This post has been brewing for a while, since I was inspired to connect-the-dots by Owen Frager's original post on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) use of the .Mac web publishing and email platform to dominate the lives of the first-ever Digital Generation.
I have been hesitant to post this information, as it paints a fairly dire picture for the hundreds of industries that Apple's digital convergence platform is set to disrupt. We are no doubt on the cusp of a monumental shift in the way we use the internet, and the effects of this shift will lead to unprecedented change, both in the marketplace, and in life as we know it.
Hundreds of large manufacturers, software companies and publishers such as Microsoft (MSFT), Sony (SNE), Nokia (NOK), Samsung, HP (HPQ), Toshiba (OTCPK:TOSBF), Time Warner (TWX), Fox (NWS) and RIM (RIMM) will soon feel the pressure of Apple's increasing dominance of our digital lives. Tens of thousands of other digital service providers including web developers & web hosts, ISPs, graphic designers, tech support providers and printers will soon find that Apple's seamless iLife publishing/ management/ browsing platform makes it easier, cheaper and more efficient to get a job done than to use their services.
But now that the cat is out of the bag on the final thread needed to sew Apple's plans together, it's almost impossible not to connect the dots (especially for any rightfully-paranoid digital entreprener like myself), and I don't see much point in delaying the inevitable. I have as much at stake as anyone, as I'm in the web hosting and development business myself.
What began with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak's vision of an easy to use computer is finally approaching its ultimate realization in the form of Apple's end-to-end platform that includes the best hardware (Mac notebooks/desktops), the best software (OS X operating system with iLife media management system that also runs Windows programs) and the best mobile devices (iPod/iPhone with GPS and 3G incoming).
Apple has consistently produced the most usable, practical solutions for our digital lives and combined them with inspired design and supreme quality. The legions of Apple brand evangelists and ridiculously long lines at its new store openings give you a taste of how much people enjoy using Apple's products. They love them because they just work. Their interfaces are intuitive and are actually designed to accomplish the things that most users want to do, instead of being designed the other way around - from an engineer's perspective of what's possible, the approach most of their competitors take.
Portable music players that used to be referred to as MP3 players are now known as iPods because of Apple's complete dominance of the media player market. Their small, simple forms, ample storage and ease of use became the industry standard almost overnight. Their supreme naming and branding strategy ensured that they became the default way to refer to music players.
The iTunes music store is now the largest seller of music in the US, offering per song digital downloads in a way that others before it have tried and failed due to a lack of hardware integration facilitating DRM - something the music industry has demanded since Napster completely reshaped their business model built upon owning the distribution channel. Video is the next frontier and is handled both by the iTunes store and AppleTV. The business model of the iTunes store is to allow digital content creators - whether it be music, video, text or applications - to be paid on a per-use basis by anyone with an account.
Apple completely changed the mobile market with their introduction of the iPhone/iTouch - the first mobile device designed for surfing the web on a small screen that actually works the way you'd want it to. The use of multi-touch - a technology that enables you to zoom in and out quickly and intuitively, as well as full browser that supports the latest development technologies (like Ajax) was exactly what was needed to unleash the power of web applications, and to enable people to bring the full web with them wherever they go.
Over the next 24 months we will start to see the transformative effects of this breakthrough and I have no doubt that its impact on both the consumer and business web will be immense. The iPhone's enterprise-level integration options and soon to be introduced GPS and location awareness features will open up a whole new world to developers and provide users with a new range of web services they'll wonder how they lived without.
Apple's other major development was the conception and launch of its brilliant retail environments (especially the genius bar that provides free tech support to Apple owners) that actually make it both fun and easy to choose, purchase, service and learn about computers. This provides them with the distribution channels needed to get their hardware to the market, and to enable their official evangelists to educate users on the capabilities and ease-of-use of their products so that they can in turn evangelize their products to their own social networks.
While Apple has made incredible strides in every aspect of its business, the one missing link, intentionally left until last I suspect, is the web-based system to connect them all of their products together. It already existed as .Mac of course, but hadn't been the subject of Apple's undivided attention - until now.
