Saturday, January 30, 2010

So, What About That iPad?

I don't really follow Apple stuff. I've worked on Apples from time-to-time but the last Apple product I owned was the Apple ][+. (First computer I ever owned. Learned programming on it.)

Back then, I, of course, favored Woz of the two Steves. The engineer over the sales guy. The guy who had built the machine, not the guy who had sold it. And some of the other Steve's failures seemed to vindicate that viewpoint. (Though, even though the NeXT was never very successful it did show Jobs' dedication to making a quality product.)

But clearly, I underestimated the guy. He was the CEO of my beloved Pixar, and now is a major player at Disney. And he brought Apple back from the almost-dead.

However, the two most interesting things he's done, to me, are the iPod and the iPhone. Both products were introduced into a seemingly saturated market. They were both, from a technical standpoint, not all that impressive, at least on paper. They were both relatively expensive.

And both ended up dominating their markets. The iPod, factually, with something like 3 out of 4 all music players being iPods. I'm not a gadget guy, don't have any real interest in an MP3 player, but do find the iPod sort of pleasing despite that.

The iPhone "only" has 30% of the phone market. But it dominates the mindspace. It's the iPhone, largely, that has contributed to this idea that the computer of the future will be a phone. (This makes a whole lot of sense, and has been semi-predicted in many ways over the years. I always figured a computer that you carried with you, but that hooked up to available screens and keyboard/mouse set ups, would be ideal in many ways.) I don't really need a fancy phone (or, truth be told, any cell phone) but I might get an iPhone for development purposes.

So, all the noise about the iPad is amusing. People's hopes were incredibly high—one of the hazards of being so amazingly successful. Will it be successful? I don't know. The iPod was very clearly an MP3 player and the iPhone a phone. I'm not sure what the iPad is, really. An eReader? Well, it could be successful, then, depending on how books get to it—where's the iBooks store?

Also intriguing to me is that one of its main flaws being cited is that it doesn't support Flash.

From a developer's standpoint, I've seen this sort of battle play out many times. Back in the '80s, a machine had to support DOS. Microsoft worked very hard to make sure that there was a lack of confidence in any non-Microsoft solution (even though there were many better ones). In the '90s, the battle was over running Windows programs—again with MS doing every dirty trick in the book to break competitors both at the low end (with DOS) and at the high end (with OS/2).

That's why MS destroyed Netscape and then essentially abandoned the Internet. Their purpose wasn't to try to compete on the Internet so much as it was to make the Internet non-competitive with Windows. (Many advances were made to allow programs on the Internet more like desktop applications, but since they weren't supported by the dominant browser—Internet Explorer 6—things stalled until Netscape reincarnated as Firefox. This is why Google has Chrome, too; they have no desire to see MS dominate browsing again.)

But the de facto winner in all this is Flash, which is now pretty clearly "The Platform". iPhone apps may be great, but people want their Flash games. MS (finally) responded with Silverlight which may, eventually, overtake Flash—but which also doesn't run on the iPad.

However, Silverlight's very existence suggests that Microsoft realizes that it's lost the mobile OS war, and Windows CE, while not technically dead, isn't going to secure their monopoly.

Nobody cares if the iPad runs Windows.

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