Is the Killer App Dead or Will Apple’s Numbers Revive It?

by Chris Howard Aug 02, 2006

A killer app is one that is so desirable people will buy the system it runs on just to get the application. Does Apple have a killer app in the wings or is the killer app dead?

Computers are past the point were people will buy en masse one model over another simply because of certain features or software.

It’s too easy to create software and get it to market now-a-days. Therefore, if one company was to release some fang-dangled application for Linux or OS X, the masses on PCs wouldn’t care because they’d know that it wouldn’t be too long before someone created a Windows version. That said though, there is still room for an application to have some small effect on market share, to take a small bite.

History of the killer app
When personal computers first came into being there was no consistency, uniformity or compatibility. It was a hotch potch. A computer was a computer. You bought one and didn’t care about transfering files to anyone else’s. You’d type up your job aapplication and print it out on the 9-pin dot matrix printer in very chunky text that was no more impressive than tidy handwriting. But if you were rich you could get a 24-pin printer with its NLQ (Near Letter Quality) mode which was sure to impress any potential employer - although they might think you a total show off who they didn’t really want working for them. People didn’t really care what computer they bought.

And then along came VisiCalc, credited as being the first “killer app”. VisiCalc became the reason many people bought Apple ][ computers. Suddenly people did care about what computer they bought.

It didn’t take long though for a new killer app to hit the block. Lotus 123. Overnight it wiped VisiCalc off the map and at the same time, set in motion the IBM PC industry.

And then another killer app came along to kill off Lotus 123, namely Microsoft Excel. Because of Lotus 123’s massive popularity - at one time accounting for more than 70% of the spreadsheet market -  Excel was more important than Word to the success of MS Office and Windows. Word alone was not going to win the Windows war for Microsoft. Word Perfect despite having similar command of the word processing market, didn’t pose the same threat, because word processors are a fairly generic tool – as evidenced by many Mac faithful being quite content using nothing more than Text Edit. Microsoft needed Excel to kill off Lotus 123 for MS Office (and ultimately Windows) to succeed. If the business world preferred Lotus 123, MS Office was in trouble. But as we all know, Excel was a killer app, not only did it sell MS Office in later years, in early years it even sold Windows before Windows was widely known. I remember a bank I worked for, one department buying Windows 2 just so staff could run Excel.

Does iWork’s Numbers have a halo or a zero?
The killer app on personal computers is long dead and unlikely to ever reappear. But there are still opportunities for applications to take small chunks of market share. To coin a phrase, lets call them “halo apps” because of the halo effect. The halo effect is one where one product casts a positive light on other products leading to an increase in the secondary product’s sales. The iPod halo effect which is puported to have led to an increased Mac sales is one recent well known halo effect.

Interestingly, Apple’s iWork spreadsheet, rumored to be called Numbers (although Charts is the latest rumor), could be one such application. Interesting because for the fourth time in personal computing, a spreadsheet application could be the trigger to send sales and market share the way of a systems maker.

iWork is no MS Office competitor despite the most optimistic wishful-thinking of the Mac faithful, and without a spreadsheet it lacks the necessary punch to be even considered an alternative. But seeing how impressive and innovative Keynote and Pages have been, we can look forward with great optimism that Numbers will be very eye-catching and innovative.(Of course, don’t expect version 1 to have all the bells and whistles.)

There is a chance though that Numbers could be the trigger to send sales Apple’s way. The iLife apps have been halo apps to a small degree, and there’s no reason why Numbers won’t be the halo app to send iWork sales soaring, and lead to more than a few Mac sales to boot.

What do you think? Can Apple get the numbers with Numbers? Will Numbers be a halo app?


  • To me, this is the killer app right here.  All of a sudden all of the great windows games are available on the mac within 3-6 months or even simultaneous ala Blizzard as opposed to 12-18 months for a fraction of the games made.

