Can open-source overtake the iPhone? The iPad? Apple itself? That's the dominant position of Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. But is that an idea that's based on reality? He's been trying to paint a connection between Sun and its Solaris OS--a "legacy" operating system to Linux, he suggests--and Apple's various devices. While it's all well and good to somehow consider that just because one mighty empire toppled, the next is just as likely to crack... that's just wrong. Apple has nothing to fear from the open-source world.
Apple plays in the consumer space, which is already as far removed from the licensing, and rights, and semantics of the open-source world as an iPad is different from a book. Let's face it. Your average consumer--and even your tech-savvy consumer--knows little about the digital light beyond the tunnel. If they've even heard of open-source, they're just trapped by the same stereotypical definition of, "it's free!" that confuses most people new to the concept.
Heck, I just spend the last five minutes trying to explain to decently savvy enthusiasts--friends with iPads, iPods, iPhones, and various other mixture of handheld devices--just what Linux is. To them, the cyberverse is a Windows world (or an OSX world, for that matter). These are the people who have no need or desire to investigate an alternative operating system. Nor, honestly, would they likely know what to do with Linux if they even had that choice sitting in front of them.
It doesn't do products like the WePad--an open-source alternative to the iPad--any good to come in third place. Or last place. I might be too much of a critic, but I just don't see the point of trying to market a product as an "open-source iPad killer." That's not because I think Apple is infallible. Rather, I just don't think the typical consumer world really cares about the licensing of a particular operating system, nor its potential ability to topple a market leader.
What do consumers care about? Features. Affordability. Aesthetics. The mobile market in particular is rife with all sorts of shapes, sizes, and spec load-outs. People aren't buying open-source products because they're just that. They're buying products that happen to contain open-source elements, like Google's Android operating system, because of what that platform delivers. I'd hate to make it sound like a marketing deal, only it is: people purchase based on solutions, not open-source strategies.
Now, let's switch to the tablet market for a second. While Apple's iPad is the big newcomer, it would be foolish enough for a company to attempt to take on Apple in a direct features-to-features face-off. I'm not sure most Apple aficionados really care about comparisons--at least, not the ones I chatted with in line at the Apple Store on iPad launch day, who were more than happy to buy both a launch-day version of the iPad and the 3G version to be released a month later.
It's no joke: half of what Apple sells is marketing, but the company is damn good at doing so. What's the WePad's marketing? "We're better than Apple?" Sorry, but if consumers cared about that line of thought, they wouldn't have lined up in droves for more than 300,000 brand-new white tablets. It's not as if other choices don't exist in the tablet landscape.
Were I in charge of the WePad, I'd drop all mention of open-source. Nobody cares. I'd do everything in my power to show just how easy it is to operate the device in a manner and fashion similar to Apple's quaint little advertisements. I'd undercut the iPad's price and make sure that my product was loaded with features that even the iPad II will be criticized for omitting. I'd get my product in consumer's hands and make sure every inch of what I did was compatible with what the iPad can handle. Then, I'd sit back and watch my rival corner most of the market because, let's face it, a newcomer just isn't going to jockey Apple out of position anytime soon.
Open-source or not, Apple's in it to stay, and it has legions of consumers validating its products regardless of just how closed they are, how banned they are, or how limited they are. If that's not enough to stop Apple's surge to the top, I highly doubt that the "threat" of open source is going to make Steve Jobs bat an eyelash. Nor will Apple follow Sun Solaris' fate to irrelevance.