Apple: How to Play Dumb With Clever Products


dunce_smallADOTAS — Apple is currently riding high on a wave of enthusiasm, but we’ve been here before, and Apple’s history indicates they’re heading for failure — again.

Apple is an example of how the first-mover advantage offered by great product innovation is insufficient to ensure long-term survival. Since the days of the first Apple computer to the Mac to the iPod and iPhone, Apple have shown they can be first to market with innovative products which people love.

Unfortunately, their strategy is to create walls around their systems and restrict their customers. Time and time again, this results in a loss of market share to the point where Apple become a minor niche player.

Apple is not unique in this — the history of digital technology is littered with the corpses of innovators who tried to restrict, rather than open, their technologies.

Being “open” doesn’t require being open source, it merely means recognizing your technologies are part of a larger world and therefore need to interact with the wider technology ecosystem. Microsoft’s Windows operating systems are open because any hardware manufacturer can use them, whereas Apple’s operating systems are closed because they’re only available on Apple hardware. It doesn’t matter if they are better than the alternatives — being best is not sufficient for survival.

There was a time when the Mac was much more popular than Microsoft Windows. Now there are 10 PCs for every Mac. This didn’t happen because Windows was better — it happened because Apple refused to allow other hardware vendors to use their operating system.

This created a world in which all other PC manufacturers were forced to go Microsoft. By rejecting the world, Apple gave it to Microsoft.

The same thing will happen to the iPhone. iPhone competes with Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Google’s Android, both of which are available to any hardware manufacturer that wants them. More important, it competes with Nokia’s SymbianOS — which is not just open, but open source, and according to Gartner has 44% of the market compared with iPhone’s 15%.

No one seriously expects Apple to put Nokia, Samsung, HTC and every other smartphone manufacturer out of business. By building a demand for iPhone-like systems, then refusing to permit other hardware vendors to use their system, Apple force them into the arms of their competitors. The best salesman for Google Android is Steve Jobs!

Apple is also making fundamental mistakes with content provision and applications. iPhone does not support Flash. The reason is simple — if you create applications in Flash, they can run on any system.

Adobe thus becomes an alternative platform to the iPhone OS for developers. No more sales of Apple developer kits, no restricting apps to the app store, no control of interactive advertising. Flash on iPhone means the whole world can play without Apple as gatekeeper.

The result — despite user and developer demand — Apple slams the door in the face of their customers. They’d rather control their systems than permit their customers access to a ubiquitous technology. Instead Apple offers HTML 5 — a standard which is still in development and may emerge in a very different shape when its completed in two or three years.

Because it is not finished, Apple can’t support HTML 5 — all they can support is their version of HTML 5. When HTML 5 is finally released, every iPhone app and iAd widget built in Apple’s version of HTML 5 will become obsolete.

Both Netscape and Microsoft tried this in the days of the “browser wars” in the mid-1990s. Each tried to outdo the other by adopting versions of HTML before they were complete. The result was chaos for web developers and a handicapped experience for users.

When mobile phones initially developed web access, phone companies tried to restrict customers to a limited set of websites licensed by them. It was inevitable one phone company would seize a competitive advantage by opening up to the world, and the others had no choice but to follow. Cable companies tried a similar strategy, with similar results. History has shown users want an open web, in which they can connect to anything they want.

iPhone now is where the Mac was in the mid-1980s. The Mac had a similar buzz then to what we see around iPhone now. But Apple’s strategy was the same then as it is now. Last time the result lead to the near collapse of Apple.

The rules of the market haven’t changed: the desire of consumers to connect to everything hasn’t changed, the need for developers to have access to the widest possible community of vendors hasn’t changed and the need for hardware vendors to offer their own alternatives hasn’t changed.

In fact, nothing has changed — Apple is just making the same old mistakes with new products. Unless one of the factors I’ve listed changes, Apple will once again marginalize themselves and become a niche player.

Apple — an example of how to play dumb with clever products.


  1. God, another one of THESE articles… Customers care about their software working cross platform. I want my iPhone app to work on Windows 7. Yeah, they’re making big mistakes. Just look at AAPL…

  2. You, my friend, is an idiot.

    People really want to connect to crap(malware etc)?

