In early June Apple is going to release its new 3.0 operating system for the iPhone. It seems quite probable that they will then, or shortly afterwards, release some new computer models. A new Mac mini, a new MacBook, or something like a blown up iPhone, a 10″ touch screen, tablet style media player, a not quite netbook. Speculation is rife.
In about 6 weeks we will know some of the answers. A larger form iPhone that is touch screen and is media-oriented is quite likely. The success of the iPhone App store demands it — last week the billionth App was downloaded. Apple was able to spread the success of the iTunes store by implementing it for Windows (6 months after the initial iTunes Store was launched in 2003) and that move played a big part in the success of iTunes and the iPod. Such a move is not going to work for the App Store, where most of the best software depends critically on the hardware, the geo-sensing and the touch-screen interface. So Apple will extend the range of its App Store software by extending the breadth of its hardware platform (there will probably be a low-end nano iTouch as well as an upscale iTablet before long).
It is a curious feature of the iPhone and the App store ecosystem that from the publisher’s point of view the consumer’s device works more or less like a dongle. Apple sell you an App for your specific account, tied to your credit card. You can work with an App on your iPhone and use the same App on your iTouch but you can’t shift it to another platform. Oddly enough you can’t even print from an App, and there have not been too many complaints about this, though Apple will remedy the deficiency with the forthcoming upgrade to the O/S. Apple sells software and it is in Apple’s interests for free software to be given away (that broadens the appeal of the hardware and the platform) and it is in Apple’s interests for software to be sold (Apple takes a 30% cut on everything that passes through its tills on the App Store). We have not seen a wave of pirated Apps and I suspect that Apple will make sure that this does not happen. They will not need to resort to DRM to do so.
For plenty of reasons, book publishers should not be thinking about DRM. But a lot of them do, and some of them are insisting on it for their eBooks. For those publishers, the fact that the Apple environment doesn’t need it is an obvious attraction. The fact that Apple is also projecting the style and elan of Prada, rather than the sheer efficiency and economy of Primark will be another attraction for many authors and publishers contemplating iPhone ventures.
The sheer quality of the hardware (the brilliant screen) and the innovative touch interface give Apple a unique platform for media deployment. As the form factor gets a little bigger it will be brilliant for books, especially for digital editions – which map the quality and layout of a well designed printed volume. Just at the moment the world of digital publishing is preoccupied with the concern that Google and/or Amazon are going to end up being the monopolist of world literature. Mark my words: by the time of this Autumn’s Frankfurt book fair, Apple will be another focus for monopoly concern. Can you have three non-collusive monopolists in the same market? Or is that a competitive situation?