Everyone is predicting the imminent disruption of Apple
Apple has been incredibly successful, by any measure, over the last decade. Yet, everyday some analyst or pundit questions their strategy and predicts their imminent demise. They say the Apple success was a fluke, or Steve Jobs had magical powers, gone now that he has passed away. They are wrong, and here’s why.
Apple is blessed with a large number of competitive advantages, a superbly talented management team and a sustainable strategy. In order to understand this position, it might be helpful to review strategy lessons learned from other industries.
The emergence of lower cost watches based on electronics did not disrupt the economics of the watch industry. Sure, quartz electronics were more accurate, less costly and caused more watches to be sold to a market that could not afford a Rolex or a Patek Philippe. But, those luxury companies continued to grow and dominate revenue and profit share of the industry.
Why? Well, a luxury watch has a cachet, maybe it’s the brand or look, maybe it’s the uniqueness. I call it soul. Whatever, the higher end watch appeals to a potential owner in a manner as to create immense value to that owner. So much value, that they are willing to part with sums far greater than the cost of the actual product. And in the watch market, no one measures success by units sold.
Why then is it so different for the technology market. Why are analysts so obsessed with the number of phone units sold by Apple versus Samsung or Nokia? I think it’s because those analysts don’t understand that technology products can have soul, that they have something more intangible than the inherent functions performed by the device. To those analysts, a Microsoft window is the same as an Apple window, and if one processor is faster than the other, it must be better. But why can’t technology products have more than commodity functions, why can’t they have soul? A Rolex tells time, a simple commodity functionality, yet it still has soul. Couldn’t Apple be designing products with soul that then allow their users to find a value beyond the costs of their components? Couldn’t Apple software and hardware be integrated so well, that a synergy resulted in performance greater than the specifications suggested?
How can we explain the success of the iPod, introduced at a higher price than competing products available in the marketplace? Look at the early advertising, the product appeal was far greater than specifications and the simple function of playing digital music. The ecosystem had far more enrichments to the user experience of a buyer than they get from the competitors. The iPod was cool and had soul.
When you are a designer of products with soul, like Rolex, you are not competing for the Timex or Swatch buyer. You want that customer to dream of the day they can get their own Rolex. In the meantime, you continue to focus on those segments you own and on building new products with soul, one after the other. You are not worried about disruption from the low end, you are interested in making the case for an upgraded experience.
I think Apple is showing great maturity in their strategy by demonstrating technology can have soul and that customers value the user experience. This strategy has been the secret to their success. Apple has much to gain by thinking of ways to enhance and add new experiences so that they maintain their base of loyal owners, while appealing to upgraders. Maybe more to gain by following the strategy, than by figuring out how to win the low end of the market with soul less products. And, as with the luxury watch makers, the strategy has resulted so far in an outsized share of revenue, profit and appeal. Why change now?
Apple won’t be disrupted if it continues delivering products with soul!
That’s what I think. Do you agree or disagree? Let me know in a comment below.