If You Want to Compete Against Apple, Use Its Technologies

| Hidden Dimensions

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage”

-- Arie De Geus

You've gotten away with it, and now its come back to haunt you. You didn't pay attention for the last 9 years as Apple put an incredible infrastructure of technologies in place. You listened to your IT managers who told you that it would be too hard, too much work and too expensive to bring Macs into the organization. You incorrectly assumed that because Apple has such a small market share overall that you would, at the critical time, understand everything you needed to understand to compete with Apple. You were wrong.

Pick a Market, any Market

So now you have an idea about a market you want to dominate. Let's look at some candidates. Apple, sometimes with the help of a partner, delivers these products and services to its customers:

Operating systems, desktop computers, notebook computers, backup storage, Wi-Fi base stations/routers, displays, keyboards, mice, smartphones, handheld computers, book readers (iPod touch), music players with cameras and video cameras, earbuds, Apple TV with HDMI, remote controls, ring tones, movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, news, games, voice and data services, office productivity software, professional and home video editing/management tools, professional and home photo editing/management tools, Nike Sports Kit, and AV cables. And maybe a tablet computer in 2010.


See anything there that looks appealing? To jump in at any place in the above list, you'll have to develop key technologies, both hardware and software, out market Apple, and fight for retail shelf space and/or Internet cred.

You've looked around and discovered that the trusty Windows XP you've forced on your employees for so many years doesn't contain the key technologies you need to compete. Even Windows 7 will merely be a product you pay for, but you'll be hard pressed to use it to develop competing technologies. Windows Mobile doesn't have the right stuff either. You find yourself being dragged into Google's Android OS, but you don't understand it fully and are not sure if it gives you a competitive advantage over Apple. Should you build your own mobile OS? Is it too late?

While you Were Sleeping

Meanwhile, Apple has become more vertically integrated. They build their own OS, their own computers, and they have PA Semi as a source for proprietary, low power systems that you'll pay through the nose for from other sources. Apple's iPhone has eaten up so much of the NAND Flash market, that your buyers tell you the waiting list is long, and prices are high.

Had you been paying attention to Apple, bringing Macs into your organization, developing expertise and in-house talent, you'd have a lot of very smart engineers to draw upon when it came time to develop competing technologies. A few of your brightest, who managed to get a Mac for their desktop, begged you to pay for attendance at WWDC. Being pound-wise but penny-foolish, you denied the request, stating "We are a Microsoft and PC organization." So they left you, started their own companies, and now -- at the critical time when you want to enter a highly competitive, emerging market for, say, tablet computers -- you have no where to turn.

Back in 2000, you got the idea that the Mac was a toy. It used AppleTalk. It had an aging, obsolete OS called Mac OX 9 that crashed a lot, didn't have enterprise support, and no professional level technologies like a kernel and memory protection. So you skated in the early part of this century, believing that Apple had nothing to offer your company. But you overlooked the incredible array of technologies, under Steve Jobs' supervision, that have been incrementally developed for the last nine years.

So you didn't nurture anyone in your organization who understood UNIX, hardware accelerated open GL/ES, OpenCL, Grand Central Dispatch, Cocoa and Cocoa touch, Bonjour, Bootcamp, Xcode, QuickTime and H.264, Core Image, Core Graphics, Core Data, Core Audio, Apple contributions to Webkit, Spotlight (derived from metadata file system), launchd, and Time Machine.

What Are Your Options?

But now you want to compete with Apple and haven't paid attention to what they've quietly achieved. As a result, you have no basis for understanding when and how Apple innovated, how they used their technologies to solve customer problems creatively, and what challenges you face when competing with Apple in any of the product areas listed above.

You're left with two choices:

  • Build an inferior, compromised product that looks like Apple's but pales by comparison once journalists and customers get their hands on it. You'll quickly exit the market in disgrace.
  • Spend a lot of time and money catching up, building alternative technologies, spiced with knowledge of what Apple has done, then apply your own creativity and innovation. The problem there is that Apple has nine year head start on you.

Apple leveraged itself into a company with US$38B in annual sales, $33B in the bank, and nearly 300 retails stores of which 221 are in the U.S. And those stores are jammed every day and all weekend. You ignored the fact that 100 percent of this enormously successful company's employees and almost 100 percent of its data center runs Mac OS X.

All this happened for the last nine years while you and your partner, Microsoft, lingered with Windows XP. You made snarky comments at power lunches about Apple going out of business and building toy computers for brain dead home users.

Even when your own son, who understood the issues, demanded a MacBook for college, you rationalized that there was no place in your company for even an R&D group to track Apple's developments. Your IT managers duped you into believing that you didn't need to use or understand the very best computers on the planet because they were too expensive. (In fact, they're very easy to maintain, so the advice you got was self-serving.) You figured that if you acquiesced, too many of your employees might want one. To put a halt to that, you hired consultants, and they all told you that Apple wasn't committed to the enterprise, so you signed a big check and carried on.

And now, you want to take on Apple. Your options are limited, your expertise insufficient, and your basis for innovation bankrupt.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge, however, it's not too late to change.


John Martellaro

This HD is a bit more cheeky than my normal cerebral stuff, but in my experience, executives often need a good smack in the head to get their attention.


Dead on target
But harsh.

Maybe it’ll wake up some of those CEOs so we can get more Macs around here. If you ask them they DO have some Macs in the organization. They bought some MacBook Pro’s for Sales because they looked good when they walk into presentations but only run WinXP on them. Makes me want to chew my own leg off sometimes.


I’m a Professor at a large private art school. We recently had a tech seminar where the person in charge o. Making tech decisions an purchasing warned that if Apple didn’t start giving them breaks on hardware purchases like HP does, they would stop buying MacBook Pros for the faculty (they buy about 1500 per year). In other words, price is still a concern for most industries, and Apple costs about double for comparable machines when bought in mass quantities. They don’t care about superior technology when the cost difference is so high.

