Thunderbolt and Lightning, the beginning of the end for Apple? Perhaps the beginning of the end of Apple being the 800 pound gorilla.
Once upon a time, I was a happy Palm user. It seemed like the little company could simply do no wrong. They decided at one point to change connection systems for all of their PDAs and that happened around the same time as a downward slide from which they never recovered. In hindsight, that slide was more due to better products from competitors like Blackberry and later Apple. Still, giving a user an "excuse" to try something else is never a good business practice and the added expense of Thunderbolt and Lightning to some users are all the excuse they need to look elsewhere.
Apple is in a much better position than Palm. They are a mega powerhouse content company. Only they don't act like they realize they are a content company. They offer iTunes on OSX and Windows. They only offer iBooks on iOS. But what about Windows and Linux and Android? For that matter, what about OSX? Oh they will offer it on Mavericks. I suppose that works if you live in an all-Apple world. I've rid my house of Windows products. They are all gone. I've installed Windows XP and 7 inside virtualboxes so I can launch them like an application when I need to for some reason. I haven't launched them in months. But I digress. I'm here to talk about Thunderbolt and Lightning. Two peripheral interface changes around the same time that both occurred around the same time as a big slide in Apple sales. Or at least a much gentler increase in Apple sales. Not only that, but Apple devices which sport the older peripheral interfaces are still selling strong. Some of that might be cost. After all an iPhone 4 or 4S is cheaper than an iPhone 5. And a Macbook Pro is cheaper than a retina Macbook Pro. So why aren't Macbook Airs selling that well? They are even cheaper than Macbook Pros. Maybe it's the fact that Thunderbolt peripherals are silly expensive. A $300 docking station? From Belkin no less. I wouldn't trust Belkin to make a power strip much less a docking station. For $300, I could have a 4 Terabyte Firewire drive. And Firewire can be daisy-chained. Another thing is that the Thunderbolt port is also the display port so if I want an external screen, it's either gotta be Thunderbolt (think $999) or I've gotta use a display port to TB adapter and lose the ability to connect TB drives or other peripherals (unless I want that exotic docking station). And then there's USB3 which is just about as fast but a heck of a lot cheaper.
Yesterday my wife had to replace her iPhone 4. I tried, half-heartedly to talk her into the 5. But you know what? I actually was pulling for her to pick the 4S. Why? She always needs to charge in my car. I often need to charge in my car. I don't want to buy ANOTHER Lightning charger/cable when I've already got one Lightning cable and a 30pin/microusb. Then there's charge cords lying around the house. We probably have half a dozen 30 pins but only 1 or 2 lightnings. Getting out the door with her 4S cost us close to $200 by the time we picked up a case and screen protector for her. What if I'd had to add a couple of lightning adapters? I guess I'd have been out close to $400. For the cheapest iPhone 5.
Meanwhile Samsung seems to do no wrong. Their sales are slowing but not as quickly as Apple's sales are slowing. If Apple introduces a cheap plasticky iPhone, I think it will signal the beginning of the end for the "Apple premium". iOS will have become a commodity alongside Android, Windows Phone and the rest of the pack. Well not really alongside. iOS is really a better OS and Apple's curated app store is better than the snake pit that is Google Play but the idea that one has to fork out extra to enjoy the Apple experience has already begun to fade.
Will Apple go down the tubes like Palm? Certainly not. There are smart people at Apple just like there were smart people at IBM when the Microchannel PC died and IBM is still around. Apple will adapt even without Steve Jobs. But I think the time is past when people will hang on the next Apple announcement as if it was Moses delivering commandments. The last time we saw that phenomenon was Steve Jobs announcing iPad. iPad still owns the tablet space. For now. Sure Windows RT was a misfire but Amazon is cranking out a boatload of cheap Kindle Fires and Android tablets dragged Apple kicking and screaming to the 7 inch tablet party.
Then there's music. Remember when I said Apple isn't really a content company? I picked up a CD on Amazon. They added the mp3's to my cloud drive without me even asking. I decided to go take a look and sure enough they were there. So I decided to upload my favorite mp3's. The 250 song limit still allows many hours of listening on shuffle without hearing the same song twice. I installed the Cloud Player app on my iPad and it sees not only what's on my cloud drive but what's in itunes as well. So the cloud player app gets my music onto my iPad more easily than iTunes. Hmmm. Yes, it's locally stored and I don't need an internet connection to play it. So Amazon has outdone Apple when it comes to managing my music. I've got mp3 files which can be played on any $19 mp3 player in a blister pack at Walgreens. No expensive iPod Touch required. No DRM, (though the Amazon downloader puts my transaction ID in the metadata of the mp3 files. No sweat as I wasn't planning on posting them to pirate bay anyway). While Apple can remain atop the market in some key segments, they can no longer set the agenda. There were doomsayers that were predicting the fall of Palm about the time they switched connectors. While I'm not willing to go that far, I believe Apple has pushed away some loyal customers with this cable nonsense on both iThings and Macs and they are swimming against a strong current that is carrying Samsung, Amazon and Google to bigger slices of mind share and market share that Apple will never regain. Apple may never again be the 800 pound gorilla that can set the world's tech agenda.