The Apple decade

APPLE will continue to set the agenda. Yet the Apple Decade is not an era of a single super power.  Rather than a horse race we have a one big dog, way ahead of the pack. In publishing, we’ve been focusing on the tablet, and there Apple has clearly won.

The execution of the HP Touchpad signaled the end of the multi-platform tablet war before it started; WebOS is gone, along with Palm. RIM’s Playbook has no signs of life, and their new Blackberrry, the Bold 9900, has a tweaked OS, but is no iOS-killer. Nokia abandoned its MeeGo OS before giving it much of a chance, and there’s no hint yet of a Windows Phone tablet running on Nokia hardware or anything else.
Besides Apple, the only tablets left are Android. Meanwhile Android phones continue to gain market share around the world while Apple has slipped a bit. Android doubled its worldwide mobile market share, and now is almost even with iOS, each with about 20 percent, according to Statcounter.com. In the U.S. it’s 39%-36%, Apple. Of course there about 10 Android manufacturers and only one Apple.

Apple’s sweet hardware-software integration is what pushes it ahead. Plus the App Store, which is “bottomless,” to quote David Pogue. Motorola and Samsung have made decent Android tablets (the latter irritating Apple enough to get them to sue for patent infringement), and Nook Color from Barnes & Noble is a great little machine. But they ain’t iPads, and the Android Market looks like the Chunking Mansions in Hong Kong next to the App Store’s Houston Galleria. So, all the Android tablets combined amount to ten percent of the tablet market. If that.

We’re looking at an extended period of Apple domination of the tablet market, and the tendency is to think that extends to digital periodical publishing in all forms. I had predicted that the New York publishers who exchanged exuberant high fives when they released their iPad apps in 2010 would be confounded by a multiplicity of tablet screens sizes and operating systems, but I was, uh, wrong.
They were confounded all right, but by their business models, not by their decision to go to the iPad. They just haven’t found a way to make money with them. The enthusiasm of groups like Condé Nast has faded away as sales of iPad editions amounted to small fractions of their print numbers. Advertising sales were worse. And they still don’t quite understand that not everyone has an iPad.

Meanwhile, Apple has huge factories in China pumping out iPads around the clock. They sold 9.5 million in the last quarter. Laid end-to-end, that’s enough iPads to stretch from Cape Coral, Florida, to Boston.
That a long road trip, but it’s only one road, on a good-sized planet. By the end of the year there may be 60 or 70 million iPads on Earth, and that’s one iPad for every 100 human beings. Which sounds amazing, until you ask which publisher wants to limit distribution to a single percent of the market.

Moreover, the whole one percent won’t be carrying their iPads with them all the time everywhere they go. It’s not really a mobile device. And iPad users even if they have the machine with them don’t always access to it. They may share them with partners or children. Or if they are at work, their boss might frown, seeing an iPad out. (Fortunately you can stream movies on a desktop computer, as well as play Angry Birds.)
And that’s the point. Apple will continue to pile up billions in cash, well past the Jobs era. (Remember, it was during the 11 years he was gone that Apple captured the publishing market.) The publishers’ early embrace of the iPad has rung hollow, not just for business reasons, but because the iPad is not so much a publishing platform as a publishing target. And even if they don’t have to worry too much about different tablets, there are a lot of digital customers out there who are not on any tablet, or even any app phone. Mobile users, including smart phones and tablets, account for only seven percent of all Internet usage.

The great majority of people are are connected on the desktop. Apple’s PC share is up to 10.9 percent, according to Gartner. But no one is talking about desktop apps for publications, it’s all in the browsers. You may get there via links in Facebook and Twitter, or their aggregators, but you end up in IE, Firefox, Chrome . . . or Safari.

The multiple platform battle in the media is really apps vs. browsers, and we’re looking at a bunch of different screen sizes. So far, content web sites are not very responsive or adaptive, and many are hideously ugly. (Enter Treesaver, stage left.) Then, there are some big workflow issues. (Enter Ready-Media, stage right). So while Jobs won the tablet battle, the real war is just heating up.

For Apple, like the arms merchants, this is a win-win situation. They will still sell plenty of machines if publishers switch to HTML5, but they are likely to want their apps, too. In any case, we’ll all be working in the shadow of Steve Jobs at least for the next decade.