A New Kind of Productivity Application

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Tim O'Reilly
Nov. 25, 2002 06:42 AM

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One of the off-the-cuff observations I made in the variant of my talk Watching the Alpha Geeks that I delivered at the O'Reilly Mac OS X Conference was that the iApps represent a new kind of productivity application. A number of people have asked for a written reference for that thought, so I thought I'd better blog it.

The thought begins not with Apple, but with Doug Carlston, the founder of Broderbund Software. When I first met Doug, he was explaining Broderbund's business to me. He explained that they had three lines of business: games (like Myst), "edutainment" (like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego), and productivity applications (like Print Shop Pro.)" I asked, "Where does Family Tree Maker fit in?" "Oh, that's a productivity application. We consider a productivity application to be any application where the user's own data matters more to him than the data we provide."

"What a great definition!" I thought, and filed it away for future reference, trotting it out as often as appropriate, because it is a profound thought that ought to be in as many software developers' heads as possible.

When adapting my talk for the OS X Conference, Doug's remarks came back to mind, because it seems to me that Apple's iApp designers understand them in a profound new way. For years, we've let office productivity applications define "productivity," yet Apple knows that the new frontier of productivity is not a new spreadsheet, word processor, or email client, but rather, tools for managing a consumer's growing array of digital assets: photos, music, and videos.

I'm not sure that anyone has plumbed the depths of the new productivity suite. Clearly, as we all own larger and larger hard disks, with more and more data on them, productivity will mean digital asset management at a new scale. We not only need to store and retrieve our photos and music, we need to edit, share, and annotate them. New digital asset types are coming onstream all the time, and new devices for capturing and exchanging them. So there's a brave new world ahead, not only for Apple users, but also for Windows users as Microsoft and various other software developers get into the act.

Meanwhile, the "alpha geeks" are already extending the simple databases in the iApps, adding more robust databases, scripting, and the like.

Tim O'Reilly is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media Inc. Considered by many to be the best computer book publisher in the world, O'Reilly Media also hosts conferences on technology topics, including the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Strata: The Business of Data, the Velocity Conference on Web Performance and Operations, and many others. Tim's blog, the O'Reilly Radar "watches the alpha geeks" to determine emerging technology trends, and serves as a platform for advocacy about issues of importance to the technical community. Tim is also a partner at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, O'Reilly's early stage venture firm, and is on the board of Safari Books Online, PeerJ, Code for America, and Maker Media, which was recently spun out from O'Reilly Media. Maker Media's Maker Faire has been compared to the West Coast Computer Faire, which launched the personal computer revolution.

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