TheDomains.com is reporting that Apple has purchased the domain name Me.com for an undisclosed amount:
The domain is now registered at markmonitor.com and the DNS servers have been recently updated.
Me.com points to the domain administrator as Apple’s Ken Eddings, the same employee responsible for MobileMe.com as well as many other Apple-owned domains, including iPod.com.
Apple uses markmonitor.com for most of its domains including mobileme.com which has been rumored to be the replacement for the .Mac name. (source)
This comes two days after several blogs, tipped off by a leaked line of code referencing 'mobile me' that was discovered by a Russian programmer, started speculating that Apple's .Mac service was going to be rebranded as Mobile Me.
.Me is the perfect name for the missing link in the consumer internet space - a truly easy web publishing platform that can turn digital consumers into prosumers (producers/consumers). As someone who's had the power of easy web publishing at their fingertips for the past 8 years, I have always believed this to be the biggest thing preventing the non-technical populace from using the internet to its full potential. In order for this to happen, web publishing needs to be tightly integrated with the operating environment, and this is what the latest version of iLife and the .Mac has provided for more than a million Apple aficionados since it was released.
This means that an Apple user can take photos or videos and easily edit them to near-professional quality with a couple of quick clicks. They can then easily insert them into professional document templates for various types of publications - websites, galleries, calendars, etc. and then easily publish this information directly to their .Me account, which is then available on the web to everyone. .Me will likely also act as an online identity management system that handles DRM and web service authentication. It will likely wind up based on OpenID or an equivalent standard and make it easy for users to create and consume digital information at various external sites such as Google or Facebook. .Me will control all of the information that is given to or received from these services through one location - a .Me account
With the purchase of Me.com, which will serve as the home of .Me, Apple is indicating that it will now move on to the final stage of its long-term plan to facilitate convergence and dominate our digital lives in the process. They are closing in on their ultimate goal, and doing it in typical Apple style by acquiring the best, most suitable domain possible for their digital life platform. Based on Apple's track record of brilliantly hatched plans and near perfect execution, I have no doubt that .Me will seamlessly tie Apple's system together.
Apple's competitors are now on the defensive, and it's left to be seen whether they will ever catch up to Apple with it's lead in every department.
While all eyes have been on Google and Microsoft's battle for web-dominance, Apple has taken another approach to dominance of that which really matters - the lives of its users. By placing itself at the heart of our digital lives, with a system that is truly simple and user-friendly, they have also won our hearts in a way that no other company comes close to matching. Google may continue to dominate search and Microsoft may still have a few tricks up their sleeves, but I question whether or not any of that matters when Apple is the company we interact most intimately and willingly with due to their attention to detail and focus on us (or .Me I should say).
The Apple Experience is currently the best put forth by any group of people in the world, matched only by perhaps Google. But while Google's strengths lie in its ability to provide what is ultimately a commodity digital service, Apple's strengths lie in its real world connections with its users - and in a business sense, it's ability to charge them - something that is much harder to achieve and replicate.
The implications of Apple's success are truly mind-boggling, but I believe that the user benefits vastly outweigh the changes to established industries and processes that their system will bring. I am hopeful that we are close to finally realizing a longstanding dream techies have had since the days of the Dick Tracy watch, the Walkman and the Mosaic browser - ubiquitous access to all human knowledge and information.
Further reading material here, here and here.
Disclosure: I do not have any interest in Apple or any of the companies listed, but I have a family member who holds long-term Apple options and is loading up on more as I type this.
I do not currently use an Apple computer as I have been entrenched in Windows for years. I do own an iPod touch and it blows me away every time I use it.
As someone who is directly in the crosshairs of the Apple machine, I think the best defensive course of action is to get on the Apple bandwagon as soon as possible and take advantage of every benefit Apple offers and to realize the efficiencies that Apple users are already seeing. Holding Apple stock would be the other logical move as it's a great way to capitalize on the success that their years of effort, culminating in launch of .Me will bring. It promises to be an exciting ride and one that I personally do not want to miss.
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