The agony and the irony of Tim Cook

Steve Jobs and Tim CookWhen Tim Cook took over as permanent CEO of Apple in 2011, he brought his unmatched, incredible decade-long track record as the Mozart of supply chain management. Under Jobs II, Apple got rid of its factories and outsourced all its manufacturing to quicker, cheaper Asian builders. Overhead was slashed, flexibility enhanced. As the iPod business grew into a titan, Cook was striking better deals, setting up faster supply chains, keeping the trains moving on time and frying it up in a pan.

And so when Cook took over as CEO, the fears and warnings were about everything else — how would Apple’s sense of style and design survive without Jobs? What would happen to innovation and creativity? Would there ever be another massively market disruptive product like the iPhone or the iPad again? No one — NO ONE — said wow, I wonder if Cook is up to the task of scaling Apple’s manufacturing and supply chain to deal with its tremendous rate of growth.

And then came the fourth quarter of 2012. Apple had an amazing, record breaking three months but it was not as big as it could have been and not as big as some Apple shareholders wanted. Listen to Cook on the company’s call with stock analysts today¹. What happened with iPhone sales? Supply constraints hampered sales, even of the older models. What about iPads? Couldn’t make enough iPads to satisfy demand. And even the lowly iMac? Took too long to bake ’em.

Cook emphasized the pent up demand. He wants you to think that all those unsatisfied customers are waiting, sitting on their hands (and credit cards) until Apple catches up. And I’m sure that’s true in some cases. But this was the holiday quarter, the quarter with Black Friday so named for as the day when the frenzy of sales pushes retailers into profits for the whole year. A lot of those iPads, iMacs and iPhones that were going under the tree (or the menorah), got replaced with something else, be it a Galaxy Tab, Coach briefcase or North Face winter running outfit.

For what it’s worth, I buy the explanation. I don’t think that the Apple gloom and doomers have it right, at all. This wasn’t the beginning of the end for Apple, not by a long shot. But irony of ironies, Cook aced the innovation, offered much sought after new products (maybe too many, introduced too close to the holidays, though) and then flunked the execution worse than Tom Brady’s fourth quarter comeback attempt against the Ravens last week. Ugly.


¹”We did have significant shortages due to robust demand on both iPad mini and both models of the iMac that persisted the entire quarter. And we are still short of both of those today as the matter of fact. Additionally, supply of iPhone 5 which short to demand until late in the quarter and iPhone 4 was short for the entire quarter, we believe that we can achieve a supply demand balance on iPad mini during this quarter and on iPhone 4 during this quarter. On iMac, we are confident that we are going to significantly increase the supply, but the demand here is very strong and we are not certain that we will achieve a supply demand balance during the quarter.” -Tim Cook, Jan 23, 2013 conference call


One of these things is not like the other: Apple store, Microsoft store

Boston Apple store I was an hour early for dinner with fabulous wife Whitney Connaughton and friends last Friday so I thought I’d tool around the local Apple store for a bit. The Back Bay Apple store in Boston is a thing of beauty — and it only took two years to get Boston’s historical commission to approve the design.

It’s a typical big format Apple store. I took some cool pictures and got to meet Ron Johnson back in 2008 when it opened. Spinning off the central spiral staircase, the store is spread over three floors with computers mostly the focus on one, iPhones, iPods and accessories on two and training space and more accessories on three. I needed to get Whitney a keyboard for her iPad and selected this lovely one from Logitech. I was surprised to discover that there were no wandering, wireless cashiers in the store. I actually had to go back down to the second floor and wait in line — the horror — to get to a regular register to pay.

One aspect was completely consistent with every other Apple store visit I’ve ever made. Not only were there tons of people in the store, there were tons of people buying stuff — all kinds of stuff — in the store. It’s one of those amazing retail chains like Target, Costco and Whole Foods where there just seems to be something in the air that makes people want to empty their wallets and purses at high speed.

Mission completed, I crossed the street to the Prudential Center mall where I was surprised to see, right at the very center of it all and in the highest foot traffic spot, a brand new Microsoft store. On first glance, it looked just as busy as the Apple store.

