Understanding Apple’s endgame

Whenever you bring up Apple or any of its products, the conversation inevitably goes to market share. So much so that it seems clear to me that some people believe that Apple thinks about market share when it releases products. I don’t believe that at all. I believe Apple’s endgame is to make the best product it can. That’s it. Everything else — profit, market share and sales — come because of that.

Making the best product has many complicated aspects to it. You have to think about usability, functionality, design and thousands of details in each one of those categories. Apple thinks of them all and addresses them before a product comes to market.

There are basically two ways to bring a product to market:

  1. Look at the successful product in a market and copy that product so your company can share a piece of that pie. The pie being market share and money.

  2. Look at the successful products in a market and understand that they are not fulfilling the needs of users. You then focus on user frustrations and problems, and you fix those. The end result is a new product that people will want to buy.

Option one gives consumers a choice. However, option two gives users a new way to integrate technology to make their lives better. There’s a huge difference.

People talk about competition and how its healthy in an open market. I believe that to be true. However, what we have now in the technology market is not competition, it’s copying.

Competition is when a company looks at a product or market and comes up with something radically different than what is currently being offered. It’s up to them to convince consumers that what they have will help solve a problem and make things easier for them.

Sadly, that doesn’t happen very often. What we see more of these days is copying. Samsung sees the iPad and copies it as best it can to steal market share and money away from Apple.

Technology companies these days are scared to death to make a product that varies too far from Apple does because they fear being left behind. Some companies even go so far as to say that Apple’s inventions were inevitable — if that’s the case why weren’t they done before?

Why did it take Apple to enter the MP3 player market with the iPod to change the way people thought of those devices? The same thing happened with the iPhone and again with the iPad.

In each case, Apple’s competitors copied those products as closely as they could, without bringing the wrath of Apple’s legal team. That didn’t always work.

Clearly Apple takes option two when developing its products. After the success of the iPod, I believe that Apple knew it had a really good chance to dominate the smartphone market and there was no question at all that it would dominate the tablet market.

That trend won’t change. If Apple enters a market, I think it knows the product is different enough from the beginning that others will follow.

Apple is not motivated by the same things that drive other companies. Market share and profits are a result of making great products. To do that, you can only have that one singular focus.

  • Completely agree. It’s funny that all these multi-billion dollar companies made copying Apple’s vision their future.

  • Look at Sony. Their CEO is paranoid enough that he’s attempting to copy what people THINK Apple MIGHT do with the iTV/Apple TV.

    Steve Jobs was quoted in the biography making the now famous “I’ve finally cracked it” comment about television. But without context, it means little. In looking back at some interviews where he was questioned about the TV market, he always mentions the lousy experience with the remotes, not the TVs themselves.I’m going to laugh my ass off if Sony and others throw a kitchen sink full of features into the TV (thus making it a complicated and more expensive mess), only to find out that Apple simply put a TV remote interface on an iPod Touch unit to create a superb user experience that works with existing TVs, DVRs and sound systems.

  • Test

    Agreed. Also, do not forget the superb eco system that Apple has built with iTunes, iCloud, iBooks, App Stores and whatnot.

    Nobody else is providing that and those who could (Google, Microsoft) are far, far away from offering the same experience  (besides lacking other key components of Apple’s success).

    The future belongs to Apple, wether one likes it or not.

    • Anonymous

      Not really.  Only to am Apple fanboy

  • You had me there until you got the bit about iPods. 

    Apple didn’t invent MP3 players, there were dozens when it started selling the iPod. And it’s debatable whether the first iPods were better than the existing competition. 

    Of course that was then and this is now. The other tablets are copies… and mainly second rate ones at that. 

    • That’s exactly my point. Apple didn’t create the iPod, iPhone or tablet, but they improved all three categories by making better products.

      • Rick C.

        Please correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems you are saying that when Apple is second to market, they are improving an inferior product, and when they are first to market, everyone else is simply stealing and copying from them?

        • Apple wasn’t first to market in any of those categories, but as soon as they were released everything looked exactly like them.

          • I disagree. The UI of the iPod was horrendous compared with the beautiful buttons of the Nomad: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ec/Nomad.jpg/195px-Nomad.jpg

      • OK, I buy better smart phones and massively better tablets. I think when it comes to MP3 players what Apple did was different: it made them easier to buy and run. The iPod itself wasn’t inherently better than the MP3 players from other brands – at least not in the early days. 

      • Anonymous

        I really think that that’d be better phrased as “mp3 player” and “smartphone”.

        Because Apple most definitely did create the iPod and iPhone, after all.

    • Anonymous

      Define “better.” Some people still swear that the Zune is (was?) better than the iPod ever has been. In fact it’s arguable that it wasn’t even the first iPod that made MP3 players a viable consumer option, but that it was actually iTunes (and iTunes for Windows at that). 

      Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that personal MP3 players, smartphones, and tablet computers became mainstream consumer devices only once Apple reimagined, and reintegrated, the underlying technologies into a new whole with the main consideration being the best experience and not the first, cheapest or most common.

      • Rogermercer

        Of course, Zune was a better piece of mechanical technology. So were many of the iPod competitors. But none had such a simple, rewarding and friendly way of interacting with their owners as Apple’s kit had. That’s where Apple innovates, not with machinery.

        • Anonymous

          Zune was a better piece of mechanical technology?

