So in Jobs’ mind, I suspect it’s not that he’s making the same mistake all over again. Instead, he’s proving that his original decision wasn’t a mistake in the first place.

What if Jobs just did not have enough time to execute on his entire vision? Or maybe he was just too far ahead of what people wanted? I don’t want to say I had an epiphany the past few days, but there have been a number of posts about the iPad and the possibility of an Apple TV with the iPhone OS that got my brain moving. First, I want to go back to my opinion about the iPad when it was first announced:

The iPad is meant for those people sitting in their homes and want some internet access. This device is purely for the casual computing user.

At that point I had not really thought about the implications of the iPad using the iPhone OS because there was not a lot of information on what developers would need to change for the new size. I was right about one thing though, the iPad is a casual computing device that you can still use for a little bit of business tasks. The most interesting evidence of this comes from Fred Wilson who changed his mind about the iPad:

Our iPad is our family computer in way that the kitchen macbook never was … I wanted to take the iPad with me but decided not to so it could stay at home on the kitchen counter. Then I thought seriously about getting another iPad just for me.

Then, this morning I read Jesse Stay’s opinion on the iPad. However, it was not his iPad thoughts that struck a cord, it was his take on the Apple TV rumors:

One of the big rumors for the upcoming June 6 WWDC Keynote by Steve Jobs is that Apple will be announcing a new Apple TV device that is based on the iPhone OS.  When you think about it, this idea is not that far-fetched.  Now, on the same operating system developers are writing applications for that already stream TV (think Slingbox or Netflix), surf the web, pull up your favorite magazine publications, and more, developers just need to change the screen size to adapt the experience for that specific screen size and experience.

So, what if Steve Jobs is not trying to dominate the world directly? What if he is build a family of devices that all use the same operating system, the iPhone OS? This would give Apple an ecosystem that allows software developers to create applications that will work on multiple devices. The software developer would really just need to change the presentation for each display, and developers are already used to doing that.

Another big difference between now and 20 years ago is that computing was dominated by corporations. Because your employer was using Windows, it was likely that you would get a Windows PC. Now, computing is being driven by consumers and they have different desires. To make this even more interesting, the pricing of these Apple devices is not outrageous. iPhones are priced around the same as an equivalent Blackberry or Android phone. The iPad is more expensive than other tablets, but not by too much. If the Apple TV rumors are true, the price of the device may not be very important unless it is significantly overpriced.

Apple has already made its way into the minds of consumers. Now it is making its way into the living room. We cannot look at this plan from the perspective of software developers or geeky early adopters. We are not the consumers that Apple is targeting. We just might benefit from it.

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