Apple has introduced many improvements that goes beyond small incremental improvements to existing technologies (think Quartz Extreme, Rendezvous etc.). They have succeeded in integrating complex technologies without the complexity.
A great example of this is Rendezvous. Rendezvous makes networking, whether in private homes or businesses as easy as 1-2-3 – great examples are the integrating in iPhoto and iTunes, XGrid, XCode as well as iChatAV (particularly – just look at the competition: MSN, AIM etc.).
While Apple should continue to tout the excellent features already in the OS, they need deal-making features to sell their upcoming OS upgrade (presumably X.4). I will talk about two of the features I feel will help Apple accomplish this. One is necessary, while the other is a typical Apple’ish ‘wow’ type of feature (like Exposé was it in Panther).
Palm synching – for the rest of us
Disaster struck the Mac platform at this year’s Palm Developer Conference, when Palm announced that they would stop the development Palm Desktop, their syncing (and more) software for the Mac. Why is this a disaster you might ask? Because of the growing importance of PDAs in the environments that Apple caters to. As of right now, no noteworthy company actively supports syncing with the Mac. This means, that companies wishing to commit themselves to the platform, has to give up PDAs, or make use of third-party software, such as The Missing Sync by Mark/Space – a small software firm, that businesses might not want to commit significant trust to, especially if it’s not officially supported by the original manufacturer.
Conclusively to these chain of events, it’s clear that Apple needs to consider a counter-measure to limit the negative effects of Palm’s decision. As far as I can tell there are three different approaches Apple can take and I will very briefly describe their possible implications.
As described above, this poses a serious threat, since no other PDA platform currently supports the Mac platform. Businesses will have to resort to third-party products to get their PDAs to work, buying a product where there exists no official support to help the businesses with their potential problems.
2.Develop a PDA themselves
While Apple arguably has considerable knowledge about how to develop a PDA from their experiences with the Newton, I believe it to be very doubtful that they can get a PDA to market within a 6 months timeframe when the non-compatible PDAs from Palm will begin to appear on the market, and Apple will be in a position where no PDAs are compatible with the Mac. It will probably be very hard to gather developers to support a new PDA platform with no market share from a company with a history of failure in the PDA market.
There are also reasons why this could prove to be a good alternative, such as helping Apple to gather experiences in the iPod -> iPodPDA conversion, I think will inevitably happen, and as Apple does have industrial Design capabilities, they could probably create a very appealing piece of hardware.
3.Approach Palm to establish a relationship for Apple to development the synching software themselves
This is in my opinion the best way for Apple to strengthen their market position. Apple already has considerable knowledge about syncing with Palms, and could use this knowledge, in cooperation with Palm, to develop NATIVE support for Palm devices on the Mac. Native support for Palms is very similar to Rendezvous in its nature. While Rendezvous removed the configuration mess with setting up and using a network, native support for Palms(in the OS and in key applications such as Address Book, iCal, iTunes, iPhoto etc.) would remove the potential installation and setup mess with Palm Desktop and the learning of new applications to use the new hardware device (the PDA). Think of this hassle-free scenario: Buy PDA in store => unwrap and charge it => turn it on (Bluetooth/USB cradle/WiFi connects and updates the device) and your set to go. This fits very well with Apple’s “… for the rest of us” terminology.
This approach would also possibly allow Apple to present the technology at this year’s WWDC, BEFORE Palm Garnet and Cobalt devices enter the market and be ready to boost native integration with the new devices before they’re released. Just think of a “no configuration when used with a Mac” cheesy-logo on every Palm box – you simply gotta love it.
The conclusion is this. While it’s a disaster for Apple and the Mac platform, that it doesn’t have official support for any of the major PDA platforms (Palm, Microsoft, Symbian/Nokia), they have a window of opportunity to rectify this by engaging in collaboration with Palm to provide native support to Palms new PDA, and once again simplify how we operate our computer-connected devices.
XGrid – Computing power for the rest of us
Apple has recently demonstrated a breakthrough (arguably) technology called XGrid which, in short, uses the collective processing power in a LAN to speed up processing intensive calculations. The implications are, in my opinion, being severely understated by Apple, as this potential X.4 feature is useful for almost all markets that Apple caters to.
Some of Apple’s core markets are the educational markets, Graphics and Video rendering markets and the consumer market, consisting of private homes and small businesses. It is my assumption that XGrid, if implemented correctly (as an open API), could potentially provide benefits to all of those markets.
1. The educational market
The educational markets is where Apple currently “targets” the XGrid application. It’s used to utilize unused processing power for programs like BLAST and other processing power intensive applications, that’s usually run on Server farms, mainframes or computational clusters.
2. Graphics and Video
This is where XGrid has a great potential. Programs like Shake, Final Cut, Photoshop would potentially benefit a great deal from the increased processing power. If Apple were able to make a plug-in/code-rewrite to incorporate XGrid in key applications such as Final Cut and Shake for the X.4 release, the ‘wow’ factor would be significant. Just imagine a small workgroup being able to do special-effects on a machine 3-5 times faster than they can now just by upgrading to the latest OS. This productivity increase would not easily be matched by Microsoft/Sun/IBM with their offerings, since they for now (to my knowledge), doesn’t have products in the market that cater to these market segments. This is where I believe Apple can toot the XGrid feature as a real time-saver.
3. Consumer market
XGrid also caters to the consumer market, if developed so that there’s no setup (as with Rendezvous). Think of the small family with 4 Macs in home-LAN. Someone in the family wants to compress a large video into DivX. Now (s)he can utilize all 4 computers in the home to speed up the process. This is of course also useful for iMovie, iDVD(?). It could also bring more processor intensive features to the consumer market.
4. Software development
This is where it’s actually already being used, as XCode already supports it(the Distributed Builds feature), but it could be further tooted to show how many places XGrid can be a useful feature.
There are of course many more instances where XGrid would be immensely helpful, but I can’t imagine them(in comments please!), and we’ll have to wait until creative programmer think of them. But even with just the features I’ve outlined, XGrid has potential to be a real deal-maker for MacOS X.4. This is further strengthened by the fact that neither Linux or Windows has these capabilities. Even further, Microsoft probably won’t be able to incorporate a similar feature before they release Longhorn in 2006-2007, at the earliest. The same doesn’t go for Linux, but Linux will have a hard time with the integration part (i.e. the ease of use/ease of installation…well basically, ease-of-use).
From this article, I think it is evident that both native Palm-syncing and XGrid incorporation into MacOS will be features that can achieve the typical “Apple touch” and further strengthen Apple as a leader in OS development and integration.
About the author:
Søren Friis Østergaard has a bachelor in Computer Science and Business Administration and is studying for a Master of Science in Management of Innovation and Business Development at the Copenhagen Business School. He’s been following the MAC OS development for the last 4 years.