Why did Steve Jobs show up on an Apple financial results call, something he's done in the past but doesn't typically do, and more importantly why did go all Samuel L. Jackson on RIM's BlackBerry and Google's Android, something not typically done on any results call? After all, there's an Apple event coming up on Wednesday where no doubt Jobs will be center stage, in front of almost the entire blogsphere and half the internet at large. Why not wait for then?
Because this was about mobile and about iOS, and about iOS' place in mobile, and Wednesday is purely Back to the Mac. The next iOS-centric event likely won't be until January 2011 for iPad 2 and by then the all-important holiday quarter will be over, RIM's BlackBerry Playbook will be closer to launch, a million more Android devices will be on the market, and Microsoft and Palm might be getting back into the game.
Right now, today, Apple posted unbelievable numbers -- 14.1 million iPhones sold and 4.1 million iPads -- they beat RIM's BlackBerry numbers this quarter and given the way Jobs was strutting, they likely beat the numbers of every Android device sold as well. This was Jobs on top of the mountain, seizing the high ground, and striking.
First he hit RIM, not just in the sales numbers but in the technology where it hurts. The Torch didn't ignite anybody and the PlayBook is little more than a video at this point, their next-generation QNX still a ways off. But he called them out as a hardware company, as people who piece together model after iterative model, not craft platforms. He shone a spotlight on their lack of developer support and high quality apps and he did it in a time when they're transitioning from the past to the future and can't show off anything in the present to refute him. Then he and Tim Cook touted iPhone and iPad enterprise adoption, just to kick RIM while they're down: it's not that BlackBerry isn't competitive, it's that they're not even competing.
Next was Google, whom Jobs acknowledged as Apple's chief mobile competition and the only other platform succeeding in the space. Those were about the only kind words he had for them, however, as he proceeded to cut into the heart of the argument Eric Schmidt has been foisting for months: the value of "openness".
Here Jobs conveniently conflated openness with decoupled hardware and software, and Apple's closed with integrated hardware and software. That let him liken Android to Windows and Microsoft's abandoned PlaysForSure DRM strategy. Neither good analogies. Where Jobs did hit home, however, is equating open to fragmented. That's the manifestation of the philosophy and as much weakness as strength -- you can get any device you want, but every device will therefor be different. With choice comes challenge. Jobs acknowledged some consumers might prefer that but staunchly and steadfastly repeated that he thinks Apple's business model is better -- their phones are consistent, they just work, and they don't require the end user to be a systems integrator.
Jobs spoke not only to the analysts on the call and the influencers who were following (and blogging) it, but to developers, citing TweetDeck as an example of an app that had to be coded for 100 different versions of Android running on 244 different devices, where iOS typically has 2 versions (current and one previous) and largely binary compatible devices. He also pointed out that while Android still struggles to sell apps, and Verizon, Vodafone, and Amazon look to fragment Android Market, Apple has a unified App Store with unified billing and customers that pay for apps.
Lastly was tablets. Of the few current and impending iPad competitors, many are using a smaller 7-inch screen and Jobs thinks they have no idea what they're doing. Clearly Apple has tested 7-inch iPads internally (and likely other sizes), and rumors of Apple releasing one keep popping up on the internet, but Jobs' couldn't have been plainer: 7-inch tablets are terrible.
Jobs maintains the screen size sounds almost as big as the iPad's 9.7-inch display but since those are diagonal measures actual real-estate is only 48% the size and Apple (meaning Jobs) doesn't think you can make great tablet software on a screen that size. Everyone who currently buys a tablet already has a smartphone for small scale mobile computing, Jobs says, and 7-inch screens don't allow for the software needed to make really great tablet apps. The UI elements are too small or too close or too few and far between. They're tweeners, too big for the pocket too small to really work.
And he thinks that due to Apple's incredible economies of scale -- essentially the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and now Apple TV share most of the same guts and Apple designs everything from chipsets to battery chemistry to enclosures themselves -- their competitors won't be able to match iPad's pricing. They'll provide half as much value at twice the cost, and next year they'll figure out post-release what Apple did pre-release, abandon their 7-inch tablets, and leave users and developers high and dry. That's extremism for absurdities sake, of course, but it creates the impression Apple is that far ahead of the curve.
The reason, which Jobs touched on several times, is that Apple is a software company in a hardware-centric industry. He even accused competitors of making the cheapest hardware they could and then crossing their fingers and hoping their after-thought software would fix it. Apple decides on the software they want and painstakingly crafts and integrates the hardware to support it. And then every year they iterate, improve, and offer more for the same price as less.
Because unlike Nokia -- and netbook makers based on prior statements -- Apple's not willing to make cheap products that suck.
All of this, taken together, let Jobs set the stage for the holiday season precisely how he wanted it set. Now journalists can use any of these loaded quotes to accompany everything they write about RIM, Google or Nokia, or Microsoft or Palm. Instead of effusing on openness they've been primed with fragmentation, instead of extolling 7-inch tablets they're thinking Apple tried and rejected that form factor as sub-standard, instead of promoting Android numbers they have 14.1 million iPhone 4 and 125 million iOS devices to add Apple-specific context with.
Developers flirting with the idea of diving into Android are left think again about the easy 70% from the App Store versus the picture Jobs painted of a broken, commercially unproven, wild-west market for Android where you rolls your dice and takes your chances whether they'll even fit on the table, or the struggling and still largely empty App World from RIM.
And by ignoring Microsoft and Palm, Jobs dismissed them as non-contenders right when they're about to come to market, or come back to market.
It was a masterful show from a master showman, showing just how critical the mobile space is to Apple going forward. (As if the Mac OS X vs. iOS numbers didn't make that plain enough).
Developer and consumer mindshare is what shape the mobile battlefield, and Jobs clearly stated Apple is in it to win it.