The Steve Jobs era at Apple has ended. Jobs brought the company from the edge of the obscurity abyss to be a successful designer, developer, and manufacturer of premium computers, smartphones, and tablets that captured the entire premium end of the product spectrum. CEO Tim Cook has improved Apple’s efficiency and made the company the most profitable on planet earth.
How does a PC, smartphone, or tablet manufacturer compete against Apple’s successes?
In business there often is a substantial difference between simple and easy. Sometimes the solution to a problem is simple, but it’s just not easy to implement. For Apple’s competitors, those who dine of a diminishing portion of the industry’s profits while Apple gorges itself on mindshare and profitshare, the problem has a simple solution that just is not easy to implement.
The problem? Windows and Android.
The simple solution? Be more like Apple.
Of course, the problem with that solution is obvious. It’s not easy to be Apple. In product marketing, differentiation is a key component. Products are differentiated in many ways; price, size, components, distribution, design, usability, durability, and much more.
Think of what constitutes a Mac, iPhone, or iPad. Each product is designed with quality components which differentiates the devices from Windows PCs or Android smartphones and tablets. But each Apple product also runs OS X or iOS which sets the devices apart from competitors with usability, security, and quality and polish of apps. Apple’s products, in general, are easier and safer to use.
Now, think of what constitutes any Windows PC. How are they differentiated? From the most expensive Microsoft Surface Pro to the least expensive Windows tablet-notebook hybrid, all the devices have the same thing in common. Windows. An expensive Windows notebook or PC does exactly what the least expensive model does. Differentiation suffers.
Finally, think of what constitutes any Android device. How are they differentiated? From the most expensive Samsung Galaxy model to the least expensive Chinese knock-off smartphone or tablet, all the devices have the same thing in common. Android. For the most part, and despite some surface customization, all Android devices do what other Android devices do, and the only differentiation is build quality and price.
Windows PC and Android devices are differentiated from Apple’s products, but not as much within their own ranks. That leaves Apple free to stake out territory in the premium end of the product spectrum– the place where most of the industry’s profits lie– while Windows and Android device manufacturers compete against each other in a world where price is a major component of differentiation.
See the problem?
Solving the problem isn’t easy because device makers rely almost completely on Microsoft’s Windows or Google’s Android, the very components that prevent their products from being differentiated from one another.
Implementing a solution to a simple problem is not easy.
Without Windows or Android, device manufacturers would be required to develop their own operating system, and create an application ecosystem to compete with both Windows and Android, and compete against Apple. It’s not impossible. It’s just not easy. And that alone makes it almost impossible. Apple has been developing an ecosystem and highly differentiated products for 40 years and seems to get better at both as we move further into the 21st century.
Windows reigns on traditional PCs but has negligible impact on the mobile device market. Linux has been around 25 years and the claims to fame include, 1) dominance in the server industry, and, 2) the basis for Android, the latter of which takes us back to the differentiation problem.
It ain’t easy being Apple, but it looks to be even more difficult for all those PC, smartphone, and tablet makers that are not Apple.