          I’ll buy that the Zune was not inferior mechanically, but better?

          (Do you mean “had more hardware features” ala radio and wireless?

          That’s plausible [for some limited values of “better”], but not what I’d tend to interpret “better piece of mechanical technology” as implying. “More featureful”, yes.

          But “better” and “more features” are not identical, no matter what checklists imply.

          I’d read the phrase as superior build quality or durability or the like – mechanical engineering; and it’s not my impression that the Zune was better.

          This is not a knock on the Zune – the iPods are very well built, and being “as good as” is no insult.)

          Full disclosure: I never liked the Zune qua  the Zune, but unlike most of Teh Intarnets, I loved, with no irony, that you could get one in brown. Warm colors are nice.

  • I agree with most of these points, but I’m not sure that Apple is ALWAYS motivated by simply making the best products. I believe that profit is also a huge factor, and Apple seems to care about milking its user base as much as possible.

    • Agree. But if the path to higher profit is making better products, I’m happy with that. 

      It’s nice to see a market working as the theory says it should 🙂

  • Anonymous

    If Apple products are always so perfectly designed and not about “profit, market share and sales”, why was the Ipad 1 devoid of a webcam, and everyone and their dog knew that Ipad 2 would have a webcam, thus giving hopeless Apple fanatics a reason to pay $500 to upgrade… for a webcam?

    • A webcam, faster speed, lighter weight etc etc. But don’t let reality intrude upon you…

      • Canucker

        The iPad was a trial balloon. Apple was not sure of its success. They cut corners to get the price down and to release a product. I doubt many people use the rear camera much on an iPad but the front camera works very well and is “natural”.  But did Apple omit it thinking people would upgrade or did they omit it because they were still defining what the iPad would be used for?

    • Shimmy

      Simple. The iPad was a brand new product and brand new products are expensive to manufacture. By limiting hardware features (largely useless ones like the camera) they lower production costs and in turn the final cost. By the time v2 is due they’ve lowered production costs through the experience gained through manufacturing v1 and can keep the cost down while adding hardware features.

  • Anonymous

    I do think Apple changed a bit from the near miss with ruin they were in prior to Jobs’ return, i think they want to make the best salable product they can. They do look at price points more now then they used to, hence the reduction in the premium price of Apple products.

    Especially in the iPad. Nobody can match the functionality and the price of the iPad so far. And anonymous person, this is probably why the camera was left out, to get the price down in components until they had a better idea on demand and if people really wanted it. I’ve got an iPad 1 and still don’t want a camera on it. I’ll pay an upgrade for better screen resolution and not care about the camera, won’t use it.

  • Canucker

    The trouble with following and copying is that you never take the lead.  You deprecate your brand value in place of easier profits.  It’s less risky but not anywhere nearly so much fun nor are the rewards are generous. Apple’s fat cash hoard was generated by taking plunges and risks. Samsungs profits were generated by supplying components. Methinks Samsung has swapped its best in class component business for a second in class device business. They’ll still make money, but as Apple weans itself away from Samsung, its privileged glimpses into Apple’s thought processes will dry up. I’m not saying Samsung is not a good, ingenious company but its not differentiating itself. It’s become a me-too company.

  • I’m inclined to agree Apple doesn’t care about Market Share but my confidence isn’t 100% due to Steve Jobs’ ill-conceived rant about Android, activation numbers and market share that time on the quarterly results conference call. It was only once, and maybe it was just because Google’s numbers irked him a bit. really though, Apple shouldn’t care about activations, or market share. The discussion should focus on profits. Who’s banking the most profit? That will tell you who the most successful company is. Hint: it’s not Google, and it sure as hell isn’t Amazon. Market share is just a sometimes useful stat. Agree that analysts don’t get it either. See today’s report saying Apple’s tablet market share has gone down because of the kindle fire. Yeah – but the market has grown… people about to buy an iPad downgraded to a Kindle Fire? I think not. 

  • Anonymous

    That’s not the apple endgame. That’s Apple’s playbook. To come in, look at an industry, and say: Those guys are idiots. I can do better.

    Then they do it.

    As opposed to most other companies who learned business at Harvard–Positioning, marketshare, and monopolizing.

    The Apple endgame is to do away with the old business processes. Look at all those motorola handsets cops use. Serioiusly, i saw those designs/tech 10 years ago.

    The Endgame for apple is to not stay still. The iPod killed mp3 players. the iPhone killed the iPod. the iPad is eating into Mac Sales.

    The Snake must Eat Its Own Tail So That No One Will Ever Eat The Snake.

  • The most important thing with the iPod was that it came with it’s own content eco-system in the form of iTunes, who else had done that? Now, who else has done that? Amazon, Microsoft, Google…

  • Anonymous

    I also tend to believe tha t market share is not Apple’s ultimate goal. Jobs’ (and Apple’s for that matter) consistent mantra is make the best product in the entire world.

    I do have to say sometime I am confused by the “market share talk” in many of their keynotes. I get conflicting message and I can’t seem to reconcile it. Cases in point, whenever Apple talks about iPod, it will almost always quote the 70% market share number. I believe when iPad first came out, the talk of over 90% market share seemed to come up a lot in the keynotes. Now that it dropped slightly below that due to competition (sure, one can debate that point at length), I don’t recall hearing Apple mention much about market share in the tablet space anymore. Any thoughts on that?