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2/19/2009
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Where Does Apple Go From Here?

Apple's got room for future triumphs -- but it also faces threats from a battered economy, rejuvenated competitors, and a leadership crisis precipitated by Steve Jobs' illness.

Apple is a company built on a paradox. Over the past decade, it's embraced change and reinvented itself several times, building iPods, iPhones, iTunes, and the App Store into strategic businesses.

Apple changes fast -- but it also stays the same. The company remains true to a unified vision -- the same one that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak had when they founded Apple more than 30 years ago: to make computing simple and fun.

Apple has plenty left to do to achieve that vision, including making the Mac more stable and easy to use, making it easier to share media files and documents among multiple devices, and conquering the space under consumers' televisions. Solving those problems can keep Apple prosperous for decades to come.

But first the company needs to triumph over the threats that it faces. The economic downturn threatens Apple uniquely among tech companies because Apple makes a boutique product, more expensive than its competitors. Mac sales have been propelled by perceived bugginess of its chief competitor, Windows Vista, but Windows 7, Vista's successor, is looking pretty good so far. Other vendors, including Palm and Google, are introducing smartphones that could carve away at the iPhone's dominance of the market.




Apple's iLife '09 suite of apps.

Potentially the biggest threat of all: Visionary CEO Steve Jobs stepped aside from day-to-day responsibilities last month. What if he doesn't come back? How long can the company last without his firm hand at the helm?

Taking The Hassles Out

Apple's mission from the beginning was to simplify -- to produce computers and, later, consumer electronics that were fun to use and took the hassles out of computing.

"From day one, Apple was making devices for consumer end-users at home, who might also use them for business," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "Jobs had in his mind's eye a regular person trying to get some pleasure out of these intrinsically complicated devices."

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