While they clearly add value to Apple’s products, it doesn’t appear as though Apple is too enamored of the emerging category of devices that use Wi-Fi to imbue products with capabilities they were never designed to include. Examples include Novatel Wireless’s MiFi (and Sprint’s 4G Overdrive by Sierra Wireless), the Tivit product for serving free over-the-air mobile digital television to Wi-Fi-capable devices, and the AirStash SD card-based server-in-a-stick.
Take the oldest of these, the MiFi, which helped pioneer the category. It’s become somewhat of an in-joke among iPhone users that the MiFi is the best way to address poor AT&T cellular coverage. It is a great accessory for iPod touches and MacBooks, particularly given that Apple doesn’t offer integrated 3G on its notebooks. Yet, you won’t find them at the Apple Store even though I’m sure Sprint or Verizon would be happy to have the Apple Store sales machine pumping them out to affluent customers. Perhaps it comes down to a contractual agreement with AT&T that Apple can’t offer products by rival carriers, but I doubt it.
Tivit is an even more interesting example. It would appear to be a great companion particularly for the new iPad, turning it into a large-screen mobile television perfect for, say, cars while avoiding taxing of the AT&T network. But it also stands to cannibalize Apple’s iTunes TV download business and, unlike MiFi, requires client software. I’m sure the iPhone and iPod touch are high on the target client list; we’ll see if the software passes Apple’s approval process.
This got me thinking about Apple’s continued reluctance to put Adobe Flash on its iPhone OS-powered devices, including the iPad, where its absence challenges the credibility of Apple’s claim that the iPad provides a better Web experience than a notebook. What if someone created a device, or an app for a device such as the MiFi, that would transcode Flash on the fly, similar to the way the Skyfire browser for Windows Mobile works. Would Apple block it, assuming it could? It could be some developer’s covered wagon ride to Apple’s touted gold rush.