Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 10th Oct 2013 16:37 UTC
Apple

Insightful article by John Gruber.

So the irony here is that iOS vs. Android (or, if you prefer, iPhone and iPad vs. commodity smartphones and tablets) is in fact a replay Mac vs. Windows - but not in the way that most who make the comparison would have you believe. Judging by its actions, Apple is keenly aware of the lessons to be learned from 20 years ago. To wit, this has nothing to do with focusing on raw market share, and everything to do with keeping the pedal to the metal on design and quality. If Apple maintains a lead over its rivals in those regards, the Mac suggests that Apple can occupy a dominant, stable, long-term position as the profit leader in the mobile market as well - a market that is already bigger than the PC market ever was, and unlike the PC market, is still growing.

As insightful as the article is, it does pivot on the assumption that Apple does, indeed, "[maintain] a lead over its rivals" in design and quality. Design is largely a matter of taste, but as far as quality goes, Apple has, in my view, been surpassed in almost every aspect by Android - at least, when it comes to software. And let's not even get started on internet services, where Apple is a complete and utter joke compared to its competitors. As far as hardware goes, however, Apple's supposed lead is harder to debate - I've held a lot of phones and tablets in my hands over the years, and while many come close to Apple's, I've never held anything that outright surpassed it (save for maybe the HTC One which no one is buying).

Unsurprisingly, Gruber believes Apple does maintain that lead, and as such, arguing his point becomes relatively easy. However, if you ascribe to the view that Android has surpassed iOS in quality (and certainly in design, in my view), it becomes a lot harder to accept that Apple can, this time, avoid the trap it fell into in the '90s.

Now, before people will twist and turn this into me saying Apple is doomed - I don't believe for a second that it is. However, that doesn't mean a repeat of the '90s is somehow magically off the table - Apple has a lot of work to do in order to avoid it. As Tom Dale stated so aptly almost a year ago, "Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web services". With Motorola and the Moto X, design might not be the only thing Google is getting better at faster.

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Tony Swash
Member since:
2009-08-22

There is a tech urban myth which goes like this. Apple made the Mac and it was closed and costly and they wouldn't license the OS. Microsoft made Windows which was almost as good as the Mac OS and it was licensed to lots of OEMs who drove innovation and costs down. As a result Windows took over the market and as a result of being reduced to a small market share the Mac fell behind technologically and Apple nearly went bankrupt.

The followup tech urban myth is that the same thing is about to happen all over again because once again Apple has a closed OS and now Android is playing the role of Windows by offering an open OS that lots of OEMs can deploy, etc, etc,.

The problem with the first tech urban myth, the one that people think is happening again, is that it never actually happened in the first place.

What really happened is that the from the beginning the Mac was vastly outsold by DOS PCs almost all of which were sold to businesses on the basis of price and the familiarity of corporate IT with particular sales channels. Much later, a full decade later, Windows 95 eventually came along and accelerated the growth of the non-enterprise consumer PC sales.

In parallel to all this but not synchronised with it or caused by it Apple drifted into a state of dysfunctional management and eventually a short lived profitability crises, a crises that came after ten years of the Mac having a small market share. Eventually Steve Jobs came back with his team from Next and remade Apple as a company as well as completely transforming Apple's product range and Apple once again became profitable and financially stable. Simultaneously with this return to profitability Apple's market share continued to decline for quite some time and it is only now, and only in some markets, that the Mac is once again approaching the 10% to 15% market share it had back at it's peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Mac software and peripheral markets are now more healthy than ever and there are no 'compatibility' disadvantages to using a Mac resulting from it's low market share. Apple now makes more money from the Mac than all the biggest PC OEMs added together.

Apple is currently the most successful digital goods, smart phone, tablet and PC company in the world. If in the future Apple ends up with just 10% or even 5%, of the world's PC, phone and tablet business it is perfectly possible, if as a company it remains focussed on the right goals and is managed in the right way, that it could remain the most successful digital goods, smart phone, tablet and PC company. It is also perfectly possible that users of Apple computing devices will not suffer any subpar experience as a result of Apple having a small market share.

Currently the only threat is that with a small market share Apple devices may suffer from attracting less developer and third party support and as result offer an impoverished user experience. The example of the Mac, stuck at 10% or below of the PC market at birth and for for decades after, indicates that that is not an inevitable consequence of smaller market share.

Not only is the future not likely to be like the past but it is even less likely to be like an imaginary past.

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