Boston Microsoft store

I cruised around the store and noticed a few things right away. Although well staffed and attractive, it was a lot more cramped and harder to move through than any Apple store. Also, the tables featured a wide mix of brands. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but I noticed laptops from Acer, Vizio, Samsung and all-in-one type PCs from Lenovo and HP, I think. Most were running Windows 7 although there were a few computers and tablets running Windows 8 to try — not to buy. They definitely did not have the Lenovo X1 Carbon I have my eye on, however. Phones from Nokia and others were all running older versions of Windows Phone, not the new 8 system.

There were also XBox stations set up at each end of the store and lots of people were playing or watching others play. All of the accessories, like laptop cases and boxed software, were set on shelves at the two ends of the store. Yep, right below the XBox television screens thus requiring a potential customer to get in way of all those people focused on the XBox playing. So the physical layout left a lot to be desired.

But the punchline, of course, was that in the 20 minutes I spent perusing the store I did not see a single person buy anything. Not one thing. Why would that be? I’m open to anyone’s theories. A couple of things occured to me:

  • Lack of consistency: At Apple, distinct areas of each store are dedicated to one thing, such as iPods or laptops. In each area, there’s just a whole bunch of the same machines to play with. The message is pretty clear and there’s not much comparing to be done. At Microsoft, too much was jumbled together and yet everything was split apart. I am in the market for a laptop. Should I go to the table called “laptops,” “ultrabooks” or “entertainment laptops”? And each table had a half dozen compeletly different models each with its own tiny sign filled with tiny print showing the specs.
  • Poor layout: As I mentioned above, everything felt cramped, packed together and in the way of everything else. I went to look at the laptop cases but quickly realized I was blocking the view of some people watching an XBox player on a big screen TV on the wall above where the cases were. Embarrassing. And where would I pay? No idea. It made me feel confused. So cramped, embarrased and confused. Not emotions I associate with a positive buying experience.
  • Mixed branding: People see Apple ads on TV or otherwise decide they want to buy an Apple product. So they head to an Apple store. Makes sense. I see a Samsung ad on TV. Where do I go? Is there a Samsung store? What do they have to do with Microsoft? Is Samsung’s Android phone there? I want a Lenovo laptop running Microsoft Windows. It’s actually not here.

Other thoughts?

p.s. Dinner was at Bin 26 Enoteca, an upscale Italian place on Charles Street near the Boston Common with good food and a ridiculous wine list. Recommended.

The future of Apple computing isn’t all led by Apple

There’s a great video up on Macworld’s site of a conversation between four highly knowledgeable Mac pundits about the “future of the Mac.” The participants were Daringfireball’s John Gruber and Tidbits’ Adam Engst along with Jason Snell and Dan Moren from Macworld. The discussion was interesting and worth the 48 minutes or so of my time, but I was struck by one kind of shocking oversight or blind spot demonstrated by all four panelists. In looking to the future of the Mac, there was hardly any mention of any products, services or software besides Apple’s. I think Dropbox may have been the only non-Apple company mentioned in a forward-looking way.

That’s a real shame because while Apple has led the personal computing revolution for pretty much the last decade, whether it be via Mac OS X, the iMac, the MacBook, the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, iPad etc, there have been plenty of important developments from others and plenty of misfires from Apple. And Apple is far too smart to ignore what others are doing well. The future of the Mac will most likely involve a fruitful and innovative mash-up of the best ideas both from within and without Apple.

Start, at the top, with Google. Clearly the future of the Mac is going to be more cloud-based. Apple has built a huge and mysterious server farm in North Carolina, principal purpose TBA. The newest MacBook Airs are also clearly intended to be more cloud-connected. But Apple is not a pioneer in cloud services — the opposite in fact. There’s no Apple cloud video or music services yet and its MobileMe offering is so overpriced and lacking as to be a joke to even many of the Mac faithful like me.

I’ve been a paying MobileMe subscriber for many, many years. In the beginning, I used web hosting, web-based email, web bookmarks list, syncing of data across multiple Macs and even paid for extra space to use for cloud backup and file sharing. In the past few years, though, competitors have surpassed MobileMe in nearly every area and I find the only thing I really need it for anymore is automatic syncing of my Mac address book. Gmail is the best web mail, Firefox syncs my bookmarks, Dropbox and Mozy do cloud-based file storage and backup and Bluehost and WordPress do my web sites. If Google improved its Contacts service, which needs a HUGE amount of improvement, I might not rely on MobileMe for anything anymore at all.

