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  • So Where’s the Next Apple Killer?

    November 3rd, 2008

    Microsoft clearly believes it essentially killed the Mac years ago, since it holds an incredible dominance of the PC operating system market. Forget for the moment that Apple has made great strides in market share growth recently, and Microsoft has stumbled badly with Vista. The opposition has other irons in the fire.

    First came the attack of the rampaging iPod killers. What happened to them? Good question. Unless you follow the tech industry closely, you would probably have difficulty identifying any of those alleged products, other than Microsoft’s failed Zune of course.

    In fact, the tech pundits who fawned over any product designed to compete with Apple seem to have given up on the prospects that the iPod will ever be replaced by anything other than Apple’s successor — which may already be here in the form of the iPod touch.

    That takes us to the nascent smartphone category, where the dust has yet to settle.

    The skeptics dismissed the iPhone early on, because how could Apple possibly compete with handset makers that had years of experience in the marketplace? And let’s not forget the fact that they had sold hundreds of millions of units already? Besides, the wireless carriers run the show, because they dictate the form and shape of user interfaces, and how features are implemented. Apple, in contrast, wants to run the show from top to bottom.

    Well, never underestimate the world-famous consumer electronics company named after a fruit. While the fine details of the actual sales pitches may never be fully known, nor the names of all the companies who were contacted, we do know that AT&T decided to let Apple in to its closed ecosystem, with a few concessions.

    With the iPhone, Apple was either being very conservative in its hopes and dreams of sales and market share, or they were absolutely amazed by what actually occurred! That probably explains why Steve Jobs made an unannounced appearance at the recent conference call with financial analysts. No, it wasn’t to talk about the state of his health, which wasn’t even mentioned. In fact, few dispute the fact that Jobs is now apparently in good health, despite some problems earlier this year.

    Now that the iPhone has exceeded expectations both in total sales and market share — and even beat the venerable BlackBerry at its own game — the tech analysts have changed their focus in search of killer products. There are ongoing stories about this, that, and the other company working by themselves with Google or even with Microsoft to devise a product that’ll blow away the competition, particularly the iPhone.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the path to continued success with the iPhone is certainly more difficult. There are already unconfirmed reports that Apple may have reduced its production runs for this quarter because of the ongoing economic difficulties around the world. But that would probably reflect on all other wireless handset makers, so if Apple’s sales don’t meet expectations, they won’t be alone.

    But all this may pass in a few months, and it’s possible economic growth will resume. In the meantime, Apple certainly has the cash on hand to whether even a serious downturn and prosper. So much for the urgings from some financial analysts that Apple ought to simply use all that money to buy back its stock and enrich its employees and stockholders.

    There is, of course, one other area where an Apple killer may be in the wings. That’s Microsoft Windows 7, the successor to the failed Vista.

    Did I say failed? Well, yes, hundreds of millions of copies have been sold, but largely because they were already preloaded on PCs, not necessarily because lots of eager customers visited their local computer or consumer electronic outlets to buy a copy.

    With Windows 7, Microsoft has already taken off the wraps, although the pre-betas some are using do not appear to have the promised interface changes. The most revealing is a taskbar that, for all intents and purposes, closely resembles Mac OS X’s Dock.

    Is that what Microsoft considers “innovation”? I remember the original U.S. Department of Justice antitrust action against the company, when Bill Gates complained that the company only wanted to be left free to imitate — I mean innovate. Well, I suppose making Windows 7 look more like Mac OS X might have the end result of changing the minds of some potential switchers who mistakenly assume it’s something new and different.

    Then again, maybe Microsoft can take some of that $300 million it is investing in meaningless ad campaigns and try to come up with a genuine game-changer for their upcoming Windows upgrade, but I am skeptical that they have the management in place that’s capable of such a thing however much much money they throw at the problem.

    More to the point, because a feature is demonstrated is no guarantee that it’ll ever actually appear in a Microsoft product. That’s an important part of their history they cannot escape, even while they continue to search for Apple-killer products that end up self-destructing.

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