Apple has some really interesting stuff going on as this week is ending. Forbes is talking about Snow Leopard and what may be the most advanced Apple operating system to ever hit the market. Blending elements of the iPhone with the desktop in what may be the first successful move to a touch-based PC interface, it will race Windows 7 to market.
And the iPhone 2.0 version launches on Monday. It is more enterprise-friendly but, I'll bet, for many IT types it won't be friendly enough.
Snow Leopard (Leopard 2.0)
Years ago, Ford had a car called the Capri with two variants, the Black Cat and the Snow Cat. If memory serves, the image of the cat they used was a leopard. This may seem trivial but I was so taken with the advertising that I bought what was one of the least reliable cars I'd ever owned, the Black Cat Capri. That is the power of marketing. The image of a Snow Leopard, if Forbes is correct, could be very powerful in selling the new Apple operating system that we are likely to get the first glimpses of on Monday. But, knowing Apple, we are not likely to see any of the really cool parts until the product releases in time for Christmas 2009 (assuming it hits its dates).
Running against Snow Leopard will be Windows 7, which is due about the same time. (Microsoft is setting conservative estimates for 2010 but seems to be on a fast path, which suggests it could drop on top of Snow Leopard.)
There hasn't been this level of real competition between these two vendors since the early days of Windows and the MacOS, and the world is vastly different. Then, it was all about what you could run on the desktop. Now, with more and more things running in the cloud, it is about building compelling products fronted by easy interfaces that people want to buy. In short, the market has fundamentally changed from one that clearly favored Microsoft's model to one that appears to favor Apple's. There are still the economy of scale advantages that Microsoft possesses, but with Apple being one of the fastest-growing PC companies, you can't deny it is on a roll.
What makes this all really interesting is that over the last decade buying responsibility has been shifting away from IT and towards the users with smartphones. This really could be a fight where Apple has a very real shot at making large gains.
iPhone 2.0 (Baby Leopard?)
Also on Monday a little thing called the iPhone 2.0 makes its debut. While it will be a major improvement over the first generation, it will face competition the likes of which Apple has never seen in the iPod market. The carriers, not the users, may decide this battle.
This one will also be interesting because, if Apple prevails, it will indicate that the carriers have lost a substantial amount of control and that the phone manufacturers -- or at least Apple -- has benefited. But there is incredible competition coming to market facing this new product, making me wonder whether Apple will start using more powerful naming for this offing, much like it has with its OS (Leopard), and iPods (Shuffle, Nano, Classic, Touch). iPhone 2.0 is kind of boring when compared to Apple's other efforts.
RIM is bringing forward its Bold keyboard phone and Thunder screen phone; Google has a variety of phone features in the works, with the most interesting being a gesture-based password security system; the Windows 6.1 platform is due to market, soon followed by products using the Danger UI; and what is expected to be a massive change to HP's own phone lines is coming.
Apple starts the war on Monday but this one will be increasingly hard fought as the year progresses.
Voodoo on Fire
Speaking of HP, its Voodoo site is literally on fire at the moment; there are digital flames obscuring the site. I think this means that something big is in the wings and there are three potential vectors. One is its version of the HP Blackbird, which has not yet been released, two is a Voodoo cell phone to offset the impending iPhone launch, and three is an incredibly new laptop that blends HP and Voodoo DNA.
I doubt the desktop or phone will have much IT interest, but a performance notebook that blended HP and Voodoo DNA could have an audience with engineers and content creators who need performance but want the security of working with a major brand. The trick will be to make the product appear incredible in a world defined by the Macbook Air. While thin is in, doing something that performs well in a thin product would appear to be impossible. But a heavy product, at least right now, wouldn't be as interesting. In any case, whatever this portends, some aspect will likely affect other HP products at some future date and, if for no other reason, just seeing HP do a high-concept launch even if it is through the Voodoo subsidiary, is anything but traditional HP.