The signal is strong and lighting up all five bars: We live in the post-Steve-Jobs-era. The flubbed launch of the iPhone 5, and its ensuing problems, is going to create new opportunities for technologists and entrepreneurs across the world in lucrative areas that Apple had bottled up for the five years.
Even though I'm an ex-Apple employee and Objective-C programmer, typing this blog post on a MacBook Air, with my iPhone and iPad both within easy reach, I am happy.
There's a tremendous amount of speculation about where Apple is headed but it's clear to me that the age of Apple's dominance on our collective imaginations is on the wane. Every era has an expiration date and Apple's is about to come due. (If that upsets you, don't panic, eternalism might help.)
Looking back on the last 25 years in technology it's pretty clear to me that there is a pattern of alternating chaotic periods with fierce competition and stable periods of domination by one major player. During the chaotic periods competing ways of thinking about a problem and the entrepreneurs that champion these business models fight it out for mainstream success. The contest is winner-take-all and the player that succeeds creates an ecosystem upon which its rivals must live in order to survive to fight another day. The dominant player gets to play the piper and the losers must dance to its tune, or iTunes.
During my life I can remember four periods where a single player dominated the tech world so completely that I had to change my job description, programming language, and thought patterns to prosper:
- IBM and the PC Compatible in '80s
- Microsoft and Windows in '90s
- Google and search in early '00s
- Apple and the iPhone in the late '00s and early '10s
I had great fun being an Apple fanboy before Apple become dominant. When I walked into a meeting or coffee shop and yanked out my black MacBook laptop (a collector's item now) its radical style started conversations and garnered looks of envy or distain. Now in every meeting I attend and every coffee shop I frequent I have this uncomfortable feeling that I'm in a Apple commercial. Everyone has the same shiny MacBook Air with glowing Apple logo on the lid.
While the iPhone 5 release is a devastating flub for Apple it's a fantastic opportunity for the rest of us. The interesting thing to note is that nothing has really changed. Apple just seems less infallible. Until now, Apple's thought leadership so controlled the conversation that instead of innovating companies like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon have been trying to be better Apples. (I've never seen that strategy work.)
As of today I'm hopeful that in a garage or a cubicle somewhere a couple of smart technologists are ready to take advantage of the coming era of instability and knock my socks off, not with a better iPhone, but with a radically new idea.
I imagine Sally and Bob sitting in the Paradise Café on 8th Avenue in the shadow of the Google building in NYC's Chelsea neighborhood. Sally is a software developer who got bored at Google and recently left to start a startup with Bob, a hipster designer with too much ADD to hold down a steady job. They order Acai Smoothies and reverently unwrap brand new iPhone 5s from the nearby 9th Avenue Apple Store.
For Bob and Sally the iPhone 5 isn't just a smart phone or pocket computer. It's a way of thinking about users, problems, and solutions. Bob and Sally know exactly where they fit in as Apple 3rd party developers: Sally will write an app which will only work on iOS devices from Apple, using a computer programming language, Objective-C, that only runs on Apple devices, and is sold in a software store that only runs on Apple devices. Bob will design the app to mimic real world objects (skeuomorph) and conforms to Apple's user interface guidelines and app store policies. Bob and Sally really don't have to think different or much at all: Apple has done all their thinking for them.
Here is why the iPhone 5 is the most important device Apple has ever released: Its bugs and lousy map applications just might wake Sally and Bob up from their Apple dominance induced coma: "My goodness! This thing has flaws." Sally exclaims to Bob. And Bob, after realizing that the giant Google building next door disappears from Apple's Maps app as he swipes and back forth between 9th and 8th avenue, mutters "Bloody Hell?" and tosses the iPhone 5 back in its little coffin-like box.
"Sally," Bob says as he blinks away imaginary blinders, "I have this crazy idea, what if instead of creating an iPhone app we use that Raspberry Pi you've been playing with and ..."
It's morning in technology land.