What to do about digital entertainment?
Apple's position in the music industry is assured at this point: The company has sold billions of songs since opening the iTunes Store in 2003, and its iPods have dominated the music-player market for more than a decade now. But the next battleground is the living room.
The company has been trying to come up with a compelling product for that part of the house for years, without much success. In fall 2006, Jobs previewed the first version of the Apple TV--then code-named iTV--which went on to launch in spring 2007. Since then, the Apple TV has been updated several times, most notably in fall 2010, when it became a much smaller device that focused on streaming media and connection with the rest of Apple's ecosystem.
Both Jobs and his successor Tim Cook have said that the Apple TV is still a "hobby"--in other words, not as crucial to the company's success as iOS devices or the Mac. But that hobby is still surprisingly serious: In July, Cook said that the device has racked up 4 million sales this fiscal year, and that the company is committed to continuing "to pull the string to see where it takes us."
But the Apple TV as we know it may simply be a prelude. Rumors of a full-fledged Apple television set, complete with streaming content, have been flying for years now. But negotiating with content providers and existing distributors has proven difficult; having seen what happened to their counterparts in the music business, those companies have been decidedly leery.
At the moment, the saving grace for Apple in the living room is that none of its competitors have managed to gain much of a foothold there, either. But the company can't afford to not be a player in what is sure to be a contentious--and lucrative--market.
What's the future for the Mac?
One thing's clear: In the near term, at least, the future of Apple's laptops seems to rest on the MacBook Air. The new MacBook Pro is the first of Apple's high-end line to adopt the Air's thinner, lighter design, but that change wasn't much of a surprise: Apple has long aimed to make its products ever-thinner, ever-lighter, and ever more powerful. The questions for MacBooks, Pro and Air alike, are how thin they can go and how affordable their solid state drives can get.
Apple has some decisions to make on the desktop side, too. The iMac hasn't seen a significant physical refresh since 2007. The Mac Pro infamously scored only the most minor of updates earlier this year, after two years of stasis. Apple's biggest Mac sales growth is in laptops, but it's unlikely that the company would simply forsake the desktop market completely. The question is whether Apple can create compelling new hardware that transcends traditional product evolution.
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