you could get one; but there was never a pocket Mac. If you wanted a PC that was portable or had a color screen, you could get one years before you could get a Mac with those capabilities.
The same was true in software. The larger install base of PCs, and the cheaper and easier development process, meant that lots of weird niche programs appeared for the PC that didn’t appear for the Mac. That’s why even today, with the resurgence of OS X, it’s still hard to do CAD, circuit board design, 3D rendering or HAM radio stuff on a Mac. Some solutions exist, but few compared to on Windows.
Ah yes, Windows. Sure, Apple’s UI was years ahead to start with, but over time the rest of the computing world caught up. Windows is still not quite as slick as the Mac, but it’s good enough–the UI alone is no longer a compelling reason to get a Mac.
My feeling is that Apple is repeating the exact same mistake all over again with the iPhone, and then some. At least the Mac was an open platform.
The iPhone didn’t do anything that other phones couldn’t already do; what it had going for it was an incredibly slick UI. But Apple has locked down the iPhone and made it painful to develop for, with mandatory code signing and a bureaucratic approval process. They’ve prohibited entire classes of innovative application, and have a single hardware form factor. Want an iPhone with a replaceable battery, a flip-open form factor, or a hardware keyboard? Hard luck. Want to run Google Voice, a file server or the cult game DopeWars on your iPhone? Apple says no.
Android phones are now reaching iPhone-like levels of slickness. Android phones are being released by HTC, Samsung, Motorola, LG, Sony Ericsson, Kyocera, and others. There are also non-phone devices running Android, such as the Archos tablet. Every major US cell phone network has Android devices on the way. The dev kit is free, and runs on every major platform. There are also a lot more Java developers around than there are Objective-C programmers.
So once again, I foresee Apple becoming a niche player. It might not get as bad as the days when the Mac had a single-digit percentage of the market, but I don’t see how they’re going to beat 15-20% with closed, locked-down hardware from a single vendor, when they couldn’t even beat MS-DOS with an open Macintosh OS.
Apple haven’t even beaten BlackBerry yet, in spite of the BlackBerry OS’s glaring defects–perhaps because of Apple’s refusal to ship a phone with a keyboard, an ironic move given that Steve Jobs famously ridiculed the Apple Newton by saying “Apple makes computers, computers have keyboards”. In some social circles it may seem like everyone has an iPhone, but the reality is somewhat different.
I’ve been thinking these thoughts for a while, but recently Gartner agreed with me, predicting that Android will come to dominate the iPhone and BlackBerry, because of its openness. Apple isn’t doomed; they can continue to turn a healthy profit with a small slice of the market, as they’ve proved with the Mac. But the iPhone’s days as the hot device where the innovation happens are numbered. Right now it has a lot of software–but then so did the Mac at first, but that changed by the 90s when Mac market share dropped to 5%.
I’m a Mac user. I like the iPhone UI. If they sold the phone completely unlocked, I’d probably have one now, in spite of the lack of keyboard. But instead, I’m looking ahead and predicting that my next phone will run Android. In particular, the Verizon Droid looks interesting. Time to experiment with the dev kit…
© mathew 2017