After Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO last week, Katherine Noyes wrote a particularly stupid piece on why Apple needs to embrace open source.
For business users, the company’s extreme vertical integration has not only created a daunting case of vendor lock-in, but has worked against the compatibility and interoperability that are most needed in this global and collaborative world.
Essentially, her argument boils down to the advantages that she perceives open-source to have, and why Apple is ultimately doomed with a closed-source strategy.
As far as I can surmise, Android is not winning based on some perceived merits of its usefulness, style or other subjective qualities. Rather, the reason it is (and will always be) beating iOS in market share is because it’s cheap to implement and free for third-party vendors to customise.
Let’s examine two parallel realities in their neverending hypothetical. In the first, let’s assume Android were released on an exclusive piece of hardware anually. Here, Android is not open-source and manufacturing rights are licensed to a single hardware company. In this instance, Android probably would not be a serious iOS competitor. Note, for instance, the struggles of WebOS and Windows Phone 7. The former is a proprietary OS released on just a few devices over the course of its life so far. The latter OS exists on more phones, but is still largely irrelevant in the market. It’s a shame, as both of these are fine operating systems.
In both cases, taking a vaguely similar strategy to the iPhone has failed. One may argue about whether it was marketing, implementation, hardware or whatever, but the reality is that a closed Android system would also probably be relegated to a similar scrap heap.
In the second scenario, iOS is released in 2007 to many manufacturers, with open, cheap (or free) licensing terms. My wager is that most vendors would opt to broadly install and promote iOS, even if Apple created the iPhone at the same time. Android would still arrive in 2008 with similar terms, but it probably wouldn’t achieve anywhere near the success it has.
Noyes is probably right that open-source can dominate the market. But I don’t think Apple cares that much about their market share. See, although comScore’s recent report shows Apple with a 27% market share, Boy Genius Report reports Apple earning a whopping 66% of industry profits. At this point, market share isn’t that important to them. I think they’d like to increase a little by luring away BlackBerry customers, but they know they can’t win against a cheap operating system, especially when carriers and vendors can customise it as they wish.
Coming back to the Noyes piece, it’s worth noting that Apple does open-source some of their OS X developments. They also develop WebKit, the second-most popular browser engine around, and one that is open source. Apple does embrace this world of open and transparent, when it suits them. But it clearly does not serve them well in their mobile operating system. And, despite Android being on more phones than any other smartphone OS, it’s also not serving them well either.
Microsoft seems bent on making the Explorer UI look more complicated than it actually is. They’ve added the Office-style “ribbon” toolbar, and put the most-used shortcuts as icons in there. For instance, copy and paste now get dedicated buttons and icons. The changes they’ve made allow for new users to better find some of the more hidden options, but this comes at the cost of a simple, elegant UI.
[Eric Schmidt] replied by saying that G+ was build [sic] primarily as an identity service, so fundamentally, it depends on people using their real names if they’re going to build future products that leverage that information.
AT&T has added a new $2-a-month “minimum use” fee to the phone bills of landline customers who don’t have long-distance calling plans. In other words, customers who rarely, if ever, make long-distance calls are the ones most likely to pay the fee. Those customers can avoid the fee, a company spokeswoman said, as long as they make at least $2 worth of long-distance calls a month.
Verizon is no longer allowing it’s customers to FTP transfer into or from their personal web spaces, which means I can no longer upload pictures from my cam to my own website. The only way to alter your website is to use their own web based “site builder”. They claim that it’s for “security”. But the funny part? If you pay $5.95 or more a month, you are once again allowed to FTP in.
There are loads of great pull quotes from this notable interview that I could choose. I’ve picked my favourite:
To make step-function changes, revolutionary changes, it takes that combination of technical acumen and business and marketing — and a culture that can somehow match up the reason you developed your product and the reason people will want to buy it. I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed.
It’s important to know what Jobs’ main function at Apple was before attempting to predict what the future of the company holds. Many news stories paint Jobs as an omnipresent micro-manager and, while that may have been the case when he took back the reins in 1997, Apple is a very different company now. It’s progressed from near-irrelevance to the trend-setting behemoth in the last 14 years.
In that time, Jobs’ role has changed. He afforded ever-increasing control to other executives, instilling them with the same mindset of elegance in simplicity that has defined the modern-day Apple. He has officially been on medical leave since January of this year, but has continued to oversee new deals and contracts, and unveil new products. His contribution is greater than the products he helped bring to market, and more over-reaching than Apple’s rise to marketplace giant. Steve Jobs leaves in his wake a company forged in his vision. That won’t change.
The New CEO
Perhaps this entire article could be replaced with, “Look, it’s going to be Tim Cook, and that’s that.”
It’s always been Tim Cook. He’s part of the Apple dream team. I’m surprised there was such frenzied speculation regarding Jobs’ successor, because it was so blatantly obvious.
Tim Cook is an executive that doesn’t really speak publicly, aside from at quarterly earnings calls and the rare keynote. That doesn’t mean his contributions aren’t felt. To give just one example, in 1996, Apple had 54 days of total retail inventory. Cook got that down to a low of 0.4 days. He is a machine.
The Future, Or Something Like It
AAPL is down a little over 5% in after-hours trading. Those who have the slightest whiff of respect for Jobs are concerned about his health. But at Apple, all will be well. I can only hope the same for Steve himself.
Stay hungry, stay foolish.
Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Jonny Ive, Bertrand Serlet and Ron Johnson. Each has played an enormous role in defining Apple today. Only two of those five retain the positions that made the company, but their impact is greater than the bodies that remain. [↑]
The feature set is maddening. It’s well enough done to make you think it’s competitive (and make other systems, like Twitter, seem boring, even as their streams have not slowed down a bit, which tells me that Google+ hasn’t gotten anyone off of other systems) but you can’t search. Discovery sucks. There’s no noise controls. Notifications suck. Etc etc.