Although the iPhone 4 has performance problems, it has a design and functionality that other manufacturers can only dream of. Unlike other mobile phone developers, Apple’s Siri acquisition will give it semantic analysis capabilities that are destined to improve user experiences by creating task-oriented, relevant application mashup functionality. With the acquisition, Apple successfully blocks others from obtaining the same functionality within a short timespan, but while the company concentrates on this sort of development, it is ignoring its most valuable resource: its Mac OS X developers and its own creations. In fact, in the eighties Apple introduced a concept of an intelligent software agent called “The Knowledge Navigator,” which described a user experience similar to the Siri application.
It takes more than just the ability to create cool looking gadgets and a marketing machine that is the envy of many to dominate a market. With its current broad-spectrum approach, Apple is in danger of going the same path as it did right before Steven Jobs was called to the rescue: it’s diversifying its product portfolio too much and forgetting about its core product: the Mac and Mac OS X.
A whole range of iPod models, a new iPhone every 12 months, an iPad tablet PC, an iMac and a Mac Mini, acquisitions like the Siri one. That’s been the focus of Apple the past year. Yes, the iMac and Mac Mini are computers but the iMac is targeted at consumers and made to look like a TV with an impressive screen and design to match — the technical and shipping problems were equally impressive.
And the latest Mac Mini is a Mac too, but it’s clearly aimed at complementing the Apple TV. And with the Siri acquisition, it’s clear Apple is buying technology it once started developing itself but seems to have forgotten about.
When Apple got into serious trouble all those years ago, the most cited reasons were arrogance and too many projects that showed promise but of which few made it to market. Today we have a combination of that same old arrogance, combined with a large number of projects that see professional Mac users left in the cold. The worst is that Apple doesn’t seem to bother. It didn’t hesitate to slap Mac OS X developers in the face by announcing there would be no Mac OS X application design awards this year — the contest would only apply to iPhone/iPad app developers.
For now, the company is still making a sound profit. But the first cracks may appear. Almost all coverage Apple receives these days revolves around the iPhone 4’s lackluster signal performance. Before the iPhone 4’s problems, Apple was covered mainly for its head-on attack of Adobe Flash and the iPad’s lack of Flash support. And if we take one step further back in the past, we get the iMac’s problems with yellow-turning screens, DOAs, etc., and the rumour Apple is playing with the idea of turning its professional Final Cut Studio application suite in some sort of half-baked consumer application.
Technology trend analysts (not Wall Street analysts) warn against inflated expectations with regards to the iPad and publishing. They say it will take time for publishers to grow into and explore the many possibilities of the iPad and similar products. Time is the iPad’s worst enemy; other manufacturers could jump in and offer something equal or better. We saw that happening with Google’s entry in the mobile phone market.
What is also (still) lacking from Apple is a more transparent approach to software and hardware releases — something that is of crucial importance to enterprise users. And for the time being, Apple is also neglecting Mac Pro users. There are rumours of new systems around the corner, but nothing else.
The Mac Pro is starting to show its age, though. Mac users are waiting to see built-in support of FireWire 1600/3200, USB 3.0, etc. Does this mean the current breed of Mac Pros are lagging behind? Perhaps not yet, but they soon could: a European university spin-off built what essentially is a supercomputer the size of a Mac Pro. They use standard components and sell the machine for about the same price as the most expensive Mac Pro (admittedly, it is currently only targeted at medical imaging applications).
If Apple keeps postponing a Mac Pro upgrade, the technology advance of competing products and brands could become worse enough for a number of Mac users and developers to jump ship. They have little reason not to. Adobe products — which make up for the largest part of creative applications in use these days — look and behave the same on Windows 7 as they do on Mac OS X. They often have more features on the Windows platform.
Windows 7 by itself doesn’t look too bad, and that is a serious understatement. Granted: even today it has these typical interface ‘quirks’ Mac users have a hard time understanding and getting used to, but the system behaves well and is relatively secure (taking into account the number of PCs in the world).
By not upgrading its professional workstations and pampering those who develop for their Mac OS X platform, Apple is in danger of killing its most precious resource for success. Computers may offer profit margins that can’t compete with mobile phones’ or iPads’, but they are essential in staying ahead of the competition. Without Mac Pros and Mac OS X developers, the content that has to be created and developed for the current generation of mobile devices will be created on a different platform.