Luxury Bauble

Will the Apple Tablet Supplant the Mac?

Bill Snyder's bizarre troll of an article in PC World contained this nugget:

What's more, building a computer based on a mobile OS throws out one of the biggest advances Apple has made in recent years: the ability to run Windows programs natively. And that means that none of your Windows software will work. For that matter, your Mac apps won't run, either.

The battle between MacOS and Windows reminds me of watching partisans debate the merits of the latest American and Russian fighter planes. The Cold War is over, and the drones now rule the skies.

I've often found myself in the thick of OS arguments, and they are real and important to people like me who care about the utility and functionality of the computers we use daily. But these conflicts are products of an era that is on its way out. Over the next few years Apple will face a far different struggle, as it races to define how everyday people will use cloud computing. Google, Microsoft, and Amazon won't be sitting on their asses either.

Apple is already moving fast. Look at the iPod and the iPhone. The primary job of the OS in both devices is to get out of the way. The real stars of the show are iTunes and the App Store. While iTunes is a good piece of client software, its real mojo derives from its ability to get the content you want from the cloud to your device. And the direct integration between the App Store and the iPod/iPhone shows that the iTunes middleman won't be around forever.

Apple has shown a willingness to set fire to its ships in order to conquer new territories. The iPod mini was a runaway success when Apple killed it in favor of the nano. The company has successfully pushed to make laptops the center of gravity for the Macintosh lineup, and the MacBook has been a huge hit. But it wouldn't surprise me if Apple put the hatchet to its baseline notebook, bringing in the tablet as its replacement. Yes, there will be plenty of users who need raw CPU power for apps like Aperture, Final Cut, Photoshop, and so on.

Yes, some business apps also require a lot of juice. Apple has plenty of spiffy Macs to sell you if you need to run Mac and Windows apps. But if you use email, a web browser, and MS Office to get your news, communicate with people, work on documents, crunch numbers, and manage your multimedia library, increasingly the real heavy lifting for all of those activities takes place in the cloud. As for MS Office, the bullseye on Microsoft's bag is big and red. Google and other players have shown that for many if not most documents, the bloated Office pig is unnecessary. Apple has been honing iWork for years. It's not a stretch to envision MobileMe-synchable versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote running on the tablet.

Now imagine purchasing these and other apps from the Tablet Store. The iPhone App Store has been a staggering success as a software distribution platform, and controlling software distribution has been a big part of Apple's success in the 2000s. Why wouldn't Apple leverage the distribution power of an App Store for the tablet? And as more and more apps rely on the cloud, why wouldn't developers continue to follow the money? Apple receives over 10,000 App Store submissions per week.

There are a lot of iPhone developers out there, no matter how you slice the numbers. If Apple makes developing for the tablet only a minor adjustment for iPhone developers, the number of iPhone/tablet developers could soon dwarf the number of Mac developers. As the hardware power of the tablet increases and Apple's integration of device and cloud continues, the Mac may come to be seen as something of a relic, powerful but dated, a muscle car in an electric car era. Will it be 5 years from now when the last Mac rolls off the assembly line? Will it be 10 years?

Whenever it comes, I expect the Mac's demise will come at the hands of its maker, not at the hands of competitors.

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