Apple is the new Apple. They’ve not changed in the last 20 years, not even a little bit.
Google is the new Microsoft, and Apple is going to lose the mobile device market to Google the exact same way it lost the desktop market to Microsoft 20 years ago.
How is this going to happen? First you have to know the history.
Let me tell you a little story…
Back in the 80’s there were two companies; Apple and Microsoft. Suddenly Apple comes out with a magic new product way ahead of the competition. Enter the Macintosh. The Mac was guaranteed to change personal computing forever, and everyone knew it before the Mac even hit the shelves. There was media hype and gobs of nerd excitement well in advance of the Mac’s debut. And the Mac delivered spectacularly on all of its promises.
But Apple insisted on near complete control of the entire platform; hardware and soft. They were terrified that someone else might come along and spoil the pure awesome.
Apple used deliberately unusual hardware, and controlled it with an iron fist. Only Apple and a few licensees were allowed to make Mac hardware. The 3rd party accessory market was as restricted as Apple could make it too.
Programmers could make applications for the Mac of course, but Apple maintained tight control over how applications used the hardware and interacted with the OS. Developers played in the sandbox, but it was Apple and select partners that created the majority of useful Mac software.
Apple was also territorial about who could sell their precious. Macs were distributed mostly through select retail partners. Anyone else that wanted to sell a Mac paid full retail price –which made it very hard to compete with Apple’s preferred retailers.
Because Apple had tight control end-to-end, the Mac was a very stable and reliable computer. Most of the software was also high quality, which made the Mac a joy to use.
On the other side, you had Microsoft. They weren’t really a hardware company though. They concentrated on making a decent operating system and left the hardware to other companies that specialized in that sort of thing.
There was a lot of compromise and cooperation between Microsoft and the hardware makers though, of which there were many. They created a large market with a wide range of different systems, each with different capabilities, quality, and prices. Microsoft just did what they could to make sure that Windows worked reasonably well with whatever crazy-ass hardware the other guys came up with.
Microsoft made a decent enough OS, but what they did really well was make programming languages, compilers, and development tools –all that stuff you need in order to make software for the regular folks. Microsoft made it easy to develop applications for Windows, and they stayed out of the way as much as possible. They didn’t put up a fight when developers released software to compete with Microsoft’s own, and they didn’t stop developers from extending the operating system itself in new and unusual directions.
Microsoft was later than Apple in coming out with a good GUI based OS. Windows wasn’t too pretty nor much fun compared to the Mac; especially at first. But PCs were cheaper, and came in a variety that fit different people’s needs and budgets. The most important thing was that a Windows PC could do everything that a Mac could, though not always with the elegance of the Mac. People often preferred a Mac, but they could (and did) settle for PCs instead.
In the end, what killed Apple the first time around was Apple’s own paranoia. All by itself, Apple couldn’t evolve the Mac hardware nor the OS fast enough to keep up with a young and rapidly changing personal computer market.
All Microsoft had to do was try and keep up while other companies raced forward with new ideas.
Now jump forward 20 years.
There are two companies; Apple and Google. Suddenly Apple comes out with a magic new product way ahead of the competition. Enter the iPhone. The iPhone was guaranteed to change mobile computing forever, and everyone knew it before the iPhone even hit the shelves. There was media hype and gobs of nerd excitement well in advance of the iPhone’s debut; and the iPhone delivered spectacularly on all of its promises.
But Apple insists on near complete control of the entire platform; hardware and soft. They are terrified that someone else might come along and spoil the pure awesome.
Apple uses deliberately unusual hardware, and they control it with an iron fist. Only apple is allowed to make iPhones, and the 3rd party accessory market is as restricted as Apple can make it.
Programmers can (and do) make applications for the iPhone of course, but Apple maintains near complete control over how those applications use the hardware and interact with the OS. Developers are allowed to play in the sandbox only if they use the specific tools that apple permits. Apple and a few select partners make the majority of the useful iPhone apps. Most developers that make apps to competes with Apple’s own are denied access to the app store; which is the only way users can obtain apps for the iPhone. Apple will even deny an app if they just don’t like what it does.
Apple is territorial about who sells their precious. The iPhone is (currently) only distributed through one network in the U.S., and apple exerts enormous control over how that network does business. AT&T had to wait to roll out 3G services until there was an iPhone that also supported it. There were other mobile phones sold by AT&T that had 3G support as much as a full year before, and AT&T had deployed the network hardware long before Apple’s 3G iPhone came out.
Because Apple is in such tight control, the iPhone is a very stable and reliable smartphone. Most of the software is also of high quality, which makes the iPhone a joy to use.
On the other side, you have Google. They aren’t really a hardware company though. They make a good mobile operating system, but have left most of the hardware in the hands of companies that specialized in that sort of thing.
There is a lot of compromise and cooperation between Google and the many hardware makers. They have created large market with a wide range of different Android phones with different capabilities, quality, and price. Google just does what it can to make sure the Android OS works reasonably well with whatever crazy-ass hardware the other guys come up with.
Google makes a good mobile OS, but what they do really well is provide cloud services –services developers can use to make useful mobile software for the regular folks. Google makes it easy to build applications for Android, and supply much of the cloud services free of charge. They stay out of the way as much as possible, but give developers a way to distribute software through a centralized app store, with very few restrictions. Apps can also be obtained through independent channels too. Google doesn’t put up a fight when developers release software to compete with Google’s own products, and they don’t stop developers from extending the Android OS in new and unusual directions.
Google was later than Apple with a smartphone. Android isn’t quite as pretty compared to the iPhone; though it is rapidly getting there. Android phones are cheaper, available for nearly any network, and come in a wide variety of forms to fit different people’s needs and budgets. And the important thing is that an Android Phone can do anything that an iPhone can; sometimes even with the same elegance as the iPhone. People often prefer the iPhone, but they can (and do) settle for Android phones instead.
In the end, what will kill Apple the second time around is Apple’s own paranoia. All by itself, Apple cannot evolve the iPhone fast enough to keep up a young and rapidly changing mobile computing market. Their treatment of developers is pushing them to other platforms fast.
All Google has to do is try and keep up while other hardware and software companies race forward with new ideas.
This same exact pattern of behavior is repeated with the new iPad.
The situations are so similar it is almost insane that Apple can’t see their own doom coming.
There are some major differences between now and 20 years ago, but none of them bode well for Apple.
Google is in a much more competitive position than Microsoft was 20 years ago, and Android is a much better product to pit against the iPhone than Windows was against the Mac.
Perhaps the biggest difference between now and then though is that Apple wasn’t crapping all over their software developers back then. Apple did limit developers in some ways, but never in the arrogant and insulting way they do now… and especially not through any legal or contract trickery like the iPhone developer agreement.
Apple is also much more blatantly motivated by pure monetary greed. Twenty years ago, it felt like the Mac more about a vision of excellence, making a better tomorrow, being different, and enabling new and wonderful possibilities. The iPhone today though is clearly just a cash cow. Apple’s every legal and marketing move is so transparently profit motivated that it doesn’t even fool kindergarteners.
There is no greater vision behind the iPhone like there was the Mac; behind the iPhone it’s just dollar signs, abused developers, and shackled customers.