Why Everything Gets Better With Apple, Worse for Others

| Particle Debris

The evolution of technology often results in frustrating corporate pratfalls. Companies, desperate for growth, perhaps survival, make decisions that annoy, even alarm us. Why doesn't that happen to Apple?

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Some examples are in order. A phone carrier starts with unlimited service to entice customers and later does everything it can to force-convert customers into capped or metered service. A company, which had a fine product for sale can't generate enough growth with a mature technology, so it makes its product available via subscription only.

Here are some more. A free social service becomes insanely popular, and then starts to sell the information people thought they'd only share with friends and family. Or an initially free service violates the implicit trust embedded in the good design as it proposes an unimaginative change —as a result of being under pressure to raise more money.

This is the modern business model of the Internet. Give something away for free (because free is enticing), and then gently pull the rug out from under the customer in order to recover the initial investment.

Have you ever wondered why this doesn't happen to Apple?

Apple is not unique amongst the technology companies, but it is perhaps the very best at creating a quality product that has recognizable benefits. In turn, people are willing to pay for those benefits. Exactly how you convince a customer that the product is desirable and should be paid for is the mark of a great company and ensures that it will thrive in today's culture.

It requires a lot of R&D to build a desirable product. The R&D is often the marriage of sophisticated software with bleeding edge but state-of the-art hardware. For example, the parts necessary to make the original iPod were available to other companies, but they didn't invest in the software, the GUI and iTunes, to make it a wholistic product. The same parts were available to RIM in 2006 to develop an iPhone as they were to Apple. But RIM (now BlackBerry) was cashing in on the present while being blind to a future vision and how to compete with itself.

Every year, Apple makes an iPhone that's better than last year's. We use it (and show it off) with pride. Over time, the iPhone doesn't betray us for the sake of Apple's success. The enthusiasm we have for the iPhone in the first place is Apple's success. And I'm not restricting this to hardware. Apple's software evolution of connectivity, iOS and OS X continues to improve and amaze.

As time goes on, everything with Apple gets better and better because of its well designed product roadmaps combined with an obsession with making the best of everything. There is never a race to the bottom, and there is no built-in or expected double-cross with Apple products. Many companies that seek success in the high technology market overlook that aspect of their relationship to the customer and assume that they can engage in perpetual customer abuse. That abuse is often the result of refusing to think ahead and lay out a great product or service roadmap that builds on success instead of mortgaging the future.

Some executives also assume that they will prosper personally even when their company and its doomed employees are later scattered to the winds. As those executives extract for themselves rationalized success, the customer starts to suffer. In contrast, Apple builds for the long term, and we experience that things are getting better and better. That can be frustrating to those who want their tech-jazz right now at any cost.

In the end, Apple's competitors will ultimately fail as they watch Apple prosper. Some won't even understand why they failed. It's easier to be jealous of Apple's success and explain it away.

Next: the tech news debris for the week of Aug 18. Why the iPad succeeded where others failed.

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Comments

CudaBoy

Is this your version of the Apple Death Knell? Just whom are you killing off? Microsoft? Google? Amazon? Samsung?  Nice rant, though.

iJack

It didn’t look right when I read it, so I looked it up.
wholism |ˈhōlizəm|
noun
variant spelling of holism.
Take your, pick, I guess.

jbelkin

Basically - most companies are like Samsung - they have 200 product VP’s who internally fight for staffing, resources and product features - so you end up with 200-300 products that are compromises since someone has to concede something and of course, features are obvious checklists that can be LITERALLY compared so that’s the measurement stick. Apple essentially creates 1 product in each segment so they simply try and figure out how to make it the best at the time of release. Why can’t other companies do this? First, fighting your way through corporate infighting does not make you the smrtest or the best guy to run a division - you’re just the savviest at corporate infighting which is something but not necessarily much of anything so ultimately, the only measurement is to reduce prices since that will surely get you marketshare. So, then it’s a race to cut corners and race to the bottom. And Google’s ONLY incentive with Android is to gain mobile search so they don’t care all that much about android as an OS as long as search works - the opposite of the OEM’s who want to be able to differentiate themselves but ultimately, android is WIN OS (except that WIN OS made billions from 1986 to 2006) ... so Apple has no real competition unless another company can build a phone from scratch with world class hardware & OS - launch a software ecosystem that is bulletproof and provide world class service with instore service worldwide ...

aardman

The opposite of starting with generous customer terms and tightening up later as the search for revenue intensifies:  Wasn’t there some software package or platform that Apple was charging corporate customers $50,000 for and overnight was permanently discounted to free?  Also iOS and OSX upgrades, iWork, all initially not free, now free.

It’s nice to watch a US company that has its eyes fixed firmly on the long term.  Is it that hard for the others?  Do they just not know how or are they not willing to put in the effort or do short term pressures just overwhelm?

vpndev

Apple has also made some of the same mistakes.

A case in point was free email with a “.mac” account which then became a $100/year item. MobileMe was the same price and still not very good.

It’s back to “free” with iCloud but IMHO only because Google and MS and others offer this free.

mhikl

Always love your preamble, John. There, philosophy stands tall.

It’s the scramble for the quick dollars, and it has infected corporate cultures—layoffs, cheap quality, increased advertising, razzle-dazzle rather then practical. Rare is the company that targets its customers to give them what they desire (or what truly they don’t know, they desire). If one doesn’t value its goods and customers, the fight to the bottom of bottoms lies in the outline of their strategies’ scramble.

