By Greg Mills
Let's look into a crystal ball today and imagine Apple product areas that might be hot in the next few years. We know that cool electronic things find first a needful niche to fill -- a niche that that may or may not be realized by the general public.
But when Steve Jobs goes on stage and launches it there is a collective gasp as the crowd "gets it," and the undiscovered itch then has to be scratched. People suddenly want the new Apple Chrome Reverse Dismophlange Phlange and Steve sells them like hotcakes. Apple ramps up production and the coffers at the bank swell by a few more billion. The Mac OS is tweaked to operate the new device and everything Apple sells briskly.
As an inventor, I know that there are three general types of people in the world. There are those with the ability to see the need and imagine a novel solution, there are those who can't see the novel solution, but understand it when they see it, and then there are those who can't understand it when it is presented to them and placed in their hands.
Steve Jobs, Jonathan Ives and other visionaries at Apple invent the future devices that five years from now will see the light of day. The accountants, lawyers and engineers -- who will bring the devices to reality in what is called "reducing the invention to practice" -- understand what the vision is and implement it. Then there are those like Dvorak, Ballmer and others, who in prehistoric times failed to understand the mechanics of a club until hit smartly over the head with it. That is why Microsoft is doomed to die a lingering death and Dvorak is the court jester of high tech journalism.
Who would have known how much they "needed" an iPod when all there was out there was a Sony Diskman playing CDs or Walkman playing tapes? Who in the record industry, even as iPod and the iTunes store were being launched, really understood that the old way of doing the music business was doomed and that downloading was the future? Who understood that the Napster nightmare of the time actually set the stage for a better system that makes tons of money from downloading music?
The iPad is such a device for so many things digitally downloadable and the Apple TV is also going to be much more important than most people think it is. Jobs is a magician at mis-direction and his demur that Apple TV is "just a hobby" masks the cunning takeover of video content delivery he has up his sleeve. The new Data Center Apple is building is far more important than most people realize. Figuring out where Apple is going is quite simple in general terms. You look at what they have done that made money and trace the future of that technology forward. Make it smaller, smarter, faster, thinner and evolve the form factor.
Major visionary business endeavors are a bit harder and require a look at what industries technology can become obsolete with new electronic devices and services. Printing books and magazines on trees is an example.
While Apple has suddenly has grown up from the "little fruit company" that made Forrest Gump rich in the movie by that name, I think we are only seeing the beginning of a major conglomerate that will rival the GE sort of businesses of the past. We can expect Apple to exhibit new behaviors such as buying out competitors to consolidate important markets and technologies.
If anything, Apple is likely to break the mold on both new technology and new "go to market" strategies. The next 10 years will be about the status quo in publishing going out of business. They will cuddle up to Apple or die. We have already seen the cost of downloaded magazines go lower and the pressure on publishers will continue to force prices down until printing magazines on paper is just about history.
Apple is very opportunistic and they can use their expertise and financial clout in industrial products that are crying to be fixed. The Stuxnet virus that infects industrial controllers is an example. Robotics is where computers, which are a pile of switches anyway, flip a physical switch or have an effect in the physical sense. While Mr. Data of Star Trek fame is still some time way off, the smart power gird, solar energy controllers, smart house appliances and countless other devices in our lives rely on computers to make decision and do something to reflect a certain condition. When it gets too hot the air conditioner is turned on by a thermostat.
In industry there is a computer between the temperature sensor and the switch that turns the air conditioner on. That is where the Stuxnet worm struck infecting the dumb part of the control system that directly opens or closes valves and the like. Apple could enter that market and we would see industrial controls run by Macs instead of PCs.
While Steve Jobs will resist military development, that is a market that may be important in the long term. There are ways where good can come from better technology and Apple is a powerhouse for doing things better.
That's Greg's bite for today.
(Greg Mills, is a Faux Artist in Kansas City. Formerly a new product R&D man for the paint sundry market, he holds 11 US patents. He's working on a solar energy startup, www.CottageIndustrySolar.com using a patent pending process of turning waste dual pane glass into thermal solar panels used to heat water. Greg writes for intellectual web sites and Mac related issues. See Greg's art web site at www.gregmills.info ; His email is firstname.lastname@example.org )