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Apple Flexes Muscle in WWDC 2011 Keynote

If there is any doubt remaining about Apple’s ability to drive the future of the computing industry, the three massive announcements at today’s Worldwide Developer Conference keynote (now available for streaming) should put it to rest. In the space of two hours, Apple CEO Steve Jobs and a team of other Apple executives discussed and demoed Mac OS X Lion, iOS 5, and the company’s new iCloud service. In past years, and by the yardstick of what nearly any other company would do, any one of these platforms — for each truly is a platform upon which developers will be building innovative new applications and services — would have made for a worthy announcement in its own

By announcing three major platforms, Apple has flexed its muscle in three totally different spaces: desktop computing, where the traditional competition has come from Microsoft’s Windows; mobile computing, where Apple must contend with Google’s Android while continuing to dismantle the hold on the market that RIM’s BlackBerry once held; and cloud computing, where Apple is finally offering a developer-extensible service that competes with services from Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and others. That’s impressive, and honestly, a little intimidating for those of us who follow the company and have to try to make sense of increasingly frequent and significant changes.

But there’s no need to divine Apple’s place in the market purely on the basis of announcements of future products, since we can’t actually evaluate Lion until sometime in July and iOS for another few months after that. As is the company’s habit, the WWDC keynote featured a number of statistics about Apple’s business, and while you have to assume the numbers are carefully picked to paint Apple in the best possible light, there’s also no reason to disbelieve them.

WWDC itself gave us one of those benchmarks — although the conference has sold out in recent years, last year it sold out in 8 days, whereas all 5200 tickets were gone in 2 hours this year. Jobs even apologized for turning people away, saying that Apple would like to let more people in, but can’t find a larger venue that’s appropriate. The popularity of WWDC indicates that developers believe Apple’s platforms are not just interesting technically, but worthy of basing a business on.

To support that point, Apple took pains to note that there are some 425,000 apps on the iOS App Store, more than 90,000 of which are specifically designed for the iPad. The app download count has now exceeded 14 billion. And even more tellingly, Apple said they had paid out over $2.5 billion to iOS app developers. Even if that payout is extremely disproportionately distributed, as it undoubtedly is, it’s still one heck of a large business ecosystem for Apple to have created from thin air.

However, for the Mac App Store, Apple avoided giving overall numbers, claiming that it is now the top channel for buying desktop computer software, beating out Best Buy, Walmart, and Office Depot. Instead, Apple provided a few largely relative data points, noting that Autodesk’s Sketchbook has gained 1 million new users thanks to the Mac App Store (compared to how many before?), game publisher Feral has doubled its overall revenue since going to the Mac App Store (doubled from what?), and Pixelmator made $1 million in the first twenty days en route to quadrupling its revenue.

Similarly, for the iBookstore, Apple merely boasted of signing up the six major publishers and the fact that customers have downloaded over 130 million books. Since Apple likes to trumpet unit sales and revenue numbers, whereas the download numbers could be largely free titles, that says to me (and this matches our iBookstore experience with Take Control) that the iBookstore isn’t seeing truly amazing sales. That’s too bad, especially in light of Amazon’s recent announcement that Kindle-format books are now outselling print books. Our feeling is that ebooks have turned a corner recently, with reader expectations continuing to

Of course, despite the smaller businesses like the iBookstore and Mac App Store, the Big Kahuna remains the iTunes Music Store, which now offers 18 million songs and has sold over 15 billion songs since it was founded. iTunes is far and away the largest retailer of music in the world now.

And although Apple is still working out integration problems — the company just today made it possible to buy from the iBookstore in iTunes on the Mac, for instance, and you still can’t read an EPUB file in a Mac application from Apple — part of the reason for Apple’s success stems from the 225 million iTunes accounts (or Apple IDs) that can be used to purchase from any one of Apple’s various stores. Very few companies can boast of such a large number of customers who buy direct rather than through a reseller that manages the retail relationship.

If there’s any question that Apple is no longer just the computer company that makes that cute Macintosh computer, Apple announced that it has sold over 200 million iOS devices, 25 million of which are iPads. Apple previously said that the iPad sold 15 million units in 9 months of 2010, meaning that Apple has sold 10 million more iPads in the first six months of 2011, even with the slowdown in sales early in 2011 as people waited for the iPad 2.

But don’t count the Mac out; there are now 54 million active Mac users worldwide, and Apple is selling 3 to 4 million Macs every quarter. Apple said that the Mac market grew 28 percent in the last quarter from the previous year while claiming that the PC market shrank 1 percent in the comparable time frame. We’ve come a long way since the early days of the Mac, though, and the trend of laptops outselling desktops continues to accelerate, with the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro models accounting for nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of all Apple’s sales, whereas the Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro make up only 27 percent of sales.

As I said, Apple naturally tends to gloss over numbers that aren’t favorable, so there was no mention of the uptake for Apple’s much-ignored music social networking service Ping, and while Jobs made some surprisingly disparaging comments about MobileMe, he never said anything about how many users it had. We shouldn’t be surprised — this is Apple’s party, and they’re not going to rain on their own parade, which is growing larger and more impressive by the minute.

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