Steve Jobs is retiring from Apple as I write this and the question is, "Is this the beginning of the end?" Simple answer, "Yes."
I don't think they're going to die quickly, though. Apple is really flush with cash, they control most of the music industry, and you can't turn around without seeing an iPhone or iPad.
But, as far as I can tell, Apple invented only one new thing in the last 10 years -- control of intellectual property. And more to the point, Steve Jobs' control of what you see, and how you see it.
I grew up with computers that you had to buy software on disks to use. Eventually we got to a point where you could download software over the internet, but you were still putting it on a hard drive and if you were smart about it, you'd burn a copy on a CD as a "backup" and install it on other computers. There was this vague idea that you were buying a "license" but let's face it, you thought of the program as yours.
The Great Inventor changed that.
The iPod was the first step. With iTunes your music was suddenly digitally tied to your device -- you can't just copy your MP3s onto another computer, you have to go through a process of disassociating your music from one iPod before you can put it on another.
Then the iPhone took the control a step further -- now you have a device that you can't even see where the programs and files are. Apple takes care of that. And to install a program, you have to go to the App Store. No way around it, Apple controls your music and your programs (they can even "retract" a program from your phone once it's been installed).
Finally the iPad. It's bigger, it runs more useful apps, and it's letting people be more productive in more places. But the main innovation is still control. It's a device you can't change -- you can't add memory, storage... heck, you can't even change the battery. You can't do anything unless Apple says you can. And Apple makes money off that by selling you a whole new iPad when you need something a little better.
Not that Apple users care -- the stuff works. Mobile computing is no longer the exclusive domain of geeks -- it's everywhere. And I can't argue that's a bad thing.
But at the end of the day, the innovation at Apple as been the vision, and the control, of one man. A brilliant control freak who has created an environment where he can enforce the delivery of his vision to the palm of your hand.
So as Mr. Jobs leaves Apple, the question still stands, is this the beginning of the end? Or will he be able to enforce his control from beyond the company's walls, and, eventually, from beyond the grave?
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