Steve Jobs & Co. have come a long way. In Jobs’ own words at D8 last week: “[Apple] was 90 days from going bankrupt” when he took over [again]. Today, Apple is the most valuable technology company in the world. Everything has gone according to Jobs’ plan to this point, but we have to wonder, are there any more peaks beyond tomorrow’s summit at Apple’s WWDC? Apple isn’t going down anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that they might not hit a plateau for awhile followed by a decline.
Starts & ends with the iPhone
First of all, let’s start with the iPhone, which while still Apple’s greatest strength, also brings with it the biggest bullseye. At this point, there won’t be very many surprises this week about the iPhone – we’ve all seen the pictures. Couple this relative lack of surprise/awe with AT&T’s announcement this week that they will discontinue to offer unlimited plans to new subscribers starting tomorrow, and a lot of shine has already been taken off of the next generation iPhone.
The phone has good specs, it stillhas all those apps, tethering is finally coming, and Apple continues to push new ideas into the platform such as iAd and a patent for auto-geolocation. That said, we still wonder if the combination of being bound to AT&T and the rise of cheap and comparable Android phones isn’t going to at least slow the purchasing of fourth generation iPhones? Any perception of lackluster (or even average) iPhone sales (Apple has apparently ordered 24 million units) will certainly hurt Apple stocks, and could be enough to convince already teetering app developers to concentrate on Android instead (or at least first).
Fortifying the castle with iPads
Ok, so you think the iPhone is somewhat old news right? 2 million iPads in less than two months you say? Well, this one is harder to argue against, and in fact, we suspect that the iPad will keep Apple buoyed even if iPhone sales trail off a bit, especially around the holidays. Really the only thing that will slow down iPad sales in 2010 in our minds is if Apple has supply problems, which at the rate the tablets are selling wouldn’t be too surprising. However, there are other tablet computers (again, Android powered) that will hit the market this year, and perhaps by sometime next year they will catch up to the iPad – perhaps. In the meantime, expect a lot of bragging this week at the WWDC around the iPad.
Multiple trick pony
Apple is more than a two-trick pony you’ll say. Yes, they are. They have iTunes which is a tremendous money maker. They have MacBooks which do ok. They have the App Store and all those paid apps which they take a cut of, will run iAds on and as John Battelle has predicted will probably make a specialized search engine for. Though they fell behind Google at Google I/O in the “company name + TV” race, Apple is expected to launch a revitalized Apple TV this week. They’re also getting heavier into ebooks, and the iPod Touch – though its being cannabilized by the iPad – is a great little cheap phone alternative and media player. Oh yeah, and they have about a gazillion iPods out there too.
Put all of this together and Apple has reached the top of the technology mountain range and will most likely stay king of the hill for awhile. But it does have…
Enemies on all sides
Everyone seems to be against Apple. Google, HTC and Adobe certainly are. Apple may be putting Bing into Safari, but Microsoft is still fiercely (tries) to compete against Apple. Facebook and Yahoo! don’t go up against Apple too much, but they’re really not in the same game anyway. People that want “open” are against Apple (as they are with all proprietary systems). Content producers play along because, well, they have to – Jobs holds all the keys.
So the question is, how thick are the walls that Apple has built around their garden? Can they keep out all invaders from all sides indefinitely while their coffers (and their shareholders portfolios) continue to swell? Or will one well-aimed arrow – say a super HTC Android tablet that connects freely to well, everything – pierce the world’s most valuable technology company?
If they’re going to take a shot, Apple’s competitors will need to aim really high – a fortified castle on the top of a mountain of success is hard to take down.