As we know, Steve Jobs spent the last few years of his life trying to “figure out TV,” and claimed he “cracked it.” Well, from all signs, the way he “cracked” it, was by doing what he always did: cooking up a closed monopoly platform where he called the shots, and benefited the most.
The problem is that he did that to the music industry with iTunes, and everyone else knows the old saying, “fool me twice, shame on me.” For whatever reason, the video market hasn’t jumped at the chance to be beholden to Apple, especially when it means freezing out the rest of their very supportive hardware partners, and putting all their eggs in one digital basket.
Steve Wozniak was Steve Jobs’ first tech guru. While Jobs handled the marketing and proselytizing, Woz was the the guy with the soldering iron in the garage making the Apple 1, the Apple 2, and a host of other inventions. Woz has a reputation for loving technology, loving learning, and while Steve Jobs was always wonderful at convincing people to want what he wanted, Wozniak has always been more interested in finding out what people wanted and making it awesome.
In his “Ask Steve Wozniak Anything” feature over at Slashdot recently, Woz had some interesting points on the subject of the closed nature of the Apple ecosystem:
Apple’s real rise from the small market-share Macintosh company to the iProducts of today began with iTunes and the iPod,” he said. “This turned out to be a 2nd huge business which roughly doubled Apple’s ‘size’. If you remember, we ported iTunes to Windows. We now addressed 100% of the world’s market with this integrated system (iPod/iTunes) and it began the era of Apple that we are now in. So why don’t we port iTunes to Android? Did something get closed up? I love Apple products and iTunes and wish it were on my Android products too.”
Wozniak did note that as a shareholder, “Apple seems to stand alone in profit market share. So the course they are taking is a good one. It’s hard to guess whether profits would be greater or lesser under hypothetical scenarios.”
I wish that instead of all these lawsuits Apple was sitting down and cross-licensing with the other players. They have come up some very good features without complicating the UI. Things like a palm swipe to take a screen snapshot. I would like my iPhone to be the best it could, even if someone else did some of the things first. And Apple could license iTunes perhaps, or help the other platforms develop it. The market shares would probably remain the same but we consumers would all win.
There’s something to learn from the ubiquity of iPod docks in the audio world. If Apple had offered an Apple TV interface to go with Blu-ray players when manufacturers first started adding Netflix, all the mismash of SmartTV front ends now fighting for dominance in the market would have been history.
Instead, Apple wanted to keep its interface all to itself, and the company’s position in the video market now seems to be taking a step backwards. Look at the number of Blu-ray discs sold a year ago that included a download code for the iTunes version of the film. Now the industry is moving away iTunes as fast as possible for Ultraviolet exclusivity, as evidenced by a complete lack of an iTunes option for December’s release of The Dark Knight Rises. Steve Jobs famously called Blu-ray a “bag of hurt,” not because it was, but because Apple didn’t feel like redesigning their hardware for the copy protection path that did nothing other than make people not buy their entertainment on iTunes, and that’s why he missed the forest for the trees.
The post-Jobs Apple seems to have held onto his arrogance and solipsism, just without his marketing brilliance or boldness. To survive without Jobs, Apple needs to take a radical turn in a different direction, take a step back in time and realize that, just bringing Steve back in the late ’90s almost certainly saved the company, going further back in time and bringing Wozniak back to a dominant, active position in the company — not just as a shareholder and token employee — is what the company desperately needs right now. The company is doing better than fine financially. And no doubt its products will be a big part of the home for the foreseeable near future. But if Apple is to dominate the living room for the long term — especially in the realm of video — it needs to take Woz’s advice, think of the consumers first, and hop into the sandbox instead of trying to just own it.