Who's next?

In February I asked Why doesn’t anybody copy Apple?

Put another way: Why is it that everyone wants to copy Apple’s products but nobody wants to copy being Apple?

Being Apple means, at least:

  • Insourcing all aspects of operations which affect the customer experience. Increasingly that has meant insourcing everything, a toxic idea to every MBA-trained professional since forever.
  • Organizing functionally and having no product level P/L responsibility. That also means removing almost all incentives for employees to climb ladders and thus prove their worth.
  • Developing products using integrated “heroic” efforts which shun  every best (or even adequate) process for product development.

I asked somewhat rhetorically because it’s an open question. Apple’s operating model and devotion to integration have been asymmetric to technology dogma for decades. To the casual (read: naïve) observer, pursuing the Apple way seemed also to be tied to one individual. You could not “be Apple” unless you were also Steve Jobs and there was only one of him.

But it seems I did not give enough credit to other observers.

According to Microsoft, they began negotiating the buying of Nokia assets in earnest (coincidentally) in February. It has, also since February, been planning a massive re-organization along functional lines. Thus, by owning significant hardware operations and organizing functionally, Microsoft might go about two thirds toward “being Apple-like”. The development process is the final hurdle and it may be a bridge too far, but my thesis that nobody wants to copy Apple is now in tatters.

And it gets worse. We can see a similar, though far weaker, example in Google’s approach to integration. Their purchase of Motorola did not result in an integrated business, with Motorola being kept at arm’s length and allowed to wither on the vine. Crucially, while Google bought Motorola’s IP, Microsoft only licensed Nokia’s. Microsoft clearly valued Nokia for something different than  what Google valued Motorola for.

Nevertheless there is a semblance of similarity. We can generalize enough and say that Apple (iOS), Google (Android/Chrome) and Microsoft (Windows (Phone)) are all becoming near facsimiles of each other. They are all producers of Software, Services and Hardware. Each came from a different basis but expanded into areas which were missing.

  • Google started with a service, expanded into systems software and bought into hardware.
  • Apple started with hardware running its own software, expanded into application software and is developing services.
  • Microsoft started with software, expanded organically into services and bought into hardware.

All three major platform companies are now racing to offer that which completes them as an integrated producer and eliminates the dependencies on others as a modular producer.

This is re-integration of the computing industry–a reversal of the dis-integration brought about by the personal computer. Mobility, it turns out, was as important to the evolution of the computing value chain as microprocessors were to the previous era. It just had the opposite effect.

I should point out that Apple was more lucky than enlightened through this sea change. Having always been integrated, Apple was out of favor during one period of the computing epoch, but, simply by surviving, its model came back into favor in the next. I don’t think anybody there foresaw just how dramatic the shift would be and how important their structure was to being successful.

But there is one company which seems left out of this discussion. Samsung is absorbing a large part of the available profits in computing today and it’s not an integrated hardware/software/services player. Does this mean that there is room to be a module in an interdependent world?

I argue that no, there isn’t. Samsung must either stretch into becoming one of the ecosystem contenders or be relegated to a commodity hardware company–a path clearly visible when looking at Chinese entrants. Samsung itself benefited from disrupting from below and should be aware of the threat it faces as it races up-market. More importantly though there is the ability of creating new markets altogether. This new market creation and rapid iteration due to integration is what the Google/Microsoft/Apple trio are seeking.

Without the components of software (ecosystems included[1]) and services, Samsung will depend on the good graces of suppliers. They may not be as keen to share when profits accrue to the whole rather than the part.



[1] e.g. BlackBerry

  • gadget_hero

    Surely Samsung’s end game is to get people more loyal to the “Galaxy” brand and transition as many users to Tizen so they get to have their own compelling ecosystem. I guess the question is how much will that hurt Android as Samsung basically IS Android?

    • Space Gorilla

      Or Samsung does some sort of Android fork, but I agree, Samsung has to be thinking about owning more of the stack.

