Five Things Apple Needs to Do to Thrive in 2010 | Cult of Mac

Five Things Apple Needs to Do to Thrive in 2010

By

post-2363-image-a5b164f5517dee6c79de32a559e31b85-jpg

Apple has a ridiculously good run over the past ten years. But in true Apple fashion, I’m not here to rest on the laurels of the past but to look into the future. So sit back, relax, and take a daring look all the way into the year 2010. Here are the five things that Apple must do to thrive in 2010.

1. Set the World on Fire with the Tablet/iSlate/iGuide/non-interim Dynabook
Nothing to see here, folks. Apple does have a massive Skunkworks running and is bringing to bear its combined expertise in hardware and software to create something new in a way that they haven’t since the run-up to the announcement of the iPhone. It’s ridiculously top-secret, and no one has seen anything. Content partners haven’t seen it. Developers haven’t seen it. If it has built-in mobile broadband, the network partner hasn’t seen it. All around, the one thing we know is that Steve Jobs is working on this and is finally happy with it. That said, we’ve got ample speculation, which John, Ed, and Lonnie have done a killer job rounding up. I’m not going to devote much time to this (otherwise the whole piece will be about it), but suffice it to say that if Apple pulls this off, they will once again define a new market space just as the competition is finally starting to sniff in the one that the iPhone created. Oh, one more thing. It will look nothing like this. I feel confident saying that.

2. Make Mac OS X 10.7 Matter
When Mac OS X’s public beta arrived, it hinted at a decade’s worth of possible operating system innovation. In the first revision, it fixed all of the long-standing problems that had made the classic Mac an increasingly unstable option (as it went backward on a number of other vectors), and in successive versions, Apple tackled such enormous challenges as intelligent desktop search (Spotlight), window switching (Exposé), video conferencing (iChat AV), cross-platform compatibility, file encryption (FileVault), query-based directories (Smart Folders), secure, powerful macros (Automator), quick access to tiny apps (Dashboard), easy back-up (Time Machine), multiple desktops (Spaces), multi-booting (Boot Camp), quick assessment of file contents (QuickLook), and fuss-free 64-bit support.

But through that decade of rapid advancement, it’s fairly easy to admit that most of the problems Apple was solving were fairly well-understood and acknowledged. Any user, pre-Tiger could have told you that they sometimes found it took more effort than they would like to track down a missing file. Anyone could have noticed the need for better back-up for the rest of us. Even video conferencing has been a dream since the 1964 World’s Fair. So what’s next? Snow Leopard was loaded with below-the-hood upgrades and a smaller footprint, but most users (including, I must admit, me) don’t notice much difference between it and Leopard on a daily basis.

At this year’s WWDC, Apple needs to announce some of what’s coming for Mac OS X 10.7. It doesn’t need to ship for a good, long time, but we need to get some sense of Apple’s vision for the future of dedicated, keyboard-and-mouse (or trackpad) computing looks like. Otherwise, the drift of the whole company is toward handhelds and other mobility devices, which is part of the story, but far from all.

3. Make it Sexy to Develop Hardware add-ons for the iPhone
One of the most exciting announcements at the June introduction of the iPhone 3GS was that Apple was going to crack open the port on the bottom of the iPhone to third-party development, enabling everything from heart-rate monitoring to video game control to custom UI for speaker docks. Seven months later, we’ve got virtually nothing on the market. If you go to the Apple Store online and look at iPhone Accessories, everything (EVERYTHING) is a dock, a cable, a pair of headphones, speakers, extended batteries, and car kits (some of them for GPS). And that’s pretty ridiculous. Yes, the iPhone has a ton of very capable hardware built into it right out of the box. But when we’ve got more than 100,000 apps in the last 18 months, it’s pretty stunning that we don’t have more than a dozen pieces of hardware to further extend what it can do. The iPhone is already a dramatically robust gaming platform with touch and tilt alone. But there are types of gaming (traditional platformers, notably) that require physical controls to be fun to play — and still no controller that anyone can actually buy. I’m not sure just what the major hold-up is here, whether complexity of APIs, fear of a proprietary connector or just (most likely) hardware development costs for an uncertain market, but it’s really frustrating that one of the most powerful mobile computers ever created can’t  be used to its maximum potential. For next year to top this year, it would be great if the recent arrival of credit card readers is just the start of much, much more to come.

4. Figure Out How to Make Make Money in Video
We’ve all heard Steve’s line: AppleTV is a “hobby,” not a business. The same might as well be said for all of Apple’s video content business. After a promising start in TV programming, video from iTunes sells at a dramatically smaller rate than music, to the point that the company even introduced rentals for movies last year, an act of heresy for Steve “People Want to Own their Music” Jobs. And the rise of Hulu has increasingly made Apple’s pay-at-least-$2-to-watch-TV business model irrelevant — or even quaint. This is the year when Apple needs to transform that perception. Rumors have been percolating for months that the company was working on a top-secret All-You-Can-Eat video subscription service that would allow anyone to download, transfer to their iPods and iPhones and watch all the TV in the whole store. Recent events suggest it might be less exciting (only a few content partners signed up, a cap on monthly transfers), but it hints at what Apple must do to capitalize on the one killer advantage it has over Hulu for the time-being, which is a phenomenal mobile playback device. And by fixing this, Apple could even make the AppleTV interesting again.

5. Get an Internet Strategy. It’s Really Time.
For all of its many triumphs over the last decade, Apple has never enjoyed more than incidental success capitalizing on the Internet. Yes, iTunes wouldn’t be possible without it. And the iPhone would be just a phone without Mobile Safari and web-connected apps. But Apple’s strictly Internet-focused efforts have been pretty sad over the years: iTools, .Mac, MobileMe. By any name, it’s a suite of stuff that puts a Mac-like skin onto bog-standard Internet applications that Google does a lot better and for free. I mean, the fact that Apple could introduce a brand-new webmail client in 2008 without GMail-style message threading is absolutely stunning to me. The push-syncing for MobileMe didn’t work as advertised out of the box. And the reason for this continued struggle, is that Apple doesn’t have an Internet vision that it really believes in. Some efforts just try to add a little Mac experience to the Web. Others try to seamlessly merge the Mac and Web experience, as the iPhone does. But at the end of the day, there is simply no compelling reason to use Apple Internet services. All of them exist in free versions that are as good or better. 2010 must be the year when this changes. It’s quite telling that Apple’s most recent acquisition is LaLa, a music service that, among other things, gives you streaming access to your iTunes library from anywhere on the Internet — an incredible useful and pretty obvious service that Apple should have been offering a solid three years ago and would have made the original 4GB iPhone quite a lot more palatable. It’s a virtual given that Apple will offer iTunes library access over the Web next year, but it will mean a lot more if the company articulates a vision for the future of the Internet to compete against Google’s, Cisco’s, HP’s, IBM’s, and Microsoft’s. The future of everything from the Mac to the iPhone to the AppleTV and the Tablet depends on where the Web goes next; it’s past time that Apple actually had a real voice in shaping that future and made some real money through Internet services.