SAN JOSE, Calif. Should Apple Inc. open up its iPhone software?
It's easy enough to argue it should, given the history of the personal computer. Steve Jobs and company became the first to turn into a hot product the computer interface innovations of the Xerox PARC Alto using a mouse to point and click on windows and drop-down menus.
But Microsoft was relentless in trying to copy Apple's Macintosh software, and it finally got traction with Windows 3.1. Because anyone could build a Windows PC—and eventually everyone did including a kid working from his Austin, Texas, dorm room—the PC makers eventually had far superior volumes and lower costs. Apple was left with a few percentage points of the market it created.
Zoom ahead to 2008. This time Apple is not only facing off with Microsoft but with Google as well. In fact, the latter might be the better competitor.
Despite the fact it has had a cellphone version of Windows for several years, Windows Mobile has not delivered the kind of Web experience—or marketing hype—Apple already has going for it. But Google is another matter.
The search giant is fast, flexible and financially well heeled for a long battle. The Android software—at least in its early demos—looks as compelling as anything coming out of Cupertino. Soon there will be many companies making devices for it using many different chip sets.
Google has skin in this game. The Internet whiz kid needs to keep its sky high stock price soaring with prospects of growth. When you already own the portal that brings every PC to the Web, the only way up is in owning the emerging mobile portal, too. Google will not cede that to iTunes without a fight.
Scroll ahead to say 2012. Apple will be struggling to roll out a broad product portfolio that matches the wealth of Android and Windows Mobile systems on the market. Once again they will lack the breadth of the backing of the open alternative, in this case Google's Android.
More importantly, this market too will mature. Eventually, Apple will be fighting the Google hoards by rolling out a cool new feature here and there, but they will have nothing as compelling as the lower prices and greater diversity of the Android platform.
In short, the iPhone will help Apple rocket from nowhere to the top ten in cellphone makers in a couple short years. But five years out, Apple could be sidelined to a top 20 spot supported only by the remaining faithful few.
Steve Jobs is known for many things, but being teachable is not one of them. Apple's guru-in-chief is all about creating cool products that he personally launches bearing his company's logo. It's what makes Apple. Unfortunately, as history has shown, it's also what un-makes Apple--eventually.