Thursday, January 22, 2009

Things #2.1: Apple's Developing Strategy.

Ok, so in my last post I tried to sketch out the position that Apple has secured over the years since the launch of OS X, but it's worth noting too that it's been handed some significant things largely because of others' greed, laziness or downright incompetence. Here I might mention that it seems Microsoft has largely given up on usability or innovation in the GUI space, and a is mostly reduced to introducing interface features, which isn't the same thing at all. A half-dozen different, all non-optimal ways to achieve the same task isn't the way forward anymore, though it worked for Windows 95 and eventually for the NT team. Neither does a $10k back-projection table count, though I might concede that the photosynth purchase was a real coup. If those guys can deliver within Live Labs then MS might just get its UI mojo back. But I digress.

Stability and security is another area where Apple has been handed the prize without really trying. Building on NextStep with its UNIX roots was natural for Steve's incoming team, and the sluggishness of Redmond's response to the whole 'broken Windows' security nightmare has left Apple able to claim leadership in that area too, whilst doing relatively little. It's been said often that the almost non-existence of Mac OS X malware and viruses is because there's no point in writing such things for a tiny installed base, and that the advantages of OS X's supposedly superior architecture will crumble if and when Apple's market share grows significantly. Actually the opposite is true: Truly dangerous viruses are significantly harder to architect and construct on the Mac, and when one finally emerges the relatively low concentration of Macs in an explosively expanding universe of connected devices will make propogation much harder.

When it comes to Apple's newer role as a producer of consumer electronics goods and associated services, the apparent lack of amy real competition is even more startling. Do we even need to recount how the major music recording labels handed Apple the keys to the digital music kingdom when they assumed that technologists couldn't possibly know more about their audiences than they did? Suffice to say that Apple were allowed to take the lead in the digital music revolution by providing simple hardware solutions tied into services while the competition were either offering clunky hardware players or betting on a software solution that would work anywhere. That last strategy belonged to Microsoft of course, until they rolled over their Plays for Sure partners to emulate Apple's model, just as Apple was building its own 'iPod as software' strategy with re iPhone and iPod touch. Now MS is back singing the 'software running anywhere' refrain, but it might just be too late to catch up again.

When it comes time to write the history of the post-macintosh Apple, then I'm willing to bet that the extraordinary hubris of the entrenched phone manufacturers and carriers will feature heavily. This might just dwarf the foolishness of the record industry, and contribute even more to Apple's success over the next decade. Remember, we're talking here not of an industry which produces things that people like in a generally unpleasant fashion, but of one that has systematically placed its own ability to extort money from what it laughingly calls its customers at the very top of its agenda.

People love recording artists, if not the companies that record them; I've never met anyone who loves their phone company, and until recently no-one went misty-eyed talking about their handset. The phone companies, and most handsets, are tolerated because they provide something we generally can't do without, and many of us dream of replacing the carriers with an IP-solution.

It's in this context that the attitude of the entrenched players to Apple's 2007 launch of the iPhone seems hubristic, even downright foolish, and I'll talk a little more about that as I try to unpick Apple's forward momentum in my next post.


Blogger mevdev said...

After reading your article I realized it really wasn't Apple. It was NeXT. Apple failed in changing their OS to newer technologies in the late 80s. Things like Taligent, Pink and Opendoc had partners but ultimately failed. The first OS 8 Copland failed miserably. The concepts were not run by the innovators. It was incredibly difficult work and the future was not known. Apple pursued projects that were fruitful, but not overall a good strategy (performas, pippin, appleTV (the first one, basically a black lc575), and the newton).

The newton was entirely too ahead of itself and deserves a squeak-like runtime open-sourced for all devices.

What I'm getting to is that had Apple not had the money to buy NeXT (or let NeXT buy them) this would never have happened. NeXT would have failed into oblivion. Apple would have lost most of its developers whilst switching to Be OS.

The libraries written in 1987 for the NeXTSTEP are nothing short of amazing. By 1993 those libraries were on top of NT, Solaris, HP/UX and also right on the bare metal of that hardware with Openstep as the OS. Sun helped create openstep and java is the obvious succession of it.

Microsoft has somewhat kept up by writing .net. It is the first new thing for developers since the MFC. It represents OO practices while not having to obey them. Visual Studio locks developers into the money for Microsoft.

My point: Why isn't Microsoft using .NET?

4:52 PM  

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