The Unexpected Way Apple's Growth is Exploited by Competitors

When a company grows too large too fast, there's a temptation to do too much.  On the other hand, simplifying for customers opens windows of opportunity for competitors. At WWDC 2014, we saw a glimpse of how Apple tries to strike a balance. Sometimes, the company wins dramatically and sometimes it falls short.


Back when Apple was a relatively small company, about ten years ago, it was a an uphill battle against the Microsoft empire, fully embraced by enterprise and government. One of the tactics that Apple used was to be extremely technical and race forward with technology. That unsettled IT managers, but it also created great favor amongst thought leaders and senior scientists.

A minor war ensued between senior, influential scientists, especially at the national laboratories like Los Alamos, Lawrence-Livermore, Oak Ridge (as well as NASA) and the IT managers at those locations. Smart, technical leaders appreciated the aggressive approach to technology that Apple took — as well as the security of OS X compared to, say, Windows XP in its day. IT managers, on the other hand, sought the comfort of the enterprise-oriented Microsoft products even though they were expensive to license and stodgy to use.

After all, organizations don't make money by lavishing expensive Macs on all their employees.

In time, that led Apple to believe that everything it did, technically, was best for its customers and best for its bottom line. It mostly succeeded.

The Art of War

A strong trend, it seems to me, is for Apple's competitors to evaluate the holes in Apple's strategy and exploit those technical gaps for the benefit of the appropriate audience. Cloud storage has been one of those areas. Apple, which got off to a a rocky start with MobileMe, approached cloud storage gingerly for its own customers while businesses embraced the cloud and drove the technology. Apple's own cloud syncing seemed way behind.

Finally, competitive pressure and Apple's own learning curve allowed it to step into deeper waters and give customers what they wanted: more visibility and access into the file structure of their iCloud documents.

This competitive tactic shows no signs of slowing down even though Apple is a very powerful company to contend with. In those cases where Apple thinks it can put a hold on cool and desired technology, other powerful companies are more than willing to step in and fill the gap. Even if it's half-baked. In turn, that panics observers into thinking that Apple, for some reason, can't keep up. Apple bashing ensues.

My hope is that Apple will get better at filling the competitive gaps more wisely and carefully.  No one would wish that Apple would expand to fill those gaps too urgently and get caught trying to do too much. It's a fine line to toe. So far, it seems that with elements like storage and networking, Apple has remained a little too conservative. Namely, IPv6, AirPort management, Time Machine, family storage, iOS device backups, iOS integration with the bloated iTunes, for example, need a complete rethink.

Large companies have large ambitions. The problem is, when Apple pulls back for the sake of simplifying for the customer, other large companies with large ambitions are more than willing to step in and create a stir.

Often, the customer is caught in the middle, deciding between the sound and fury of Apple's competitors and Apple's generally aggressive approach that nevertheless leaves some doors open to those competitors. It's a never ending challenge for Apple.

Next: the tech news debris on page 2 is full of goodies this week.

Tech News Debris for the Week of June 9


One of the most exciting things Apple announced at WWDC about iOS 8 is the extension facility. Simply put, it's a secure method for apps to communicate, but there's much more than that. I think it has the potential to dramatically increase the usability of iOS and alter its future directionl. The talented Andrew Cunningham writes: "Explaining iOS 8’s extensions: Opening the platform while keeping it secure."

What hardware might Apple release in the second half of 2014? The following is quite a laundry list, but laundry lists can be good. In no way does this list mean Apple must or will release all these devices. However the list does help us focus on what we need or wish for. See: "Apple's 2014 Product Roadmap: A Closer Look At What The Company May Release Before Year's End."

TechCrunch claims to have sources and tipsters who have provided some background on Apple's Map efforts. "Apple’s Maps Are Still Lost."

One of the fascinating thing about modern technical giants is that successful ones are adept at identifying what resources they have such that a subtle (and legal) change in policy can have a far reaching negative impact on the competition. The better a company understands its own technology, ecosystem and functionality, the better it can tune it to achieve a competitive advantage. The following article may well be one of those oh-so clever tune-ups. "Apple Just Warned Facebook To Stay The Heck Out Of The App Store Business."

All signs are leading to the notion that Angela Ahrendts is going to be very good for Apple. See TMO's Kelly Guimont wtiteup: Angela Ahrendts Visits Tokyo Retail Store Grand Opening as well as this collection of her quotes by Jillian D'Onfro. "13 Angela Ahrendts Quotes That Prove Why She's The Perfect Person To Run Apple's Retail Business." I like what I'm reading about this new Apple Senior VP.

Have you ever wondered why your Apple Earbuds are always tangled? Science has figured it out. "The Little-Known Scientific Reason Your iPhone Earbuds Always Get Tangled."

Jonny Evans at Computerworld explores iOS 8 location tracking in some detail. Don't skip this one. "iOS 8: Apple kills creepy Wi-Fi Location Tracking? Not really."

The Microsoft self-initiated browser war of the 1990s may be over, but the browser war for the hearts and minds of users isn't. If you follow browser technology like I do, you'll appreciate this from Caroline Craig. "Browser bonanza: What's new in Firefox 30, IE11, Chrome 35, and Safari 8."

Speaking of Microsoft, its new CEO Saya Nadella does not sound like or think like Steve Ballmer. It'x certainly refreshing. Lately, Mr. Nadella has developed some interesting strategic themes for the company, and he's couching them in novel language as code. Simon Bisson helps explain. "Decoding Satya Nadella's Microsoft."

Microsoft is getting into hardware with Nokia and the Surface tablet. In contrast, Apple is providing frameworks like HealthKit and HomeKit for hardware makers, preferrring to keep the iPhone as its management and display platform. Jan Dawson explores the gentle shift in roles of the tech giants. "Apple, Google, Microsoft and ambition."

Image Credit: "Her," Warner Bros. Pictures - © 2013

Finally, the Turing Test, named after the British mathematician Alan Turing, is a test of computer intelligence on human scale. If researchers have a conversation with a hidden entity and can't tell if it's human or machine, it passes the Turing Test. It's a little more technical than that, but that's the general idea. So you'll want to check out: "Computer passes 'Turing Test' for the first time after convincing users it is human."

And you thought the movie "Her" was a mere fantasy.


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 1) 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.