A Dim View of Apple's Photo Op


By Alex Salkever Welcome to ByteBack, a semi-regular feature at BusinessWeek Online. We know that lots of folks read our Byte of the Apple columns (both mine and those written by the estimable Charles Haddad). And many of you take the extra step of writing in to tell us we're right on -- or off the deep end. Many of those missives are interesting and insightful, offering alternative views of the Apple universe. We like reading them and figured you would too. Obviously, we can offer only a representative sampling, albeit after editing and trimming. So here goes.

Last week, I wrote a column proposing that Apple (AAPL) make a Windows version of its iPhoto digital-photo management and album system (see BW Online, 11/26/03, "A Picture-Perfect Opportunity for Apple"). My reasoning? It's a great product. That market has no leader, and Apple could make some nice incremental revenues.

I got dozens of e-mails in response. Most were critical. In fact, some were unprintable. But here's a taste of the ones that captured some of the sentiment out there. Enjoy! And look for this ByteBack feature to run as a follow up for future Byte of the Apple columns.

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Your reasoning is all correct, but you've got the wrong software. Apple isn't interested in "me, too" introductions and probably doesn't want to undercut its long-time ally, Adobe (ADBE), with an iPhoto product for Windows.

Instead, iChatAV is where Apple will again show the world how something new should be done. At present iChatAV is nearly useless given the inability of Mac stalwarts to use [it to interact] with the Windows world. But [release] iChatAV software for Windows, however, and the video-chat market explodes.

Apple already charges non-Panther users $30 for iChatAV, probably the same price it could charge Windows users. Plus -- and this is how it mirrors the iPod -- Apple can sell the best Internet camera available, the iSight. Anyway, that's my prediction.

Gordon Ownby

Los Angeles

I agree that Apple could do well to port more of their software for Microsoft (MSFT) Windows. I think a version of Safari for Windows would really get attention. But porting iPhoto may be more difficult than it appears.

Mainly, iPhoto takes great advantage of the graphics systems built into OS X, such as resizing thumbnails. Windows' graphics system might not be able to handle these tasks. But if Apple were to port the application successfully, it should license iPhoto to the hardware makers to distribute with their cameras. Then Apple would have the same software on the two major platforms, and cameras would be more compatible. Apple can then push the money-making options like its photo album to increase its revenue further.

Eric Myers

Atlantic City, N.J.

As a Mac guy, I've thought about what software Apple might port to the "dark side" -- but discounted that as a step that would dilute Apple's hardware advantage over Windows boxes. I don't see Apple wanting to become dependent in any way on Windows software sales.

Rather, iTunes is a very specific case in that the iPod draws in $300 to $500 per sale and delivers big margins and revenues. iTunes also will help convert Windows buyers to Mac buyers, at least Apple hopes. Boil the iPod and iTunes for Windows move down, and it's not about the revenue and margins nearly as much as it being about a platform-standards war -- Windows Media Format (WMF) vs. Quicktime.

With digital cameras, Apple has already won that war. If WMF were encroaching into the digital-camera world, then perhaps iPhoto would find its way to the "dark side."

Mark Reschke

Portland, Ore.

You're absolutely right. Hardware engineers shouldn't design software. Heck, they shouldn't even design the software operating system that lets you set preferences within the camera. Apple should really be like Porsche Design for device operating systems.

I bought an early MP3 player. It required you to place songs in folders called "01_Folder", "02_Folder." It truncated the title and artist -- but not the bit rate setting and the mHz. Only an engineer would decide song titles are less important than bit rate.

I've been looking around for a digital camera for my dad. So far, I haven't found many I think he will be able to easily use. I mean, what exactly does a button with a light-bulb icon next to it mean if it's not the flash button?

So what Apple needs to do is license a "lite" version of iPhoto to camera sellers. You're absolutely right in that you cannot really hope to compete with the big boys of optics, but camera makers should be happy not to have to spend money to create a front end. They already work with Apple on the camera driver. Then Apple can sell a "full" version for $19.99 or something. They do this already with Quicktime Pro.

I think it's too tough to sell in the PC marketplace directly. When people mostly pay $599 for a computer, they expect everything priced close to nothing. If you do it the way I suggest, the software is free unless users want more functionality. Then Apple just has to set up a download page to grab incremental revenue.

Ken Chang

Danville, Calif. Salkever, Technology editor for BusinessWeek Online, is alternating with Charles Haddad on Byte of the Apple


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