      • gadget_hero

        It would be interesting if they did use Tizen as pound for pound performance could be superior to Android as Tizen can have native apps. I wonder how many people would buy a Tizen Galaxy phone thinking it was Android, since their UI is the same on both. Would the majority of people notice as long as the main apps they use are present in the Samsung App store?

      • Space Gorilla

        I forget where it was, but some survey found more than half of smartphone users don’t know what OS their phone runs. It would be very easy for Samsung to swap in a new OS. And if they can somehow run Android apps, perhaps getting developers to submit apps to the Samsung App Store, then the transition would be very smooth. I wonder though, how does the recent Google Play Services factor in?

      • gadget_hero

        Ha, why does that not surprise me at all. From what I read, Tizen can in fact run Android apps. So I imagine they could have all the “important” for the unwashed masses apps. The main thing Samsung needs to have is mapping and some of the other Google services. But I bet their will be some users that may never even notice they have been moved from one OS to another.

  • anon_coward

    controlling the hardware and software means you can optimize the software for the hardware. I’ve used every generation of iphone from the 3G and a few android phones over the years and iphone always beats android on speed when you compare the same generation phones. even though android phones have paper specs that are higher than apple.

    and it saves money in the long run. Samsung buying or making CPU’s that run at 1.5GHz means they only select the ones binned higher. apple using a CPU that runs at 1 GHz means that they have more supply to choose from

  • r52097

    Samsung + BlackBerry = 4th player?

  • Brian M. Monroe

    I think you forgot Amazon as an important player in this mix. I do see them expanding from just making Kindle tablets to Kindle phones too. As long as Google lets them ride on their coattails with providing Amazon with Android for free. They have the potential to really leverage the Amazon and Kindle brands along with prime subscriptions to do quite well.

    As for Samsung, I do see that they want to do more than being only a reseller of Android as that is why I think that they are doing their own OS (tizen) so that they can be in control of their own ecosystem. Of course they would have to do their own store too. As we have seen with their partnerships with Best Buy they know that they do need to have a retail experience that they control.

    • Good point about Amazon. Though not a computing company per se, they are integrating their value chain.

      • Space Gorilla

        Is there an opportunity for Amazon to suck up the low end of the market with free phones focused on driving transactions? Maybe not free phones, but very, very cheap.

  • davidovich

    This is one of the most insightful things I’ve read regarding Apple’s functional organization. When I worked there (2002-10), very few people were promoted; managers often came from the outside and people were told to “find joy in their work,” which, as you say, resulted in “removing almost all incentives for employees to climb ladders.”

  • obarthelemy

    “All three major platform companies are now racing to offer that which completes them as an integrated producer and eliminates the dependencies on others as a modular producer.”

    Blatantly false in the case of Google. They’re not averse to seeding the market and dipping their littlest toe in it, but they are certainly not going “hardware” heavily.

    • handleym

      ‘they are certainly not going “hardware” heavily.’

      You say that about the only one of the three companies that is working on designing CARS! And may well land up buying an auto company?

      • obarthelemy

        Why stop at auto ? Planes ! Boats ! Spaceships ! They’re about as likely to buy a company making those right now…

      • isitjustme

        Yes I can see them testing driverless spaceships, boats and planes.

    • steven75

      Is $12B for Moto not heavy enough for you? That’s almost twice what MS paid for Nokia.

      • obarthelemy

        two. percent. market. share.

    • TheEternalEmperor

      Google Glass. Pixel. Nexus. Someone mentioned Motorola X and driverless cars. I know you want to be counter to everything Horace says, but you’re trying too hard.

      What’s next? You will claim that water is dry?

      • obarthelemy

        exactly. Glass, Pixel. Nexus.

        Oh, you’re using those as examples Google *want* to do hardware ?

        Let’s see: Unreleased, so weird it’s funny, and … subcontracted to an OEM ?