A second area of focus for future computing developments will come from cloud-based entertainment. For a while, Apple seemed to be almost purposely ignoring the potential. The second-gen Apple TV finally seems to be a recognition that streaming video is the best option for many scenarios but Netflix, Amazon, Xbox, Tivo and others have been here for a while. Streaming music from Spotify, Rhapsody, Napster and others also beats iTunes in some ways. I love the model popularized by services like Amazon’s Kindle and its online video store, where the company maintains all your content in the cloud for download to your various devices whenever and where ever you want. And it’s galactically simpler than maintaining an iTunes server in your home. Don’t even get me started on the mess Apple made of our various iTunes libraries with the iTunes Plus upgrade program. Blech!

In the Amazon model, if I want to read a new book on my Kindle on the train to work, I buy it and download it there. Later in bed, I have my iPad and I download it there. A few weeks later, I need to quote a passage at work so I fire up the Kindle for Mac program and access it there. I wish iTunes worked the same way for all the zillions of dollars I have spent on movies, TV shows, music and, now, apps.

Finally, not all hardware innovation arises out of Cupertino’s labs. As I blogged about yesterday, I think the new Motorola Atrix 4G smartphone is the first step towards a promising converged computing future. The Atrix has a speedy dual core processor, up to 48 GB of storage and fourth-generation mobile connectivity (I know, I know, AT&T’s 4th gen network is kind of bogus, but roll with me). Its HDMI port is capable of outputting high-definition video. A notebook shell dock turns the Atrix into a laptop and a media dock and wireless remote connect it to a TV.

(Update 2/3/11 – oops, Motorola seems to be way overpricing the laptop dock)

Once upon a time, laptops were so underpowered and expensive relative to desktop computers, few people could really function with just a laptop. But Moore’s law and all that has brought us such ultra-powerful laptops that it’s now the norm. Personally, I rely on my 13″ MacBook Pro Mac PowerBook as my sole machine (with external storage and the fantabulous Apple LED Cinema Display as my dock at home). In a few more years, with super-powered smart phones, proliferating docking options and cloud-based storage and services, the Atrix model will predominate. Peter Rojas’s great proposal to standardize docking interfaces also makes a lot of sense in this future.

And just as a final aside on the Macworld panel, I think the future of desktop computing will not be the iOS “every app in full screen” model, which the panel seemed to think was a real possibility. Lots of research has been done showing people are more productive using larger screens and multiple screens to keep more of their work in front of their eyes. Right now, I have MarsEdit open to write this post, two browser windows for finding links and background material and a Skitch window for grabbing screenshots. If I had to hit control-tab or something every time I wanted to remember what i had just read or to see the web page I needed to reference in this blog post, I think I’d go batty.

I found it a little condescending the way the panel seemed to assume the most important or most common user of the future would be the your-65-year-old-mom type. In fact, if anything, I think younger generations are more comfortable with all things computer-y, even the wild and crazy practices of having multiple windows open on-screen and having files stored in a “documents” folder.

NB This essay was inspired in part by that kitschy, trashy 1990s television show Time Trax. You remember, the one with the future cop who traveled back to 1993 with a super-computer-powered credit card.

Your thoughts, arguments and corrections, as always, welcomed in the comments.

Why can’t anyone compare iTunes store video to Android’s offerings?

The other day, Josh Topolsky at Engadget published a lengthy and detailed review of the new Samsung Nexus S smartphone which runs the very latest version of Google’s Android operating system. The 3,300 word review seemingly runs through every feature, includes a dozen or more pictures and generally appears to be the most thorough run down of the hardware and software imaginable.

But nowhere, not in one single place, in the whole review, did Topolsky mention watching TV shows and movies on the phone. Venture capitalist and blogger Bijan Sabet, who’s a pretty big Android fan, has also been blogging about his experiences with the S and, again, nothing about commercial video (I even asked in the comments). The Christian Science Monitor even did this nifty round-up with links to a bunch of reviews and you can click through all you want but still find out nothing about video purchases.

It’s actually become a huge problem in the product reviewing blogosphere — seemingly no one can tell you anything about purchasing, downloading and watching commercial video programming on Android devices. Ben Brooks wrote a loooong review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and, again, no video mention¹. I mean, isn’t it a core use of tablets to watch movies and stuff? Come on, world o’ gadget reviewers!

