Up until 2005 acquisitions by Apple were predominantly around the core of the Mac platform and it’s “niche” software market in media production (for the industry and for consumers).
In 2005, starting with Fingerbase who they bought for their MultiTouch expertise, then PA Semi, a stake in Imagination Technology and more recently the acquisition of Intrinsity for chip design for battery powered, long running mobile device chipsets, Apple began building the “brain trust” for their next generation mobile computing platform which has culminated most recently in the release of the iPad.
In parallel, they acquired Quattro for their advertising platform expertise which was clearly a purchase intended to germinate the iAd platform.
Since 2008, they’ve been building their “software” capability in a different direction (through acquisition). The sorts of companies they’re buying (excepting Quattro) are all about technologies and experience in “cloud” technologies. They bought Placebase in 2009, which was seen as Apple perhaps wishing to enter the search market after the split with Google, but I’m willing to bet us much more about “Location” than mapping as the former is an innovation, at least at this point in time, the latter, increasingly a commodity. Apple don’t do commodity.
Then there was the Lala purchase which probably leads to the inevitable conclusion that Apple are looking at cloud based management of your music and media.
We also shouldn’t forget that Apple have also been building up their own internal capability in cloud and more importantly in ubiquitous connectivity between devices via the internet. What many people failed to realise about the significance of the great Mobileme upgrade mess of 2008 was that it happened because Mobileme wasn’t actually being upgraded, but being replaced with a centralised synchronisation system. Before 2008, .Mac was essentially a virtual web hosting, backup and hotmail-like service. The “upgrade” replaced this simple service with a proper synchronisation technology base. It was (and is) no longer just a backing store, but a “cloud” for your information and settings.
We also know that Apple are spending a billion dollars on a new data center in Maiden, North Carolina. You don’t build a billion dollar data centre unless you have big plans which require lots of computing horsepower and storage.
One of the main things which has probably been keeping Apple from moving to an iTunes in the cloud model (it would have fit with the .Mac to Mobileme “upgrade” of 2008) has most likely been difficulty in negotiations with the entertainment industries towards cloud based storage and delivery however the path has firmly been paved in recent years by services such as Spotify, Last.fm etc.
What does all this mean for Apple? I think they’re going to get into “cloud” in a very big way. They control the consumer “edge” of their markets really well (with iPhone, iPod Touch and now iPad) but to be a truly “vertical” company they have provide the other layers of the cake and cut out the middle man, especially if the dominant “middle man” (from Redmond) is a key competitor and only exists in your ecosystem to act as a hub for your (internet connected) mobile devices to synchronise through.
What I expect very soon (I’m guessing at least some of it on Monday) is that Apple will announce that the synchronisation and information management capabilities of Mobileme and iTunes will merge into a proper “personal cloud” platform providing synchronisation and centralisation of all my information without the need to have a “PC” (iMac, Macbook, widget or whatever) be the hub. The cloud will be the hub. Devices will synchronise wirelessly and transparently. Developers will be provided with robust APIs to access this so that fragmentation of information across many applications, storage mechanisms and frameworks is reduced or eliminated.
Additionally I foresee the use of “push” to notify all of my devices of changes to any of that information so that they can automatically reach out and resynchronise their information. Apps would never have to build their own synchronisation mechanisms and manage the storage and availability of their data. The “i” devices would have a true “cloud” at their core.
Once you’ve established these capabilities a whole host of possibilities present themselves. Location for one becomes something really interesting. See this Patent to understand why Apple, in my opinion, bought “Placebase”. It’s not about mapping, it’s about location.. location is going to become a key feature of the future of computing.
Such a move probably explains the recent Siri acquisition.
Arguably Siri is “search” again, but I’m inclined to believe Steve when he says it’s about “AI” more than search. I think it’s about “virtual agents in the cloud” which, by virtue of the fact that they have access to so much information about you, including what you like, where you go, what you do (via the agent), what music you listen to, what apps you run etc. can feed you targeted advertising, give advice, manage your communications (“Sorry Caller, I can’t connect you to Joe. He doesn’t take calls between 7 and 7:30 every evening because he reads bedtime stories to his daughter on his iPad – Would you like me to take a message?”) or any number of other possibilities we can’t yet begin to imagine.
So what will we hear in Monday’s keynote? I think it was very telling when Steve Jobs walked out on stage to announce the iPad in January that he made it a point to position Apple as a “mobile devices” company. They’ve moved away from a PC competitor and are creating a new consumer market around smart devices with ubiquitous connectivity. They clearly lead that market by a significant margin. It’s taken their competitors nearly four years just to come within spitting distance of the iPhone and while I don’t believe it will take that long to catch up on the iPad, there is still an uphill climb to be done which means that Apple are going to be pretty commanding in that space.
The iPad is a very important device for one key, non-technical reason which is that it makes computing accessible to the average consumer. The big selling point of the iPhone devices has always been that while they’re computers (which make phonecalls) they don’t engage the consumer as that. Few people who own an iPhone think of it as a computer, or even as a phone. It’s their iPhone and I’ve lost track of the number of iPhone users who’ve said to me that it’s their “life” and that they’d be lost without it.
The iPad takes this same experience and builds on it. There’s a very real reason why Steve Jobs, unveiling the iPad, conducted the strangest device introduction we’ve ever seen (as per the picture on this article) and that’s because the device invites you to interact with it in this “easy” way. It feels “natural” in the way that no other computing device ever has (and it’s not just me saying that… 91% of purchasers have echoed this – that’s 1.82M people for the mathematically challenged).
Once it moves from innovation to commodity (pricing), there will hardly be a person on the planet (who can afford it) without one (or a competitors equivalent) and few of these people will need another computing device unless it’s for plugging into…
But I think Apple’s aspirations are significantly higher than just making breakthrough devices. They have been laying the foundations for a complete revolution in personal computing on an unprecedented scale. I think they’re going to announce some of the beginnings of this revolution on Monday.
So, as the title of this article reads, in my opinion Apple aren’t going to kill the PC, they’re going to make it irrelevant! Only a rarified few will (arguably) need to have them. The rest of us will interact with touch devices (of various sizes and shapes) which synchronise wirelessly and transparently to us and plug all our data into our personal clouds. (Just imagine the possibilities in the social media business if/when this becomes reality. Apple to buy Facebook? Bets anyone?)
Why Monday? Well the time to strike is now, while the iPad commands the consumer mindshare and the iPhone remains dominant in the smartphone market. Right now, Apple have almost the entire world’s attention (at least in the technology space). What wouldn’t you do with that sort of attention? Me, I’d make a big play…
Hey Steve! Have a good show on Monday! Break a leg!