        Yep. Google want to do hardware soooo bad…

  • rationalchrist

    Aside of Microsoft’s dubious copying strategy, the most worrisome problem of Microsoft is their execution. After Window XP debut in late 2001, it takes them 7 years to release next acceptable version Windows 7 in mid 2009. In the same timeline, Apple released first iPod in late 2001, and iPhone in mid 2007, total two new OSes in the same time span. iPod OS is retiring now. Microsoft becomes extreme incompetent since 2001. Lazy, pride, or internal fighting, whatever gets them. Saying Ballmer lacking vision is giving him too much of credit of his performance as normal business manager. Ballmer simply is not delivering. Any business manager not delivering is a bad manager, regardless whether he has vision or not. How many Steve Jobs a world has?

    • anon_coward

      that’s how long it took to rewrite Windows from scratch. the bill gates version of windows was crap since he had the devs put everything into the kernel

      • rationalchrist

        Rewriting is not an excuse. NeXT was formed in 1985, NeXTStep was previewed in 1986, version 1.0 released in 1989.

      • obarthelemy

        NeXTStep was not an OS though, just an add-on to BSD. Also, it didn’t have to worry about retroactive compatibility.

      • isitjustme

        So what did Apple buy from Next?

        Hogwash perhaps.

      • obarthelemy

        A modern OS (complete with nice UI and toolchain), with preemptive multitasking and memory protection.

        People conveniently forget how backwards MacOS was before that…

      • Kizedek

        People also conveniently forget that Next included a talented team that came with the OS, and that Next existed in the first place because the original architect of the original Macintosh and Macintosh team was working to fulfill his vision for the original Macintosh. That companies and people then didn’t see Next for what it was, has truly come back to bite them in the butt.

      • ralphel

        Characterising a system containing the Mach kernel as “just an add-on to BSD” seems wilfully perverse to me.

      • obarthelemy

        Same difference: Apple/NeXT didn’t develop the Mach kernel, just integrate into their OS.

    • handleym

      I don’t think incompetence is the full story. The larger problem is one I have described before — a company cannot serve well two masters.

      MS has delusions of being a consumer company, but its money comes from corporations, meaning that, at the end of the day, it has to do things the way enterprise wants.
      Enterprise does not want rapid change.
      Enterprise does not mind some complexity it it provides something that is imagined to be of benefit (eg thirteen different database APIs, support for twelve different network protocols — all of which, apart from TCP/Ip are obsolete).
      Enterprise cares DEEEPLY about backward compatibility, and doesn’t mind the costs, the slowdown, the weight this imposes.

      All of which means MS is constantly torn between trying to change the world, and trying to maintain constancy in an externally changing world!

      (This is not unique to MS. In principle Intel has the same problem, where its corporate buyers want a much slower change of pace than consumers. Intel, stupid but not as stupid as MS, has solved that problem by having a separate product line, Xeon, which gets updated at a MUCH slower rate than the desktop CPUs. Intel only made available a few days ago the IB Xeon — after the mainstream Haswell was released months ago!
      MS could have solved this problem by maintaining a split between the enterprise OS [ie NT] and the desktop OS. Share tech, but don’t share schedules, and don’t promise that one is identical to the other. But the lure of Ein OS, Ein UI, Ein IT Company has always been impossible for MS to resist — hence the debacle that is Win8 today, the result of forcing another Ein UI on everything from the phone to the server.)

      • rationalchrist

        Two masters is a problem. But look what old Microsoft did to Netscape. IE1 mid 1995, IE2 late 1995, IE3 1996, IE4 1997, IE5 1999, IE6 2001. 1998 Netscape is acquired by AOL. Then MS is getting lazy on IE7 2006. Since 2001, MS is not hungry.

    • Nangka

      “Aside of Microsoft’s dubious copying strategy, the most worrisome problem of Microsoft is their execution.”

      Yes I believe this is their biggest problem. They have the money, brains & resources and yet they are just followers all the past decade or so. Brian S Hall wrote in Techpinion that now MS has the hardware, together with Skype, cloud services, maps, search, & other components, they could be a formidable force in the mobile consumer space. But I highly doubt they’ll amount to anything simply because of execution, specifically the lack thereof.

