Many, many years ago I used to work for an Apple Centre and many more years before that I was a child with a love of computers. The first computer my family ever bought was not just any computer, but an Apple IIgs. You only have to scan over aforementioned wikipedia page to see that it was a lovely piece of Apple engineering. It had it all; audio, graphics (it was all about the graphics in the 80s) a memory expansion slot and the ability to add an internal HD. I'm not bragging here, I'm trying to conjure the picture of a computer lovingly crafted and ahead of its time (think iPod).
Apple have sat in this niche for years; before the iPod became top of the Christmas list for young boys and girls, Apple was synonymous with the architecture, graphic arts, production and design industries. They were still producing top notch computers that were ahead of their time in terms of quality, speed and power. So what was the problem, why have Apple been hiding in a cave for so many years and how is possible that they might screw it up again?
Firstly, during the 90s, Apple had too many different models on the market this also included their choice to allow cloned Macs in a revenue raising exercise. Sure customers like choice, but the customer was left with too much choice and were unsure which branch of the Macintosh family was appropriate and regardless of what you bought it was usually superseded by another model within a couple of months.
Secondly, Apple have always kept a strangle hold on everything they do. Way back when, while I was stuck with the few games that my family could afford at $50 a pop, my friends were swapping disk-loads of games and applications almost daily. We were left with something that was good quality wise, but was useless unless you continued to pay.
I don't want to go into too much detail in the above two points, because it should be obvious that the trend above is still part of the Apple's mentality today. Make something that is so good everyone will want it and then control the market that surrounds it. Think: iTunes, think app store, think Apple stores. They all look good and they are all flashy, but at the end of the day they are all Apple run and controlled.
Sure Apple's iTunes and apps are now at a price point that stops people from hesitating before they spend a couple of bucks, but think about what you are getting... who decides what apps you can use on your iPod, who censors what you can use on your iPhone, who decides what you can and can't install on your newly bought iPad? Are you sacrificing good design and quality for a lack of innovation and control? Apple pushes DRM because it's what they have always done. Sure the iTunes/app store is a good concept, but think to yourself, would you be more empowered if you could shop at another store? Would this provide you as a consumer with greater choice and pricing?
Although the smartphone/handheld industry has been around for a long while it is still finding its place outside of just being a telephone; maybe the equivelant of the personal computer in the mid-80s. How this pans out is anyones guess, but is it possible that someone will cut out some of the quality and sheen and deliver something that is flexible and open and you can install whatever you please, even if it means that your phone crashes occassionally?
As Apple looks to create new revenue for the future it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their current model. Will they produce another ten "i" products that are essentially different sizes of the same thing with a few slight differences? It's not too hard to imagine because they did it in the 90's. Or can they dig deep and produce products that are not only innovative by design, but also innovative in functionality and value to consumers.