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Experience is everything — just ask Apple

Monday, 28 February 2011 — by

Apple’s iPad is amazingly successful. The reasons for the success are there for all to see. But why can no one ape Apple’s success? Because what they’ve achieved is almost impossible to replicate, and I know why…

Yes, yes. It’s been an age since I last wrote anything here. I have a life, you know. And a business, too. Both of which are showing promising signs — I have a woman and several eager clients to keep me honest these days.

So my time is somewhat stretched of late. That said, matters surrounding the iPad have, of late, culminated in several thoughts, which I disclose here.

What if Apple made automobiles?

“Apple’s market share is bigger than BMW’s or Mercedes’s or Porsche’s in the automotive market. What’s wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?” — Steve Jobs, Apple CEO.

But the analogy doesn’t stop there. The BMWs, Mercedes’s and the Porsche’s of this world differentiate themselves from every other automotive manufacturer not just through engineering prowess, but through heritage, design and experience.

And when I say experience, I mean the experience thee and me get when we buy one of their cars (personally, I’m an Audi man). And so it is with Apple and their gleaming line of products — you buy not just a product, you also buy an experience.

Of all the products that summon up this experience, the iPad is the one that best extols the value, prompting owners to almost exalt with spasmodic reflex, such is their enthusiasm. Now you tell me what other company engenders such gushing, fawning adulation? A handful, perhaps, including the aforementioned BMW’s, Mercedes’s and Porsche’s. Apple are at least atop that venerable and much venerated heap, and that’s for sure.

It’s that old Mac magic!

This experience is neither by chance or mistake. No, if you take a deeper look, Apple have about them an almost conspiratorial cloud of secrecy, casting a wide vail across their actions. Such is their secrecy, that they force upon people the only recourse available to them; one of rumour and hearsay. A modern day mysticism, if you like. Why do this? Just like the Coca-Cola Company, they’re protecting the magic from preying eyes, and preventing the competition from getting even the slightest glimpse of what they’re working on.

There are those who regard Apple’s our-way-or-the-highway attitude as a negative, variously referring to their way of doing things as a “walled garden”, within the confines of which all may be beautiful and magical, but strangely restricted and confined. Then there are the consumers who really couldn’t give a shit either way, so long as their iPad / iMac / MacBook Pro / iPod / iPhone just does the damn things it’s supposed to.

See that? There’s the trick; Apple understand the consumer and what they want. Give them what they want, and not one thing more. As for the rest. Ring fenced.

This wasn’t always the case. Apple sold the box, which was closed. But people didn’t want that. Back in the day, they wanted the box, but they also wanted to know what was in the box, and how to change things around. Back in the day, Microsoft ruled and their ecosystem thrived.

The experience Apple offer is truly end-to-end and seamless, to the point of appearing to not be real. They have their iTunes Store, the iMac, the App Store, their iPhone, their iPod Touch, their MacBook Air and Pro, and all work together as if they were grown from seed into siblings, not hewn from metal and plastic.

Yet their competitors still do not understand the way Apple work, nor do they either understand or appreciate the immense value of the seamless nature of how Apple’s product fit together flush, like the draws and doors of a fine period cabinet.

It’s like comparing Apples and Olufsen’s

Google brag about activating more Android mobile devices than Apple, that their mobile operating system will overwhelm that of Apple and their iOS. Meanwhile, headquartered in sun-drenched California, Apple ease back in their expensive designer leather recliner office chairs in air conditioned rooms and watch a miscellany of financial Key Performance Indicators rise and rise in lock step with their bulbous share value, as the no longer anecdotal “halo effect” takes, well, effect.

You see, Apple aren’t in the same race as everyone else. You could argue that Apple aren’t even in a race at all. Their aim is to forge and build about them a self-sustaining ecosystem of high quality goods that work together seamlessly, and to become the Bang & Olufsen of consumer electronics. You don’t know who Bang & Olufsen are? Exactly.

Let the Google’s of this world dominate the mobile device market. They concern themselves only with unit numbers, while Apple concern themselves with the experience felt by the people they appeal to, watching as they buy one Apple product after another from their own Apple Stores all over the world.

