The iPhone is Apple's DOS. And just like Microsoft in the 80s, nobody seems to see what's coming. Here how I think it's all going down.
Apple is using the iPhone and the iTunes store to engender the most important and compelling application platform in the industry. If developers want to succeed in the fast-growing, all-important smartphone market, they need to be on iPhone. Meanwhile, users are investing real money in Apple-only applications and media.
It's nearly certain that Apple will unveil a family of tablet devices with user interfaces like the iPhone's, and that support apps from the app store. The tablet thing is a long-term play, but Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster thinks Apple could sell two million of them next year.
I've detailed in this space why the coming Apple tablet "changes everything," but in summary, I believe the future of mainstream desktop and laptop computing is multi-touch systems like Microsoft Surface and the Apple iPhone.
I think Apple will create an industry drug dependence on iPhone apps like Microsoft did with DOS, then leverage that dependence to own the future of computing like Microsoft did with Windows.
There's another parallel, too. IT professionals resisted DOS, Windows and PCs with all their might. They viewed (and many still view) the whole Wintel thing as an insecure, low-powered plaything. But they lost that battle, because workers brought their own through the back door in such vast numbers that resistance became futile. The same thing happened with the Internet, PDAs, IM, social networking and a raft of other technologies and product types.
Lack of utility for business is viewed as Apple's Achilles heel. But does anyone really believe IT will be able to hold back the tidal wave of iPhones, iPhone apps and, later, tablet computing devices? The iPhone and Apple touch computers will become mainstream business devices in the same way that DOS, Windows and PCs did -- by popular demand.
All this is unlikely if you think the future will be like the past (which in technology, it never is). If you think consumer electronics are insignificant compared with business technology; if you think today's WIMP (windows, icons, menus and pointing-devices) user interfaces will exist forever; if you think desktop PCs are the future; and believe expensive desktop PC applications will continue to dominate, then my prediction about Apple's ascendance seems unlikely.
But if you think consumer electronics will continue its spectacular rise, multi-touch and mobility are the future; and cheap-and-easy app store software will continue its insane growth, Apple's coming dominance seems more likely.
Following all the projections I've alluded to above (and a few I haven't alluded to), I think it's very possible that within five years, Apple will rise to become the number one "PC" maker, dominate the mobile phone industry, utterly control the music industry, hold sway over the TV and movie industries, and be in a position to force Web standards and practices on everybody. They will rise to become the Microsoft of the coming decade.
Nobody will want this. The Faithful will grow sour as Apple starts pushing its weight around (as they have already started to do). Those people and companies heavily invested in Windows applications won't enjoy watching the blood drained from their platform. And the government won't like it, either. If you combine Apple bundling practices, lock-out, control and dominance of its ecosystem with majority market share, you get charges of anti-competitive, monopolistic behavior.
After all these years, Apple has finally found its DOS. The iPhone is the innocent little product that Apple will leverage into unprecedented, and ultimately unwelcome, industry power.