What Jobs’ medical leave means for everyone other than Apple

Anyone who has more than a passing familiarly with my pasty British face will know I’m not Apple’s biggest fan. Regardless, it was unsettling to hear of Steve Jobs’ plans for a medical leave of absence – not just the human interest aspect, but the knock-on impact the chief executive’s potential early retirement could have for the wider tech industry.

Were he to leave the company permanently, or even wind down his day-to-day activity to take more of a backseat CEO type role, the business will be negatively impacted in the short term. Shares will fall, strategic direction will suffer, other top execs and key people may even start to jump ship for pastures new.

But let’s also consider the bigger picture for everyone who doesn’t flog gear with half eaten fruit emblazoned upon smooth, aesthetically pleasing surfaces.

Whatever you think of Apple, the company’s products have encouraged innovation across the board in the last ten years. Do you remember that really awesome MP3 player you used to rave on about before you bought an iPod? Was your smartphone smarter than Stephen Fry after ten tins of tuna before the iPhone? Was your tablet even on the drawing board before the iPad? I’m generalising, but the majority of answers to the above will be no.

Without Apple’s products, the tech landscape would look different. Would Android be where it is? Would your average consumer give a flying fudge about apps? Would tablets still come in boxes from your local chemist? Would Mitchell and Webb be on every single fricking radio ad voice-over that chimes from your radio?

That’s not to say we wouldn’t have these products and applications without Apple, but the faux-fruit seller’s innovations have shaped the roadmaps of consumer electronics and web companies to some degree. Jobs has been the man behind this, and without him you have to wonder if the steamrolling powerhouse will continue at the same pace and in the same direction. The Guardian put it quite succinctly:

“Many investors and analysts see Apple as Jobs’s creation – and him as the engine of its progress. He is cited as the person through whom final design decisions flow, and in whom the “DNA” of the company resides. Every new product that comes out of Apple has Jobs’s fingerprints on it – usually literally.”

There’s every chance someone else will step in and do it better, faster, or just differently. There’s always someone else out there.

But if Jobs does heel-toe it, the impact will ripple well beyond Apple’s orchard fence.

Jobs, Murdoch, The Daily and Fawlty Towers

This weekend must be a welcome respite for anyone involved in the development of The Daily, the new iPad only newspaper from those lovely tycoons Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs.

A quick recap: on Wednesday The Daily was on for next week, by late Thursday it was off as both parties decided “to give Apple time to tweak its new subscription service for publications sold through its iTunes platform”. It is, however, delayed by weeks, not months. Regardless, somewhere as I type there is an Apple developer or two sweating like billy-o to get it done.

What else might Apple employees be doing? According to Mashable, they might just be fiddling about with their services to stop European newspapers offering print subscribers free access to iPad editions of their publications. Two publications in The Netherlands, deVolkskrant and nrc.nl, have been informed of “stricter rules” by Apple that will ensure the company has control over subscriber data and the 30% revenue cut from those accessing content via an app. These new rules are due to come into force on 1st April. As yet, no publications in the UK or other territories have encountered similar rule renewals from Apple.

Regardless, this anti-competitive behaviour does stink worse than yesterday’s fish and chips. Might Apple want a greater level of control over subscriber data to facilitate intelligent marketing of their own iPad publication? Seems logical. The number of people reading periodicals on an iPad must still be relatively low, so best start with those already comfortable with tablets as a daily reading device, right Steve (even if it’s just a flash in the pan).

While all these goings on are going on, the number crunching types at the Financial Times are making profiting from digital look like child’s play. Figures released on Friday say digital subscribers tipped the 200,000 mark in 2010, a 71 per cent increase over 2009. iPad subscribers represent a tenth of new digital subscribers, according to CEO John Ridding. Compared to other newspapers, the FT seems to be doing well (although, as James Holland of Electric Pig pointed out to me, the niche nature of the FT’s audience gives them a head start over the competition).

While it is unlikely The Daily will become the single ubiquitous publication for the iPad (remember Virgin has a more entertainment focused project in the works), Apple is seemingly putting up as many barriers to the competition as possible. If this doesn’t work, Murdoch and Jobs can always take a round the world trip and begin slapping anyone reading a newspaper app on the forehead with a spoon in a sort of Fawlty Towers slap stick kinda way. “Steve! There are too many newspaper apps on that iPad”, “Qué?!” etc.

Even with such measures in place, it’s the content that will be the ultimate decider of success, provided those iTunes tweaks get sorted out soon.