Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Since I have nothing better to do tonight

Everyone seems to be talking about the iPad so I guess I may as well pile on.

It seems like a spiffy gadget. It lets you read books, watch videos, check email, browse the web, and make julienne fries. But there is one very important thing that it doesn't do: it doesn't run Microsoft Office. And it never will.

But it runs iWork.

There has been a lot of speculation about why the iPad, like the iPhone before it, is closed and why Apple is exercising such draconian control over the software that can run on it. Some people think it's just a mistake. Some people think it's because Steve Jobs is a perfectionist and a control freak.

I think it's because Steve Jobs wants to crush Microsoft and grind it into oblivion. And the best way to do that is to create a world where Microsoft doesn't even exist, and then lead people into that world.

The iPad is that world.

Think about it. Why would Apple bother developing an office suite? It's a huge amount of work, and everyone knows that a frontal assault on Microsoft's position in that space is hopeless. iWork has never been front-and-center in Apple's product line. It's probably lost them a huge amount of money. Why did they do it?

I think it's all part of the Grand Plan. Apple started by leveraging its software expertise to develop a better way for people to buy music. Now they are extending that same model to make it easier for them to buy books and magazines. Amazon's Kindle tried to do that too, but the problem with the Kindle is it's a unitasker. It does a respectable job of letting you read a book, but that's all it does. The iPad does it all.

Including letting you run iWork. But not (are you starting to see a pattern here?) Office.

iWork has a good chance of displacing Office not by being better than Office, but by rendering Office superfluous. People won't buy iPads to run iWork. They'll buy them to read books, watch videos, play games, and surf the web. iWork will just sort of come along for the ride. And one day the sun will rise on a world where a critical mass of people will suddenly realize that, you know, iWork seems to get the job done on our iPads, do we really need to shell out $400 to run Office on our desktops?

And on that day Microsoft will be toast.

Ironically, despite the fact that I am a card-carrying Microsoft-hater, I will not be celebrating their demise if it comes about in this way. I am a big fan of open systems. I adore my Mac, but I have a love-hate relationship with my iPhone. It's a really neat, almost miraculous gadget. But I hate the fact that I am beholden to Apple in what I can and can't do with it.

There's one other cogent observation that seems to have gotten lost in the twilight zone between hype and grumbling: it's not just Apple's hardware that is remarkably innovative and effective, but their marketing is noteworthy as well.

Apple has figured out what the entire world wants and it is magic and revolution. That’s how they’re selling it. They figure the only people who won’t want an iPad are people who don’t like magic.

Tent revivalists have known this for hundreds of years. I wonder why it's such a hard lesson for technical people (and atheists) to learn.

By the way, did anyone notice that the President gave the State of the Union speech today?


Prateek Sharma said...

That is a plausible 'plan' that Apple might have to counter Office. However they could have atleast tried not to make iWork ridiculously underpowered and bug ridden.
And besides, iWork doesnt even support ODF the last i checked.

Ross said...

Apple will have to get in line with Google to have their own little MS-free environment with an office suite and everything else you might need available for free.

This is what Google Apps and the Chrome OS netbooks are all about. Apple and Google would do well to collaborate instead of compete in this space. But Apple would have to open up. Google doesn't want to be a hardware maker, but it does want to make sure that there is always open hardware.

Be interesting if Apple could open up and join in the fun.