Most folks say that May 6, 1998 -- the day that Steve Jobs introduced the then-revolutionary iMac to a wowed Cupertino crowd -- was the day that Apple was reborn. They’re wrong.
The iMac did indeed pull Apple Computer out of its seemingly irreversible death spiral, but the computer maker remained a small player in a field dominated by others. The day that today’s Apple was born occurred 10 years ago this month.
Two revolutions are now underway that will change computing forever -- if programmers can figure out how best to take advantage of them. The first is an explosion in the number of cores on a single chip, and the second is such a radical transformation of the microprocessor landscape that the geekerati can’t even agree on what to call it.
Here’s a neat trick: Intel’s next-generation chips will require half the power of their current top-of-the-line microprocessors when providing the same performance—or they will boost performance by around 37 percent when running at the same power levels. Intel achieved this by redesigning the transistor, that infinitesimal on-off switch that makes chips tick. Today’s microprocessors have a slew of those li’l switches -- the Xeon X5670 in a fully loaded Mac Pro, for example, has over a billion crowded onto its 240 square millimeters
The tablet wars are heating up, but Apple may have already won. It’s a jungle out there, but with three-quarters of the worldwide tablet market captured, the iPad rules as the 800-pound gorilla.
Not that its competitors aren’t trying. And not that the iPad 2 has superior hardware. It doesn’t. Take display tech, for example. At 132 pixels per inch, the iPad 2’s touchscreen is less detailed than those of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, RIM BlackBerry PlayBook (both 170ppi), and Motorola Xoom (150ppi).
Last July, Amazon reported that sales of e-books passed those of hardcovers. This January, e-book sales passed paperbacks. In March, brick-and-mortar bookseller Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Most recently, my beloved neighborhood bookstore, Cover to Cover, called it quits after decades of serving our community as a warm and friendly source of reading and research advice, as well as a comfy haven for kids, grown-ups, and old folks alike.
As I write this, Apple is embroiled in controversy over the iOS-app subscription rules it imposed in February. All may have been made clear by the time you read this, but odds are that discord will still roil the app-mosphere.
Not every developer is distressed by Apple’s decision to require all iOS apps that sell subscriptions to do so through Apple’s in-app purchase (IAP) system. For some, the ability to attract 160 million–plus pairs of iOS device–focused eyeballs is a dream come true.
Conventional wisdom says that if Apple had freely licensed the Mac’s operating system when it was released back in 1984, the vast majority of the world would be using it, Windows would be a niche player, and everyone would be happier.
Conventional wisdom also says that Apple is now making the same mistake by keeping tight and proprietary control over iOS, the iPhone and iPad’s operating system, and by doing so, it’s letting Android, Google’s mobile-device operating system, chomp away at Cupertino’s market share. After all, Android is steadily improving, sales of Android-equipped smartphones are outstripping iPhone sales in some markets, and the number and variety of Android-powered offerings give customers a far richer array of devices from which to choose.
Although I’m writing this as December dawns, when you’re reading it I’ll be in Las Vegas at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, poking and prodding the promised plethora of computing goodness powered by AMD’s new Fusion line of processors. One company that won’t be demonstrating AMD-powered wares at CES is Apple—all Macs are currently powered by Intel processors. But that doesn’t mean that Jobs & Co. aren’t contemplating putting AMD under the hood of some future bit of shiny-shiny. In fact, they’d be crazy not to.
A bit of background. Soon after AMD acquired graphics chipmaker ATI in mid-2006, the combined company announced a future chip line that would integrate AMD’s central processing units (CPUs) with ATI’s graphics processing units (GPUs) onto the same chunk of silicon.
Apple’s new online Mac App Store worries me. Scheduled to open as 2010 becomes 2011, the Mac App Store will supply the same one-stop shopping, convenience, and software reliability that the current iOS App Store provides to users of the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. It’ll also give developers a simple, no-overhead way to market and distribute their apps and pocket 70 percent of the take, with Apple keeping the remainder.
That’s the good news—but as is customarily the case, when Steve Jobs giveth, Steve Jobs also taketh away. The Mac App Store will shackle developers with the same high level of restrictions that the current iOS store does and will flip the concept of a free software market on its head.