It’s not because there isn’t any. A friend has the new HTC EVO Android phone operating on Sprint’s 4th generation mobile broadband network. It has some sort of Sprint video application that lists dozens of movies and TV shows (there’s some guidance on this Sprint TV web page). I’d have to say it’s an ugly mess with some channels operating on a schedule and others “on demand.” Some basic set of channels is included but others are packaged in tiers just like the bad old cable box at home. As far as I could tell all the content was streamed — no Internet signal, no video.

On the Apple side of the fence, of course, it’s trivial to assess what video programming is available for Apple’s iPhone/iPod/iPad universe — just go and look. The iTunes store has a dazzling array of movies and TV shows. Prices are pretty standardized and content is available for rental or purchase. It’s silly to even discuss in detail. Recently, I wanted to catch up on the BBC/PBS modern-day series of Sherlock Holmes. It’s on iTunes in standard or high-def. Bing. Gift the PBS series from a few years ago, On the road again: Spain, to a friend? Bam. Rent Ed Burn’s new movie, Nice Guy Johnny, to watch on an iPad? Bada-bing.

So what about Android? Can you rent movies for any or all Android devices? Or is it a carrier by carrier questions? Where’s the comparison of what they offer? Are you dependent on some third-party sources like Netflix? Without more and better reviews, it’s very hard to make the decision to abandon the Apple mobile world.


¹I emailed Ben and he replied “Depends on the carrier, though there may be apps that can do it – I didn’t investigate that. I also don’t have the device any longer to check.”

Free Kindle apps getting magazines, lending coming too

I’m not sure what Kindle whiners are going to have left to whine about by next year (well, yes I do, DRM, but I digress…). Some big news emerged on Amazon’s Kindle discussion board the other day.

First, the Kindle team revealed that you’re soon going to be able to read electronic newspapers and magazines on any of the various Kindle apps. Right now, you can only read subscriptions on a hardware Kindle. That’s going to be huge in establishing Kindle’s position as the leading e-reading ecosystem. Many is the time I have wished to read a New Yorker article on my iPhone but my Kindle subscription won’t go there. The post explains:

“Our vision is Buy Once, Read Everywhere, and we’re excited to make this possible for Kindle periodicals in the same way that it works now for Kindle books. More details when we launch this in the coming weeks.”

In addition to being a great feature, this goes right to the heart of a common misunderstanding of the Kindle ecosystem. Amazon is running both the hardware reader business and the e-bookstore business as separate, money-making operations. It’s not a razor blades and razors business.

The second big change sounds great but will likely be less great in practice. Starting soon, you will — in theory — be able to lend out ebooks you’ve bought to anyone else who has a Kindle acount. Loans last for 14 days and you can’t read an ebook during the period you’ve loaned it out, obviously.

Why great only in theory? Amazon has to give publishers a say in whether the lending feature will be available on any particular ebook. Based on how few ebooks support Kindle’s read-out-loud feature, I’m guessing most major publishers will be hitting the “no lending” button all the while continuing to spout off about the value of books. Blech. They’d have a lot more credibility if they treated customers with respect and offered the same economic bargain available with print books, including lending and resale rights.

Caught up with too many remote controls for the home theater

One of the biggest problems so far with our home theater set-up is juggling the three remote controls plus keyboard/track pad needed to operate all the various devices.

The Samsung TV has a control as does the Samsung Blu-Ray player. Each of those two controls can sort of control some of the functions of the other’s but there are maddening gaps in functionality. The Tivo also has a remote that partially control the TV set, but not the disc player (oh how I miss my first generation Tivo Toshiba box with built in DVD player).

Seems maddening that even the two remotes from Samsung aren’t interchangeable. For example, either the TV or the disc controller can switch input sources. But one particularly annoying problem is when you change the input, a hideous semi-transparent pop-out menu continues to block more than half of the screen for 5 minutes after you’ve made your selection unless you hit the “exit” key on the TV remote. There’s an exit key on the disc player remote, too, but it doesn’t make the menu go away. The TV remote has no “menu” button for skipping annoying previews on DVDs. And the Tivo remote can change inputs but can’t make the ugly menu disappear. All three can change the TV volume. Hooray!

