Saturday, October 18, 2008

New "iBook/PowerBook" Commentary

I think dropping FireWire from the MacBook is foolish, but the endless pictures of the motherboard going around (at AppleInsider and other places) prove something had to budge. There is no room for additional ports if the logic board is constrained to one quarter of the device. On the Pro, there was room, and a market necessity, so they kept it. Incidentally, Mini DisplayPort is Apple-created, so full-size or Mini/Micro DVI, and indeed, er, Big/Standard DisplayPort, were dropped for size, not because Apple is making moves to artificially differentiate its products (i.e. no new iCal event creation on the Touch, something they quickly reversed.) For once, the 2in (13/15) screen difference, the physical constraints, seem to have actually caused a split in the line. 

The 17 is still old-style, probably because it is hard to mill like its smaller cousins. Or maybe because the Air and 17 (and tablet) will be separated off into some sort of low-volume Apple Oddballs laptop section, with Mac Pro R&D spending, and iPod Classic-alike marketing. "It's here if you want it." At least Apple can afford to indulge in some flights of fancy these days, unlike when its Cube nearly killed it, or it had to bench the fan-favorite 12in PowerBook (indeed, Apple addressing the subnote market means times are fat. Remember the MightyCat and the Duo [particularly the 2300c? PPC model. Decadence.])

In that vein, the new 24in LED Cinema Display is marketed as a MacBook/Pro party booster. It represents the end of the iMac, really. It is about as distant from the actual death as the CRT was from going when the iMac G4 killed it. 

The Apple LED TV rumors were not far-fetched, here we have the TV but come by way of desktop computer, not the other way around. A MacBook makes a killer Apple TV. I wouldn't be surprised to see the LED Cinema Displays get bigger and input-y-er, and for the Apple TV to be renamed "Apple" and shot in the head as a hardware product. There is your Apple TV.

If only they'd make a laser printer or digital camera again. Those products suck in the same way cell phones and music players did.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Steve Jobs is dead, long live Steve Jobs!

How can analysts have any credibility left making predictions like this:

Before product reveals like this:

Analysts are made to rate companies on a schedule that does not best inform their decisions. Apple reveals key laptops after iPods now, for Christmas and not explicitly for back-to-school. The only refresh that analyst ratings take into account is the iMac/Mac Mini desktop speed bump, which is less important than it used to be in the PowerPC era. It would be akin to giving a price target and assessment of 1950s GM just weeks before that year's Detroit Car Show.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

iTunes Store RIP?

Apple iTunes to become necessarily unprofitable pending Copyright Board decision:

Apple claims to be running the iTunes Music Store to make money. Jobs has said in the past that it "breaks even", and was intended to drive iPod sales. 

The actual reason Apple created the iTunes Music Store was to ensure that the nascent paid-download music industry did not become a plank in the platform of a non-iPod-compatible, costly, and likely Mac-hostile company. I am referring to Sony and Microsoft, of course, who both stated a desire to innovate "in the living room." If either wedged their DRM into the vast majority of homes, Apple, Mac OS X, and the iPod would be choked off and stifled. 

Apple preternaturally understands this market, as evidenced by the iPod itself, and decided to own music downloads as a defensive stroke. If it becomes unprofitable, or infeasible at anything besides punitive or brand-sullying pricing, then Jobs will allow it to wither. It is no accident Apple has not played hardball with the non-EMI labels about their DRM-free stance on Amazon. A track from that store is not necessarily destined for a non-iPod, as a WMA or Zune DRM, or Sony Connect song, would be.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Old logic, new clothes

Bits asserts that Apple is heading into a down period, as weak consumer spending and business contraction will ding Mac sales. Worse, the iPhone is a high-end consumer product too, and the iPod is saturated. Bits sees major trouble in the lack of a sub-$1000 Apple laptop, and weak Mac Mini desktop offering.

The "iPod saturation" argument aside, these are old ideas in new clothes. A beleaguered Apple will lose to cut rate competitors, some of whom are "more openish", because they charge extra for what is a commodity. Why? Because they did in 1994, and now that Apple has re-ascended, they will surely re-collapse.

Not true. Apple lost in a walled garden era where acreage was all that mattered. Divisions were high between proprietary platforms, and control of formats set de facto standards and won the day. Business drove volume and volume buying drove prices down and sales up. The biggest seller won, and "everyone" who mattered sold Windows. Apple was run out of the industry after hitting a max of 10-15% Mac market penetration (perhaps higher with the Apple II.)

These days present a far different context, though, and Apple is not failing to compete in the high volume market, but choosing not to. They did in 1994 too, by hook and crook and failure, but now it is a completely voluntary aversion. And, in changed contexts, owning 35% of the dollar share of the PC market, but under 10% of sales, has proven to be a profitable niche. Apple sells a computer that is wholly compatible with Windows, and offers its own compelling alternatives in spades. It is perhaps a better PC than a traditional non-Mac, as an infected or broken Windows instance can be easily replaced from a Mac "hypervisor."

Really, Windows and Office are luxuries, like Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. The base PC, whether it is $700 or $1000, is no longer seen as the only operative cost going forward.

The iPhone will also have its legs taken out from under it by Android which will make smartphones/MIDs commodities, too, right? Just as desktop Linux has taken eons to evolve, Google Android/iPhone OS X parity is a long way off. Windows Mobile parity perhaps not, but the goalposts have moved.

Apple, as always, is selling a different product than the mainstream. Even in a recession they have a clear field of hidebound smartphone OS competitors and a crippled Vista-based PC industry the web continues to wedge open. Even in a recession, Apple is a very strong company, and will continue to break sales records going forward.