John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Apple’s Next Battleground Isn’t TV; It’s Web Services

Apple does hardware and software well, and it’s at the top of its game when it does them together. But when it comes to Web services, the company is a laggard, with an ever-lengthening conga line of missteps.

There are hands-down fiascos: MobileMe, Ping and Maps. And there are works in progress: Game Center, iTunes Match and iCloud. And all of them speak to a troubling deficiency that Apple just can’t seem to overcome. One that’s garnering increasingly more public scrutiny. One that, at its worst — say with the disastrous Maps debacle — shows up the company that prides itself on building the “magical and revolutionary” as fallible.

So, as the 2013 Apple rumor mill ramps up, and the prognosticators wonder whether the company’s product pipeline includes a television, a watch, or both, consider this: While Apple could likely use another disruptive innovation on which to build its continued success, what it really needs — crucially — is to do Web services well.

Because to do them poorly is to weaken the hardware and software on which Apple prides itself. These days, our experiences of Web services are part and parcel of our experience of the devices on which they run. When Maps for iOS fails, the iPhone fails with it. Certainly that was the view taken by investors, who whacked $30 billion from Apple’s market cap in the days following the Maps fiasco.

As Barclays analyst Ben Reitzes recently observed, “The Maps debacle showed investors how valuable Google’s technology was — how hard it was to replicate — and how Apple may struggle as the world moves beyond iTunes toward cloud-based services.”

In other words, it showcased Apple’s deficiency in such a way that it actually shook investors’ confidence in the company. It showed them that great Web services are as critical to Apple’s success as great hardware.

Apple, of course, already knows this. That’s why it undertook audacious initiatives like Maps and iTunes Match in the first place. But the company clearly underestimated the effort and skill needed to pull them off with excellence. And now, with all the world watching, it can’t afford to do so again. Maps, iTunes Match, iCloud … they all must “just work.” That’s what consumers expect. And that’s what Apple has promised.

In that sense, Web services are likely to be Apple’s next big battleground. Premium hardware and software aren’t enough anymore. The market wants services, as well. And it wants services that work.

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