Using the attached Mac mini requires changing the input source via one of the three remote controls, hitting the “exit” button on the TV remote and then picking up our Logitech Novo keyboard. That was to be expected, but seeing as it’s the fourth input tool, it’s not helping our perception problem here.

Possible solutions? One would be to shell out for yet another remote, a universal remote. Logitech’s Harmony remotes seem to have a lot of functions but the versions that are simplest to operate cost a lot of money. For even more money, Phillips has its line of Pronto universal remotes that look really cool (pictured below) and can even control your lights, your thermostat and so on. May be hard to program, however, according to some reviewers. Samsung makes a universal remote but it’s not Tivo compatible. I wonder if it has an “exit” button.

Phillips Pronto universal remote

Another angle of attack is the doo-hicky you can attach to an iPhone or iPod touch that will allow it to send out signals just like the TV remotes. One called the L5 Remote includes a cool red plastic doo-hickey. Thinkflood’s RedEye seems to translate controls commands sent over wifi from your iPhone into IR codes that your TV can understand. The problem here is keeping your iWhatever in the vicinity of the TV or some kid detaching the doo-hickey and losing it.

So any suggestions out there in the peanut gallery? Anybody have experience with any of these alternatives?

This post is part of a continuing series about using a brand new Mac Mini with an HDMI port (purchased in June 2010) connected to a high-definition television. To read all of our adventures jumping through hoops, losing remotes and forgetting the password to bypass parental controls, see this page with all my DIY home theater posts.

What Steve Jobs actually said about iBooks market share

There’s been a bit of controversy about what Steve Jobs said yesterday (video here) in regard to the market share of the new iBookstore. To recall, Apple opened a new front in the electronic book wars when it introduced iBooks alongside the iPad two months ago. iBooks, sold in a proprietary DRM-locked format only at Apple’s iBookstore, can be read only on iPads right now with an app for iPhones and iPod Touches coming soon. Here’s what Jobs’ said yesterday in San Francisco:

I’ve got a few stats today for you. In the first 65 days, users have downloaded over 5 million books and that is about two and  half books per iPad which is terrific. The other interesting thing is the five of the six biggest publishers in the US who have their books on the iBookstore tell us that the share of ebooks now that are going through the iBookstore now is about 22 percent. So iBooks market share now of ebooks from five of these six major publishers is up to 22 percent in just about 8 weeks. And, as we ship more iPads, that number is just going to keep going up and up and up and we’re really thrilled with it.

So, Jobs did properly limit his description of iBooks “market share” as being just about US sales of ebooks by the five big publishers participating in Apple’s offering. With one biggie opting out so far (Random House) and no global sales included, the 22% figure obviously wildly overstates Apple’s real market share in ebooks.

So why were some people confused? I’d say it’s all Apple’s fault. First for not streaming Jobs’ keynote live to everybody and, second, for including the slide pictured at the top of this post which simply says “Share of total eBook sales.” That’s not accurate.

Recommending the Vers 1.5R clock/radio for iPod

Just a quick entry today. We’ve been looking for new something or other to put on the bedside table that’s iPod-compatible, nice looking and includes an alarm clock and AM/FM radio. Turns out, that’s a tougher slate of requirements to fill than expected. Most of the iPod-compatible clock/radios are either on the ugly side or don’t have AM/FM radios.

Then I discovered a cool offering from Vers Audio. It’s called the 1.5R radio/alarm clock for iPod. It’s small and comes in a couple good looking wood finishes like cherry, walnut and bamboo or a white glossy look. The front is very plain, with the black cloth speaker grill, small bluish clock/radio display and two friendly dials (which control volume and tuning). Most of the controls, including the incredibly important and easily reached “snooze” button are on top.

Feature-wise, the 1.5R has two alarms, an iPod dock that fits all the usual dock adaptors, a backlit LCD display and so on. It has plugs on the bottom for audio in and audio out (3.5 mm). The dimensions of the whole unit are 8.2″ long by 6.7″ deep by 5.6″ high.

The sound quality is superb for such a small device, which I’m sure relates to the design but I’m not enough of an audiophile to explain why. Bass seems to emanate from a separate speaker bit in the back. Vers offers quite a bit of explanation but I have no idea if what they’re saying is accurate.

