ALL tech companies copy. It’s all built on what came before. It’s how it’s implemented and the infrastructure built around it that matters and few companies out side of Apple, Google, and possibly Samsung seem to do it very well. Market-share, sales, and profits are three very different things. Having massive market-share (only Apple makes the Mac which means they have nearly a 100% market-share, but when taken in context to ALL PC sales have only 5-10%) doesn’t equal big sales nor profits. Having large sales figures doesn’t equal market-share or profits, and big profits doesn’t mean big sales or market-share. This is why the arguments put forth by people who claim all companies copy Apple or that Apple’s success are due to fanboys are troll-bait barely worth considering.
A truly successful company can take an existing market and create something that is so different than what came before it that it IS innovative. That doesn’t mean it’s 100% original. I take exception to those who claim Apple invented whatever the latest iDevice is out of a vacuum because that’s nonsense. I also take exception to those who claim that Apple just copied something else and only a legion of fanboys made it popular (which is why I point out that more sales for iOS devices are from Windows users than Mac users to those who say this) because that too is a stupid claim. It’s possible to take what came before and still be innovative.
The iPod was really the first market Apple entered outside of personal computers that they were wildly successful in. They weren’t the first to market for such a device and many elements of the original iPod were seen on other devices first or Apple purchased intellectual property that was needed to complete the device. Even then it wasn’t a huge seller until one other piece was put in place. That piece was iTunes (which Apple pretty much got when they bought SoundJam). Even iTunes as a music manager would not have been that big a deal in selling hardware as there were other companies that also had music management software (like Panic’s Audion program). What made the iPod/ iTunes combination take off is when music sales were added to the mix. Again, Apple wasn’t the first to have an online music store, but when combined with not-junk hardware and the built-in music manager of iTunes, it resonated with buyers in a way that other similar devices didn’t. The real breaking point for iPod sales happened when Apple did two things. First they opened up iTunes to the Windows side and they replaced the FireWire connector (which few Windows users had) with the recently replaced 30-pin connector with USB connectivity. Sales exploded and no other digital music device since then has even come close to what Apple was generating in annual sales for over 5 years. It only started to decline after the iPhone/ iPod Touch came out. Apple cannibalized their own market with a better, more functional device. Most other companies in the same place don’t do that. They just keep adding on new “features” and lowering the price long after the devices in question have passed their prime as a market. Yes, Apple still sells iPods, but it’s almost an after thought as compared to a vibrant market that is still bringing in oodles of cash. Only the iPod Touch really receives any real attention and that’s basically an iPhone without a cellular connection.
Remember how I talked about how market-share, sales, and profits were three different things? For Apple, the iPod was the perfect joining of all three. They had massive market-share, huge sales (plus the added bonus of a piece of the content sales as well), and great profits. No other modern company has been able to repeat that since…kinda. Which I’ll discuss later.
The iPhone was innovative not because it was a touchscreen phone but because it was the first to really be outside the control of the access providers that sell it. Apple determines the initial apps and upgrades for it, not ATT, Sprint, O2, or any of the other companies that sell it. The original idea that it was all going to be web-based applications died early on (thank goodness) and the iOS App Store opened up the doors for a lot of developers to make money where they wouldn’t have otherwise except through ad-based sales. This has led to an explosion of apps many of which are iOS exclusives because people on the iOS platform seem more willing to actually buy useful apps. The taking away the control of the access providers is what led to this more than the hardware or even the OS itself. While it may seem odd that NOT having something that other similar device do can be innovation, the lack of something in itself can be what to prime the pump with. Look at the original iMac. In and of itself it wasn’t really that big a deal. A colorful computer, easy to use, easy to set up, but what was the ONE thing (other than the really horrible hockey puck mouse) that got a lot of people talking about it? No floppy drive. Which leads me to my next point.
The iPhone has two of the trifecta mentioned earlier. They have great sales and great profits. Android on the whole have taken over with market-share, but at the cost of practically giving away the devices. This has led to a race to the bottom which for consumers just looking for a cheap smartphone is great, but at the cost of a lot of functionality and freedom. Yes, freedom. It’s great that you can take an Android phone and root it (most of them anyway), put on a different UI, or just mess with it to your heart’s content. Pretty much do as you please…if you know how. The vast majority of people buying Android phones don’t know how and even more likely if they did, wouldn’t bother. So for most people having the ability to change it all up (and the responcibility of fixing it if it goes south in the process) is not freedom. It means they’re locked into whatever apps are resident at purchase or available through the allowed by the carrier app store. If an app isn’t available, or if it’s a malware infected POS meant to dupe users into getting it for “free”, then that’s what they’re stuck with. Apple’s way isn’t freedom either, but the combination of better, safer apps means that users can do a lot more with a lot less.
The iPad was and still is innovative NOT because it was the first tablet computer. There’s been plenty of those for 10 years, but it was really the first affordable one built exclusively around touch controls with a decent amount of apps at launch. Prior tablets running Windows or Linux failed because they didn’t provide any really useful functionality outside of what people could buy less expensive laptops for AND were burdened with trying to use apps built around a keyboard/ mouse on a touchscreen. Now throw in great battery life, a nice screen (the Retina Display in the newer ones are better, but we’re talking about the original iPad here), and ease of syncing content from iTunes, and what you come to is that this is truly a computer for the rest of us. However many slammed it because of what it DIDN’T have. No easy way to play Flash content (pretty much now killed off by market forces on the mobile side of things), an onscreen keyboard (BlueTooth takes care of that for those who want or need it), and it’s aspect ratio isn’t widescreen (16:9), but a 4:3 which lined up quite nicely with all those iPhone apps, but left bars on the top and bottom for things like movies. Few seem to care and sales within this segment have taken off in a way that Apple hasn’t seen since the iPod.
The iPad is currently also killing in all three segments important to continued growth. Market-share (though not at iPod levels in its heyday) is still dominant even with increased competition, sales are still high, and profits are through the roof. Apple is even already cannibalizing their own product (though in a different way to the iPod-iPhone eating fest) with the recently released iPad Mini. As I said in an earlier opinion piece, Apple is riding iOS to their future. I expect more iOS related products as I also expect more companies to try and emulate (notice I didn’t say copy) the kinds of products that Apple will release within this ecosphere.
Based on what’s happened in the market since both the iPhone and iPad were released shows pretty much that Apple was right about touch technology and others were wrong. It’s Apple’s game to win or lose, market share be damned. But it will require innovation from with iOS to stay on top of the game, but that doesn’t mean they have to come up with all new products each and every time.
Guy is a long-time Mac user (since 1987) and insists on inflicting his opinions on technology even when others around him wishes he wouldn't. He's married and the father of two sons. He used to take Tae Kwon Do until the shame of being beaten up by teenagers became too great.