If Apple Really Wants Tinkerers to Love the iPad…
There has been lots of sturm, and more than a little drang, regarding the iPad and death of the “tinkerer” class that its targeted user base represents. Certainly, the iPad, like the iPhone, is a closed ecosystem; you can’t develop for it on it, you can’t control when your apps get updated, you can’t control if your apps get into the App Store, etc. It is a total dictatorship, which Apple trying to play the role of benevolent dictator but coming of more as annoyed loon. But hey, it is working for them, so it isn’t likely to change much.
(As an aside, when nerds bitch about the iPad/iPhone being closed to development, they are mostly right, as far as software development. But down the road, I suspect it will be splendid for other sorts of media creation.)
Look at this graph of Apple earnings (hat tip to Gizmodo). As the article points out, Apple is only barely a computer company anymore — they are and iPhone/iPod company. Soon to be an iPhone/iPod/iPad company, I suspect. It is easy to foresee iPod/iPad/iPhone revenue dwarfing straight personal computer sales for Apple.
Now, I am as much interested in developing for the iPhone as the next guy. But my last Mac was a Sawtooth Blue and White tower bought used off of EBay, and it has long since been retired.
If I am going to buy a machine, it better be a laptop (because I have road-warrior habits and need a steady change of scenery to keep the juices flowing), and, well, those MacBook’s are expensive compared to their PC counterparts. Yes, the Dell’s and HP’s of the world are less sexy, but running Linux they are wicked fast, and I can afford them easily. As I am primarily a Java dev, I spend the bulk of my time in IDE’s and tool sets anyway, and am free to ignore Windows entirely.
Plus, my house already has … let me count … nine computers, plus two work-provided laptops (counting the TiVo and the Wii). I don’t want another computer. I emphatically don’t need another computer.
But that means … I can’t really develop for the iPhone, can I?
Sure, I could by a low-end Mac Mini (even the lowest with 4G of RAM is still $700+), but we all have learned that the time wasted on long compiles is an enormous productivity suck. I’d need to invest $1600 to get a 15″-display Mac laptop — the minimum my forty-plus year-old eyes need. That’s just too much for a machine I’d like to have vs. have to have.
Go back and look at that chart again. This revenue picture, it seems to me, leaves Apple with an interesting opportunity.
If they really want to make life good for tinkerers, slash the prices on Mac’s.
Sell a Mac Mini for $250 — I’d take a flyer on that tomorrow. Sell the MacBook for $600 — I might squint at that price. Sell the 15″ MacBook Pro for $1000 — watch Dell and HP cry. Apple could easily afford to sell them for break-even.
Put together some sort of iPad/iPhone Developer’s Bundle — a fast mac Mini + App Store dev license + pre-loaded SDK and tutorial. Sell it for $350. Sell a bundle of developer Mini + iPad for $850. Watch the developers rush into the ecosystem. Apple of all companies should understand the possibilities of developers in garages.
If Apple does this, then tinkerers stop seeing the iPad/iPhone as a single unit; rather it becomes half of a complete system consisting of a development machine and target machine. Now Apple’s commoditized embedded programming.
In this model, except for the stinky App Store in the middle, the iPad looks like a low-cost-of-entry playground for geeks, and a bulletproof appliance for techno-noobz.
What more does Apple want?
P.S. Eventually they’ll also need to fix the App Store. At the moment, my tentative plan is to go Android when my contract with AT&T expires, because as much of a madhouse as Android development is, I don’t need to buy a new computer to dip a toe in.