Where did the personal computer go?
The best way to find out is to keep an eye on next week's Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). For the first time ever, this conference has sold out – and that means it won't be just Mac software developers showing up, but a whole new generation of companies designing for the iPhone including a bunch of outfits that have never considered working with Apple before.
At a time when the feud between Gates and Ballmer is hitting the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and erstwhile partner AT&T is all but forcing iPhone users to hack their devices (and thus free Apple, with full deniability, from that partnership), all Jobs & Co. have to do right now is just stay the course and not screw up.
Of course, Apple has much bigger plans than that.
I don't have to tell you that there's been a lot of speculation about what's going to be in the next generation iPhone: solar power, 3G, etc. But the simple fact is that these upgrades are now less important than the 3rd Party feeding frenzy going on around the platform: that's where the really important stuff – GPS, shopping, games — is going to come from in the next couple years.
Apple is shrewdly going to open an iPhone Apps department in all of its stores, as well as a Web site dedicated to 3rd Party offerings – and thus simultaneously provide distribution and retail channels to help those developers succeed and, as always with Apple, maintain a chokehold on those developers.
Needless to say, Apple isn't alone in pursuing this strategy. As I've noted before, there are a lot of things I don't particularly like about the iPhone, and once you get past its unmatched user interface there are a lot of huge market holes that are being exploited by Apple's more seasoned competitors, such as Nokia and Blackberry. They too are enjoying an explosion in new applications development.
Where are these developers coming from?
Well, as always, many of them are brand new, freshly minted entrepreneurs obsessed with one idea or another. But most are established application design outfits who made their bones in the computer world and are now jumping into mobile phones. After all, that's where the excitement is these days and, they hope, where the money soon will be too.
In my experience, when you see this kind of shift, it not only suggests where the new business is going to be, but, in the void it leaves behind, what technology is about to fade into old age.
The phone world's gain is the personal industry's loss – there is only so much design talent to go around, and with telephony taking a bigger slice of the pie, computers are going to be increasingly left with crumbs.
Interestingly, Macworld magazine asked the same question about the iPhone developers: Would their shift to iPhone apps mean a reduction in their work on future iMac programs?
Daniel Jalkut, founder of Red Sweater Software, makers of MarsEdit blogging software, replied. "I think there is some short-term risk that Mac software developers will slow down their desktop software development, in order to come up to speed with iPhone development, but in the longer term the same basic factors will motivate development."
Don't believe it.