Three years ago, I had never even held a touchscreen computer. Today I carry one everywhere I go. Apple changed the mobile phone industry with the launch of the iPhone, and appears to be creating a similar sensation with the iPad. Now it’s doing everything it can to keep that momentum going, showering us with ads on television and elsewhere, singing the praises of its latest handheld, touchscreen devices.
Let’s face it: they are pretty great, aren’t they? But as a longtime Mac developer, I have to admit that I’m disappointed by the diminished fanfare for my beloved desktop computer. For several years there, the Mac faithful were treated to a revival in Mac marketing. But lately, “Hello, I’m a Mac” has been replaced by “There’s an app for that.”
Some interpret the relative lack of Mac marketing as a death knell for the platform. But while the iPad is many great things, it’s no Mac. Apple’s touch platforms excite me as a programmer, and inspire me to think about software in all kinds of new ways. I’m spending a lot of time and energy targeting these new products. But I’m also still committed to the Mac.
Sky’s the Limit
Apple’s touch devices offer two clear advantages over the Mac: they are supremely portable, and they offer a delightful touch interface. The Mac can’t compete with the tactile simplicity of picking up an iPad and pinching, swiping, and tapping a task to completion.
But the flip side of simplicity is limitation. Every constraint in the iPad’s design prompts a chorus of “If only I could . . .” from crestfallen users. Customisable hardware, integration among apps, processing power, and, yes, complexity are among the Mac’s strengths. Will the iPad ever catch up?
Perhaps. Given many years and countless product iterations, it could happen. But in the meantime, there’s a Mac for all of that.
Customers seem to recognise this. Even as the iPhone and the iPad have captivated the public, Mac sales have continued to set new records. There have never been more Mac users than there are today, and Apple keeps attracting more. Unless those customers feel that the Mac is perfect just the way it is – with Apple’s built-in software and nothing else – then each one of them is a potential customer for me.
Running My Own Show
One of the chief attractions of the iPhone and the iPad is the App Store. The store has one advantage for developers: Apple takes care of the nuts and bolts of the operation, leaving developers free to focus on developing software.
But because Apple runs every aspect of the store, and because it is not afraid to flex its muscle, many of the freedoms I enjoy in my Mac software business are forbidden in the App Store. I can’t offer trial downloads of my software; release an update immediately or without Apple’s approval; collect contact information from my customers; offer discount coupons, freebies, or bundle deals; or take advantage of innovative, third-party developer technologies.
In short, I must cede every decision about my business – be it technical, aesthetic, or entrepreneurial – in part or wholly to Apple. Keeping a strong foothold on the Mac is one way I can make sure that, for one of Apple’s platforms at least, the buck still stops with me.
Reading Apple’s Playbook
Apple pushes the Mac as a digital hub for electronic devices. Every product it sells – from the AirPort Express to the iPad – promises to work even better if you have a Mac. I’m adopting the same strategy: build unique solutions to suit the strengths of each product, and use the Mac as the digital hub that seamlessly pulls them together.
Apple’s strength on the desktop permits it to take risks with other products, leveraging the technologies of previous successes to build completely new things. The fact that touchscreen computers are now ubiquitous owes as much to Apple’s relentless, Mac-centred product strategy as it does to the specific genius of the iPhone or the iPad. A high-powered, general-purpose desktop computer is at the core of Apple’s winning strategy. For the foreseeable future, I think that core will continue to be the Mac.
[Daniel Jalkut is the founder of Red Sweater Software, maker of MarsEdit, Black Ink and other Mac apps.]