  • rationalchrist

    Aside of Microsoft’s dubious copying strategy, the most worrisome problem of Microsoft is their execution. After Window XP debut in late 2001, it takes them 7 years to release next acceptable version Windows 7 in mid 2009. In the same timeline, Apple released first iPod in late 2001, and iPhone in mid 2007, total two new OSes in the same time span. iPod OS is retiring now. Microsoft becomes extreme incompetent since 2001. Lazy, pride, or internal fighting, whatever gets them. Saying Ballmer lacking vision is giving him too much of credit of his performance as normal business manager. Ballmer simply is not delivering. Any business manager not delivering is a bad manager, regardless whether he has vision or not. How many Steve Jobs a world has?

  • obarthelemy

    I find the whole “it worked for Apple, so everybody should be doing the exact same thing” mantra bizarre.

    I think diversity works. Same as there’s not One Best Phone, there’s not One Best Company Structure. Each have their own qualities and drawbacks. Apple for example is very successful in very few markets. One misstep on the iPhone front will hurt deeply. Wall Street seems to be acutely aware of that. So maybe diversification is good, but with diversification comes the need for increased managerial bandwidth, and pretty much the only way to get that is independent P&L units. That does usually impact top management’s focus, but I’m not sure it’s an unsolvable curse.

    • Sprewell

      I agree, which is why I completely disagree with the strategic analysis that Horace put forth. The integrated model only works when you’re seeding a new market, because you can provide fit and finish that isn’t really in the market yet. Once competitors realize that there’s a big market there, they specialize and the market becomes more diverse and commoditized. Apple has been able to buck this trend only because their competitors are fairly stupid. Google gives Android away for free and therefore cannot ever really build it into a real competitor for the iPhone. Microsoft came up with a nice UI for WP but it was launched far too late, chronically underpowered and without enough worthwhile partners, possibly because of Microsoft’s hardball tactics in the past. Nokia and Blackberry imploded when presented with real competition. Samsung and HTC’s software and services are a joke, they’re only really capable of hardware.

      “Samsung itself benefited from disrupting from below?” The S2-4 and Note 1-2 are high-end phones that sold many millions and drove Samsung’s profits. It will be interesting to see how Samsung deals with their success, because they do so many things badly that they might not realize their weaknesses, masked by the heady smell of temporary success.

      The computing market will specialize and commoditize like every market before. There is nothing magical about mobility in that regard. These companies are just all learning the wrong lesson from Apple and stupidly aping them. The exception is Google, which actually keeps their non-services bets small, ie Motorola hardware and Chrome/Android software are not a big investment for them, and doesn’t seem to really care about ever making money off anything other than search ads. That focus on only making money through search ads is a big mistake in its own right, but at least they’re not making the common mistake of aping the Apple integrated platform model. This platform craze isn’t going to end well for any of them, including Apple, which couldn’t come up with good services to save its life, ie iCloud, ping, and the recent mapping fiasco, I could go on. 🙂

      • While I strongly agree with your point on proven markets becoming increasingly specialised and commoditised. However I don’t think it’s inevitable these players win out. I actually think that integrated products can still prosper in mature markets.

        Take Apple’s Desktop and Laptop lineup for instance. In Q4 2012, global Mac was bigger than the 5 largest PC makers combined.

        If all companies can access similar technology at similar prices, integration can and almost always will allow for a better product. The problem is, this is easy to screw up. There are so many moving parts and difficult trade offs to be made that the sum of an integrated company often add up to less than the parts.

        While it’s true Apple’s integrated solution fell behind in the 90s to commoditised players I don’t think its fair to say its *because* they were integrated. Apple fell behind in the 90s because they made a series of mistakes that caused them to put out relatively poor products. They bet on the wrong processor architecture. They let Mac OS stagnate – initially copied by MS it was exceeded by Win95. They had a long detour in a business model (licensing) that compromised their ability to sell integrated products.

        Integration can allow for a superior product, which allows for superior profit margins. I don’t think Google, Amazon and co are being run by idiots blindly copying Apple. I think they’re just following the money… however they may be a bit over-optimistic about their ability to pull off effective integration.