There are a few extras. The remote control is, well, fine. Not much need for it so far. There are also external AM and FM antennas which can be attached if the internal antennas aren’t adequate for reception in your local area.

For what it’s worth, when I plugged my iPhone into the dock, the iPhone beeped and told me it might interfere with the reception of my device and did I want it to go into “airplane” mode. Handy. Not sure I noticed any difference in radio reception with all the iPhone’s various wireless bits running, bit glad to know someone is watching out for me.

And that’s about it. A handsome, full-featured clock/radio that’s iPod compatible. Check.

p.s. Changed my header image today with a Spring update. Taken with the awesome new pocket cam, Canon’s S90. More on the camera here for now — blog review coming soon.

Apple’s iPad may be the perfect computer for kids

I’m excited about Apple’s new iPad for a couple of reasons. While a lot of the iPad’s features and services had been leaked in advance, I found myself gasping along with the audience in San Francisco when the price was announced. This is a product that is going to have vastly more impact for under $500 than it would have had at $800 or $1,000. And as I’ve pondered the iPad’s possibilities for the past day or so, one particular use has begun to dominate my thinking and that’s the iPad as the perfect starter computer for my pre-teen kids.

The three kids in our family are a pretty tech savvy bunch, with their iPods and Nintendos, PSPs and Wii. They’re also happy for all the time they can get with mom and dad’s laptops, desktops and the Kindle. They know how to work Tivo, download from iTunes and find stuff on YouTube. They need a lot of supervision and we’re seemingly forever in search of the perfect parental controls and web filters that will let them access all that’s good and fun while protecting them from all the garbage and viruses and worse.

But I have to say, the more I think about it, the more perfect the iPad seems as a solution. One of the biggest problem the kids have is dealing with the complexity and fragile nature of our current computers, running either Mac or Windows. It’s just too easy for the mouse cursor to get lost, file systems to overwhelm and key settings to get munged. On one computer the kids use, flash was somehow disabled one day and won’t come back no matter how much re-installing and uninstalling I’ve done. Another laptop last only a few weeks before they had it unable to boot. It’s not maliciousness or ignorance on their part. Modern PCs just remain pretty darn delicate and temperamental beasts.

The iPad does away with much of this complexity and hides much of what ails the modern PC. Simple is good. No mouse — use your finger. No searching for missing files — they’re all inside each application just when you want them. And no complicated and mysterious settings and system files just waiting to be accidentally deleted. Some people call the iPad/iPhone software platform a “sandbox” due to its limitations but what better metaphor for the kind of computing environment my kids need than a sandbox?

The kids get homework but they hardly need a full-powered copy of Word or Excel to complete it. The iWorks programs look more than adequate. They need a physical keyboard, I’d expect, for the occasional short essay but thankfully Steve Jobs has seen fit — finally — to let use Bluetooth keyboards with the iPad (a feature that would REALLY come in handy with the iPhone, but I digress). And they need a browser but one simpler and safer from malware than the average copy on a PC.

Of course, like all their little digerati friends, the kids are both big consumers and producers of digital media. They take pictures and make movies, record their own songs and even try their hand at blogging. They watch shows downloaded from iTunes or the Tivo or on YouTube or other sites. They play with Ze Frank’s funny frog, use Club Penguin and all the wonderful games PBS has created to accompany its television shows. Flash limitations aside, I think they can do most or all of this stuff on the iPad. And once Amazon ports its Kindle app, they won’t even have to borrow mine anymore. Hallelujah.

I’ve got a couple of months to keep thinking about this and I’m interested in your thoughts as well as the likely stream of additional information that will be flowing out of Cupertino. On the parental controls front, for example, I’m disappointed with what Apple offers for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform and I’m hoping for far more on the iPad. For homework, we’re really going to need to be able to connect to a printer, too. So please weigh in if you have any thoughts and stay tuned for more details.

UPDATE: Over on Twitter, Mark Nikolewski says his four- and seven-year-olds mainly use web sites with embedded games and videos that rely on Adobe’s flash plug-in. There’s no flash on the iPhone and so far none on the iPad. This is a problem but maybe Apple and Adobe get with it? Wired, John Gruber and other Mac followers are less than optimistic. Web sites could, however, offer alternatives if the iPad caught on. They already do so in some cases for the iPhone. Why wouldn’t Disney, with Steve Jobs on the board, want to make an iPad app version of Club Penguin, for example?

