There was a time when Apple products were seen as cool, expensive toys for the rich geeks who didn’t want to fit in to the mainstream. Now, Apple is THE leading brand in MP3 players, cell phones and tablet devices and is rapidly rising to a position of global dominance – a dominance which I fear may hurt the progress of technology.
Let’s take it back many, many years to the infant days of personal computing. There emerged two distinct ways to get a personal computer.
- Go to Apple and get one of their little boxes of wonder
- Go to any other computer manufacturer and get their offering along with an operating system from Microsoft.
Two Different Approaches
Apple’s concept was simple. They designed both the hardware and the operating system. They were very strict with their hardware, limiting what could go inside or be attached. This allowed them to focus on maximizing speed, reliability and security and maintaining a superb user experience.
Microsoft, on the other hand, took a very different approach. For the most part, Microsoft didn’t (and largely still doesn’t) design hardware itself. Rather, it preferred to write software which would run on any computer based on the IBM x86 system. Users could attach pretty much anything to a computer running its operating system as long as that person also had a piece of software called a ‘driver’ which told the operating system what the hardware was and how to communicate with it.
The two very different styles meant that a battle ensued.
For a time in 1989, Apple had a higher market value than Microsoft. The launch of Windows version 3 changed that though and its sales volumes showed that the consumer wanted to be able to buy from the manufacturer of their choice and connect the hardware of their choice.
Apple nearly collapsed in 1997, as Microsoft dominated the market, and it was only a $150 Million cash injection from Microsoft itself which kept the fruity-one alive.
Microsoft users suffer in many ways though. The ability to attach almost anything in terms of hardware and software means that there are bugs, glitches and security holes galore, not to mention that the sheer number of computers running Windows make it a prime target for hackers.
The Phoenix From The Flames
Apple have, in recent years relaunched their attack on world domination through incredible innovation.
A line of ultra-cool looking Mac’s and Macbooks which, while still proprietary are much more open to connecting into networks and using their resources paved the way, drawing a large (and very loyal) crowd of followers.
The 2001 launch of the iPod indelibly etched the Apple brand into the world’s consciousness as one of the most hip, cool, cutting edge and desirable brands on the planet.
Several models followed, increasing functionality and yet maintaining the cool look and feel.
The release of the iPhone 2007, took the world by storm, propelling Apple to new heights. Though it may not physically sell more handsets than some of its competitors, that doesn’t detract from the fact that three years on, it is still the cool kid on the block, the one that everyone wants to be friends with.
Then, in April this year, the iPad debuted.
Being first-to-market, and running the same familiar software as the iPod and iPhone has given it an advantage which may prove to be insurmountable (see Chris Davis’ thoughts on the iPad stifling innovation here).
Still The Same Old Apple
Here’s the problem: Apple are STILL very strict in controlling what you can attach to and use with their products.
To Apple, it seems, the user experience is key and they strictly limit anything which could damage that experience – and with a rapidly growing grip on the market, Apple are quickly gaining the ability to decide which products are in and which are out.
Take Adobe’s Flash software for example. When I watch movies on sites which use Flash (Hulu.com, for example) my laptop runs hotter and the battery life shortens. I know this to be true, experience has proven it – but I like having the choice.
Apple also know this and because of it (and a few other nit-picking reasons) they have blocked their devices from being able to use Flash, thus effectively dooming Flash’s chances of continued existence (see Steve Jobs’ take on Flash here).
Apple is now the largest tech firm in the world. They are rising to dominance in key areas going forward – i.e. handheld devices. BUT they’re still the same old Apple, calling the shots as to what can and can’t be used on their devices. It seems to me that they are becoming, instead of the shining star they appear to be, a hideous monster which will stifle innovation and technological advances.
Sure, they come up with some pretty cool advances themselves but if they continue to grow as they have done in the last few years, they will eventually squeeze out most of the competition and thus strip away the ability that others have to innovate and design new products.
Microsoft through their period of dominance have suffered with anti-trust suits and claims of unfairly using the prominence of Windows to monopolize the market in web browsers and Office productivity software, which to some degree has been true. Now though, it seems we are moving from one monopolizer to another potentially worse one.
What do you think?
Is Apple a wolf in sheep’s clothing or am I reading more into this than should be read?