Published on Friday, September 2, 2011

Tech talk: The future of Apple

In the first in a new series of technology features, Yahoo head of partnerships Guy Beresiner examines the impact of the recent resignation of Apple CEO Steve Jobs...

"The explosive way Steve Jobs’ resignation as Apple’s CEO has hit the company is unsurprising. The genius of his designs, the secretive culture he nurtured, and the charisma of the man himself all combined to create a cult following for his business that is unparalleled.

No doubt he will forever be remembered for the impact of his technology on day to day life. But what now for Apple? Jobs has assured his place in history, but is his business now consigned to it? Has Apple done any more than to pioneer technology in a way that it was always destined to evolve?

It has long been a given that mobile devices will eventually replace PCs as the principle way by which people will connect to the internet and organise their lives. This is inevitable with or without Apple’s contribution.What Apple has done is make the first steps into this reality a gorgeous experience for the user.

But the closed culture that Jobs harboured has infiltrated his products, and the platforms on which his devices work are notoriously walled. The user has no choice but to accept the terms and conditions that Apple imposes on their use, reflecting a conceit that it should be considered a privilege to own and use their products.

The spirit of digital is enablement, which allows personalisation, which brings freedom. It’s the ethos for example that Yahoo! lives by: empowering users to make their digital experience as personally relevant to them as possible.

Apple’s products stifle freedom. The Beatles’ catalogue was unavailable on iTunes until recently because of an apparent spat with their record label over trademark. And the reported dispute with Adobe still runs, preventing iPad users from being able to utilise any application that needs Flash to operate. Apple will not bow to mainstream demand if its own demands are not met.

This imposition on the consumer is unsustainable. So far their customers have forgiven Apple for it because the beauty and quality of their products have been unsurpassed, elevating the owner’s social standing. However the kudos of Apple ownership is receding as its devices become commonplace, whilst the competition is catching up and beginning to offer users what they want for a comparable quality and experience. At some point the need for function will overtake the desire for form, and at that point their intransigence could become Apple’s undoing if they do not change.

It remains to be seen whether Tim Cook can recognise this need and change Apple’s stance, whilst there’s still time.Or even whether he wants to; some observe he was Jobs’ chosen successor because he shares the same passion and drive. If he also shares the same commercial principles, all that may soon be left will be a footnote in history that Apple was for a while Jobs’ genius in practice."

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