The Internet is Taking the Shine off of Apple

By Josh Catone
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(Note: This post is just about Apple’s public perception — the iPhone and Safari both prove that Apple does get the web on a very real and important level and has a huge stake in its future.)

A few days ago, search and advertising guru John Battelle put up his annual list of web tech predictions. About Apple, this is what he wrote:

Apple will see a significant reversal of recent fortunes. I sense this will happen for a number of reasons, but I think the main one will be brand related – a brand based on being cooler than the other guy simply does not scale past a certain point. I sense Apple has hit that point.

After watching the lackluster keynote given by Apple Senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller earlier this week at MacWorld, it would be easy get on board with that prediction. Apple failed to really impress at the conference, offering not much more than really cool, but rather underwhelming software and hardware updates.

In a post today on his blog, marketing pro Steve Rubel offers three reasons why the Internet is to blame for the shine starting to wear off Apple. I’d encourage you to read the post, but his most interesting point is his third: cloud computing and netbooks are eroding Apple’s edge.

Rubel says that most of his computing needs are now handled by online applications, and though he admits that as an ultra-early adopter he’s not like most users, he thinks cloud computing is the future for us all. The rise of web-based computing “means you will be able to be just fine using a netbook or even a phone. The category is still emerging and many are still 1.0 products. But I expect that to change and if the current economic climate continues, then it could erode Apple’s notebook share,” he writes.

We wrote earlier this week that web applications reset the playing field, and have created new opportunities for companies to compete in areas they were never before competitive. That goes for heavyweights like Apple, Google, and Adobe, the same as it does for small, web development upstarts.

Unfortunately, what we thought would be Apple’s first major push into the SaaS world (not counting the rocky launch of MobileMe last July),, turned out to be a disappointment. iWork and MobileMe are “gorgeous, for sure,” says Rubel. “However, functionally, they don’t hold a candle to Google or Adobe’s web apps. And I think Microsoft’s products here for sure will be strong.” They also don’t hold a candle to apps from smaller web startups, such as Zoho or Sharpcast.

So far, the shift to cloud computing seems to be an area where Apple is asleep at the wheel. has the feel of a missed opportunity for the time being, though Schiller hinted at potentially more impressive things on the horizon during his MacWorld address.

Another reason why Apple is starting to see their mojo fade was articulated by a commenter on Rubel’s post: Apple is not participating in the conversation.

“Others have always carried out the conversation for them (and nicely so) but this means that when they don’t like the way the conversation is going (a problem that is only slowly happening now from time to time) they have nothing established to be part of it, or to steer it a bit,” writes Kris Hoet, who works for Microsoft Europe.

We reported on a Forrester Research study in December that found that the most trusted sources of brand information were those that were conversational. The Internet and social media have made getting in the conversation a necessary part of the maintaining a PR edge. Apple needs to wake up to that fact.

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  • Vishwas

    Truely a good post. It seems major companies like Apple and Microsoft will be having a hard time in the future, if they keep concentrated on Desktop Softwares. The future need is for portability and accessibility, which most of the online apps give.

  • caruso_g

    I do use net apps, and my next computer will be a shiny MacBook Pro 17″, not a netbook.

  • Nice Post. But actually I don’t think that the web is taking the shine of Apple. At least not now. Not this year. There was always the discussion that web services will replace ‘1.0 applications’ but, when looking at the non-geeks (which is the bigger part of computer users), office and all that stuff is still being used a lot. Sure, Netbooks are getting cooler and more affordable, but nevertheless the stay a toy for geeks or at least tech-savvy addicts. They are not something for the masses. Not yet..

    Since Apple is getting more and more into the news and people’s minds with stuff like the iPod or the iPhone even the non-techies realize that Apple is quite a decent alternative. So I personally think that Apple sales will increase furthermore.

    Being I mac user myself I don’t like the way Apple handles criticism or the way they ‘communicate’ (actually they don’t) too. And unfortunately Apple will no longer be the cool company which is inventing a lot of awesome things – they’re going to focus on selling more macs to the everyday normal guy…But I still think they are producing great products and they’ll shine even brighter in 2009. At least their sales figures will..

  • No company is able to wow the crowds and the commentators four times a year, year after year. So they slowed down a little, so what? I think they are taking a reasonably conservative approach to cloud computing, and will be improving it gradually over time. Remember they acquired interesting Web 2.0 tech in the first half of ’08, announced it @ WDC in summer ’08 and delivered the first version in in January ’09. Show me another company that can do it.

    On the hardware design front, they have nobody to catch up with, but themselves. OK, they could learn a thing or two about mobile phones from Nokia, so could Nokia learn from them. As for the netbooks? They’ll enter that market as soon as they are figure out how to offer the typical Mac experience in that format. They are very close. They have MacBook Air now the MacBook Pro extended lifetime battery. Once they figure out how to put the two together, they’ll ship their netbook.

  • falkencreative

    I’m not so sure. Sure, the new isn’t all that amazing — at least, in comparison to the online apps offered by Google, etc. But, at the moment, can you really compare the two? iwork is simply about sharing documents, and it doesn’t seem to be intended as a full blown online office app. Perhaps eventually… but comparing and the Google Office apps seems unfair.

    Besides, I’m still not sold on the whole netbook thing anyway. Netbooks just don’t seem very usable to me at the moment, and the thought of me doing any actual work (besides browsing online) doesn’t seem to make much sense. I’ll hang on to my Macbook Pro, thanks.

  • I agree with the previous comments that say no company can innovate and wow people that many times a year. There has got to be some things that aren’t stellar.

    The problem is that Apple has been leading the way so long we’ve just taken it for granted that whatever they do must be golden.

    Truth is most tech companies could built an empire from any of their near misses.

    I also believe that for these very reasons the media delights in finding chinks in their armor. How long after its announcement have we ever had to wait to learn about Apple’s performance under projections? Most of the rest of the tech sector just ends up as a footnote on the financial pages.

    For the record, my business uses both PCs and Macs and I favor Macs because they’ve always been easier to use to get the same work done. Not because I need a cause to champion.

  • The cloud is ways off before being accepted by the masses.

    Most of the new adopters to the web are either a)older people or b)the younger generation. These people are either a) just learning how to use the email or b) chatting with friends, or playing games.

    Online storage for documents, spreadsheets? Most companies haven’t even picked up that idea due to security and privacy issues. They still feel more secure having their documents on their hardware, under their lock and key. Not Google’s.

  • JdL

    “The Internet is taking the shine off of Apple?” Josh, your article is good and has great content, but the whole subject line is just WRONG.

    Apple has been trying for years to do something with the Internet (just like Microsoft), but to no avail — this has had ZERO impact whatsoever on the “shine” of Apple products and software.

  • “the shift to cloud computing seems to be an area where Apple is asleep” this statement is so wrong. I would say Apple “got” cloud computing long ago and everyone has been playing catchup for years (and only recently succeeded). iTools and then .Mac made cloud computing easy (but not cheap) before the advancements in web browsers to allow what we are using now. MobileMe is not much more than Web 2.0ing what has existed for years.

    People need to remember that Apple makes $ through hardware and software (and music sales) so it’s in their interest to still require a decent client side machine (decently speced, decently priced) with some client side software to use the cloud – else we’d all just go an get the cheapest computer and just run a free browser on it (there is little $ in that).