I have been wanting the iPad2 for about three years now - since before anyone was absolutely certain that Apple was interested in building something larger than the iPod Touch. I knew that kind of inevitability in the way those of us who have been around in this industry forever understand what juices the geek in us all.
So now that it is here, I'm finding the brilliant marketing success of what Steve Jobs and Apple have done to generate in certain Americans an interesting kind of skepticism. OK, what I mean to say is weird skepticism. Aside from all the Android fanboys, people are essentially whinging about what they believe the iPad2 still doesn't have. And I have determined that it is something of Jobs' fault precisely because of what he evokes in his videos. He evokes love. And so if you don't want an iPad2, which is by far one of the most technically brilliant inventions of the digital era, it's probably because you don't love it. That's not the product's fault, it's your fault for expecting an emotional attachement to the product. It's like aborted transferrence. You fall in love with the cereal box and it doesn't matter what's inside, all you want to do is read the box. People don't think so much about what the iPad2 can deliver, but its combination of features as a product.
Jobs did something a bit deeper this outing which suggested to me that he's revealing a bit more philosophy. It's a good thing to see him do so. Like most people like me, I'm sick of him talking about 'magic'. There are many serious reasons why a finger-based device which gets us all beyond typing and mousing is a momentous idea. You don't have to watch an autistic child's mother be brought to tears to understand this, but Apple is peddling love. It is the enthusiasm of Jobs' second tier presenters who get down into explaining the grits of the machine that show the energy that used to be Steve. Now Steve can talk about the intersection between Technology and Liberal Arts. This is the good stuff, and he's correct to note that it is the sort of thematic and cohesive design that makes all the difference in the aegis of the Apple product line. Obviously any cadre of second-world factories can assemble the bill of materials and quality check the engineering, but only people thinking about the synergies between the arts and sciences can produce the sort of vision for excellent products that advance both. For Apple products to be an intellective toolset for creation requires such a vision.
But that's not about love.
Apple should not try to make us love the iPad and the iPhone. They should make us think about what we might be enabled to do with our hands with these devices. For the moment, they are picking low hanging fruit - which is why competitors are throwing money at the same product types. Making music is an obvious and well capitalized choice, as is reading. Apple app developers are the thousands who can and will evolve that vision towards new horizons, far beyond what Apple heads can predict. That's as it should be, and I still support Apple's walled garden approach to application approval. The Apple product line very well should have a philosophy, and I can see it coming together, but I wonder how Apple sees business.
The implication to me is also that Apple could, and just might, start considering ruggedized inputs. The intersection of technology and liberal arts does not limit one to the sweetness and light of light consumption. But we may not see that for a while. Apple may very well be content to become the premium distribution medium for higher education, visual arts and music. Creation means Pixar, distribution means iTunes Store, consumption means iPad. But Apple should very well consider the industrial revolution in computing. Enderle gets what I'm talking about.
One of the initial issues I have with this concept is that it is defined for what it isn't as opposed to what it is. I think we all can see that smartphones, tablets and even MP3 players (think: iPods) are eclipsing PCs on the client side, and the concept of cloud computing is driving the server side. Few appear to be good at both and it would appear that post-PCs will be a blend of cloud and unique client devices. Strangely enough, Google seemed to see this first, but its execution has been marred by an excessive focus on advertising-based offerings and an apparent inability to create high-quality offerings.
Microsoft is massively invested in the cloud, but is having trouble producing a timely universal cloud client outside of the PC.
Both platform-based firms are coming at this market a bit differently and both appear to be crippled by their unique legacies.
Apple and Dell
This brings up hardware vendors, with Apple and Dell appearing to be the most focused out of the PC segment. Apple is strong on the client side and has the most popular smartphone and tablet, but on the cloud side, it is relatively weak (it killed off its server product a few months ago). In terms of profit, it isn’t coming from its PCs, but from its alternative devices, which is turning Apple into a true post-PC company.
Dell is on the alternative track. Nearly two-thirds of its revenue come from services, storage, servers and other back-office solutions that are being wrapped into cloud bundles and not from PCs. It just had one of its most profitable quarters, largely because it, too, has positioned itself as a post-PC company.
Could the ultimate winner be Dell?
I think Apple doesn't necessarily get the database Back End, and they might not necessarily care to. I began falling out of love with Apple in 1991 when they introduced something called DAL, a completely different standard than ODBC. It didn't work and nobody in the database world cared to write interfaces to DAL. So small companies like Watcom absolutely creamed Apple, who was evidently satisfied with FileMakerPro. The cottage industry of visual programming and database query tools was completely missed by Apple and all of the mounds of spagetti that became Visual Basic became the standard in a world where Apple had a version of Office for the desktop. Somehow Apple abandoned the corporate desktop and now they are just coming back around. It's an opportunity to have a clean slate in the same way that Google had a clean slate in corporate email and what is now Google Apps. But Apple, like Google, will have to really understand the database Back End.
The Back End Apple understands is music, movies and to some extent whatever Mobile Me is supposed to do. It's a brilliant retailer and has demonstrated its ability to run circles around traditional channels. Taking software out of the Apple Store is a brilliant move. But could Apple change the way that enterprise software is bought and sold? How about medical software? How about CAD? This is the time for Apple to consider partnering and risk. It has the platform and beautiful hardware, it has the philosophy to hold the products together, but does it have the desire to handle more segments of the computing industry? That depends on how long Steve Jobs and Apple decides it wants to sell love and make videos with cute kids and beautiful people on vacation. It can't be long.
The iPad2 can do anything Apple wants it to do. They have mastered the hardware. But the 65,000 apps are really all about what? It can't be love.