Right now, the iPad still has no real competitor, even a year after inception. And for those emerging into this nascent market, they will have the iPad 2 to contend with by the beginning of March.

But in reality, Apple don’t have competitors, because none of them can replicate the experience, and the people buying a tablet device from some other manufacture are most likely doing so for very different reasons to those buying an iPad. People buying an iPad do so for the experience, not because they want something cheap. But the irony is, Apple have met with a price point the other manufacturers are struggling to meet.

So how did Apple do the iPad on the cheap. They probably didn’t. The difference here is in the infrastructure. Apple give away huge amounts of software for free, or for hugely discounted prices because they now have the unit sales to absorb the difference. And the same scale of economics works for the iPad and the associated hardware components.

For a start, Apple are not having the cost of the iPad marked up by a huge standing army of resellers, as for the most part, people buy Apple products direct from Apple, either through their website or from a bricks & mortar retail store — Apple have an infrastructure to die for.

Replicating the Apple experience

Do you really think Google can replicate the experience? Not a chance. The charges against Google’s Android are long, with regards to the lack of media cohesion — there’s no iTunes, nor is there anything similar, and if there was, it certainly doesn’t enjoy the same brand awareness. And with so many people using iTunes, this places pressure on the likes of Google to either create their own, or put their weight behind the market leader, possibly alienating antagonizing the rest of the developers.

Do you really think Microsoft can replicate the experience? Not a chance. Because of the way their business operates, everything is a meandering, quasi-religious homage to their Windows franchise, and all of the attendant baggage that comes with such things. Anyway, which mobile device would that be? Depends on which new strategy Microsoft are presently working on, which is anyone’s guess these days.

What about Hewlett-Packard and Research in Motion? They’re too busy with their business customers to care about consumers. Yes, they’ll pay lip service meeting consumer needs, but neither have the strength in depth Apple have and must therefor focus their efforts on their core market, which is corporate business.

So who could replicate what Apple are doing? Sony. But the last time I checked, they couldn’t tell you the difference between their own arse hole and their elbow. Sony have the technical know how and they know what makes the experience. But they have also completely lost the plot, which just so happened to have coincided with Apple taking their lunch, when they released the iPod way back when, killing off the Walkman line of portable music devices.

Apple are unassailably strong and it’s difficult to see who can compete with them. But things change. We all know this. Steve Jobs looks two meals away from death, and he ain’t eating a bacon and egg sandwich any time soon; him being a vegetarian.

Right now, Apple are enjoying their moment in the sun, and good luck to them. As far as I’m concerned, long may that last…

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Andrew MacDonald → Monday, 28 February 2011 @ 13:57 BDT

Very well thought-out article, and one I think Is a very accurate picture of the ‘race’ between the big consumer electronics companies for user awareness and domination.

Personally, I think that ANY company would struggle to topple what Apple has now, even five years from now, and in five years, Apple will be 10 years ahead, so it’s a never ending struggle for manufacturers.

I think the problem is, most companies think its all about unit sales, as you pointed out. Apple are making billions, so for us to make that sort of money, we have to sell millions of devices. The problem is, while the likes of Google will easily out-sell Apple, they will never replicate the overall experience of the end user.

Im a die-hard Apple fan, and that’s NOT because they sell lots of products. It’s because the products they do sell, along with the software and services that go along with the devices, all ‘JUST WORK’, to coin an overused phrase.

I like Apple products because I know that my iPad will sync with my iPhone, which will sync with my iMac, which will sync with my Macbook Air, which will sync with my four Apple TV Units… you get the picture.

Companies need to realise that consumer electronics is no longer a numbers game. If they want to win, they need to perfect the entire ecosystem, from sales, retail stores, customer service, OS, the hardware, after-sales service. Once they crack this, they also need to make their brand DESIRABLE… something Apple has perfected.

Personally? I don’t think any of the big players right now have any chance whatsoever in beating, or even replicating, what Apple has.

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