    That’s not really a reason to buy a Mac (which would make it a killer app) but rather it’s no longer a reason NOT to buy one.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 03, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • The traditional meaning to which “killer app” meant is no longer valid in today’s computer market. Microsoft already commands somewhere north of 90% of that market. Apple a distant second and Unix/Linux, mere crumbs. There are no longer a product that will have the same seismic shifts that VisiCalc, 1-2-3, dBase, <gasp!> Windows, or Office once caused to the computer industry. Those days of the wunder-applikation went to pasture along with the 8-inch floppy and the tape drive (photo above).

    So, if you are inclined to use the traditional meaning of the buzzword, then there are no longer anything that qualifies as a killer app since Windows and Office dominated. Remember Ben’s definition above. A killer app must have influenced the mass adoption of that platform. This was the traditional meaning in the early days of “hodge podge” computing.

    That is why I have been suggesting that why limit the term to just software? It was a buzzword that meant what Ben exactly stated - that one product that made the difference for a particular platform, both in market share impact and the waste it deemed to the competition.

    Again, why limit the definition to software? A prouduct in the computer world is either hardware or software that is tangible - meaning I can hear it, watch it, feel it, or touch it. But I’m not about to count meta-products like “one-click” and “buy it now” gee-whiz, and such, either. Those are methods that saran-wraps a product and not the product itself. If you ask me, those meta-products should not be patentable but that is another episode.

    So, let’s get back to topic shall we. The “killer app” buzzword of the 1980s and 1990s therefore needs to be redefined for 2000s as to include both software and hardware that transcends market boundaries and/or industry boundaries.

    And so doing, “killer app” becomes a generic term that would describe exactly what the iPod + iTunes is doing to the computer market and the CE industry today and many years from now. Why I use the iPod + iTunes as the poster child of today’s “killer app”? For good reason - it is the only present-day invention that deserves to be on that poster and the first REAL definition of the modern killer app.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 846
  • One could make the arguement, similar to that of gaming consoles having killer apps, that the killer app of sorts for many young computer users is gaming, and the pc gaming industry has pretty much been focused on the pc, as it presents a unified platform for both consumers and developers.  Therefore currently, gaming is the killer app for the pc, so by making it easy for developers and publishers to go multiplatform, you’re taking away the notion that gaming is the pc’s killer app.  It’s like if you were to say excel is the killer app for Windows, them having a mac version kinda makes it a moot point, right?

    If this leads to publishers being able to release a single copy of their product that would run on the big three OSes, it would be great for Apple as now all of a sudden the pc gaming section in Best Buy would then become the Mac Gaming section.  And you better believe that HP and Dell would love to be able to market some Linux Gaming PC’s without having to include a cut for Microsoft.  All of a sudden the computing space in computer stores are no longer revolving around Windows as much…

    If there’s anything that will bring down the vast market share of Windows, it would be through this sort of mindshare move where Linux and OS X are viable options where you don’t need to block yourselves off from the vast selection of software out there.  To do that, you need to get the software to become universal, and not have the process be a hassle where third parties are neccessary, like Aspyr and MacSoft. 

    Either way, I’m not buying another Mac until I can play Warhammer 30k, simple as that.

    Chicken2nite had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 79
  • oops.  I meant Warhammer 40k

    Chicken2nite had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 79
  • Therefore currently, gaming is the killer app for the pc, so by making it easy for developers and publishers to go multiplatform, you’re taking away the notion that gaming is the pc’s killer app.

    I agree, but taking away a killer app for the PC isn’t the same as being a killer app for the Mac.

    It’s like if you were to say excel is the killer app for Windows, them having a mac version kinda makes it a moot point, right?

    It’s exactly like saying that.  It’s also the reason why the iPod+iTunes combo isn’t a killer app either, unless you mean they are killer apps for computers in general regardless of platform.  But I don’t think that’s the point of the discussion.  Does APPLE have a killer app?  None of these really qualify.

    And I agree with Chris about the Wii controller.  Although it’s not an app per se, it’s definitely a compelling reason in and of itself to buy the Wii system.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Diverging just a bit here.

    The Nintendo Wii do have a potentially great controller metaphor. But the Wii controller will not entice a mass migration from the PS2 or X360 crowds because of this.

