Rememeber back in the 1980’s and 1990’s when the desktop computer revolution was really taking off for most of the American population? Back then Apple actually started the personal computer revolution. Their philosophy was to control the whole widget. They wanted to sell you a computer, the operating system that went with it and even the software that ran on it. But computers were expensive. When Microsoft came around with all those less expensive peersonal computers that were open to running software anyone could build for them, people started picking those up. It was really a lot about price, performance and rapidly evolving market where Moores Law was in full effect. Soon Apple found itself in a bad place, without the vision of it’s original founders and nearly bankrupt by the middle of the 90’s. People were flocking to where the market was and the market was interested in rapidly developing, lower priced commodity PC’s running Microsoft Windows.
Fast forward to the 1998+ Era of Apple. The return of Steve Jobs and the philosophy of selling you the whole widget. So what changed? Well, Apple started putting more emphasis on design and building a premium product. But even then they didn’t gain a ton of market share. What they were gaining was a lot of mindshare as begain trendsetting the look of modern computers and a modern operating system.
It was the release of iTunes for Windows and the iPod that really gave Apple its second breath. It introducted a lower cost Apple product to the masses of windows users who either hadn’t even considered an Apple product before or felt they couldn’t justify the extra cost and migration to an Apple computer.
But something else started happening around that time as well. By the mid 2000’s desktop computers were becoming less important as laptop computers were gaining in speed and shrinking in price. More people began to shift to laptops; not needing the full power of a desktop machine. People found themselves doing more simple tasks, like watching movies, listening to music and browsing the web. Consoles like the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 began to take over computer gaming, so even the desktop gamers were shifiting their computing priorities somewhat.
It wasn’t just one thing that brought Apple back from near obscurity. For as brillant as Steve Jobs might have been as a product guy and marketing guy, there are always other factors involved. It just so happened that the stars lined up in favor of Apples “whole widget” philosophy. Even though computers continued to get faster and more powerful, the people using them were doing things with them that hadn’t changed much in a 4-5 year period. The internet was really the biggest draw for using a computer and that didn’t really require a new more powerful machine two years.
The period of late 2006 to mid 2007 is where I pinpoint the paradigm shift actually happening. That’s the point in time where Nintendo released their game chaning console the Nintendo Wii and Apple released the original iPhone. These two products proved to the market that “more power” was no longer the answer people were looking for as they had been for the last two decades. The shift was all about new ways to interact with your devices.
Now Apple had fully evolved the successful iPod into a personal hand held computer. The ability to subsidize the hardware cost through cell carrier contracts also helped bring the cost down and put the iPhone in more peoples hands. It was the first really substantial touch screen cell phone that proved to teh market that touch screen devices were a via option and the way forward. But more importantly with the release of the SDK (software development kit) for the iPhone, Apple was the first to market with a truly next generation computer platform that developers could build applications for.
It’s been five years now since the first iphone was released and few years since the release of the iPad. Apples larger tablet computer based on the same operating system as the iPhone. These two products have sealed Apple into the market, making them the largest most valuable publically held technology company as of this year. But what’s most interesting is that these two products more any other have stuck to the philosophy of controlling the whole widget. Even Mac OS for as closed as it is, can be ported to run on other generic PC hardware, and have software sideloaded onto it without any hacks. Whereas iOS requires apps that are purchased from the guarded Apple App Store. This means that Apple finally controls the whole widget, the hardware, the operating system and what apps can and cannot be run on the devices.
So is this philosophy any good?
Yes and no, depending on who you are. If you are like the millions of people out there that just want something that works without any fuss, then this is a philosophy you want to buy into. However if you’re one of the more geeky among us that wants to tinker, customize and brave a world that may not be so secure, you’re probably better off with Android. There are definitely benefits to both.
In the Android realm you get the most choice of hardware, you can tinker with your software and customize your Android setup till your heart is content. But you’re living in a realm that may cause you to fall victim to software exploits, you’re living in a fragmented world where the hardware you choose may not be supported with the latest Android releases and you’re stuck with a limited number of third party accessories for your device. Simply because there are so many different Android devices it’s hard to support them all with third party products.
In the realm of iOS your hardware choices are limited to whatever Apple releases. Their hardware is beautiful and powerful, but if you were like me and looking for a larger screened iPhone, you’re out of luck until Apple releases one. On the up side, the operating system, while beginning to look and feel a little dated, is also incredibly polished for what it is. It’s designed to just work and it usually has all it’s i’s dotted and t’s crossed. The upshot to all of Apples devices running the same OS, and very similar hardware in limited choices is that developers can easily develop apps that will work on all of Apples iOS devices and the do. Often releasing iOS apps before Android apps. You also get the most third party accessory support as the iPhone and iPad have a huge eco-system of products available for them. It’s this huge eco-system of apps and third party products that really set Apples iOS devices ahead of the rest. This wouldn’t be possible if Apple didn’t control the whole widget. If they let the kind of fragmentation that runs rampant in the Android world happen in the iOS world we wouldn’ have such a wonderful eco-system.
So today we live in the age where the “whole widget” philosophy actually pays off for Apple. The philosophy of the market has changed. It’s no longer a rat race to the bottom for the lowest price. handheld computers like msartphones and tablets have evolved into powerful, affordable handheld devices that can do amazing things and best of all different things than desktop computers.
As of the last couple of years Apple has been shifiting the things they have learned in iOS back into their laptop and desktop market as well. The additional of a Mac App Store, multi-touch track pads for all their machines and beautiful hardware, along with a market more open to Apple products as a result of the iPod, iPhone and iPad have given them a true second wind. In addition the public has finally come around to the mentality that they just want a machine that just works. The time for the whole widget is finally here. The question is, how long will it last?