Apple Must Think Differently to Slow the Android Invasion

For new readers to Particle Debris, I usually start with a preamble where I discuss something of interest to me, often triggered by the week's events. Then I follow with a section, "Tech News Debris," that highlights some of the offbeat but deeper technical news that didn't make the TMO headlines. Or sometimes just really good food for thought.


Apple is now faced with the prospect of an inflection point. At some point, perhaps as early as mid 2013, the shipments of Android devices will surpass those of iPads.

We shouldn't fool ourselves here. Apple has made snarky comments about how these Android tablets don't seem to be making an appearance on the Web and that the iPad commands 91 percent of Web traffic originating from tablets.

I see that more as a marketing comment than a technical observation about the popularity of products. The fact is, Apple's competitors are making solid, quality tablets now and backing them with ecosystems. The Kindle Fire HD is gaining ground, along with Samsung tablets, and the aggregate of all Android tablets is evolving to eventually become dominate. That includes not just the process of catching up but also thinking about moving forward faster. This is objective reality. It doesn't take a physicist to figure out what the competition is doing.

Is there anything Apple can do about that? Is there anything Apple wants to do about that?

Marketing - Fighting the Wrong War

Apple's iPad ads started out fine. Those soft ads depicted the glories of using a tablet and appealed to PC owners. But nowadays, we're in the Post-PC era and the emerging war is with the other tablet competitors. Yet Apple isn't making the case for the iPad in its current commercials. The company isn't clearly differentiating why the iPad is the better choice. Instead, Apple is still running the warm fuzzy ads designed to lure people away from their PCs while the real threat comes from Android.

Perhaps it's time for a revival, "Get an Pad" commercials with John Hodgman and Justin Long. That won't happen, but it characterizes the position Apple is in, just like it was against the PC of old.

So far Apple hasn't done anything in its marketing to make the case that the iPad is the better choice, even if it costs a little more. As a result, down the road, the iPad will end up being the premium tablet product with a corresponding market share. Who would love the idea of Apple targeting 10 percent of the 2016 tablet market?

Jeff Or with ABI Research summed up one reason why Apple stock is descending. "With the introduction of a smaller, lower-cost iPad Mini, Apple has acknowledged Android's beachhead of 7-inch-class tablets, though at the same time, it has failed to deliver a knock-out punch through innovation, pricing, and availability during the most critical selling period of the year."

Apple  is fighting the wrong war with the wrong approach.

Feature Parity

Tablet customers are not generally highly technical. They're fleeing from the tyranny of their PCs and they just want to browse, shop, email, Facebook (if that's a verb) tweet, and play games. All the prospective tablets look a lot alike.

When they look at the specs charts that all the websites love to run, including TMO, one thing becomes clear. Apple's competitors are keen to differentiate themselves from Apple by adding notable features. The Kindle Fire HD advertises Dolby sound from twin speakers. The Nexus tablets have NFC and Google Wallet. And stereo speakers facing the user. The Nook HD has multiple login accounts for family members and better resolution than the iPad mini. (But all is not well with the Nook.)

Customers can't help but draw the conclusion that a more aggressive feature set means that the manufacturer is providing a more complete tablet experience and is more technologically agressive. Check out this clever ad from Amazon to see what I mean. Customers just assume that there is OS and app parity because of the hardware similarities. That's not the case, but it's the mistaken conclusion customers are led to draw.

Some of those new Android tablet customers soon become disappointed and put the device in a bottom [desk] drawer, as Tim Cook suggested. Some discover to their dismay that the selection of full screen apps is so much more limited than for the iPad, with 275,000 native apps. Some customers discover that the Twitter and browser clients are awful. Some tablets get returned. But it's not a good idea to single out those events as a rationalization for the iPad's superiority and inevitable, perpetual dominance. Many tablet customers are all too happy to save some money and live with a simple consumer tablet. In their minds, if simple and cheap is good, simpler and cheaper is better.

Getting Out Front Again

Apple got out in front with the iPad in 2010 and embarrassed the technical community. In 2013, the iPad mini doesn't have the best specs, and it's not the least expensive choice. Plus, iOS has its share of notable issues, including maps and timekeeping now and in the past. It's the best overall choice however, but Apple, it seems to me, hasn't been able to shift gears and articulate to the buying public why that's so.

Left to their own, customers are making choices dictated by massive efforts to cash in on Apple's innovation (patent wars) and massive spending to develop hardware that can leverage competing ecosystems. Apple's lack of aggressive, hard-nosed marketing and conservative approach to features, is just aiding the invasion.


Tech News Debris

Speaking of being technologically challenged, USA Today had a great article over the holidays about how parents are struggling to keep up with their kids in high tech. Worse, parents are losing touch with how the digital world is influencing their kids. This is food for thought: "Bridge the digital gap with your kids."

Sometimes, to make progress in technical thinking, you have to go out on a limb. Even be a little foolish. But then a cool thing happens. The far reaching idea is absorbed and then re-imagined, re-integrated by others, and true progress is made. Here's one of those articles, by Mike Elgan, one that should be read in that frame of mind. "What If the Next iPad, iMac, Business PC and Apple TV Are All One Device?"

Apple is not happy with Samsung. Apple has claimed that Samsung tablets and smartphones infringe on Apple patents, and Apple won a huge court case against Samsung for infringement. But Samsung will be penalized even more because Apple is transferring most if not all its semiconductor business away from Samsung. Here are the details, along with charts that drive the point home. "Apple Is Blasting A Multibillion-Dollar Hole In Samsung's Business."

One of the themes I'm seeing for 2013, at least in the tech community is the idea of decluttering one's life. The Internet can be all consuming, and wasting your time signing up for all these services, with attendant user names and passwords, and account maintenance, makes for a cluttered, distracted life. That in turn, leads to external intrusions on our lives through marketing (incessant nagging if you will). Instead, we all have ambitions to create something great, and we can't do that amidst the clutter. Here are some year-end thoughts that tell those stories in various ways.

Finally, privacy issues continue to plague us. In lieu of really good behavior by merchants, a pull back by the bad guys, and sound, comprehensive government legislation, it falls on us to secure our privacy. Here are some thoughts to kick off the year "3 Big Privacy Issues Of 2013 - And What You Can Do About Them."


Battleship photo via Shutterstock.

Richard Feynman Think Different image via Apple.