Forrester: The Future of Apple?

ITNews.com.au out of Australia is running an article today on a new report by Forrester entitled “The Future of Apple.” Rather than cite the ITNews article, here’s the abstract from Forrester:

Consumer product strategists frequently ask Forrester how Apple’s product strategy will evolve: What will Apple’s product portfolio look like five years from now, and how is Apple preparing for that future today? Forrester notes that Apple has completely remade itself from a PC maker to a consumer devices and digital music leader over the past eight years — thus setting the precedent for additional radical change over the next five. While there are a number of speculative industry hypotheses for the future of Apple — including scenarios like Apple as a media pure play or Apple as the “American Sony” — Forrester sees a future that ties together many of these hypotheses into a coherent consumer product strategy: Apple will aim to become the hub of the digital home, offering eight key products and services to connect PCs and digital content to the HDTV-stereo audio-visual infrastructure in consumers’ homes. To fulfill this strategy, we predict that Apple will launch new products, re-engineer the Apple Store, and expand into in-home installation services.

For those with Forrester access, the fulltext is available here.

Do I think they’re right? Maybe… Forrester rightly points out that Apple has never been into the idea of open platforms:

“Apple’s commitment to controlling the user experience through closed systems manifests itself in the locking of iPhones to outside applications and its unwillingness to license Mac OS X to clone makers.13 This inclination toward closed systems would inhibit mass-market success in the digital home, where a wide variety of manufacturers’ products must be tied together.

Interestingly, however, this is not truly the case. Apple’s flagship computing product, the iMac, is essentially an open platform. Indeed, Apple’s computing products are a hardware-software solution designed for delivering services. Early services include media delivery (iTunes, AppleTV, iPod, iPhone), while the commitment to A/V production (iMovie, Garage Band, iDVD, Aperture, Final Cut Studio, Logic) continue to grow, even to the point of causing credible speculation that Apple will buy Adobe. With the end-user software-hardware platform, Apple satisfies the delivery, or the conduit part of the ‘triple-C’ trifecta. With their media aggregation and production software, they hit the content portion. It’s the Commerce part that they’re after next, and it’s the one that’s the brass ring. They’ve started with the iTunes store, but I think that’s not the end of it. The real prize is the end consumer.

While the Forrester article argues that Apple won’t go after Cloud computing, I believe Apple wants to use .Mac as their entry point to the Platformization of the their products to enable services. I’ve wondered aloud about the play for Safari and .Mac, and this article brings it into sharp focus. Forrester speaks to this, albeit dismissivley:

The era of cloud computing is dawning, with more and more applications being delivered over the Web… Apple already is a great software company, from OS X to .Mac platform applications to iTunes. Perhaps that’s exactly why this won’t be Apple’s future: Software always has been, and will continue to be, integral to what Apple does. There’s no need to pivot strategically, and it’s di?cult to imagine Apple foreswearing its virtuosity in developing stylish hardware. Apple’s strong suit continues to be in integrating software and hardware into one continuous, best-in-class user experience.

The future of computing is pervasiveness, and connecting a personal computing experience from the living room to the subway to the office is going to require a very cloud-like platform strategy. This strategy requires a framework for the services that will make up that pervasive experience. RIght now, digital media, whether professionally or personally produced represents a cornerstone and a gateway.

Just as the Mac is only as good as the software that runs on it (Adobe’s Creative Suite is a prime example, as are Panic’s great applications), the end-to-end computing experience will require value-driven applications beyond word processing, media, and media creation. And here’s the rub. Apple can’t build ’em all.

I believe Apple built their Final Cut Suite and Logic to raise the bar and help their OS compete with SGI, Sun and Microsoft. I believe Apple is architecting it’s next play to compete with Google and possible Microsoft. They know the only way they’ll compete is to define the leading value proposition for the industry and own the relationship between consumer and computer. This leads me to a new acronym based on one borrowed from the customer service sector: VEBCAK: Value Exists Between Chair And Keyboard.

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