We're finding out all sorts of things about Steve Jobs now that he's left us. For example, he wanted to crush Android because it was "stealing" from him. That's funny, considering that one of Jobs' pet phrases was "Good artists copy; great artists steal." He knew what he was talking about, since much of Apple's early success can be ascribed to his "theft" of the mouse and GUI from Xerox. We've also learned that his next big idea was to transform the living room with Apple TV sets . That's all well and good, but Jobs is gone now. What should Apple do next?
First, I think it should get out of the intellectual property (IP) lawsuit business. Sure, for the moment, Apple has the upper hand on Samsung -- whose Galaxy Tab tablets seem to have been especially annoying to Jobs -- but as someone who follows IP lawsuits, I'm sure that won't last. Major IP litigation takes years to resolve, goes through ups and downs, and can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. I think Apple would be far better off if it focused its attention on what it has always done extremely well: making the best possible products.
As for the TV business, it's a natural extension of Apple's consumer business. I always thought that Apple TV should have done better than it did in the marketplace. Toward the end of his life, though, Jobs said he had "finally cracked" the creation of an integrated television set that would be seamlessly synced with all of an individual's devices and with iCloud, according to his official biographer, Walter Isaacson. "It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine," Jobs had said.
He didn't live long enough to see an Apple-brand TV on the market, but if he really did "crack" it, I'm sure Apple's engineers are working on it now.
That's for the short run, but what about the longer term? I'm sure Apple will remain the luxury brand for computers, tablets and smartphones for the next three to five years, but what about after that?
I have a few suggestions for CEO Tim Cook. First, seriously try to get into the enterprise market.
Apple killed off its enterprise server product line, Xserve, in November 2010, but it was dead in the water long before then. Xserve's pricing was outrageous. Apple has always found people who felt that an Apple-branded product was worth twice the price of a generic PC, tablet or phone, but it couldn't convince its fans to pay five times more for an enterprise server.
However, Apple might be able to talk its enterprise customers into paying a bit of a premium for Mac OS X-powered business systems. Apple fans have no fondness for Linux or Windows. Why not give them a server-room choice? Think about it. Wouldn't you like to have an Enterprise App store? I know I'd like one-click-install server software.
Cost-conscious businesses are moving servers to the cloud. Why couldn't Apple offer server services on a business iCloud? No, it doesn't have the in-house expertise to do that -- yet. But it could.
Or think about this: Before Tim Cook came to Apple, he spent a lot of his time at IBM as the head of the ThinkPad fulfillment division. That means he's had a lot of experience in working with partners. If Apple were to go to, say, Salesforce.com or SAP and say, "Hey, how would you like to be on the ground floor of an Apple-branded enterprise business cloud that would let all of those Macs, iPhones and iPads use your services with the Mac OS X or iOS interface they already know and love?"
I'd go for it. And as it happens, that idea could be ready to go, with a battle-tested iCloud, in three to five years -- about the time I figure it would take to run through all of Jobs' remaining ideas and get new enterprise initiatives off the ground.
If Apple got serious about the enterprise, would you choose it for your company? I would.
Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bps was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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