Why Apple is Unstoppable
ARTICLE DATE: 09.21.09
By Tim Bajarin
I recently spoke with an executive who is a PC vendor, and he asked me a question that also happened to be an important statement on his part: "Apple is really unstoppable, isn't it?"
Given Apple's increased dominance in the smartphone and MP3-player space, as well as the company's gains in consumer and business mindshare with the Mac platform, Apple is perhaps the most influential company in the personal computer and CE market. And this is driving its competitors crazy.
To better understand how powerful Apple has become—and more important, how it will continue to drive the market in new directions—you have to understand that Apple is not really a PC or even a consumer electronics company anymore. Yes, the company makes PC and CE products. But what it has become is a digital asset management, aggregation, and distribution company that also makes devices that can receive, deploy and view all types of Apple-managed and personal digital content.
One of the more startling announcements made at Apple's recent iPod launch event was that Apple has the credit card information on over 100 million users. And the company did not come to own these digital customers by accident. One of the things people don't realize about Apple is that its roadmap and product planning is done in 10-year increments. In fact, Apple started laying the groundwork for being a digital asset management and distribution company two to three years before the first iPod even hit the market, back in 2001. And from that point on, the company has made this the framework behind everything it has done and created to date, and it will guide Apple's product designs and strategy for the foreseeable future.
So what do I mean when I say that Apple's real business is that of a digital asset management, aggregation, and distribution company? The first glimpse came with the introduction of the iTunes Store and its first generation of music downloads. At this point, Apple introduced us to the idea that we could have a medium for finding and buying music, and then playing it back on an iPod.
Not long after that, Apple added audio books, and then movies and TV shows. Thanks to very hard work on their part, Steve Jobs and company convinced most of the movie and TV studios as well as various content providers to allow the company to manage, securely protect, and then distribute these disparate forms of digital content. And until 2007, most of that content was confined to Macs and PCs, as well as to iPods.
Then Apple decided that it could offer this managed content via a smart phone as well, and it introduced the iPhone. But with that platform the company realized that it could add even more "content" via dedicated applications for the iPhone. With this new app platform, Apple also was able to redesign the iPod completely, and it soon gave us the iPod touch—a dedicated portable media player that is also an app platform.
Apple has another major advantage in that it owns the Mac, iPod, and iPhone OSes; Mac hardware platforms; and iPod and iPhone designs. That makes it easy for the company to create devices that take full advantage of the content it offers and manages. This reinforces Apple's unique position, and is frustrating its competitors to no end.—Next: A Complete Ecosystem >
Apple has a complete ecosystem of hardware, software OS, and applications platforms as well as its back-end content management and distribution system, so it can deliver a complete solution to the user. Oh yes, and the company just happens to have some of the most elegant software-UI and hardware design geniuses in the world working with it, as well.
If Apple does bring out a mini-tablet of some sort, it almost assuredly will have another winner, so long as it takes full advantage of its platform ecosystem. In fact, Apple could continue to innovate around all types of new hardware designs while integrating its asset management and distribution system into new devices: next-generation TVs, set-top boxes, and so on. It could easily continue creating products that consumers will snap up—and extend the Apple empire well beyond its current footprint.
And put yourself in the place of a content or app developer. You would have to be insane not to back Apple; it can deliver over 100 million prospective digital customers to you. So Apple will continue to attract digital content providers and app developers from all over the world, who will in turn help Apple to extend a global reach for its products.
This puts the mainstream PC and CE guys in quite a pickle in the long run. At the moment, most of them are just creating boxes or devices that can accept and view digital content. Yes, you can get movies, music, and even Web apps for these devices, but the consumer carries the burden of getting all this content and managing it. And if you've tried to do this, you know that simply managing your individual passwords for each service is a big pain, let alone trying to aggregate and sling that content from device to device.
It's no wonder that people are flocking to Apple stores and buying Apple's new PC and mobile devices in increasing numbers. In the end, while consumers may like Apple's hardware, what they're really buying is Apple's simple way of managing, aggregating, protecting, discovering, distributing and slinging digital content around their PC and device networks.
At the moment I don't get the sense that other PC and CE guys really understand what Apple has become. While they have been fighting wars on form, function and prices, Apple has boldly transformed itself from a mild and not-so-meek PC company into the most powerful digital-asset-management company on the planet. And for the time being, it is unstoppable.
In next week's column, I'll tackle the question of who Apple's real competitors are—and how the rest of the PC and CE companies can compete with Apple.
Copyright (c) 2009Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.