    Your site updates and that is crap too.

    All in all, it`s all crap. :)

  3. I think you’re wrong.

    You seem to have forgotten that Apple tried your favored model, licensing its OS. But the result was that this -hardware- company ended in worse shape than before.

    In fact, it was when -amongst other well known events- Apple returned to a “closed” model that the present success begun.

    …to an extent that now Apple market cap (which is a very modest way to value a company with no debt and a huge pile of money sitting around) is bigger than that of your “open” model paradigm company -Microsoft- in spite still having a tiny market share (but growing). Microsoft, to be honest, is actually shrinking.

    Reading your post, it seems that the customers are unhappy but, even so, Apple -a newcomer- sells more phones with a single model than Nokia -a company established in the market for decades- with dozens.

    And, again, is more profitable each quarter, like crazy.

    Apple’s dominance will not be eternal. Nothing ever was and nothing will ever be. Its your reasoning that is wrong every inch of the way. Being innovative and closed isn’t hurting this company at all, and it shows.

    But what do you have to tell about these, then:

    WebKit: the base of most of the browsers around, specially if we’re talking about mobile phones;
    Mini DisplayPort;
    and dozens of other open projects and standards developed or co-developed by Apple.

  4. Sometimes it doesn’t help to have been around since the beginning of (internet)time! The comparison between the original Mac and today’s iPhone doesn’t hold water as we live in a totally different environment from a quarter century ago.

    As a customer, Apple hasn’t disappointed me at all with their much reviled “closed” approach, not at all. I get all the software I need and it’s neatly integrated with the Apple ecosystem without drivers, third party issues and all the crap I have to deal with in the “open” world. Maybe for some tech geeks that is an issue but certainly not for the millions of new customers Apple has gained with the iPhone.

    As for the other canard, market share, do BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi care about market share compared to GM, Ford or even Toyota? Of course, not. As we’ve seen with GM, big doesn’t necessarily mean successful! Oh, and I don’t expect that the Audi engine components work on a Chevy either.

  5. This is the most immature ridiculous article about smartphones I’ve ever read. Symbian? Come on. Symbian isn’t even a major player in the US smartphone world. The US leads all trends and it will be a two-horse race with iOS and Android leading followed by RIM and MSFT’s offerings. Nokia doesn’t even have a foothold in the US market. Sure Asia has more handsets but the commercial viability of advertising is based on US/EU markets. Leave the smartphone commentary to the mobile experts and bloggers. I don’t read Adotas to hear people whine about Flash on Apple. I’ll never have my 2 minutes back that I just wasted.

  6. Yes, Every time I am relaxing listening to my Ipod and reading on my Ipad, I tell myself the same thing. This can’t last Right? Deep down people want unfriendly difficult to use devices right?

  7. The response that the situation with the smartphone market today does not match the dynamics of the computer world earlier is, if correct, a killer response to my position. However, my view is that smartphones are just a new type of computer and therefore subject to the same dynamics. If you wish to show that the situation does not pertain, then you need to show some reasons why. It’s not sufficient to simply say “it’s not the same.” I have provided reasons behind my position. If you wish to reject it, you need reasons, not blind emotion or bland statements.
    Responding to my arguments with mere emotion does not help your position – it merely demonstrates that you lack the ability to think rationally about this matter. If you can’t offer a rational argument, how can you expect anyone to agree with you?
    It is also dangerous to judge the smartphone situation from a purely US perspective. The US is not the most advanced mobile market, or the biggest. The most advanced mobile market is Japan, which typically roles out mobile services around 10 years before they are seen in the US. Mobile and smartphone penetration is much greater in many countries than in the USA, where mobile/smartphone services are much more central to the economy.

  8. Umm, maybe I’m missing something here, but when were Macs ever more popular than PCs? PCs are almost consistently 98% of the market and Macs around 2%. That began when Apples were educational products, and continued when Macs were used mostly by designers and video editors and is still the case today.

    PC hardware and software is generally cheaper, and that’s the main reason why most businesses use them.


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