I wonder if the problem is that there can be only one successful company in some industries, as Apple seems to be. But I doubt it. As a youth my dad told me to look at the second best. It usually was as good as the top one, or close enough. It had no choice but to try harder. That certainly seems less likely the case today.

But your point on ‘competing with one’s self’ is at the heart of the problem. The king must always watch his back or be running forwards, faster than a knife in motion.

BB is a sad case. But even as a Canadian, I do not feel sorry for the company. It had one thing Apple didn’t have and that was experience in its field. What it didn’t have that Apple did have was its shrewd sense of history and understanding of a basic law of physics: what goes up, must come down. Prepare against it. Maybe those guys at BB didn’t have the opportunity to join Boy Scouts.

Regarding the iPad (and its falling sales, which I suspect may be an anomaly): What if Apple were to reinvent the iPad into something we didn’t know we desired?
I do enjoy my iPad for what it does so well, but I now know I desire a laptop even more for the little things an iPad can do, but not do well enough. Typing and writing is the big thing for me and there are others. My iPad 3 is heavy but it does the job.

Lee Dronick

  As a youth my dad told me to look at the second best. It usually was as good as the top one, or close enough. It had no choice but to try harder. That certainly seems less likely the case today.

I remember back in the mind ‘60s that car rental company Avis, who second to Hertz,  using that in their advertising.

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/rivalries/2013/08/hertz_vs_avis_advertising_wars_how_an_ad_firm_made_a_virtue_out_of_second.html

Lee Dronick

Read that linked article. It tells how eventually Hertz and Avis fell to 2nd and 3rd place because they focused on one rental market. Also how Volkswagen used the small size of the Beetle to advertise against cars such as the much bigger, ahem “Galaxies.”

wab95

John:

I wasn’t able to get to this yesterday, however there are a couple of compelling points in your reading lineup that I’d like to address.

The first, which cannot be overlooked, is Mr Gassée’s citation of Bill Gates, wherein he says regarding the tablet form factor, “...within five years I predict it will be the most popular form of PC sold in America”. That no less an exponent of the PC platform than BG himself should acknowledge that the tablet is a computer, and therefore a ‘PC’ in every way that matters, and as supported by empirical data showing ‘tablet’ (read iPad) sales cannibalising PC sales. If no less a figure than Bill Gates, who founded the company that builds the software powering 90% of the world’s desktop PCs, says that tablets are PCs in another form factor, who has the authority, based on demonstrated PC expertise, to contradict him; and if they do, on what empirical basis? Where is their evidence or data to support that the iPad specifically is not a computer and should not be counted in PC sales when it competes for PC sales? Either technological ignorance or wilful blindness or an inability to recognise function in another form factor lie at the root; not expertise. That has already weighed in on the side of fact and reason.

Gates’ admission gives the lie to the practice of Gartner, IDC and others in separating out tablet sales from Apple’s statistics simply to deflate Apple’s performance as the world’s leading PC maker by actual unit sales. The manufacturers who benefit from this practice embrace the X-Files formula, ‘Believe the lie’, because, like Fox Mulder, they ‘want to believe’. It suits their purpose in staving off irrelevance, at least for the moment.

Believing a lie, however, has never altered reality, and makes the practitioner not a shaper of reality, but its victim.

John Kirk then makes so many telling points about MS’s Surface Pro strategy that it almost reads like shooting fish in a barrel, so much so that further commentary seems almost cruel.

Except that it’s not.

Multiple parties have pointed out that MS’s tablet strategy, if you want to so style the Surface, has been about porting the desktop Windows OS into the tablet platform, in quest of the ‘Windows everywhere’ MS holy grail. This strategy was created in order to serve MS, and not MS attempting to serve their clients. Putting the interest of the corporation before their clients, on whom depend the company’s livelihood and existence, merits lambasting, particularly when having two failed forays into foisting this device onto an obviously unwilling clientele, they forward number three.

The two key points, in my view, of Kirk’s piece are:

1) Despite offering this hardware kit as MS response to the tablet form factor, MS have positioned it against the MacBook Air (are you serious?); and

2) Satya Nadella, despite his call for MS to recognise that it is foremost a software company, and to move courageously into the future, he either is enabling or is powerless to deter, the company from doing just the opposite.

Neither of these points bode well for MS. The first says that, not only do they not know how to respond to the post-PC era, they don’t yet know what it is or what is driving it. The second says that that failure arises from an essential lack of vision, and indicates that they may be incapable of seeing their way forward.

My personal view is that MS’s blindness is not essential but behaviourally driven. By, wholly without merit, focusing on Apple and believing that they should be capable of doing whatever Apple does, only more successfully, based on nothing more than a one-off with choice of PC OS choice, they are blinded to their own identify. If they can be successfully refocused, the company has a realistic chance of regaining their footing and moving forward in the post-PC world, but as a software and IT solutions company, not as an Apple competitor.

Navigating this new era is not simply about throwing out new products and services and seeing what sticks, nor is it simply about shovelling out ‘me-too’ products. It begins with vision and ends with taking one’s clients to levels of productivity whereat older devices could never carry them. And if that journey is characterised by delight, better still. That is where Apple competes.

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