    It will be because of its fundamental attraction: price. It will be almost half of what the PS3 will cost at launch and a good $100 less than the core X360. Now, couple that with Nintendo’s gaming expertise and EA’s recent admiration of Nintendo and its pledge of support to the system.

    Now, you have to wonder if EA will support those two super-expensive PS3 and X360 in the longer term. I have been an EA fan since the Genesis/Mega Drive generation and following EA is the sure bet of gaming wunderland and more important - my wallet.

    As for perhaps, the Wii’s “killer app”, it will be Madden. It will be exclusive for a year on that system much like EA’s early commitment to the PS2.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 846
  • The killer app for the PC is merely the Application of the PC into it’s enviroment. By saying a killer “app” meaning Application itself has really no meaning. But by saying Killer App in the sense that the application has meaning and applies to a process or sense of a process is what your after.

    Killer app = My Mac fits my lifestyle because it has everything I need in one box and runs not only effeciently but never fails to start.

    Killer Application = NeoOffice 2.0 is a native OS X application that replaces my need for MS Office and includes more than I need but is available to me and co-integrates with my PC using associates as well as my office/personal needs on my Mac.

    xwiredtva had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 172
  • Killer App in the sense that the application has meaning and applies to a process or sense of a process is what your after. -xwired

    You almost got it. The buzzword “killer app” has evolved from its early definitions. Yes, you can still use the old meaning but now, one has to come out of their paradigm “box” to expand that to a metaphorical meaning.

    The “app” or “App” part is virtual and not literal as one normally sees it. Instead of then qualification of a “killer app” that it has to cause a seismic migration to a particular platform (for no longer possible unless you consider a few percentages a seismic shift), the term has evolved, thank you, to a more generalized sense (refer to my above post) and can no longer apply to just a particular segment.

    But none of what I am suggesting prevents you from its casual use. You can still use the term, of course, to candidly say, “this will be the killer app for the <market segment>”.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 846
  • Robo said: But the Wii controller will not entice a mass migration from the PS2 or X360 crowds because of this

    Maybe so, but it will bring many new people to the game console market, myself included.

    With 4 kids under 12, there’s no way I was ever letting them have a games console. On the Mac I run MacMinder to control their time and access. With no such thing on consoles, I didn’t want them having unlimited access,plonked in front of the TV like slobs for hours. (If you’ve got kids you know how hard it is to get them off games. That’s why I love MacMinder - I’m not the bad guy who kicks them off.)

    But with a controller that gets them up and moving, I’ll be first in line to buy one. And from reading around the ‘net, many other people a queueing up to for similar reasons, and a variety of other reasons.

    Top that with both MS and Sony saying “buy our product and the Wii” and it won’t surprise to see Wii as the #1 games console.

    Add to that all the games that use the controller will each be killer apps.

    I’d call that a killer tech.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 04, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • And Chris, I will be behind you buying a set of those Wii controllers - never mind that Wii’s specs are last-gen’ish (my kids still love their mini PS2).

    Just curious, are you saying MS and Sony are somehow collaborating with Nintendo on the Wii? Or you are just conjuring that up for a reason. Why would they do that when they are currently having a great time as the sole providers of game consoles?

    Yah, I think the Wii controller metaphor is about to be duplicated by both Sony and Nintendo, albeit wireless. That would be really funky and get my kids exercise meter up considerably.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 05, 2006 Posts: 846
  • After E3 in May (or was it June? time flies), senior staff of both MS and Sony were quoted as recommending people buy their console and a Wii. Here’s a link:

    I think that indicates how afraid they are of the Wii.

    They’re trying to tell people they still need to buy an XBox/PS3.

    The Wii controller will be copied soon enough, but will it be too late? Can they even make a decent fist of it?

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 05, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • I heard rumblings that Sony is hard at work at a similar device and has Nintendo thinking federal court - if they have this thing patented. If not, they should breathe easy as the PS3 will be so out-of-reach for most gamers anyway to really matter.

