Friday, October 22, 2010

New Mac store opens up the desktop for media apps; the evolution of personal computers creates new opportunities

I was out of town on Wednesday when Steve Jobs conducted his lasted new product release event -- this one centering on the Mac computer rather than the company's iOS devices. But thanks to live streaming, I was able to view the entire event on my phone.

The idea of the Back to the Mac event was that Apple would now come full circle by bringing to the Mac's operating system those features that they had developed for the iPad -- the most important of these being the App Store.
According to Jobs, the new Mac App Store will launch within 90 days -- putting its launch date awfully close to the time Apple would be conducting another product event (if you recall, the iPad launch event was held at the end of January of this year).

Now why would Apple want to create yet another App Store? Well, many people immediately thought that the company desires to get its 30 percent share of all Mac application software sales (they are probably right). But the Mac, unlike the iPhone or iPad, is not a closed product. You can buy a copy of Microsoft Office on Amazon, for instance, and load it yourself at home without the transaction going through some Apple controlled store. This will continue.

But Apple has learned that if they create an environment where developers can sell their goods directly to customers, like the App Store, developers will flock to it -- and that, of course, ends up being a huge boost for whatever Apple device that developer is developing for.

Why not do the same thing for the Mac, Apple must be thinking. Create an App Store for the Mac, let developers build new apps, and customers who are used to dealing with apps for their phones and the iPad will want the same sort of experience for their computers.

Before I talk about the implications for media companies, let's review this market for a second.

According to Apple's chief operating officer Tim Cook, Apple sold 13.7 Macs this last fiscal year (three times as many Macs as were sold in 2005). More importantly, the total Mac market represents just short of 50 million users worldwide.

Someone at Apple had to be thinking 'what if we exploited our Mac user base the same way we do our iPhone or iPad user base?'

I've had several newspaper executives ask me directly what I thought the existing iPad user base looked like, and how big did I think it would be in a year or two. What these newspaper folk were wondering was whether it was a good investment of their time and resources to develop for tablets, or whether they would be better off continuing to look exclusively to the web. (All these newspapers execs had, incidentally, already committed to tablet development.)

But we already know the user base of the Mac is close to 50 million, so why not treat the Mac as a media device and begin developing a media app for that device, too?

OK, we know how Apple views this, but how should media folk look at this -- specifically, publishers? Is this another gimmick, just a way to make publishers develop another app, this one for the Mac?

I was travelling this week and I couldn't help notice that many business people were still lugging around heavy Dell or HP laptops. Many of these business people, though, also were carrying iPhones. One guy, sitting next to me on a flight, had both a BlackBerry and an iPhone on him (he complained of having to carry the BlackBerry).
Will people still use these heavy laptops five years from now? We know that Apple doesn't think so - their new MacBook Air (at right) appears to be getting a new lease on life, and this time they may have a winner. But what about all those Windows based machines? More importantly, what if Google convinces laptop makers to not only use Android for their new tablets, but for some laptops, as well? Is it possible that the future looks a lot more like the mobile market, and less like the old computer market of the eighties and nineties?

For media companies, the idea of content everywhere is attractive, but difficult to implement. But the rise of both iOS and Android might be making it easier. 2010 was the year of the iPad. 2011 will be the year of the tablet as new Android-based tablets begin to enter the market and iPad continues to sell. But as tablets are introduced and take a bite out of the notebook/netbook market, don't be surprised if notebook/netbook begin to look and feel more like mobile devices and less like old desktops. And that means that publishers will have to be prepared to treat all "computers" as "devices" and develop their new electronic products accordingly.