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Apple ups the ante ... again

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on November 11, 2005
(Issue 2345, Computer Repairman)

It's said that the one man Bill Gates fears and admires is Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple.

Urban myth, perhaps, but the truth is Jobs is one of the most savvy and successful men in the computer industry. He and Gates are among the very few heads of first-generation personal computer start-ups to still be going strong thirty years later.

More amazingly, almost three decades after the Apple II set the personal computer revolution loose upon society, and more than 20 years after the Lisa and Mac again changed the way people viewed their personal computer, Jobs' company is once again redefining how we interact with our computers.

The launch in mid-October of the new video iPod – and Apple's contract to sell current popular TV episodes like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" over the iTunes online media store – throws the whole digital entertainment industry into complete disarray.

Except for Apple, of course.

The company Microsoft fans keep writing off as on its deathbed keeps coming back to succeed more wildly than ever.

Making it cool

The new iPod isn't really anything all that new. Downloadable video has been around for a few years. In fact, there are online-only programs like "The God & Devil Show" that can only be viewed on the 'Net.

Then again, the original iPod wasn't the first portable digital music player, nor iTunes the first commercial music download site.

They were just the first to make it work from a large-scale economic standpoint.

And by doing so, Apple managed to finally get the record companies to embrace (however coolly) the concept of selling music digitally online.

Look, two years ago the biggest news in digital music was the parade of court orders being sought by the Recording Industry Association of America against folks who were illegally sharing music online. The RIAA and its member labels portrayed the Internet as the death knell of popular music in this country.

Today, the Internet – fueled primarily by iTunes – is the fastest growing segment of the music industry.

The fact is, as any parent of teenagers will tell you, the kids today don't want to buy CDs – mine just want to go to iTunes and buy their fave songs to download to iTunes and then their iPod. Even their mother has an iPod, leaving me to my increasingly ancient reel to reel tapes and vinyl records.

The future of the music business is online; the CD is as doomed as the LP was in 1985 – even if it isn't any more apparent this go-round than it was then.

Now to video

And so Apple's move to offer several thousand music videos for sale/download on iTunes, along with recent episodes of "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," has every other manufacturer of portable music players in the role of playing catch-up.

It can't have the suits at MTV feeling very robust about their future, either. If you can watch the music videos you want when you want, for a reasonable price, why sit passively in front of the tube waiting for the MTV host to play something you like?

Given that Jobs owns Pixar Studios, producer of such hits as "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles," one assumes the video downloads at iTunes won't be growing stale anytime soon. The thought of iTunes-exclusive Pixar downloads has to be enough to make managers of iPod's competitors weep.

Apple's future

All those who spent the late 1980s and most of the '90s gleefully predicting Apple's demise must just hate the iPod. For the truth is, Apple is no longer a personal computing company. It is an electronics company now – more in competition with Sony and Phillips than it is with Dell or H-P.

With Apple repeatedly setting new standards for personal music players and online entertainment content, and with its proven ability over three decades to keep that all-important rep for "hip" among the teens, Apple's ability to continue to grow and be profitable seems more secure than it ever has.

Apple has a diversified product line in both hardware and media content that Dell, H-P and even Microsoft can only ogle jealously.

As to what's next? Heck, that may have changed in the weeks between when this was written and when you're reading it.