In July of 2010 I penned a piece about the ensuing marketshare loss Apple could face as a result of repeating the same mistake from the eighties in which it tightly coupled hardware and software while other companies were free to innovate on hardware alone. In a post titled Is Is Apple Repeating its Mistake from the Eighties? I explained how the thinness and lightness of the Motorola Droid X won me over in a few minutes. In December of 2010 I followed up with And Then it Hit Me, Open Always Wins and a few months back with Apple Screwed Again?
I witnessed firsthand how in the eighties the price/power curve of the PC clones helped make PCs much cheaper than Macs of equivalent power and over time as a result, software developers once loyal to Apple switched over to the PC. The Mac was superior to the PC in most every way except cost – the reality was though that most people would take 80% of the usability for 50-60% of the price or perhaps less.
A huge and imposing banner promoting the Samsung Galaxy Note at 2012 CES
Fast forward to today – there are quad-core 4G Android smartphones with better screens and battery life than an iPhone 4s and they are gorgeous. The Samsung Galaxy Note is just example one example of an Android smartphone on steroids – it supports HSPA+ up to 21 MBPS as well as 4G LTE has a breathtaking 5.3” WXGA HD Super AMOLED screen displaying yes a staggering 1280×800 pixels. The iPhone 4S has a resolution of 960×640) Although it has just a 1.4 GHz dual core processor it pulled up web pages at CES lightning fast and moreover can accept stylus input making it really part tablet, part smartphone and part paper notebook. Moreover it uses what the company calls an advanced smart pen which I saw in action allowing you to press a button to take a screen shot and circle a portion of it to copy and share.
So if you thought there was device consolidation, you would be wrong. In fact the 5.3” device which fit nicely in my shirt pocket is the newest must-have gadget to add to your collection of smartphones, tablets, laptops and PCs and Ultrabooks. But the cool thing about the Galaxy Note is not only the device but the fact that Apple didn’t come out with it.
You see, in the last five years the tech world has been ruled by Apple. Even faithful blackberry users who would never abandon a keyboard are being spotted in Apple stores the world over as they get wooed by the Apple sex appeal of sleek devices coupled with sleek software and speech recognition software which still needs a lot of work.
Who invented the touchscreen smartphone? Apple. Who invented the tablet that people actually wanted – with touch input? Apple. The laptop that weighs a few pounds and lasts a day on a single charge – no not the Ultrabook companies, Apple with its MacBook Air. But this new 5.3″ form factor didn’t come from Apple and while my critics will be quick to point out – this device is not a big deal, I would argue it is. After all the iPad is just a large iPod Touch – the 5.3” form factor device with the smart stylus is new. It’s fresh. It’s different and it is the perfect hybrid device because it fits in a shirt pocket comfortably and allows near-tablet size video consumption.
This brings us to Woz – the Apple cofounder who says he is a big fan of Android phones – and here is the interesting part – he describes what I have been saying for years:
There’s a theory that Android could do to iOS (Apple’s mobile operating system) what Microsoft Windows did to the Macintosh in the 1990s. Microsoft triumphed because it licensed its software to many different hardware makers and ultimately had much greater market share than Apple, which would only sell its operating system on its own hardware.
In the mobile space, Apple is using the same playbook, tying its software tightly to its own hardware. And with Android, Apple is facing the same kind of foe that it once faced in Windows. “I can see the similarity,” Woz says.
Worse yet, this time, he says, Apple is up against a stronger competitor, since in his mind Windows was never a very good program, while Android actually is. “There’s not as big a difference [between iOS and Android] as there was between Mac and Windows,” he says.
The question is what can Apple do about it?
The company has dabbled with allowing clones but pulled back the experiment after a short time.
In my opinion if it was to go forward with allowing hardware makers to get a crack at its software – it may want to try working with one company at a time. I’ve used Samsung as an example throughout this piece – why not get the iOS running on the Galaxy Note?
Sure I understand the negative ramifications from Apple’s perspective but the company is losing share left and right already to the Amazon Kindle Fire – eventually Cupertino could end up being in a situation where it is too late to change course. We saw that the last time Apple started to lose share to Windows and Intel – the question is whether the company has enough innovation up its sleeve to keep the cutthroat competition in the dust.
Disclosure: I own Apple shares