The full impact of Apple’s Steve Jobs on the custom installation industry probably won’t be realized until two years from now when his contribution to Apple’s product roadmap will be wrapped up. Even then, I’m sure that the debate will rage on about whether Apple, under Jobs, was good or bad for the CEDIA channel.
I would contend that, relatively early on, Apple’s iPod actually created more opportunities for our channel to succeed. Until the iPod came along, the music industry had been struggling mightily, and new music sales were flagging. Sure, the MP3 (not Apple’s creation) led to a drop in audio standards, but the iPod also helped usher in a cottage industry of docks, multi-room integration products, and other accessories that otherwise wouldn’t have existed. More than anything the iPod made the act of listening to music cool again and meant that the CEDIA channel wasn’t beholden to a tiny percentage of the population that liked to sit in front of monolithic speakers, sipping scotch, and listening to Stravinsky after a hard day on the golf course. Steve Jobs didn’t invent digital music, but he was the first one to really make it sing.
There’s also no denying that Apple’s unrivaled industrial designs have been a positive influence on the custom installation channel. It was Jobs who served as the arbiter of taste when it came to the final design of Apple’s products, and I believe that greater care now goes into the look and feel of products designed by CEDIA companies as a result. Ultimately, better looking products help systems integrators measure up to the so-called wife acceptance factor, and help make everything we do as an industry look more professional to the end consumer.
But, alas, there’s the Apple iPad. There’s no denying that Steve Jobs’ revolutionary tablet had an immediate negative impact on the sales of touchpanel hardware in the CEDIA channel. I would argue, however, that this is just one more challenge to be overcome and that ultimately the iPad will be good for our business. After all, the functionality of the iPad (and iPhone on a smaller scale) now serves as a benchmark for every user interface on every system that our channel designs. Larger homes, with dozens of rooms of audio and video and other subsystems, are not yet a slam-dunk for the iPad, still requiring a custom touch and a whole lot more behind-the-scenes creativity. Yet, when that fully custom job is done, it must operate with the same elegance and simplicity of a Steve Jobs-influenced Apple product. Otherwise, your client will definitely notice and wonder why he or she didn’t just buy an iPad, download a few apps, and call it a day. Even in his retirement, Steve Jobs will continue to have that kind of influence on every project that our industry does.
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