      • obarthelemy

        Integration has strong and weak points. Single sourcing and bad interoperability are an issue, for example. More important for Entreprise, more important for experienced users, but those may become more prevalent…

      • Sprewell

        I must admit that I was surprised to see the data in Horace’s earlier post, where he showed Apple making more profit than the top 5 PC vendors. But after thinking about it a bit- or reading someone’s comment that mentioned this point, I forget which 😉 – I realized it’s not a fair comparison, as you are including Apple’s software margins in the profit figure but not Microsoft’s software profits for the Windows PC market. Add back in the $2 billion profit that Microsoft made in their Windows division that quarter and Windows PCs total profit was 2-3 times Apple’s. Of course, Apple’s margins were higher, but they had half the absolute profit coming directly from OS X sales to potentially reinvest back into the software product than Microsoft did.

        As for the rest, I agree that integration is not a sure recipe for failure, but that it “is easy to screw up.” The problem is that there are many large costs to vertically integrating most everything in a large corporation, as obarthelemy says, especially that such often-hierarchical structures are very bad at keeping up with change: look at Microsoft or Nokia. Apple has fought this headwind to scale successfully for many years, but I don’t think they can do it for much longer. Further, I’d argue that the market was far too integrated even before Apple, ie that Microsoft was integrating OS software modules that should have been outsourced, as I argued in an earlier comment in a different thread.

        So my prediction is for much more radical specialization and fragmentation in the computing market, as happened in the car market over the last century, only much faster. 🙂 The trends are against me now, 😉 with the exception of Android to some extent, but I believe the force of specialization is so strong that it will inevitably destroy the integrators, whether Apple or Microsoft. There will always be some “integrators,” like Vizio and their computing products, who just do some design, basic integration, and marketing, but outsource everything else. But the era of vertical integration through most components, like Apple does today, is cresting, never to return again. 🙂

        It’s already happening to Intel now in mobile CPUs, with ARM, TSMC, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Nvidia specializing in different segments of the integrated product that Intel used to deliver. This will happen in the software market too.

      • Kizedek

        “I must admit that I was surprised to see the data in Horace’s earlier post, where he showed Apple making more profit than the top 5 PC vendors. But after thinking about it a bit- or reading someone’s comment that mentioned this point, I forget which 😉 – I realized it’s not a fair comparison, as you are including Apple’s software margins in the profit figure but not Microsoft’s software profits for the Windows PC market.”

        This has been debated before. Yes, Apple does both hardware and software, but it is valid to make separate comparisons.

        It is valid to compare Apple’s profits with hardware companies alone, because that is how Apple and the hardware companies sell their products to similar customers. Apple’s OS is transparent.

        It is also valid to compare Apple’s profits and margins to those of MS alone, with which it also competes, but on a different level. Especially since high software margins were always supposed to be such a given, but now MS is forced to consider hardware in order to get those very margins it once enjoyed as its apparent birthright. The very fact that Apple and MS had different business models, but now MS is forced to consider Apple’s business model, makes this kind of comparison very interesting.

        But, it is not valid to lump the top 5 in each of the separate hardware and industries all together in order to try and explain why Apple’s integrated approach was not as successful as it really is.

        I hate to create another car analogy, but it would be a scenario like this:

        Tesla sells high-end cars and makes more profit than the top five traditional car makers. Fine. Oh, but Tesla also provides the power (batteries), on which it has spent a lot of time designing and innovating. So, let’s include all the oil companies on the traditional car side of the equation; that will sure put a different light on Tesla’s performance!

        No, let’s compare Tesla to car companies. And then, let’s also compare it to all the oil companies, just for fun!

      • Sprewell

        Your entire argument is idiotic. Apple’s profits on their OS X devices accrues from hardware and software, with iTunes and other service revenue separated out in Horace’s estimate. To compare their profits to PC vendors’, you have to include the profit from hardware and software across the PC market, because different companies split up those profits, which Apple bundles together in its integrated model. In the case of an outside part, say an Intel SSD, that’s sourced by both Apple and PC vendors, we don’t include the profit in our calculations, because neither Apple, Microsoft, or the PC vendors book that profit. But to compare apples to apples in Horace’s charts, you have to do it the way I did, ie count computer hardware and software. I don’t know why this is hard to understand.

