Recent Apple product releases have received an almost unanimous “ho hum” reaction from many members of the tech media, not to mention Mac users. Despite a tremendous amount of anticipation about the iPhone in 2007, for example, the critics maintained that it lacked key features, not to mention being a little too different from existing players in the market. And don’t forget that the first iPod wasn’t so spectacular either, but the marketplace reached a different decision.
You hear all that again with the iPad. After the constant rumors and speculation, it turned out to be, from surface appearances of course, essentially a grown up iPod touch. Not that this is a bad thing, but it appeared to disappoint far too many people.
Now in retrospect, the iPhone exceeded expectations from Day One. Steve Jobs originally announced that Apple hoped to sell some ten million by the end of 2008, and they did far better. Of course the advantage in only raising modest expectations is that a company looks heroic when projected sales are surpassed. The original sales rush came despite an awkward method of adding third-party apps via a Web interface. Remember the product arrived way ahead of the App Store, which has quite likely been far more successful than Apple expected. Imagine having 150,000 selections and over three billion downloads in less than two years.
There are now stories that some two dozen mobile carriers might be teaming up to create an alternative to the App Store. Perhaps they feel that, by ganging up on Apple, they too can attract over 100,000 apps and entice millions of you to download their offerings. Of course, there’s that thing about attracting developers to write those applications and, further, providing an environment where they can deliver products that will actually sell.
Let’s not forget that rival music stories have tried for years to supplant iTunes without any success. Apple’s main shortcoming is the lack of an extensive selection of movies, although recent titles are usually available in decent quantities. Oh well, there’s always Netflix. But wait! Netflix’s selection is mostly available in DVD and Blu-ray formats. The selection of titles available for online streaming omits most recent or high-demand titles.
With the iPad, much of the chatter is concentrated on where Apple has evidently failed. What’s most fascinating is the amount of discussion about the lack of support for Adobe’s Flash multimedia technology. Yes, it was mentioned for a while when Flash support failed to materialize on the iPhone, but the recent comments from Steve Jobs about Adobe being “lazy,” has been sufficient to fuel a veritable avalanche of coverage. Much of it, I expect, has been triggered by Adobe’s PR machine, hoping to either convince Apple to support Flash, or persuade customers to choose something else.
Now I agree with Adobe in one way, and that is that the lack of Flash is going to cripple your Internet experience, since so many sites use that tool for everything from fancy navigation menus to games and videos. With tens of millions of iPhone and iPod touch users lacking Flash, not to mention an unknown number of prospective iPad owners, there has to be some incentive for Web developers to ditch Flash if they can. But that’s not so easy, since the most likely alternative, HTML5, is mostly limited to Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers. Don’t expect such support from Firefox and Microsoft Internet Explorer, which means that the vast majority of Web surfers still need Flash.
Past the lack of Flash and some features that may be added later, the possibility that Apple will reach agreements with some content providers has been greeted with skepticism. Understand that these negotiations are happening behind the scenes, so the actual details won’t be revealed until the contracts are signed. Of course, some publishers might feed a few juicy tidbits to the press in the vain hope of forcing Apple to accept their terms. But that sort of behavior tends to have a mostly negative impact on Apple, which doesn’t appreciate having its dirty linen exposed in public.
In the end, however, Apple doesn’t build products to get praise from the critics. Don’t forget the motto for the first Mac, “the computer for the rest of us.” Apple designs gear for regular people to use, focusing on an interface that is relatively simple to master, while offering a support system that frees you of most concerns about service after the sale.
The advantage of having a closed ecosystem, particularly with iTunes and the App Store, is that the customer doesn’t have to worry about getting software that works. With the latter, if the app has serious bugs, Apple simply rejects it. Sure, some people might not want Apple to have that level of authority — or any authority — over the approval and distribution process. But three billion downloads clearly demonstrate that this method works. No wonder the competition is trying their level best to imitate Apple.
Now maybe you aren’t totally knocked out by the prospects for the iPad, but a large repertoire of apps, books and magazines will help make it successful. And success for Apple is near certain these days, even if there isn’t a major promotional push. Remember that the hot-selling iMac, upgraded last October, arrived with nothing more than a simple press release and a handful of media interviews with Apple marketing and product executives.
The real source of ongoing amazement is that Apple continues to create winners, even if some hyper-critical people have their doubts.