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(When) Will Apple Jump the Shark?

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Apple are niche players. They've deliberately relegated themselves to the margins. They eschewed the cross platform future of the operating system they acquired and to this day sit with 1/20 of the market. They substituted market growth with new products such as the iPod and the iPhone.

And they continue to survive. Yet time and again they're forced - by their own market strategy - to keep innovating. And they can't withstand a single market failure.

It's a very precarious situation. Apple aren't the 'staple' of any branch of computer science or technology save for their iTunes business. Once they've sold the few million units of any new product they're limited to by their overall market strategy they have to dream up and design a new glittering gizmo that will again capture the attention of the media and consumers both.

One flop and they're toast and they know it.

So far they've had an incredible string of luck. Their brand is widely respected if not universally used. They seem to dictate what good taste is. They don't so much listen to what consumers say as explain to these consumers what they're going to like and want tomorrow.

All of the gadgets they've come out with have been 'different'; some have been pure genius.

But industry pundits know how perilous the situation is. What if the iMac lamp had been a flop? Or if the transition to Intel had been a flop? Or if the iPhone were a flop? What would have happened if the iPod and the iTunes store were flops?

By the time the iPod had begun saturating the market - where it was universally adopted - the small handset represented over 50% of the company's total profits. This for a 'computer' company.

Today the word 'computer' isn't even in the corporate name anymore.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">

Of course it would be an entirely different scenario if Apple marketed to the world at large. If they had 'the' operating system the world depended on and computer hardware anybody running any software could use.

But they don't. They have to keep on selling to the same 5% demographic over and over again. Doesn't work too good.

On the other hand they have a big market with their handsets even to this day. And Steve Jobs himself doesn't seem interested in competing with Microsoft on equal terms. Which he could easily do in terms of quality: Bill Gates won't ever have anything close to what Apple have. It's a technological impossibility.

But if pundits are already talking about the iPod jumping the shark; if the iPhone is just never going to sell anywhere near the volume of industry giant Nokia; if Apple's marketing policy prohibits them removing the 'dongle' as Google have done with Android; then Apple are truly doomed to the margins. And by their own choice. And sooner or later they will have to accept the consequences.

Apple hardware is platform agnostic. Apple hardware isn't about writing limericks in kernel code or using code signing to prevent 'disapproved' software from running or about limiting hardware use to one software platform. The Apple hardware engineers don't themselves decide if FireWire remains or not.

Take a step back and look at the hardware. Only the hardware. Those Apple hardware engineers have done it again. 'Outside the bun' thinking all the way. You may not have liked the iMac lamp or the G4 cube or any of those devices. But you would have to admit the design and creation of these devices was outstanding.

Jon Rubinstein, Jonathan Ive, all the rest: if Apple ever go under and any of them want to keep working in the industry they're not going to be unemployed for long.

See Also
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