Apple's Big Decision: Time To Open Up?

from the proprietary-move-can't-last dept

Normally there’s not much to be gained from some random commentator saying that Apple is on the path to trouble, just as everything seems to be going in the right direction for the company, but when that commentator is Clayton Christensen, it’s certainly worth reading a bit more carefully. Christensen, of course, is the author of the The Innovator’s Dilemma, one of a very few business books that is actually worth reading. In this interview with Business Week, Christensen rips apart Apple’s strategy with the iPod and suggests that they’re following the same script they did with the original Macintosh. It started out great, when a complete proprietary solution made sense, but as more open solutions came along that offered equally good or better solutions without the proprietary nonsense, the market shifted away from them. While it’s possible that Apple learned its lesson last time, he doubts it very much, and expects them to remain closed and proprietary for way too long. Another interesting point he makes at the end of the article concerns the problem of boosting “shareholder value” — which everyone is always taught is management’s first job. Since “shareholders” these days are very often quick flipping institutional investors rather than investors with any real vision, he suggests it can be better to pretty much ignore Wall Street and focus on what’s right for the company in the long term.

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Comments on “Apple's Big Decision: Time To Open Up?”

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Perry (user link) says:


How much more open does iTunes need to be?
I’m a huge fan of opensource but let’s look at this argument.
Using iTunes I can import any quicktime movie or any mp3 and it plays fine. AND it shows up on my iPod. AND it runs on MAC and WIN. AND um… it’s free. Open? – Open enough for me. I’m not a programer so I don’t need/want the “source” I just want the “open”. iTunes delivers. Now ITMS is another matter altogether.

Anthony (user link) says:

Re: Open?

Perry, but what you dont understand is, ITUNES, allows you to put stuff on your ipod, but nothing else to much besides computers. All other mp3 and mp3/video players use avi, and regular mp3 formatting. Its just like back when they started, created their own thing (back then it was the big old floppy), people realized they could get same thing, but have it work alot more places, for same price, and end up switching over. Same thing will happen here.

Christopher (user link) says:

Re: Open?

Perry there are devilish details in iTunes which makes it a pain in the arse for a lot of things… My IPod plays off a database that is non standard, unknown to any music management software but iTunes, to enforce that, they scramble all the media files names… simply copying to and from an iPod shuffle is impossible with iTunes… iTunes itself even masks the USB device so you can’t see it in windows… etc, etc…

If I could… say… download and install Quicktime without installing iTunes… maybe use the USB mp3 player like a USB mp3 player… etc… I would agree with you, it isn’t that big of a deal… but Apples fascination with the Man Behind the Curtain is completely ludicrous, and that same behaviour has driven a wedge between “serious” computer users and Mac since the 80s, despite tremendous VALUE in that computer system…

the “serious” digital music community is much, much bigger than us Command-Line-or-Death geeks… this hooded monk nonsense potentially has MUCH more costly implications this time around.

MusicMan says:

Re: Open?

This isn’t about open-source. Its about opening the business model and letting the strongest part of a closed system expand naturally.

OSX is held back by the Mac Hardware.

In the case of iTunes and the IPod it is not as clear. In my mind if an iPod also let me Choose a subscription service and iTunes I would want one. But iTunes has some features I bet other players would like to access now and not wait for the copycats.

My Zen Micro isn’t as cool as an iPod, but I have greater choice. And I love Rhapsody.

Right now iTunes only does purchased music to iPods and iPods are almost virtually tied to iTunes and the “buy everysong to play it” model.

Currently Apple has a better player design, but Creative and iRiver are closing in on stuff almost as cool and easy to use.

It will take one really well designed player and a targeted marking campaign based on choices to pop the iPod bubble.

Changing players is easier than changing computer OS’s

Keep in mind Jobs did resurect the Mac, but even with the best Mac OS ever Mac share of the market continues to fall. That is too bad. Its a nice system. Even though I use Windows, I know strong competition makes for better products.

Astrofrank128 says:

Re: Re: Re: Open?

Even if that does happen, it still won’t mean anything in the scheme of things. While there are many tech-savvy and highly informed people using Apple’s products (mostly OS), I think it’s safe to say that at least 75% of iPod users don’t know much more about computers than “Press these buttons and get this music… oh yeah and you can also type stuff and print stuff and chat with friends.” (OK, slight overstatement, but still.) In terms of those people, the “iCraze” is just another fad. To them it’s cool, maybe even fashionable to have an iPod. But what happens when the cheaper options also become the “cooler” options? Apple will once again fade into the background, this time in the music industry.

g says:

Re: Re: Open?

“Right now iTunes only does purchased music to iPods and iPods are almost virtually tied to iTunes and the “buy everysong to play it” model.”

What kind of nonsense is this? You have never used iTunes I guess. You can use any almost format of audio file with iTunes, convert WMAs with it, rip your own CDs to ACC, MP3 or Apple loseless. iTunes is a lot more than just an interface to purchasing music, the smart playlists are awesome. iTunes is what makes the iPod the best mp3 player on the market, not the other way around. The power of itunes is not to be matched by any other mp3 application… and I am not talking about the iTunes store at all.

David says:

Proprietary formats

The reason that Apple failed to keep it’s lead in the 80’s is because of Proprietary hardware and connections that no one supported. Now Apple finally got smart they have universal drivers and either use standard connections and equipment or make there own and open source then like Firewire and Bonjour. All of the new intel macs will use commodity parts, the chips will be cheaper and they will get free hardware development help for intel just liek Dell and others. I see more of a problem for PC manufatures when Apple implements new technology a year or two before PC manufaturers, that still use serial ports and useless floppy drives.

Rajesh (user link) says:


Clearly I not knowledgeable enough to debate Clayton Christensen but I have to wonder about the argument that there is only one way to thrive and that is to follow the licensing model. Can that be true? In today’s computing world is how Microsoft licensed their OS, then set rules for hardware manufacturers that were deemed illegal, and illegally parlayed their monopoly to crush others the only option to follow to succeed? What if iTunes allowed users to hear their music on their phones, on both Windows and Macintoshes, on their iPod, and through their stereo? Is that a path to failure? Also, Mike has mentioned previously that Apple is not selling too many songs through iTMS – so whats preventing users from exporting their rather limited Apple DMR’d library and their vast collection of existing MP3/AAC files to competitor MP3 players?
I have to wonder if there would be this much discussion if Microsoft had 80% market share of the music download market – the argument would be how brilliant Microsoft’s strategy was.

alaric says:

Missed the boat

mp3 players, cell phones, etc. are ultimately about personalization.

People buy ipod because its easy to navigate and mainly due to its industrial design. Design weighs more heavily in the portable device market than in a pc and the price differential in real terms not percentage is palatable for the ipod design.

No one wants to carry around the mp3 equivalent of a dell desktop..ugly. Open standard will not provide dell or ms or hp with a product that has character or style.

iTunes is a different matter but ipod is the real contributor to apple’s revenues.

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