Friday, March 01, 2013

How Apple was able to have it both ways

Charlie Kindel writes in "Why Nobody can Copy Apple":

I assert there’s something else that makes Apple is unique amongst it’s (asymmetric) competitors (e.g. Google, MS, Samsung):

It only focuses on one customer: The Consumer.

In my experience, the behaviors and culture of an organization (large or small) that focuses on the Consumer as a customer is diametrically incompatible with the behaviors and culture of an organization that focuses on Business as a customer.

I feel strongly that this is a key reason Microsoft’s products are often good, but not excellent; the consumer ones and the business ones. This is why Google will never be able to beat Apple at Apple’s game: Google’s customer focus is split between the advertiser and consumer.

I find the headline overstated. But the basic point that Apple narrowly focuses on the consumer and that gives them advantages over companies with wider lenses sounds about right. RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady, who pointed me to this piece, makes similar points in his 2001 piece "You Are What You Build For."

Apple has dallied with business computing from time to time. The most serious such dalliance was probably the Xserve rackmount server that it introduced in 2002 together with some enterprise-y storage. I was skeptical at the time. In 2003, I wrote "Another major question is how truly committed Apple is to pushing beyond its comfortable niches. It will take more than software and hardware that is technically suitable or even superior to win it new friends and new enterprise accounts. The thrust of the company’s marketing and sales push remains its war with Microsoft for the consumer—vis Apple’s “Switch” ad campaign, its consumer phenom iPod, and snazzy laptops that play DVD’s so very smoothly." 

Indeed, the Xserve faded from view and was eventually discontinued entirely. Apple makes minor accommodations to enterprises here and there; perhaps it adds a few security controls to iOS for IT security folks to make use of. But, fundamentally, it's all about the consumer.

Apple has not just won but won big. No, strike that. Won enormously big. But Apple can only take some of the credit.

Apple went all in on the consumer at a time when the market was changing. Apple helped create that change. One is reminded of Alan Kay's quote that "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." Many of the dynamics of today's mobile phone industry could well be much different had Apple not existed. But, other aspects were at best only peripherally related to Apple or, in some respects, even opposed by it. The open web and powerful web-based applications, cloud computing, the technology to build extremely powerful but compact mobile devices, user interface expectations created by the consumer web, social media, and more. And these aspects blurred the boundaries between the enterprise client and the consumer client—effectively letting an enterprise play masquerade as a consumer one.

Sure, Apple designs for the consumer's personal life as its marketing reflects. But the distinction between that design center and a consumerized, bring-your-own-device enterprise one is no longer distinct. Is this a statement more about professionals in the urban coasts than it is about more traditional industries? Sure. But it doesn't make it any less true that the enterprise has moved towards Apple.

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