How Apple Succeeds in an Amazon World

Image credit: Apple

In a world that seems relentlessly focused on buying things, with Amazon's help, Apple not only succeeds outside of Amazon's sphere, it thrives. Just exactly how does Apple do that and what does it mean for the future of both companies?


I remember a famous story about the early days of personal computing and Steve Jobs. Back in the 1970s, one had to be particularly astute about computer technology to get one up and running at home. The Homebrew Computer Club brought together tech geeks who had the know-how to build a personal computer from parts and do something reasonably useful with it. Or perhaps revel in the joy of it just working.

Steve Jobs instinctively knew that there would come to be a market for home computers, but only if they became enormously easier to use. If I remember his quote correctly, it was something like, "There's no user's group for Maytag washing machines."

That was his way of saying that a personal computer needed to become an appliance in order to become a commercial success, and that drove his vision of the Apple II and then the Macintosh.

The ironic thing about all this is that, as our technology has progressed and become orders of magnitude more complex in the last 40 years, we're back to the point where learning and personal assistance are even more critical to our success and well being.

No one can possibly understand the totality of their iPhone, OS X, iTunes, Apple Music and the myriad of things that can go wrong. There's decent money to be made in helping everyday customers understand their equipment, either through books, video tutorials, how-to articles or one-on-one training.

As the high tech giants work harder and harder to seduce us into their ecosystem and keep us there, every purchase decision has import. Wading through the interconnections in our technical lives has become nearly a full time job. Consumers who don't pay attention and don't continue to learn and grow either become hopelessly left behind or get into monstrous technical troubles. Nothing in technology is really as simple as the tech giants want us to believe. That explains why kids, relieved of adult burdens, seem so darn smart about their iPhones.

Apple has learned that. Apple's retail stores and personnel help customers with important buying decisions. They're friendly and helpful. If just pushing goods, like laundry detergent, Blu-ray discs or Ethernet cables were important, Apple could have decided to compete with Amazon on those grounds. But they do not.

By and by, it seems, Best Buy finally learned this lesson as well.

In fact, there was a time, not long ago, when Best Buy was in serious trouble. The company looked headed for the same fate as Circuit City, CompUSA and RadioShack. How did the company turn things around? It turns out to be not just one factor, but getting more involved with Apple and learning from Apple certainly helped. As mentioned above, learning how to compete against Amazon has been another. Here's the diagnosis: "Is Best Buy's turnaround a roadmap for competing with Amazon?"

And that's how, despite the hard work Apple puts into making hard things easy, we still need community, friendship, social networks, guidance, training and learning to succeed in this very technical society.

That goes a long way toward explaining why Amazon's Fire Phone failed, why it was just too creepy and why Apple's iPhone just keeps on soaring.

Next page: the tech news debris for the week of August 31. More Google product troubles.

Page 2 - The Tech News Debris for the Week of August 31


Image credit: Google

There must be something about my technical leanings, as a former physicist, that reads beauty and salvation into new products from giant tech companies. When Google announced the onHub smart home router a few weeks ago, I, along with many, believed that it was a brilliant, well-thought out product that takes a giant leap forward in features and usability.

Perhaps that will be true in the long run, but the initial reviews reflect a somewhat disappointing product. Here's the one that's worth reading. "Google OnHub review—Google’s smart home Trojan horse is a $200 leap of faith."

In this column, in the past, I've talked about how intelligent robots for whom murder is always an option are still not quite at the highest spiritual level humans aspire to. However, in this case, robots (that are rather limited) have indeed been programmed to kill—for the good of the planet. Something to ponder. "Starfish-Killing Robot May Save the Great Barrier Reef."

There's been some discussion about Apple getting into the car business. Perhaps CarPlay is just the technical warmup. Here's a review of CarPlay from The Verge. 

Here's an interesting problem. With the consensus being that Apple Maps still hasn't caught up with Google Maps, how can Apple's CarPlay take the pole position? In last week's Particle Debris, I referenced Car & Driver's preference for Android Auto.

How Apple deals with this maps situation, critical to its car efforts, will be interesting to see.

Another thing I've written about previously is the lack of funding and sophistication by many developers of home automation equipment. As a result, I just knew an article like this would be in my future. And here it is. "9 baby monitors wide open to hacks that expose users’ most private moments."

Some would have you believe that the success of Windows 10, in sheer numbers compared to Yosemite, is a surprising and dreadful thing. Something bad for Apple. The reality remains that there are lot of Windows users out there, and most are on Windows 7 and will stay for a while. Windows 10, a small part of a very large pie, successful as it is, will naturally pass OS X on its way to replacing Windows 7 and 8.x. Here's a chart by Matt Rosoff that sheds some light on the numbers and provides perspective. Lest we fool ourselves, Macs are still the minority of all PCs.

The subtitle of this article by InfoWorld's Galen Gruman says it all. "Music, television, fitness, and fashion have grabbed Apple's attention, but it hasn't forgotten about business needs." Here, Mr. Gruman provides an insightful update on the status of Apple and the enterprise.

If I may add a note to the above, it seems to me that Apple has been successful in the enterprise precisely by not going toe-to-toe with Microsoft. Apple got out ahead with smartphones, tablets and the mobility needs of workers. It can succeed there without having to compete with 1U rack servers, SANs, Exchange Servers, and MS Office. Apple just needs to be a smart, capable player that allows business people to securely layer their mobility on top of the infrastructure already in place. That tactic has paid off handsomely.

In fact, Apple's business strategy has paid off well enough that Microsoft, under its new CEO Satya Nadella, has had to react and create its own brand new (and very wise) vision.

And so it goes.


Particle Debris is a generally a mix of John Martellaro's observations and opinions about a standout event or article of the week (preamble on page one) followed by a discussion of articles that didn't make the TMO headlines, the technical news debris. The column is published most every Friday except for holidays.