Apple, Mobility, Product Mgmt

Product Bistro: Can Apple sustain and dominate, or only innovate?

5 Nov , 2007  

Product_bistro_martiniFrom that title you might think I don’t like Apple. Wrong, I was an Apple advocate for many, many years, and I still love the innovation Apple brings to market. My first computer was the Apple II Plus which I still think was one of the most fun computers ever. Fun because it was new, exciting and it was in my apartment in college instead of only at the CompSci computer lab. I started my first business writing software for the Apple II. I remained an Apple advocate, through thick and thin, up until Windows 95 came close enough to show that Microsoft would soon catch up and surpass the Macintosh.

I got tired of telling everyone they should switch to Macs because they were more stable and less complicated. It just wasn’t true anymore, despite Win95’s window dressing on top of DOS. I bifurcated into Linux and Microsoft Windows platforms and also began my career move into networking and security. Since that time I’ve been tempted by the Mac platform for music studio recording and the BSD/Mac OSX of the Mac Book Pro laptops, but paying $1000 more for the equivalent Apple laptop isn’t worth it, just to have an Apple. Now I go for things that are cool because I think they are cool, not because everyone else does.

What Apple is great at as a company is changing the game through innovation. The Apple II started and commercialized the personal computer revolution. The Lisa and Macintosh changed the user experience from ice fishing at the command prompt to visualizing the computer as a desktop workspace. And, Apple continues to innovate the user experience through successive versions of OSX and new products like the iPod and iPhone. The iPhone ushered in user interface gestures (something Apple came up with in the late 80’s) and new graphic UI applications like video voicemail. And iPods have changed the way we listen to music and the music business itself forever. All of these Apple initiatives were groundbreaking.

But while Apple is a truly innovative company, very few of these landmark, industry changing products have remained dominant in their respective markets. All, with one exception, have been surpassed by other companies (chiefly Microsoft), leaving Apple with a smaller part of a market that Apple created or reinvented. The exception to date is the iPod.

The iPod created a product category, the mp3 player, where one didn’t exist. Unlike the personal computer category, Apple has continued to dominate with the iPod. They’ve continuously innovated by making iPods smaller, adding video, and most importantly created an online service that makes acquiring and managing music and video content easy. While others, Microsoft included, work to play catch up, Apple changes the game before they get there. In mp3 players and music services, Apple dominates. But that’s the only category so far.

Will Apple be able become dominant in the cell phone market? No. Not just because existing cell phone manufacturers are rushing copycat devices to market. Other innovators – Google and Skype for starters – are changing the cell phone industry as we speak, right along with Apple. Cell phones, PDAs and mobile computing isn’t just about a better interface, it’s about applications that change the way we work and communicate. It’s about changing the way we think about and use mobility and communications.

While I expect Apple to continue innovating with the iPhone and bring new applications to their platform, others will too. Apple, Google, Skype, Microsoft all will change the way we use and think about mobility and communications. Here again, Apple brought innovation to mobile communications but this isn’t a market they will dominate.

Apple, Mobility

What’s your opinion about the Apple iBrick?

5 Oct , 2007  

InformationWeek sent me a survey (I’m sure they won’t mind me passing along the link here) about the Apple iBrick situation. I don’t normally do many surveys but I did fill this one out, mainly because there’s a lot of uproar about the situation. Many are clambering Apple can’t do this, it’s illegal and we should sue. From my viewpoint, I doubt it’s illegal especially if Apple was very clear you couldn’t unlock the phone or run it on unauthorized networks, and doing so might cause the device to malfunction. I HAVE NOT read Apple’s license or user agreement, or Cingular’s service agreement so you’d have to determine whether Apple adequately spelled things out or not.

Move_alongIf Apple did, I think they are within their rights to do this. That DOES NOT mean it’s a good business decision. Apple made three strategic errors with the iPhone; limiting availability through Cingular and their slower EDGE network, how they handled the price drop (a sign of the first problem), and how they handled the unlock/bricking situation. I feel they were poor basic business decisions. And… neither are they unrecoverable from.

Apple will be fine, the iPhone will live on. Even if a suit does happen in the end it will just be a blip on the radar. iPhones will continue to fly off the shelves, Verizion will come out with their Voyager iPhone competitor and bring some competition, and Apple faithful will live on it utter bliss.

In the end, there’s nothing here to look at… so move along please, move along.