        As for your silly Tesla analogy, the correct comparison would be between the Tesla battery and the gas tank in the gas-powered car. Let me give you the SAT analogy:

        The battery is to the gas tank as the electricity is to petroleum.

        You are comparing the battery to the petroleum, which makes no sense whatsoever. 🙂

      • Sacto_Joe

        “Your entire argument is idiotic.”

        And that’s where YOU lost the “argument”. You come across as defensive and angry.

      • Sprewell

        Let me repeat myself: your entire argument is idiotic. 🙂 I accurately labeled his moronic argument and then explained why it was so. If you believe the opening sentence disqualifies all that follows simply because I labeled his argument accurately, I don’t know what to tell you other than that’s an extremely silly and superficial way of looking at things on your part, ie automatically imputing emotion to my strong statement rather than checking if it’s actually true.

      • Sacto_Joe

        “I don’t know what to tell you…”.

        How about “You’re right. I was way out of line. My apologies to Kizedek and the rest of the posters for my unseemly behavior.”

        Instead, you exhibit even more defensiveness.

        Makes me wonder how old you are….

      • Sprewell

        How about he wasted my time with his dumb argument, which I then took the time to correct anyway, so you apparently don’t have the first clue about what is “unseemly,” how to diagnose “defensiveness,” or how to guess my age. How about you go spew your silly outrage somewhere that people actually care what you think, because your hyperventilating isn’t anything I give a shit about.

      • Kizedek

        “The battery is to the gas tank as the electricity is to petroleum.”

        Not in this case, it’s not.

        A battery is a complex piece of engineering, a gas tank is not.
        Electricity is a utility, petrol is not.

        (and it is an analogy after all)

      • Sprewell

        Sigh, do I have to explain even this to you? A battery stores electricity, just as a gas tank stores petroleum. You don’t compare the storage unit to the fuel, which is what you did when you compared the battery to petroleum. It appears that my arguments are flying over your head, so I’ll leave it here.

      • Kizedek

        If analogies are too much for you, don’t sweat it. I painted the picture of one company who builds a complex part that is not included in a traditional car.

        Yes, the situation is absurd — about as absurd as you including the profits of oil companies to bolster the business of the traditional car makers simply because the integrated competitor does not use oil.

      • Kizedek

        I recognized that Apple’s profits accrue from both hardware and software.

        “In the case of an outside part, say an Intel SSD, that’s sourced by both Apple and PC vendors, we don’t include the profit in our calculations, because neither Apple, Microsoft, or the PC vendors book that profit.”

        So, do you include the “outside” part if one uses it but the other does not?

        In the case of OEMs, the OS is an “outside” part, but for Apple it is not. So what? The OEM may instead include something that Apple does not include (like a serial port or floppy disk drive or some other crap). And Apple may include a screen that is 40 dollars more expensive, in lieue of a 40-dollar licensed OS that the OEM includes. Where does it stop? You are being arbitrary about the OS just to suit your purposes.

        That’s just the business model. So what if one manufacturer makes some parts by hand in order to differentiate itself, while his competitor decides to source these as a commodity from some wholesaler? You don’t start comparing the business of the one who goes the extra mile to all the third party industries that he doesn’t make use of. That’s idiotic!

        Apple happens to create and include its own OS, while other computer makers do not. But Apple also has higher operating costs to cover its development as a result. Again, so what?

        You are simply making too much of it in your original complaint about Horace’s straight comparisons…

        1) Apple makes computers : OEMs make computers. Apple’s profit from its computers is X; OEM’s profit from their computers is Y.

        2) Apple has software and hardware and services and ecosystems : MS has software and hardware and services and ecosystems. Apple’s profit is X; Microsoft’s profit is Y.

