Why we need Apple?
It’s no secret that I’m an avid Apple fan and user- Apple Ipad, Apple Ipod, Macbook Air and Iphone. I have never been a fan of any other system such as Android, Windows etc, I find them too cluttery and a bit all over the place. My first smartphone was a Samsung Omnia and it was awful. The windows system, then, was in no way as good as the simple Ios from Apples 3G model. So I can safely say I couldn't be happier about Apple’s latest announcements. Why? Because what Apple does affects us all.
There’s a tendency in the tech world- and especially as it relates to mobile OS-es to believe that the tech giants operate independently from each other. Apple makes its products, Google makes its operating system and any overlap is copying at best, and theft at worst. This view fails to take into account a lot of the complexities of how tech operates.
Apple Has the Scale to Reach Millions of Users
Perhaps, the biggest reason that Apple matters is it's distribution scale. Apple isn't the only one who puts good ideas into their products. But making a good phone doesn't matter much if you can’t put it into the hands of the people who want it. Some features (like NFC payments) only really catch on if a lot of people are using them. Apple is one of the few who can put phones into millions of hands.
When Apple launched the Iphone 5s last year, it initially launched in 11 countries, reaching a total of 50 countries by November 1st. This is possible due to the massive infrastructure that Apple has devoted to its one product line. According to reports, Foxconn- one of Apple’s biggest suppliers- is able to crank out 500k Iphone's per day. Thats a 24-hour work cycle (bogged down with human rights violation problems. Not that this is unique to Foxconn or Apple), but for context, at that capacity, Apple could make 45 million Iphone's in 90 days. One quarter.
Compare this to a recent up and comer: Motorola. After Google purchased Motorola, it made a huge sweeping overhaul to its management team and cranked out a product that, while not impressing spec geeks, was still more than good enough for most people. Allegedly, it sold 500,000 in 90-days. Even if those sales numbers are inaccurate, though, Motorola itself claimed it's Texas facility-home of the customised Moto maker handsets- could only make 100,000 handsets per week. For context, for a 90-day period that would be roughly 1.28 million units. Thats still about 43.72 million units behind Apple. Motorola pioneered customisable hardware which could have shaken up the mobile industry, but because it couldn’t deliver that to more than one country at launch, almost no one noticed.
Samsung is the closest non-Apple products to have the same scale. In Q2 2013, Samsung pushed 71 million smartphones, compared to Apple’s 31.2 million over the same time frame. Not all of those are flagships but the fact remains that Samsung is the only Android manufacturer that can compete in this arena.
To push a new type of consumer tech, you need consumers to actually use it. Unlike fan favourites such as HTC or Motorola, if Apple wants to make a device popular, it has the means to do so. Retailers need a reason to upgrade their systems to support NFC payments. Apple can give them 45 million new reasons every quarter. No matter how much their fans like them, HTC and Motorola can’t do that.
Apple Has the Cool Factor to Gain Mindshare
Whether you call it high quality hardware or reality distortion field, the fact is that Apple makes products that millions of people really love. Not everyone, but enough. Enough people, at the very least, to nudge consumer mindshare into a direction Apple chooses. Like wearing a computer on your wrist.
We saw this happen to a certain extent with voice commands. Despite Google now being just as good as (and sometimes better) Siri, the latter is the one that became a brand unto itself. Voice command jokes maybe useless, but they give, what is otherwise just a smartphone feature, personality. Simply put, no one’s asking whether or not some day we will have meaningful relationships with Google.
Does this mean Apple is the only one making cool features? Definitely not. But fashion matters in tech. Arguably, Google Glass’s biggest failure from what I have seen personally and read isn’t the tech, or its practicality, or even its oddly invasive camera. It’s that Glass simply just looks silly. Maybe it shouldn't be. People wear glasses in their every day to day life. But when you attach a bright orange camera to someone's eyeball, it puts people off. Coolness matters and, for the time being, Apple is still pretty damn cool.
Wearables is another big area where coolness is going to matter. Smart watches have been around since before the pebble, but they still have the perception of being very silly. There are no guarantees in tech, but Apple may just be able to make the smart watch cool. The category certainly needs the push, and after the announcement of the Apple watch, they might have gotten it. Not only will it become more socially acceptable to wear them, but Android users will probably have more (good) models to choose from if it catches on.
Apple’s monopoly on cool isn't totally absolute, of course. Google’s software design has arguably become much, much cooler in recent years. Bigger phones have become cool enough for Apple to follow suit. But Apple does still have a lot of cool collateral in its coffers. More importantly, as stated before, it has the manufacturing capacity to back it up. Quite frankly, despite pushing the same number of units, Samsung doesn’t have the same fashionable factor. This puts Apple in a unique position, particularly in terms of appealing to a key, influential demographic.
Apple Has a Wealthier Target Demographic.
Apple products aren’t necessarily overpriced. They’re just expensive. The same goes for the price of a good quality laptop from a different manufacturer.
The difference with Apple is that “expensive” is the only price point they reach. There’s no budget iPad for £200. The cheapest Mac you can get is £899. The lowest price for a laptop is £749. The new Apple Watch will cost around £250 for the smaller screen watch, which is nearly twice the cost of the early Android wear devices. For any other company, this would be suicide. In fact, for Samsung's smart watch, it sort of was.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but it means that Apple necessarily excludes poorer demographics (and countries). The Moto G is sold in foreign markets where a £600 phone is prohibitively expensive. In fact, arguably, Android was only able to get to where it is today because it’s able to cater to more than one price point or type of market.
“Android is popular because it is cheap, not because it is good.”
With exclusionary prices, though, comes status symbols. And status symbols, by their nature, are more often owned by the wealthy. Money shouldn’t necessarily buy influence, but it often does. Businesses with cash to spend will invest in technology they think is worthwhile.
Countries with more money will determine what devices will become more popular. That is why the US and China are important first launch markets, while Haiti doesn't come up too often in conversations about mass market appeal. It’s callous, it’s insensitive, it marginalises some groups, and it’s true. People who sell things need to find people with money to buy things in order to survive. And Apple, by its very nature, appeals to people and businesses with more money.
Competition Matters, and Apple Is the Biggest we Have
None of these factors are exclusive to Apple. However, the just-right combination is pretty rare. This means that, even if you don’t use a single Apple product, the company probably has some influence over the technology that you use. Android wear, as an example, might be an excellent product. But without a company like Apple to make wearables fashionable, it’s not entirely certain if they would catch on. They’ve certainly struggled so far.
Not to mention, there’s other little competition. Without Apple, the entire Android world might get over run by Samsung (arguably already has). Without Apple, there’s almost nothing competing with Windows. Without Apple, the “who’s better than who” discussion will die out almost entirely. Even if you hate Apple, that rivalry drives us to do more.
That type of competition will always drive companies to out-do and borrow from one another. It’s possible that Android wouldn’t have worked on Project Better if not for Apples smoothness, in the same way that Apple might not have made its own notification shade following Androids lead. One lends itself to the other. It’s the circle of competition, and we’ll all benefit from it.
Of course, no one’s saying Apple’s the only one that drives competition or the only one who comes up with the ideas. But it does popularise many of them. No one is giving credit solely to Apple for inventing all technology. Just because Apple prefers a walled-garden approach to tech, though, doesn’t mean it actually lives in one.
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