My last set of year-end retrospectives surprises me, and some Betanews readers may feel the same. Many commenters accuse me of shilling for Apple, of being a fanboy, which I always dismiss. But in looking over my own Apple posts over the last year, I see just how biting are the topics or analyses and wonder what are these fanboy claimers reading. As a group, the posts are insightful — even though some Macheads’ blog rebuttals will assert otherwise. From some one in the Mac camp will come the PC fanboy accusation, which also is untrue.
Unlike the top-10 story lists for Google and Microsoft, this one is more thematic, in part because of CEO Steve Jobs’ incredible visible influence over Apple in 2010, following a media leave due to liver-transplant surgery in 2009. One of the best ways to understand how Apple operates and where it’s going is to understand the mind of Jobs. He gave unusual opportunities to do just that this year. Among the top-five stories on this list, four are specifically about him.
These are the 10 of my Apple stories I believe that you should have read in 2010. The stories are organized by importance, from least to most — that is 10 to 1. I weighed importance based on relevance of the analysis to Apple in 2010 and even in coming years. Not all readers will agree on which is more or less important, or perhaps not at all.
I would like to call out several posts that would have made a longer list: “Apple’s five stages of Google Grieving” (May 24); “Apple’s HTML5 Showcase is rigged” (June 4); “Does Apple demand too much to be cool?” (April 13); and “Clash of the titans: Apple, Google battle for the mobile Web” (April 8). I excluded the last one simply because it made my Google 10 stories list. With that introduction, I present 10 Apple stories that mattered in 2010.
10. “Apple can still win the mobile platform wars, but it won’t be easy“: Which mobile platform will be more successful? Smartphones are but one small measure of success. In October 2009, I asserted that “Apple cannot win the smartphone wars.” Pundits predict iPhone’s death brattle before the great Android god. I wouldn’t write off Apple just yet. The mobile wars are bigger than smartphones, as Apple already has shown. Also, market share is but one measure of success. Money is more important, and Apple rakes in nearly $600 for every iPhone. I don’t believe that Apple can win the smartphone wars, but there’s still a chance to win the broader mobile platform device wars. It won’t be easy. Posted: August 13.
9. “Is Apple No. 1 and not No. 3 in U.S. PC shipments?”: It’s a follow-up question to another question posed in late August: “Is Apple the real U.S. PC market share leader — or soon will be?” I ask both questions based on another: Is iPad a personal computer? I assert “Yes” based on function, but neither Gartner nor IDC, which both released preliminary third-quarter PC shipment data in October, classify iPad as a PC. Right now, iPad isn’t really counted anywhere, despite generating $2.17 billion in new revenue during the launch quarter. If iPad is counted as a PC, then based on analysts’ projected tablet shipments and IDC’s Q3 data, Apple could rank as No. 1 in the United States. What is iPad then?
The analyst firms later released data classifying iPad as a media tablet. Gartner predicted media tablets would cannibalize 10 percent of PC sales in a few years. If tablets are replacing PCs, shouldn’t they be counted that way? Posted: October 14.
8. “I was wrong about Apple iPad“: The world does need an Apple tablet — and perhaps others — contrary to what I asserted in late January post: “The world doesn’t need an Apple tablet, or any other.” Gloaters will circle my admission like vultures pecking a carcass, but that’s the penalty for being wrong. Yes, I was wrong. I admit it.
The gloaters came, and supporters too. Some people wrongly presumed I changed my position because of iPad sales, which were mere projections then. It was the immersive reading experience that got me, particularly after seeing the “Wired” app — and months later Virgin’s “Project.” Additionally, I asserted: “The iPad is a remedy for distraction while letting users reap the Internet’s benefits.” Posted: June 15.
7. “Of course media bias favors Apple“: This commentary and its companion, “Be smart, don’t buy into iPad hype”, question why analysts, bloggers and journalists give so much positive attention to Apple. The state of the news media: Gossip and rumors are rapidly replacing factual reporting — in large part driven by the Google economy. No company is benefitting more than Apple. The hype is in part driven by the large number of bloggers and journalists using Macs — the same kind of inherent bias (from Windows users) benefitting Microsoft a computing generation ago. There are also the investors and Wall Street analysts who recognize how much rumors can lift (or collapse) Apple’s share price. Who benefits when analysts write favorably about Apple, but don’t disclose theirs or their clients’ investments and potential conflicts of interest? Posted: March 21.
