The WWDC Report: Apple’s iTunes Trojan Horse

June 12th, 2007

A lot of companies have long-range plans that seldom extend beyond the end of the current quarter, to ensure high income and increasing profits. Sure, Apple does well with its quarterly financials too, but they clearly have a strategy that will carry through for a number of years.

Take the plans to expand and extend the Mac to the Windows world. At first, it was just QuickTime and iTunes, the better to sell more iPods. As of Tuesday afternoon, Safari joined the fray, ostensibly to give Apple more traction in the browser wars.

But there’s a larger purpose here, and it’s not to have bigger market share numbers on a Web log. Instead, it’s all part of Apple’s vision to convert Windows users to the Mac platform in greater numbers than ever. At least that’s my not-so-humble view.

Let’s take a little journey through time to October, after the promised release of Leopard. A Windows user who has already experienced iTunes and perhaps Safari buys a brand new Mac, and begins to set it up.

After going through the setup assistant and all, the new Mac switcher will notice some of the differences, such as the Apple key instead of the Windows key on the keyboard, and the monolithic menu bar. But a glance at the Leopard Finder will be familiar territory, because it is so heavily influenced by iTunes. From the Sidebar to the Cover Flow feature, the learning curve to navigate the Mac file system won’t seem nearly so severe.

In fact, I’m willing to suggest that the newly-minted Mac person will become adept at Mac OS X in fairly good order, because of the clever steps Apple has taken to train them first on the Windows platform.

Now it is fair to say that the reception to the new features in Leopard have been somewhat tepid. Apple’s stock price took a bit of a dive after the WWDC keynote concluded without new hardware announcements. Sure, unifying the look and feel of Leopard might not be a “Wow!” feature, but it is significant nonetheless.

Lest we forget, one of the hallmarks of the great Mac advantage of old was the fact that all applications looked and worked essentially the same. Ongoing development of Mac OS X shattered that model, with brushed metal, light gray and various shades of platinum cluttering the interface. While most of these variants were more decorative than functional, I often complained about the inconsistency of being able to drag one application window from the bottom, but not another, strictly because it adhered to a slightly different interface design. That just didn’t make any sense.

So why did it take Apple so long to get it right?

I don’t pretend to have any hard answers, but it could be that they were testing different styles to gauge public reaction and see which ones were best suited for both Mac users and Windows switchers.

Certainly, Mac users aren’t shy about expressing their disappointment when things don’t work right. As much as you might believe that you’re being ignored by Apple, the collective input does have a strong impact. From time to time, Steve Jobs will remark that Apple indeed hears the complaints from Mac users, and surely they have responded to those complaints in various ways.

So does the new shaded gray motif represent the sum total of all those complaints, a distillation of the work of Apple’s interface designers, or a combination of both?

Actually it probably doesn’t matter in the end. The fact of the matter is that, aside from making Leopard more accessible to Windows migrants, Apple has made significant improvements to address the complexities of getting around the desktop.

Consider Stacks. It looks great to have those icons fan upward from the refined, 3D Dock. But it also has another purpose, which is to help you clean up your desktop clutter and figure out where things are without having to invoke a search request.

One of the main problems up to now has been the location of the files you downloaded. So that becomes a default Stack, where everything is grouped in one place. I know that I often scan my cluttered desktop to find that new version of some totally cool system enhancement I just downloaded before I find it. Why not Spotlight? That’s too simple!

My son has so much stuff on his PowerBook’s desktop that he has reduced icon size to near invisibility to accommodate them all. I can’t wait to spring Leopard on him.

And I’m certain that, when the Leopard desktop appears to the former Windows user for the first time, the iTunes experience will have served as the ultimate learning tool to help them acclimate themselves to the new order really fast.

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7 Responses to “The WWDC Report: Apple’s iTunes Trojan Horse”

  1. Aaron says:

    Very interesting article Gene. I would have to say that the new feature that I’m mostly interested in Spaces, although you make an interesting argument for Stacks as well. I’m sure that since everyone that went to WWDC is under NDA about the beta of Leopard that we won’t be able to know if the default download stack will work with other browsers or just Safari.

  2. rwahrens says:

    Good article!

    Your idea about why Apple allowed the interface to fracture under Tiger to test different ‘themes’ echoes mine pretty closely, but I never thought about iTunes being the ‘switcher’s trainer’! Very good point!

    I, too am looking forward to Leopard, cause like your son, my desktop is cluttered. Hopefully, the stacks may help…

  3. geniver says:

    I believe that Safari will be to the iPhone what iTunes is to the iPod. Therefore, Apple will need Safari for Windows like it needs iTunes for Windows.

  4. Andrew says:

    Makes a lot of sense. That all of Apple’s Windows applications are very good (all the way back to AppleWorks for Windows) only makes the argument stronger. Lets not forget Apple’s other big training application, the often-overlooked Airport Utility for Windows. Use almost any router in Windows and you get a clumsy web interface to set it up, but with an Airport Extreme or Express you get an experience exactly the same as on a Mac, and a good training experience for setting preferences in OS X.

  5. Very interesting article Gene. I would have to say that the new feature that I’m mostly interested in Spaces, although you make an interesting argument for Stacks as well. I’m sure that since everyone that went to WWDC is under NDA about the beta of Leopard that we won’t be able to know if the default download stack will work with other browsers or just Safari.

    I suppose you can set any browser to use whatever location you want for downloads, so any default setting can be altered easily enough.


  6. George Carrington says:

    I started to download stuff of the web about 1998. At first I “dumped” it on the desktop, until I realised that the browser I was using had a Preference setting that allowed me to set up a folder for all my downloads. This required me to RTFM, far too obvious for the “brains” and geeks of computerdom …

  7. The biggest Trojan Horse aspect of Safari 3 is that it’s getting the Cocoa for Windows environment out there and tested by a large diverse user base.

    The big tell is that the font rendering (anti-aliasing, et cetera) and color correction look Apple-standard rather than Windows. This means that it’s more than just the app at work here.

    I’d be willing to bet that Apple has a big surprise waiting for the developer community.

    What would you do if you could write your app in Cocoa and have it run everywhere? Well, if you’re writing a new app, you’d probably try Cocoa. With Core libraries for data, animation, graphics, and all the right look-and-feel elements, your development time should be pared down, and your App will definitely look better and work better than the same app written for Windows and running in any one of the Win environments for OS X.

    Consumers will flock to Apple (as they have been) when they see that they can run any software they want, and have a secure, beautiful (if arguably no longer “elegant”) UI. Especially useful will be all the great Cocoa-based applications that will present the Mac mindset to previously ignorant Windows victims — anything by Omni, all the amazing shareware, iLife!

    I’ve been preaching this since Apple bought Next in ’98 (NextStep/Cocoa for Windows — aka “yellow box” — and Intel processors), but I thought no one was listening. If this is indeed Apple’s plan, I think it’ll be successful beyond all estimations. I’d say 50% Marketshare or more by 2015.

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