It's beginning to occur to me that some things that are happening in the industry of late that I've been tracking separately are, quite possibly, directly related. IBM is pushing for Wintel independence. Apple is pushing for video through iTunes. Sony is pushing the PSP and PS3. But really, aren't these things intertwined? And do they hint at some back-room collusion between these three companies?
Why was Sony present at the release of the iPod Shuffle? Doesn't Sony hate Apple? Didn't Apple steal Sony's chance to own the digital music market? Why are they playing nice?
Why is the PSP shipping with a copy of Spiderman 2?
What is the future of PPC? I mean, we all know that IBM sold their PC division to Lenovo so that they could pump Linux on PPC, right? Well, what if we're wrong?
Well, we all know that IBM is frothing at the mouth over the concept of grid computing. Otherwise known as utility computing. "Grid" and "utility" are both terms used by the power industry and it's no coincidence they are being used here. IBM wants you to plug into computing the way you plug in a lamp. Plug and go. No fuss, no muss, you get a bill once a month only for what you use. And IBM wants that bill to always come from them. And the key to this dream? The Cell processor. Grid computing no longer as a concept, but as a concrete solution. An IBM solution. So in the long term, IBM doesn't want wintel independence for Linux/PPC, they want it for Cell. Okay, nothing too surprising here.
Now, Sony is showing up at the release of the iPod Shuffle. As Cringley has already said, this is likely because Apple wants to make a push into selling movies on ITMS. No doubt they would kill to have access to Sony's content, so they start to cozy up. Sure Sony wants to sell content online, so it's smart for them to play along, even in this limited a capacity. But does Sony want the Mac mini to be your digital entertainment hub? Hell, no. They want it to be the PS3. And does Apple want to be in the PC business? Personally, I don't think they want to be anymore. In fact, their introduction of a $499 PC actually serves to reinforce the idea that they've abandoned the PC as a major revenue stream. Would Apple and Sony come to an agreement that would have Sony content offered on ITMS with the Mac mini serving as a temporary platform until PS3 can be finalized and released? I don't think it's far-fetched.
So if the PS3 is intended as your new media hub, why is the PSP being sold with Spiderman 2? Well, a hub implies spokes, and you can rest assured both Apple and Sony want to tap into the media-on-the-go market. Apple owns that market for music, but have nothing on the market for video. Enter the PSP. But is the PSP really where these two companies want media-on-the-go to end up? I don't think so. I think the PSP is a bridge to fill a product gap much the same way as the Mac mini fills a gap before the release of the PS3. I wouldn't be surprised to see Sony and Apple in bed to transition the Mac mini into the PS3, with Apple offering some technology to help make it happen. Conversely, Sony would transition some technology to Apple to help them build out the iPod into a video-capable device. Maybe even a video *and* gaming capable device.
So in summary, where would this hypothetical situation leave us? Well, Sony would become the content provider. Apple would become the store-front through iTunes. Sony would provide the digital hub in the form of the PS3, and Apple would provide the media-on-the-go device in the form of the iPod. Apple would throw in some OS and usability experience to get an OSX derivative running on the PS3 or more likely the PS4, and you've got two companies divvying up the multimedia living room rather deftly.
So where does IBM fit in all this? Well, they make the processors that run all these devices. Yes, including the iPod Video. They power the grid, they send you the monthly bill. They also have powerful support behind the Cell processor which they use to attack wintel on corporate desktops, but more importantly eating away at HP and Sun in high-end computing platforms and services. They continue to rely on Linux as the business OS of choice, and cooperate with Sony and Apple to let them dominate the consumer space.
A long-shot? You betcha. Rest assured that if Apple sees the Mac Mini take off with the success of the iPod, they won't just walk away and let the PS3 become your multimedia hub. And if Sony sees the PSP selling like the Walkman, they won't hand those technologies to Apple for use in the iPod. And if IBM doesn't see huge acceptance of Cell, they'll continue to push their PPC architecture. But these scenarios are probably unlikely. People will adopt slowly, and it's unlikely anything in this first generation will be the "killer app." If not, I think what I've described above could certainly come to pass.