      • Sprewell

        Sigh, let me make this as simple as I can for you. We are comparing the Mac business model to the PC vendor business model. We know that Microsoft makes most of the profits on the PC side, not the PC vendors, who make a pathetic 3% margin according to Horace, so we can reasonably assume that OS X also drives the margins for Apple, ie software is generally much more profitable than hardware. If we’re going to compare the Apple model with PC vendors generally, it’s not a fair comparison if you leave out those OS profits from Microsoft, as Microsoft is able to put a lot more profit back into Windows than Apple is into OS X, because of the larger Microsoft profit numbers I detailed above.

        Whether or not Macs use more expensive displays than PCs is irrelevant, as neither Apple nor the PC vendors make those displays themselves, they all buy them from the outside, just like the Intel SSDs. The question is what adds to their profits and do they make that in-house or not.

        The fact is that Apple makes a much higher margin on their Macs than PC vendors do primarily because they make their OS themselves, while PC vendors buy their OS from outside. But if you want to compare the profitability and competitiveness of the overall PC model with the Apple model, you have to put those OS profits from Microsoft back in to the comparison, otherwise you aren’t really comparing the same thing. This is a fairly straightforward point, I’m not sure why it’s been hard for you to grasp.

        Wait, no, I do know why, you can’t even seem to grasp why it’s dumb to compare battery profits to petroleum profits, so this is perfectly in keeping with your cluelessness. 🙂 These profit and tech discussions are clearly over your head, so I’ll leave this dumb “The Mac model is better!” argument here.

      • Nangka

        Another way of looking at the “Apple is just lucky because the competitors/market are stupid. Wait until blah blah..” theory is: “Since Apple has been insanely successful & profitable and most everyone else is not, Apple must be freaking smart and be doing something right.” I mean iPod, iPhone, & iPad. Apple can’t be the only one THAT lucky so many times?

      • Sprewell

        Sure, you look smart when everybody else is stupid, doesn’t mean you actually are. 😉 But the integrated model is stupid, as it only works when seeding new markets. They used it to seed an integrated mp3 player/music service, then a converged phone/internet handheld which focused on touch input, and finally a lightweight tablet that you’d actually want to use, once the mobile hardware was good enough for tablets to break out. For each device, there were others doing pieces of those markets before, often long before: their predecessors simply didn’t have the fit and finish and timing for everything to integrate well together. Microsoft was doing tablets for a decade, but they just missed that hockey stick when growth took off, likely because they had been pushing it too early for too long and had gotten dispirited.

        Well, catching a market right as it breaks open can only happen once. They’re hoping to catch the midrange smartphone market as it takes off worldwide with the iPhone 5C, but that’s about all they have left. I’m skeptical on watches, while they’ve been putting off the TV for a while now. What do you do when your skill is launching new tech categories into high-growth mode, but you’ve used up all the categories? You lapse into irrelevance, as Apple inevitably will in the medium-term.

        Also, a great deal of inertia grows up as you become more successful: you start to imagine you can’t fail. Microsoft fell for this, Apple will too. We know what Larry Ellison thinks. 😉

      • jehrler

        While you many consider the integrated model stupid, it does have one benefit that you haven’t considered…the company is master of its own domain.

        Look at Windows 8 and all the trouble MS has had trying to get its OEMs to produce touchscreen PCs to leverage its Modern interface. Without the touchscreen, it’s kinda pointless.

        Turning to Mobile, at this point Samsung is the only Android maker (i.e. user of Google Services) to be making any money. As Samsung moves forward on their own Mobile OS initiatives, what’s to prevent them from using their own OS/forking Android (ala Amazon) and capturing the ad/services revenues that are currently going to Google through deals with Google competitors? The brand with awareness on the Android side is Galaxy, not Android.

        If, or should I say when, Samsung decides to go its own way then what does Google end up with from Android? Struggling OEMs (HTC, LG) with minor penetration and successful (or at least large) Chinese OEMs with no link to Google services/ads.

        Put another way, if Samsung were to leave Android, where would Android be??

