Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Will TV be Apple's undoing?

September 27, 2012: 6:28 AM ET

The Wall St. Journal columnist who foresaw the "Microsofting of Apple" has a new theory

Jenkins

FORTUNE -- Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. published a provocative theory Wednesday in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal.

The "maps farrago," as the paper's Business World columnist calls it, is a symptom of Apple's (AAPL) deeper problem: In a world in which content is king, the company's business model is doomed to failure.

Apple, he says, used to be preoccupied with making great products. But lately it's become increasingly preoccupied with "strategy" -- which he defines as "zero-sum maneuvering versus hated rivals."

"Yep," he writes. "Apple's rejection of Google's superior maps is an obvious example, but it goes with the turf. Apple's spectacular success with devices naturally led to the temptation of a network-effects empire. To such empires, maps are just too important as a way to gather information about users and hit them with ads and e-commerce opportunities."

But forget maps. That problem will be solved, Jenkins says, the moment Google (GOOG) sends a new version of Google Maps to the App Store and Apple approves it.

Look instead, he suggests, at the most important content of all: Television.

"Apple's fans imagine the company can do for TV what it did for music: breaking up the existing distribution model. Forget about it."

Content, Jenkins writes, is king again. "Apple for a while managed to tame the power of content and make it subservient, but that day is coming to an end... In such a world, Apple will have to change. To maintain its position, the company will have to focus more on giving its devices superb access to content it doesn't control and hasn't approved."

Can Tim Cook and his team adjust to what he sees as the new reality? Jenkins has his doubts.

"The real test will be for senior management. The time to worry will be if Apple's quixotic quest for TV leads it to block more realistic solutions that emerge on the open Internet. When Apple admits defeat about TV, that may be the best sign for the company's future."

This is not the first time Jenkins has peered into Cupertino's future and foreseen doom. Two years ago, in a column entitled "The Microsofting of Apple?", he excoriated Apple for rolling out "increasingly junky devices" (referring to the iPad) and for making a strategic decision to "cut off its users from a huge amount of Web content" (referring to mobile Flash).

Since Jenkins wrote that, Adobe (ADBE) has conceded that mobile Flash doesn't work and Apple has sold more than 100 million of those junky iPads.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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