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Apple 'in danger of extinction'

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Speaking at the inaugural 'Forward with Ford' Futuring and Trends Conference in the US, tech 'expert' and Gear and Technology editor at NBC's Today Show, Paul Hochman, proclaimed that closed systems in nature and beyond ultimately die out, then pointed the finger at Apple.

He said the Californian company was 'in big trouble'.

"They're sitting on piles of cash," he said, "but they are sitting on a closed system. In biology, in history, a closed system never survives."

Despite the fact Earth, too, is a 'closed system', Apple isn't biology or history, Mr Hochman. It is an artificial human construct of two geniuses, assisted by a wealth of other geniuses in the company ranks over the years. Apple has consistently defined its own roadway, along with the vehicles that run along it (if we're on car analogies).

Not that anything that Hochman said is new, wise or even interesting. It's not. It just happens to bring up a recurring theme of a certain type of criticism directed at Apple.

People like Hochman have been saying the same sort of thing - to no effect except to arm other critics - since the day Apple was formed. It sounds more like a wish than a prophecy. It's up there with those who moan they can't install OS X on PCs. (Which also indicates its covet-ability.)

But once again, I have to make the point that just because some people don't like something, doesn't make it bad or wrong.

Apple took the rare and often-challenged decision to marry its software to its hardware, and not allow the software to be grafted onto any other company's machines (without illegal hacking). Microsoft made a system that ran on almost anything - and made squillions, despite the systems' demonstrable faults.

Then Apple carried its philosophy into a new generation of devices just four years ago with dramatic success, and is still on the rise with its proprietary approach to ... well, almost everything.

If you want to look at it that way, PCs are more 'closed' since Macs have OS X and Unix already on them, and you can install Windows on them too. PCs can run several systems, if you wish - except OS X. (I know that's due to Apple policy, not the other way round, but it's still a truism).

For a start, the system isn't really closed. It only looks like that to outsiders. It's different. Apple allows and encourages third party hardware developers to create products to attach to its computers and iDevices. Likewise, software. To enter this world takes a cost in Apple equipment (you need a Mac to develop for iOS) but from then on, your resources are virtually free to acquire.

Developers concur. Renowned NZ app developer Layton Duncan of Christchurch, who I spoke to a couple of weeks ago after he got back from Apple's World Wide Developers' Conference in San Francisco, says Apple doesn't always align with developers, but from a developer point of view, the process for developing apps with Apple's tools is "far more fun than with other platforms".

This could hardly be the case if it was a closed shop. You're welcomed, and you can enjoy it. And prosper.

That's why there are software developers from all kinds of backgrounds happily creating for iDevices and Macs. If you check the App Store and the Mac App Store, Apple has only created a tiny proportion of the software available.

As commenter Joseph Santini said on the above site, "What you call a closed system some would call 'quality control' ".

Look at Android. It's a fine system with nothing particularly wrong with it ... except developers have to design for a large and expanding range of different hardware devices with different hardware specs and different input requirements, keyboards and screen sizes. And the Android OS itself trips through iterations constantly. You have to imagine a few jealous looks at Apple's much smaller range of devices - which are still selling like hotcakes - with its known range of hardware features by comparison.

Back on the computer side, people have been saying to me for years that 'PCs are better because there's so much more software available'.

That's true. But it depends where you'd like to shop: in a store selling a limited range of good, genuinely useful products, or in a massive store full of low-cost shoddy rubbish, with perhaps a few good things to find if you are overly wise or lucky.

It's your choice - but the fact you have loads of free or cheap crap - to put it bluntly - available for your ugly PC interests Apple users not one jot.

Those two Apple geniuses, Jobs and Wozniak, took an original approach way back in the early '80s and before: to create information technology devices people could actually use. It was a new idea and, despite the odds, it remains so.

Ex-Apple engineer Michael Lopp (I interviewed him at Webstock in January - story here) called the result 'useful objects of desire'.

Wozniak's legacy in this formula was to start Apple's route down the track of consistently excellent and ingenious (at times) engineering. Even 25 years later, other IT companies still play catch-up - not so much in actual innovation, maybe, but in the presentation of innovation in eminently usable packages that change people's lives. This can get a little ridiculous - to the point I meet people who buy Apple products on attractiveness grounds alone (which I personally find disturbing, but hey).

Despite Apple having a carefully charted roadmap for the future - one that takes in what companies like Intel's future plans are, too - Apple manages to flex and change as expectations alter. Some outwardly promising technologies are simply rejected - Blu-ray is a good example.

There's nothing wrong with it, it's great - but Apple (and Microsoft, for that matter) has looked further ahead to an online delivery model. So why waste time on an optical, clunky drive tech it would rather simply dispense with to free up space, design and power constraints in device designs? This approach can seem arbitrary and is inevitably contentious.

But is Apple ultimately in danger of extinction? Of course it is. Everything is. But its demise is not imminent. I think Apple is only just starting to get its legs, actually. It's already been through the hot fire of near collapse and it's learnt from the experience in spades.

With cash reserves that beggar belief, a seeming roadmap that's predicting what we need years ahead, despite (while somehow responding to) a rapidly changing world, and with a strong design and engineering base, Apple is in an enviable position.

And it's still going up.

- Mark Webster mac-nz.com

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