The iPhone is about as revolutionary as the PC was 30 years and Apple has once again been leading the pack. Just like the first Apple computer, the iPhone has spawned a litany of “me too” devices that attempt to recreate the groundbreaking look and feel of the iPhone. Yes, the present is very bright for Apple, but what about the future?
The first Apple computer was a phenomenon that revolutionized the market and is probably as much responsible for putting a computer in every home today as any other innovation in the field. However, Apple’s market share for console computing is currently only 6.4%, well behind other players in the industry. The real question here is why did this happen and, more importantly, will it happen again?
I’ll be the first to admit that I am not an expert in this field and that this article is more opinion than market insight. However, I have a feeling that if Apple does not change its approach to the consumer, the iPhone will suffer that same fate of the early Apple computers.
There is no doubt that Apple is an innovative company. They put out beautiful, well-designed, inspiring products that people wait in line for days to get. They have been trend setters on numerous occasions, with products like the Apple I, iPod, iPhone, and most recently the iPad. Their creative genius is not to be questioned and their ability to create marketing phenomena makes them the envy of the advertising world. I think, however, where Apple has gone wrong and continues to go wrong is in responding to customer feedback.
The iPhone, and it’s OS, are the most tightly controlled platforms on the mobile phone market today. Apple rules over its products with an iron fist that treats consumers like serfs and forbids them any control over the products they purchase. The iPhone is difficult to customize (unless you jail-break it), the Apps are exclusively controlled by Apple, and the company insists that it knows better than consumers when it comes to things like physical keyboards and Adobe Flash Player. The result of this chokehold on the consumer experience is a brilliant early product that is hamstrung by its inability to adapt to what consumers want.
Compare the iPhone experience to something like the Android, which is rapidly eating away at the iPhone’s market share. The Android is fully customizable, the source code is open for manipulation, developers can create any App or hack they like, and Google (or an independent developer) responds quickly to what the consumer wants. The difference is night and day. One is a top-down authoritarian approach to how a product will look, feel, and work. The other is a democracy, where consumer opinion and desires drives development.
The result of the two different approaches is dramatic. Apple is an innovator and introduces customers to new experiences and new ways of thinking. They create. Their downfall, however, is their belief that they know best and their smug refusal to indulge the requests of their consumers. In the end, it is this unwillingness to surrender the evolution of a product, long after the innovation is complete, that results in Apple losing market share. With a strategy like this, I fear that Apple is doomed to repeat the past – brilliant innovation followed by market dominance and then later followed by a decline as other products take up the consumer cause and deliver the evolution that buyers want. American’s have never done well with authority. When American’s vote with their wallets, the end game will always demonstrate that the company that listens to the consumer voice will always come out on top.
We need Apple for their insight, innovation and brilliance. Let us only hope that they don’t drive themselves into ruin (again and maybe permanently) by being so impressed with their own brilliance that they forget to consider the possibility that someone else may occasionally have a good idea as well.