Posted on October 23, 2010 at 6:58pm EDT. More.

Not even Apple can predict the future

As soon as Apple announced that a Mac App Store is coming, somebody on macsb lit the following match:

So… what do folks think about the app store? Good? Bad?

That was Wednesday, and the thread is still going on. The discussion has actually been pretty reasonable. Anyway, I just spent a while contributing the 137th message of the thread, and since I spent a lot of time on it, I thought I would reproduce it here.

On Oct 23, 2010, at 9:34 AM, Ken Aspeslagh wrote:

Unlikely? I disagree. As announced, the Mac App Store sets Mac apps moving in the direction of iPhone apps. Apple has set it in motion, moving in a direction, and it will continue on this course. Apple is genius when it comes to transitions. They know how to make a difficult plan, execute it incrementally over the course of years, and make each incremental announcement sound exciting. This is just the first step of a plan to completely revolutionize desktop computers, just as they forever revolutionized mobile phones.

You’re making an assumption that Apple has some grand vision of the future that they are steering everybody toward, whether we like it or not. Not just you. That idea is at the heart of a lot of the fatalistic comments about the App Store.

You could be right. But I think it’s a side effect of Apple’s secrecy that you never see how uncertain they are. Companies that talk about products in development can look clueless because you see them trying out different, possibly terrible ideas. Apple is very careful to hide their cards unless they think they have a winning hand. And even when they do, they still bet small.

One thing Apple does that is unusual for such a large company, is that when something isn’t working, they don’t double down like idiots. Consider Apple TV: when version 1.0 didn’t sell so well, they didn’t look for ways to “revise” the existing product into success. They more or less scrapped it and made a new product with the same name. If they had a “vision”, they were clearly willing to adjust it.

Remember the fat iPod nano? I think Jobs didn’t even show a picture of it during the touchscreen nano announcement. Now the nano is a tiny touchscreen. That's nuts how different that is from the previous one! Is it selling well? I don't know, but if it isn’t, Apple will be sure to go back to a clickwheel nano next year. Just like they put buttons back on the iPod shuffle this year.

So here’s the deal with the Mac App Store. They saw that people liked buying apps on their phones, because the environment made it easy and safe. So they are trying to bring that to the Mac. I think it could go a number of ways, and I don’t think Apple has decided which way yet. I think they are going to respond to the market.

Here’s something to consider: the Mac App Store might actually lead to a less restrictive environment on iOS devices. How? Well, the argument for requiring code to be signed by Apple is that it makes supporting a product much easier. If the Mac App Store leads to a drastic reduction in Mac software support issues, even while allowing users to install their own software, that makes the case that maybe the iOS restriction on unsigned code can be relaxed.

Or maybe the other thing will happen, where all software must come from Apple.

Who knows? Nobody does.

The point is, saying that Apple has a plan for where this is going to go is like saying that the Steelers have a plan to win the Superbowl. Sure, they have a plan, but ultimately they have to react to what happens in the real world. They are not all-powerful. They just good at looking like they are.

So, while I accept that a horrible totalitarian future is possible, if it comes to pass it will be because that’s what the market demanded. And anyone who “knew it all along” will have as much right to brag as somebody who bet on the winning Superbowl team.

Go Steelers!