UPDATE2: A couple of other folks channeling this same idea include Warren Buckleitner over on the New York Times Gadgetwise blog and, surprisingly, Dallas Mavericks owner and frequent Internet buffoon Mark Cuban. He’s right on when he writes:

It will be the product that kids of this generation grow up with and look back on with affection just like we did with the first video games. Video games changed how we grew up. The iPad will change how kids today grow up.

Will Apple continue to allow competing ebook reading apps?

There are many, many unanswered questions about Apple’s forthcoming tablet computing device, or the “God tablet” perhaps I should call it. For those of us particularly concerned about the future of electronic books, I have one pointed question for Apple. Will the company, which at times acts against its own customer interests, allow competing ebook vendors like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony onto its new tablet? Or will it boot the competition in favor of its own iTunes ebook store? You know, one ereader to rule them all and in the darkness bind them…

There’s little question among the Mac-erati that the tablet will follow the software model of the iPhone/iPod Touch and not the Mac itself. That is, customers will not be allowed to load any software they want. Customers will be limited to software offered at Apple’s iTunes app store. Apple has been much and rightly criticized for its slow and ham-handed management of the app store approval process.

But at least for right now, Apple is letting all of its potential ebook competitors offer ebook reading apps. The Kindle iPhone app is usually the top-ranked download in the book section and B&N’s app is usually second or third. If Apple sticks with this policy and just adds its own ebook store, likely with its own proprietary digital rights management lockdowned formatting, I don’t think Apple is going to have much impact on the ebook market.

Why no impact? After cozying up to the music labels and granting them an unprecedented 30% price hike last year, Apple now appears to be sucking up to book publishers. Apple will reportedly let publishers set prices and conditions for sales of all ebooks on its new platform. That’s a recipe for disaster with consumers. Publishers want to keep prices high and further reduce the value of ebooks by limiting the ability to share or resell them, prohibit computerized audio reading and generally delay the inevitable as long as possible.

To see just how little traction this kind of strategy is likely to garner, recall Apple’s former darling ebook app vendor, Scrollmotion, and its hideously overpriced Iceberg reader app. Given prime stage time at last June’s World Wide Developer Conference, Scrollmotion charges full print retail prices for ebooks that can only be read on the iPhone. I’ve rarely seen any of their editions on the top 100 best-selling apps in the books category and you don’t even hear them mentioned by Apple or publishers anymore.

But – here’s the big but – what if Apple yanks ebook competitors out of the app store. There’s some slight precedent for that after the Google Voice debacle, when Apple not only declined to approve Google’s app but went back and yanked a few minor apps that also worked with GV. On the other hand, federal regulators are looking into the GV debacle, so there may be too much pressure on Apple to pull another fast one.

If Apple does pull competitors off the entire iPhone platform, then you’d have to give their publisher-loving, consumer-hating ebook strategy more of a chance. I think it would have more of a chance of holding back the whole market than taking over the whole market but who knows.

Publishers could also “help” if they follow what I call the “slow boil a frog” strategy. That was the Barnes & Noble strategy in the 1990s when it was opening new superstores all over the country. Start with big discounts on everything for a few years to wipe out lesser competitors. Once most of the independent books stores are gone, eliminate most of the discounts.

One final aside: as I’ve said before, book publishers are clearly following the music industry’s template for getting leverage against an entrenched, market leading digital retailer. Amazon won’t do what they want to they’re going to try and help some smaller players with the ultimate aim of getting Mister Number One to cave in to their demands. Ironically, in the case of music, Apple was the leader under attack and the industry made a sweet heart deal with Amazon.

UPDATE: As the always useful Teleread blog just pointed out, GearDiary’s Carly Z was on this topic yesterday. She sounds a touch more optimistic than I am:

So who wins when Apple gets involved in ebooks? Overall, the consumer with no library tie-ins is probably going to be very happy. Assuming the pricing is reasonable, Apple will no doubt pull a rabbit out of their hats and ebooks for some time now, it’s probably going to be a mixed bag. As great as it is to see a tech giant like Apple involved in ebooks, it means big changes are no doubt in store, and it is going to be a very bumpy ride along the way.