The Exchange

Apple is about to kill a whole bunch of apps — or not

Apple CEO Tim Cook walks past a logo for SDK at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
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Apple CEO Tim Cook walks past a logo for SDK at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco, Monday, June 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

As Apple (AAPL) rolled out a bevy of cool new features for iOS this week, the pundits were sure of one thing: A whole bunch of apps were about to be “killed.”

As the sentiment went, letting iPhone users store files on the Internet for easy access with the new iCloud Drive app was certainly a "Dropbox killer." A new doodling tool in the mail app was spelling doom for Evernote’s similar Skitch app, and Apple's expiring photos and videos in messages obviously were going to demolish Snapchat, or maybe Facebook's (FB) Whatsapp. And of course the HomeKit software standards may mean Google (GOOGL) wasted $3.2 billion buying Nest. You can read all the details laid out by Gizmodo in  "Everything Apple tried to kill at WWDC today." 

But if the track record of past Apple killing fields is any hint, take those predictions with about a million grains of salt, and then some. Apple does have tremendous sway over the mobile ecosystem, having sold some 800 million iPhones, iPads and iPod Touch units running the iOS system. But its borrowed features often fall short when compared to dedicated apps and services, and some simply don’t catch on with users as widely as expected.

At last year's developer conference, Apple similarly announced a bunch of new features that were plucked from existing, third-party apps and services. For example, iPhone users saving passwords in iCloud keychain wouldn’t need the password wallet app 1Password anymore. But a year later, the app is still around and recently out with an all-new version for Apple platforms, with betas going for Windows and Android.

The free music service iTunes Radio had the knife out for Pandora (P). A year later, Pandora's audience is bigger than ever. And though the stock market’s shift away from high-flying momentum stocks has certainly hurt its share price, the stock is still up 68% in the past year.

And there were many more expected casualties. A new sidebar in the Safari browser was going to kill read-it-later apps such as Instapaper and Pocket, there were to be no more flashlight apps since iOS would have its own, and Airdrop sharing would wipe out contact-and-filing sharing app Bump. Well, all those apps are still around except for Bump. It was bought by Google and shut down – seems it was Android, not Apple, that killed that one.

Alive and kicking

It was much the same story in 2012. Sharing pictures via the new Photostream might kill, or at least injure, Facebook’s Instagram. Passcard would eliminate the need for loyalty-card apps including Cardstar, and Safari’s offline browsing mode was going to demolish, wait for it, Instapaper and Pocket. All are still around, and Instagram recently passed the 200 million active users mark.

And even the year before, in the foggy olden times of 2011, Apple was going to kill “dozens of more pedestrian photo editing apps” with enhancements to the iPhone’s camera, news aggregator Zinio with its Newstand and, yes, yes, Instapaper and Pocket with Safari’s ability to save Web pages for later reading in the Reading List. All are still around – Zinio just added 1,000 new magazines to its service.

To be sure, when elephants like Apple dance, sometimes the mice do get at least a little bit bruised. Pandora’s listener growth has slowed, which could be at least somewhat because of iTunes Radio, for example. And some of the fear-mongering started back in the days when Apple adding features to its Mac computer OS did in fact put small utility software makers out of business.

But, lately, pundits assume an Apple product is going to be a mega-hit when it later turns out to be an also-ran or a dud. So maybe they should lay off the killing bit for a while.

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