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

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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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.

I admit I am probably slightly too young to properly comment on the computer market in the 80's, but from growing up in that decade gave me the impression there were a lot more players in the game at the time. It wasn't really until the 90's that it turned into the two player game it is today.

The openness part of the myth comes from the fact that during the 90's Microsoft benefitted greatly from the innovation from 3rd party developers, which in many ways can be compared to the more open model in how Android can be customized.

So while overall I agree comparing the past and now reveals too many inaccuracies, there is enough similarities too to merit the question if iOS could end up marginalized in the same way Mac OS became in the late 90's. Right now I don't see the risk that great (it is much bigger for Windows Phone atm), but it will be interesting to follow. ;)

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