Unlike Google, whose mission statement was “don’t be evil,” Apple has never had many qualms about acting like a dick. Don’t get me wrong: I think Apple’s (And Steve Jobs’) marketing and brand-positioning is genius. Microsoft, on the other hand, desperately wants to be everything to everyone, and, as a result, continues to build lowest-common-denominator-products and create lowest-common-denominator-marketing campaigns. Microsoft, for example, has to continue to support the 10-year-old Windows XP operating system to keep existing customers happy. Apple’s “take-it-or-leave-it” prickishness is brilliant – they’re attitude is essentially “if you have a problem with it, just leave.”
More recent example – look at Microsoft’s approach to tablets: Windows 8. They’re essentially so-afraid of alienating their billion+ users that they simply can’t ship anything that isn’t backwards-compatible with Windows 7 – which means they can’t throw-everything-overboard and re-imagine the tablet OS from the ground-up -they have to bolt the Metro User Interface on top of Windows 7, and call it Windows 8. Apple, on the other hand, can afford to say “no” to backwards-compatibility, to say “no” to any app it doesn’t approve, to say “no” to any app that tries to circumvent their 30% cut of in-app purchases. And because the folks at Apple work hard and are brilliant and build visionary beautifully-designed products that appeal to us on an emotional level, we’re more-than-happy to accept their terms and shut-up.
But the tide is turning. Steve Jobs has now officially departed. It remains to be seen whether Tim Cook will be a faithful steward, and if he has the vision to be more. Furthermore, he’s inheriting a different company. Apple is now the most valuable company on the planet. Tim Cook will have quite a time pretending Apple is a tiny-little-upstart from here-on-out. We’ll begin to expect more, now that Apple is undoubtedly the 800-pound gorilla.
I remember when Apple was hailed for being the first concentrated power to break the mobile-operator’s hold on the phone-ecosystem. Apple gave AT&T exclusive rights to the iPhone, and in-return got enough-leverage to say-no to letting the mobile operator control the Data-plan pricing and instead chose it’s own price-points. Apple said “no” to the crapware that usually comes pre-loaded on the phone. And Apple said “no” to letting the mobile operator control what apps you could download. Apple even said “no” to the standard data-plan and forced AT&T to offer special iPhone pricing. And Apple, amazingly, turned AT&T into the bad-guy in a way that it hadn’t been before. Apple single-handedly created and democratized the mobile-app ecosystem – standardizing the hardware, the OS, giving developers access to accelerometers, microphone, and GPS, to create genuinely new & creative apps that solved scenarios we never could have dreamed-of.
But three years later, as I watch publishers, who have been reduced to shadows of their former glory. Folks like the Wall Street Journal, who are simply turning-over 30% of their subscription-revenue to Apple in order to keep their iPad app – it’s finally happened – the freedom fighter has turned into the dictator. At first we might have been fooled, but over the next year I predict sentiment will turn against Apple. A great example is going to be Spotify. Apple’s roots are music. The iPod. Garage Band. Spotify has been a runaway success by any measure, may already by the third-most-popular desktop music-program after iTunes and Windows Media Player, and is Ranked #5 among the iOS Music Apps. Spotify’s success is a testament to all the things Apple should have done to innovate in the music space – where it was the incumbent with the biggest library, the broadest customer base, and the most resources. Instead Spotify, a tiny upstart, has delivered music as a social experience in the way it should have been, and has found a revenue model. Judging by my Facebook Friend List, in less than 2 months Spotify already has 8% Penetration among the 18-30 demographic. (164 of my 1860 friends have an account). Spotify is continuing to out-innovate Apple, and I expect us to start seeing – more-and-more – other companies out-innovate Apple in little corners of its ecosystem. And each one of them will force us to start asking “why didn’t Apple come out with that?” and “why doesn’t Apple fix that?” and soon the tide will turn.
It’s true what they say: “You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”