    Even avid gamers will have hard time ignoring the Wii Remote and flock to the Wii (I do not like the “wee” pronunciation - who came out with that? Mr. Miyamoto? He should be given sabbatical for it.. wink. I take the freedom to say it like “Wi” as in “Wi-Fi”. That sounds better without altering the trademark, don’t you think?

    The Wii has to be keeping Ken Kutaragi awake in the Wee hours of the night (pun surely intended). They are unable to price the PS3 under $500 let alone $300 and that will be the PS3’s achilles heel for the next 2-3 years until Sony can catch-up on the Cell’s process yields and other ASIC consolidations to match the Wii. But then, it might be too late for Sony for Nintendo and MS will be hard at work on their 8th generation consoles while Sony is stuck at optimizing the PS3.

    So, I agree both Sony and M$ has to be really worried about the effects of the Wii on their currently leading systems. Patience (on Nintendo’s part) do have a golden value.

    Bring on the EA games! Can’t wait…

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 06, 2006 Posts: 846
  • Maybe not a killer app as such, but a combination of a mac-based media centre (sorry for using M$‘s name, but it fits) and a complete, functional, bells-and-whistles version of Front Row would bring people flooding to the mac platform imho.

    The mac media centre would need a couple of TV tuners, a huge (and 3.5”) hard drive and a HDMI out socket.  The ‘new’ Front Row would need the ability to rip dvd’s, show tv, control satellite decoders, have TiVo-like recording, possibly location-free TV, etc. 

    Most importantly, it would work out of the box and be a ‘proper’ integrated solution.  If anyone can manage this Apple can.  I think the only reason they haven’t done it so far is they want to see how far they can go with selling TV shows (and soon films) from ITMS.

    So there’s my vote - Front Row v2.0 will be the Killer App!

    Eddieranu had this to say on Aug 06, 2006 Posts: 4
  • Front Row v2.0 will be the Killer App! -Eddie

    I do agree that the possibility of Front Row v2 or a souped-up DVR version of the initial offering for the iMac/Mac mini remote application.

    I also agree that Apple can do this quite easily. But there’s a catch. The broadband pipes are not yet large enough for an ubiquitous net delivery of HD content. Even a 2-hour 720p HD movie will require 9 GB [(10Mbps * 60 seconds * 120 minutes)/8 bits = 9000 MB]. Yes that 720p content can be reduced to 5Mbps encoding but artifacts starts to become visible.

    So, although I am clamoring for this probability of a DVR function in upcoming redesign of the mini but I doubt Apple will release any until bandwidth becomes less of an issue. Hint: Verizon and AT&T are busily hooking up homes on both coasts of the U.S. for FTTH (or fiber-to-the-home) ability. When the critical mass is reach in 2-4 years of unabated deployment (lots of street digging?) then we might finally see Apple take this DVR solution besides locked inside Infinite Loop’s design labs.

    What Apple is offering next is more an SD movie rental/subscription where iTunes serves as a streaming buffer. You won’t be able to watch that content until the download is completed, say in whole of Saturday and perhaps part of Sunday. That is just way too long. I can drive to/from Blockbusters or Hollywood, pick my movie in whatever format that tickles my imagination - DVD/BD/HD-DVD and play as many times as I care without worrying about the DRM conundrum that will surely accompany this iTunes movie downloads.

    For much of its worth, Front Row v2 will not be ready for a while. The technologies are brewing at 1394TA and HANA and Samsung. It will be wise for Verizon and AT&T to lend a hand to bring these technologies to market faster by adopting them and not use proprietary solutions. Standards, after all, will make all players compatible and that is the best approach for all consumers.

    Robomac had this to say on Aug 06, 2006 Posts: 846
  • The ‘new’ Front Row would need the ability to rip dvd’s, show tv, control satellite decoders, have TiVo-like recording, possibly location-free TV, etc.

    But then they couldn’t brag about how the remote only has six buttons.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Aug 07, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Page 3 of 4 pages  <  1 2 3 4 >
You need log in, or register, in order to comment