6. “iPhone 4 isn’t one launch but a series of smaller announcements timed to drive up Apple’s stock price“: Apple is carefully manipulating its share price by the timing of certain product announcements; iPhone 4 is the clearest, recent example. Not that the manipulation is new. In December 2009 I asked: “Are Apple stock price gains the reason for recent tablet rumors?” The answer was an unequivocal “Yes!” based on how share price gains align with rumors — and Apple announcements that follow. To be clear: In asserting manipulation, I don’t suggest someone is breaking the law or acting unethically. I liken it to a puppeteer masterfully and artistically moving marionettes across a stage. With respect to its share price, Apple is carefully timing certain announcements for maximum share gains.
I’m surprised how little analysis there has been about how Apple manages perception through carefully timed announcements or leaks. The stock hit a 52-week high this week, of $326.66, by the way. Posted: June 21.
5. “Sorry, Steve Jobs, search is happening on smartphones“: In early summer, Compete put to shame Jobs’ ridiculous April assertion that “search is not happening on phones.” According to the analyst firm, search is indeed happening on mobile phones — 55 percent of smartphone owners have searched locally from their handsets; on average, 15 percent locally search at least once a week. The news that search is happening on phones is good for Google, which has continually updated mobile search features, particularly in 2010, with Android getting a little extra juice over iOS (at least with what rolls out to which mobile operating system first). Then there is all the “stuff” Google wraps around mobile search, particularly the local variety, such as keyword advertising.
Smartphone owners use of local search in part explains Google’s attempt to buy Groupon, which rejected a $6 billion bid in early December. Posted: July 6.
4. “What is Steve Jobs Afraid of?:” Apple’s CEO made a surprise appearance during the company’s fiscal 2010 fourth quarter earnings call. Jobs said he couldn’t resist participating, given Apple’s record $20.34 billion revenue. But he leveled most of his comments at competitors, and in quite defensive posture. Nearly every Jobs’ statement effused defensiveness. I expected more confidence from the legendary Steve Jobs and speaking from position of strength.
Several commenters pointed to Daniel Eran’s post ripping me and defending Jobs. Eran’s core defense was simply that Jobs made the kind of competitor comments that any CEO would make. Right, but other chief executives often do that from position of weakness — bravado by, say, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talking about catching Google in search or dismissing iPhone or iPad as insignificant. That Jobs’ competitor attacks came from a position of strength, where he shouldn’t feel insecure, reveals something important about his psychology and thinking that is essential to understand when looking at where Apple is going and what its influence will be. Posted: October 19.
3. “Steve Jobs shows little remorse about iPhone 4 Death Grip — should he?“: Apple CEO’s handling of the press conference announcing free iPhone 4 cases reveals something more about the psychology and thinking of the man. Jobs was harried and hurried and didn’t play the “We’re sorry” role very well. There was no real apology, but plenty of justification. Death Grip, where the signal strength meter declines when iPhone is held in the hand, was the gripping business and tech story of the summer. I found Jobs’ excuse for why people are seeing Death Grip the lamest of all — the relatively small number of cases available at launch. The reasoning: If there had been more cases, fewer people would be holding the phone directly. Posted: July 16.
2. “Steve Jobs ‘Thoughts on Flash’ is just smoke“: Jobs’ “Thoughts on Flash” memo is a rare glimpse into the mind of the rarest breed: A high-tech, cult figure who isn’t a geek. Apple posted the nearly 1,700-word essay earlier in late April, in response to the ongoing debate about Adobe Flash on iPhone OS devices. One-sidedness seeps through nearly all of Jobs’ six no-Flash justifications. I don’t doubt his sincerity about wanting to protect the iPhone OS device user experience, but there’s more. Apple calls iPad “magical and revolutionary,” but the same phrase applies to Jobs’ ability to make so reasonable arguments that emphasize the positives benefitting Apple products, while de-emphasizing or even ignoring the negatives — or facts! As I stated in February, “Apple’s problem with Flash is mobile applications competition.” Apple wants to control the development stack — plain, pure and simple.
Apple later shipped two new MacBook Air models without Flash installed. Posted: April 29.
1. “Apple is the new AOL and new Microsoft, and whoa that can’t be a good thing“: Two astoundingly good analyses hit the InterWebs over the US Memorial Day holiday weekend: John Battelle’s “Is The iPad A Disappointment? Depends When You Sold Your AOL Stock” and Kroc Camen’s “Will Apple Embrace the Web? No.” Battelle and Camen come at the topic from different directions, but end up at the same destination: The web will be easier to use on iPhone OS devices, but Apple will confine consumers and developers to its, ah, walled apple grove. The open web ultimately threatens Apple’s business model. Posted: June 1.