Apple's Yellow Brick Road

As Apple prepares to host thousands of developers wandering their way along Apple's Yellow Brick Road to it its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco this week, it does so at one of—if not THE—most fortunate times in the company's colorful history.

(Check back here on Monday beginning at 1 pm EDT when I'll be live-blogging the Steve Jobs keynote!)

Steve Jobs
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Steve Jobs

And Steve Jobs will be the first to tell his developers: Now is the time to work even harder so this incredible momentum isn't squandered, and laurels don't become a comfortable place to rest your weary thumbs. The pressure is on Apple to keep expanding its universe while not angering those responsible for its growth.

And developers are the key to Apple's story right now.

The company faces several controversies, including the war of words with Adobe over Flash, and concerns that Apple is exerting too much control over what is and isn't included in the company's App Store, and whether that control somehow runs afoul of federal anti-trust laws; and Apple's heavy hand in trying to protect its own intellectual property by pressuring law enforcement to follow up on what could be illegal activity when it comes to the Gizmodo blog and the possibly stolen iPhone prototype.

Amid it all, Jobs exerts a kind of reasonableness that bears a close look-see.

Why? Well, mainstream media and Apple critics will tell you that Apple's maniacal regime is too overbearing and the company runs the risk of a public relations nightmare that threatens to derail everything Apple is about, including its stock price.

And all of that might indeed be a risk, but reality spells a far different story: Apple's App Store boasts well over 200,000 apps today, 5,000 or so designed specifically for the new iPad. Seems developers don't really mind that lack of Flash.

Apple's sold 2 million iPads in about two months, despite all that coverage about the lack of Flash, so it seems consumers don't care all that much. iPhone, sans Flash, continues to sell exceptionally well, too, by the way. Even Microsoft and Google , no fans of Apple to be sure, have both at various times and various levels, agreed with Apple on Flash.

Regarding that blogger and the iPhone prototype: Apple ought to go after them. If you want to chance breaking the law in going after a story, and you think it's worth it to do so, then fine. But don't cry foul after the fact, once you're caught!

Oh, and as far as investors are concerned, in the midst of all this hand-wringing, and bad press about Apple's totalitarianism, shares are near a record high, and its market cap has exceeded rival Microsoft's.

When it comes to bad PR and its affect on the overall Apple story: Mountain, meet the mole hill.

But going back to that rest and laurels thing I mentioned at the top: All of these headlines are not subtle reminders of just how steep the competition is right now in all things portable technology. Apple isn't standing still.

The things I'm expecting Monday: Obviously that new 4G iPhone.

Jobs hinted at the All Things Digital conference last week that wireless sharing of your digital media from one Apple device to another may also be in the cards. The wildcard is an iPhone deal with Verizon.

Increased chatter and buzz suggests this is more a possibility today than it has been in the past. This is like one of those Homeland Security warnings that something may be imminent based on "chatter," even though there's no hard-and-fast facts about the exact specifics. In other words, don't be surprised if it actually gets announced Monday.

Other things to watch for on Monday: Jobs and his possible rhetorical counter-punches to Google CEO Eric Schmidt and the pot shots he lobbed against Apple during the unveiling of GoogleTV last month. That could be fun!

Fact is, the smart phone market is still white hot, and there's plenty of room for multiple winners with this kind of growth. A lot is made of the marketshare horserace between Apple and Google (just Friday, Nielsen reported that iPhone OS marketshare is three times the size of Android, by the way), but Research in Motion and Microsoft aren't going away any time soon. They're all growing, some faster than others, but this is one big pie!

Everyone is spending a huge amount of effort looking for Apple weak spots. Not that difficult, really. Like Jobs said last week about consumers and Apple products: "If they like them, we get to come to work tomorrow."

Nobody forces consumers to buy Apple products (get that, Feds?). And nobody forces developers to create for the Apple platform.

If they're smart, and they usually are, they'll go where the market is (fish where the fish are, ski where the snow is, swim where the water is), and the market is in the Apple community. If they don't like it, if they don't like Apple's rules, or control, they'll go elsewhere.

Trouble for Apple competitors is, consumers and developers aren't doing that. They're choosing Apple. By the millions. Still.

Trouble for Apple competitors, certainly, but music to the ears of Apple investors.

Questions? Comments?