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The Tuesday Signal: Birth of Another Orifice

By - January 26, 2010


A light day in the media and marketing world, as it seems everyone is holding their breath, waiting for Steve Jobs and Apple to drop the next shoe tomorrow with the launch of the iPad (or iTablet or whatever it’ll be called). Speculation over the device dominates the news, with the NYT pondering its impact on “old media” business models (including its own), and endless rumors about its specs from the tech blogs. (including the apparently faked image at top.)

So allow me a few thoughts on Apple’s entry. First off, if iTunes and the iPhone are any indication, the iPad will be a closed system, controlled by Apple. As with the iPhone, only approved apps will get to play. And as with iTunes, only those who cut a deal with Apple will get distribution on the new device.

Which means, in essence, with the iPad Steve Jobs will create yet another orifice through which value must run.

A bit of background. Five and a half years ago, before the iPhone became, well, the iPhone, Steve Jobs famously decried the carriers’ business model as antiquated and anti-consumer, stating “we’re not very good at going through orifices to get to the end user.” I was at the conference where Jobs made that statement, and was impressed – thinking that perhaps, when Apple inevitably launched its iPhone, it’d have an open development environment mirroring the web. But I was wrong. (Steve left that tactic to Google and Android.)

Instead, Apple is playing to its core DNA, which is to obsessively control every part of the consumer experience, from the operating system and hardware design to the presentation and delivery of content. Hey, it’s worked really well so far, why change now?

Well, because I think this model will lose, in the end. Apple is right to obsess on user interface and design, but over time, open wins. As Tom Evslin put it back in 2007: “Despite his genius, Job’s biggest failures come when he forgets the value of letting other brains in.” Elegantly curated collective intelligence will always trump individual genius (at least on the web).

My partner in Web 2, Tim O’Reilly, has framed this discussion as a simmering “War for the Web.” I think he’s framed it right: everyone now understands that the web is *the* platform for business, and many are now busy applying very old school business models to this new platform: control distribution, control content, control identity, control any place where value accrues. It’s the orifices all over again, with Apple leading the way.

I think this is going to be a major theme for 2010 and beyond: how will the web be controlled? Or will it? Is the era of the messy-but-open web coming to a close?


Other links of interest:

Playing Games With Customers: Is Foursquare The Future Of Local Search? (Search Engine Land. It might be. It sure is interesting to watch…)

Google releases new Google Voice for iPhone (Reuters. Google is using HTML 5 to go around Apple’s refusal to let its iPhone app through the orifice)

Apple’s Tablet and the New Splintered Web (Ad Age. Points out how devices are forcing all manner of new approaches to web dsitribution)

Facebook Finally Lands “The World’s Biggest Marketer” (P&G to open office in Silicon Valley. I’m on P&G’s Digital Advisory Board and can attest to the company’s strong instincts to reach out beyond its traditional approaches).

Apple to Sell Ads on iPhones, iPods and iTablets? (Chasnote. This, IMHO, will be Apple’s undoing if they approach this wrong. It’s not in their DNA. Remind me to write a post about company DNA…)

Risk Avoidance and the ROI of Social Media, Insurance, Guitars and Tires (Forrestor. Money shot: Social Media is like corporate reputation insurance. You pay premiums in the form of building relationships, listening, responding, creating widgets, and building communities. And because you’ve done so, you’ve earned protection that can help should a PR disaster strike—you have an existing group of people who have affinity for your brand and an existing channel in which to reach them.)

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5 thoughts on “The Tuesday Signal: Birth of Another Orifice

  1. “Is the era of the messy-but-open web coming to a close?”

    Not as long as there’s money to be made. iPhone domination? Check back next year after Android has had a few laps. iPad? Don’t hold your breath for it to slay the mighty Kindle all on its own. If people seriously make pad readers the book format of choice, China will start cranking out cheap readers and pull the rug out from under Kindle long before iPad can. Anyone remember the dominance of iPod? Sorry, couldn’t hear the answer, my cheap korean 16GB mp3 player was on…

    As long as there are people willing to put out money for a particular type of usability, there will be companies all over the globe willing to bring them that usability at competetive prices.

  2. Dan says:

    ” everyone now understands that the web is *the* platform for business, and many are now busy applying very old school business models to this new platform: control distribution, control content, control identity, control any place where value accrues. It’s the orifices all over again, with Apple leading the way.”

    Uuuuhh….I could be wrong but did My O’Reilly just say capitalism is bad?

  3. mike says:

    Couldn’t agree more. One thing that’s been starting to irk me is iTunes itself which, if you’re not running it on a Mac, is extremely user-unfriendly and clunky. It’d be nice if Apple could split into two divisions, Open and Commercial, a la WordPress, where customers have a choice between their way or a more collaborative experience.

  4. ray says:

    there is a creative tension between individual experience and the openess of the web as a platform, which businesses will find increasingly difficult to defend their models business against. because as you rightly stated open wins in the end. my gut tells me that android in the next 24 months will pave the way the show this as a model that works.

    this begs the question how do you create a defensible business model in the information age?


  5. in the end good design and engineering will win. consumers just want the newest and best products. give apple a 2+ year head start on products like the ipod and iphone and they easily reach the critical mass of popularity to snowball over any open latecomers like the droid. first to market advantage in tech industry is critical- look at the kindle.