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Has iTunes given Apple its last golden egg?

iTunes has been the goose, but what's next for Apple?

Apple's last quarter results were, for the first time in a long time, disappointing. While I don't think anyone expects them to show up in bankruptcy court anytime soon, it is pretty clear that Apple needs to figure out what the next big thing is going to be that keeps feeding investor expectations.

Apple's success over the last decade or more can all be traced back to iTunes. What's that, you say? I am crazy - what about the iPhone, iPad and even the iPod? Yes, they were all beautifully designed pieces of equipment that made ease of use and aesthetics a true art form. But at their core, they were all powered by iTunes.

iTunes is the secret to Apple's success and the engine that powers the machine it has become. Without a place to handle the buying and downloading of music, videos, games, books and other apps, what good would any of the Apple devices be?

If you had to put your own music on your iPod, how much music would you have? iTunes saved the music industry (or ruined it, some would say). What about getting videos? Yeah, you can get clips on YouTube, but where are you going to get movies (with DRM nonetheless) and TV shows? Honestly, what good is your iPhone and iPad without the hundreds of thousands of apps that are searchable and downloaded instantly?

At the end of the day, what Apple should really be lauded for is the idea of the store/marketplace powering the monetization of content for all of its products.Yes, there has been downloading software since before the Internet was public. You could also download music and videos from other sites. There was a time when we read books not in electronic format and magazines were printed on paper too. But it was the genius of Steve Jobs and Apple that pulled this all into one marketplace that was joined at the hip with their products. That integration has become the model, the standard for all of the others. Whether it be the Google Play Store, the Microsoft Store, or any of the dozens of other marketplaces and app stores, they at one level or another model iTunes.

So now what is next for Apple? Can it pull another rabbit out of the iTunes hat? The long-rumored foray into smart TV could easily use an iTunes type of marketplace. I don't think any of us have to think too hard to see how that works. But in the years since Steve Jobs passed away, we have been waiting for this new killer Apple product to emerge. I don't know about you, but I haven't even heard much about it lately.

How about the iWatch? We have been hearing about that for a while now. So long, in fact, that Samsung and countless other Asian tigers have come out with "me too" devices before the original was done. The watch would be, in many ways, just a Bluetooth extension of the phone. The health/fitness apps that it could support based on contact with the user's body would give it a nice touch, though. Again, these could be managed through iTunes.

Beyond those two, what else can Apple do? Will (and should) iTunes remain as the nexus for all things Apple? Microsoft seems to be moving the Microsoft Store as the engine for Windows on all devices. Will we see the same thing for Apple's computers? I don't see Apple doing yet another PC. What is next?

I suppose anything Apple comes up with could use iTunes to deliver content. But it really seems like they are running low on bold new ideas over in Cupertino. Is it time for fresh blood to bring in fresh ideas? Last week I wrote why I would have liked to see Microsoft go outside of Redmond for its next CEO. When Steve Jobs died all too young, it was the right move to stay within the Apple family and have Tim Cook step in. But has Apple outgrown the "game manager" QB? Do they need something that goes beyond iTunes? Time will tell.

What do you think? Where should Apple go next? Do they need to go outside of Apple for new ideas? Hey, I hear Steve Ballmer's available ;-)

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