I realize you’re targeting developers and tech manufacturers here, but it’s important to realize that Apple doesn’t compete in all areas, and isn’t the juggernaut you’re making it out to be.


Right On! Love your stuff, keep doing what you do…


...where the person in charge of making tech decisions an purchasing…

I ran into that at one of my previous jobs. The person in Purchasing only looked at the number, not what was wanted, not what would work best, not what would last the longest, just the number at the bottom of the form. To him it was just a box marked computer and as far as he was concerned they all were the same. Grrrr.

Lee Dronick

Makes me want to chew my own leg off sometimes.

I can see the tabloid headlines



But yeah, I have been fighting the anti-Apple snoids since the days of Apple II.

Constable Odo

The enterprise is all about how cheaply you can buy hardware.  When a company needs 25,000 PCs, they’re only gonna look at the cheapest initial cost and go with that which will be some low-end $400 box.  The bean counters will make sure it stays that way.  Apple doesn’t stand a prayer even if it did offer the management tools that are already in place for Windows.

And of course, there’s those aging Windows IT guys that can’t think about anything else in their jobs except managing Windows until they retire.  They’re not looking for innovation.  They want time to stand still.  The longer the better.  A world without change.  It makes their job easier.

Apple will remain an outsider in the business world if it only intends to cater to the higher-income individuals of the world.  The few people that can afford innovation will have to pay extra for it.  At least I’ll be enjoying my Apple products even if 95% of the world doesn’t think they’re worth the price.

I don’t see Apple as a juggernaut.  It’s just a small company with major market share only in iPods.  Fortunately, market share isn’t everything.  I hope Apple stays a small company that makes lots and lots of money and continues doing things their own way and never compromising on quality.


I should add that there would be a major revolt if my school did buy anything but MacS - the profs love them and use them to death… they wouldn’t accept this, and have the voice to demand Macs. For me, if they gave me a PC, I’d give it right back. Hmm… that’s a major cost savings - better not mention it!

But it’s appaling how much power these folks have, or at least believe they do. And on another note, I’m not suggesting Apple change their game - I think it’s savvy, at least until the premium market taps out. I’d much rather have profits than volume.



When will anyone in the enterprise ever look at TCO? I’m still using a 6-7 (maybe 8) year old 933MHz QuickSilver at work, along with a 2+ year old MacBook Pro for the heavy lifting. I defy any Windows machine to do what these two Macs do, for as long, and with little to no IT support.


?The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be only sustainable competitive advantage?

—Arie De Geus

I have seen that quote as you wrote it, and also as;

“The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage”

and as;

“The ability to learn faster than competitors may be our only sustainable competitive advantage”

I wonder which is correct.


John, you have done it again. Damn! Another interesting writer to add to my overburdened watchlist.
Keep it up. More than informative, eye-opening for all those self-proclaimed visionaries out there (Dell, Gates, Ballmer, Arrington, folk at Nokia, SE, Motorola etc…..)
Consider developing this thread into a book on the failings of IT managers and IT market players and the corporate cost of not just ‘thinking different’ but of hardly doing any thinking at all. You could do it as a reversal of Tom Peters’ big bucks bestseller and call it ‘In Search of Mediocrity’
Chandra Coomaraswamy


Another facet to consider is that hardware creativity is effectively regulated at some companies with large numbers of desktops/laptops. Systems are typically imaged, locked down and set up with a pre-determined set of software. Even standards like Microsoft Office are not immune; you may be surprised how much functionality is removed from the suite when it is installed on an image. In that atmosphere, most hardware performance advantages are rendered moot, and superior software is emasculated. IT support consists of keeping ready images and a steady stock of systems that can be stored in a rack, flash-imaged and drop-shipped at a moment?s notice, and remote-managed by a help desk that knows there will be very little deviation from the engineered norm. It?s not a place in which Apple likes to play.


Why are you wasting your breath on this?


There was an interesting article in IT Pro about how the police in Copenhagen were running a Mac-based system (XServes and Minis) which still asked the question about ?aren?t Macs expensive? ? ignoring the wider question, which is total system cost - not just TCO, but cost of development & change of software - and even the capabilities of the software.

And that has been the great flaw in enterprise IT ? the focus on cutting costs they can control (hardware, deployment) has pushed other sectors of the industry backwards ? my development team productivity feels a quarter of what it was in 1992, due to the fact our customers insist that things have to be web apps (even internally).

?zero deployment? is all - except for the 3 tiers of server-side deployment / config files / etc, that the Windows desktop management people don’t get involved in. Just so long as they can deploy a fixed image via Citrix all is fine.

There?s something ridiculous about spending 6 figures on an Enterprise software system, when probably a good 50% or more of the development costs are down to the productivity of the platform, rather than actual application functionality.

I think the problem is a culture where IT is a department, with a budget and costs to control, rather than a generator of business advantage.


Apple will remain an outsider in the business world if it only intends to cater to the higher-income individuals of the world.

This is the crux of it, and I am more than certain that Apple understands.  The question is, does Apple really want to get involved with supporting the needs of enterprise? I believe the answer from Steve Jobs and Apple is “No!”  The reason being if they have a bunch of 25,000 units/year customers, they are going to have a lot of pull in which direction Apple can take it’s products.

Do you think Apple would have been able to do the switch to OS X if they had to worry about long term backward compatibility to please their large volume customers? That is where MicroSoft is at, and the largest reason they cannot (not will not, but cannot) go the way of Apple and rebuild their OS from scratch, thus leaving behind their over burdened legacy that still has DOS code entwined.

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