        Being beholden to a cutthroat competitive company is not a great place for Google to be sitting.

      • Sprewell

        Let me say this in no uncertain terms: no company is the master of their own domain. Apple depends on Samsung and dozens of other companies for their outsourced hardware components and Google and other companies for all kinds of services. Everybody depends on numerous other companies, Apple just depends on a handful less than everybody else. 🙂

        As for putting touchscreens on PCs for Windows 8, I’d argue that it’s the touchscreen that’s useless for most PCs, which is why no Mac has a touchscreen, so the OEMs are right and it’s the Windows 8 touchscreen requirement that is pointless. 🙂

        Regarding mobile and all your points about Android, I think you missed my initial point, that everybody else is even dumber than Apple, especially Google with Android. 🙂 But as I noted earlier, Google doesn’t really spend or make much money on software, so what do they care if Samsung makes money or Android fails?

        As for Samsung forking, what’s in it for them? Right now, they have Google putting all the money into core Android development and Samsung gets new versions of Android practically for free, which they then turn around and make billions in profit with every year. Why would you want to stop that? Just as Apple benefits from Android killing off all the other proprietary players other than Samsung, Samsung gains from a free OS, that is good enough to make billions for them.

        Samsung will only fork when they see a clear reason to, while developing Tizen in the meantime as an option if they ever need to switch. In any case, Google will still make money off search ads from Samsung’s forked or Tizen devices, as any smartphone OS will have a web browser and users will use Google for search, which is why Google still makes more money off iOS than they do off Android and why the case for Google to develop Android has always been weak.

        “Put another way, if Samsung were to leave Android, where would Android be??”

        Who knows, but it certainly won’t affect Google much.

        “Being beholden to a cutthroat competitive company is not a great place for Google to be sitting.”

        Don’t worry, Apple still has google as the default search and Google Maps can still be loaded on iOS. Oh, you meant Samsung? 😉

      • “used up all the categories”? I’d say we aren’t even close to that – it’s a little like the “everything that can be invented has been” line of thinking. With everything becoming computerised, if Apple can extend it’s platform to new form factors and use cases they have a huge amount of potential.

  • I can see Samsung becoming totally self sufficient. And that will likely be very disruptive to Android, just as Losing Nokia would have decimated Microsoft’s plans.

    • TheBasicMind

      With which OS?

      • I would imagine a further developed version of Tizen.

      • Space Gorilla

        Is there any possibility of a kind of emulation layer that would allow Android apps to run on top of or within a Samsung OS? That would solve the largest problem.

      • I have no idea about that … but they are now running their own developer conferences, and they have such a large installed base that it shouldn’t be hard to get apps developed for their own platform when the time comes, I would have thought.

      • Space Gorilla

        True, but if they can do both, wow, it makes the transition pretty easy I think. Imagine if consumers can buy a Galaxy device, run all the Android apps they like, *and* get new (presumably better) apps for the new platform. There’s little consumer loyalty to Android, people are buying ‘a Samsung’.

      • obarthelemy

        Why would Samsung want to do that though ? I mean, except in Apple boosters’ dreams to create havoc on Android ? Google just want to display ads and track. Samsung have exactly 0 stake in that business.

      • Lun Esex

        All the third party software running on Samsung phones that comes from the Google Play store is monetized by either display ads or a percentage of payments going through Google Play. Samsung could decide that they want to take those profits for themselves. As the supplier of the majority share of Android devices this wouldn’t be too hard for them to do.

        Probably the main thing holding them back is that Google is still putting significant effort into OS development on Android, and Samsung still wants to take advantage of that. This however is slowing, with increasingly long gaps of time between significant releases. At some point Google may shift more of their focus towards Chrome OS (notice how ChromeCast is branded and targeted). If/when that happens Samsung may not see as much value in continuing to play nice with Google and decide to more fully control their own destiny by forking Android, or merging it with their Tizen OS. Why do they keep Tizen around right now, after all, if it’s not because they don’t feel fully confident with Google’s stewardship of Android?

      • obarthelemy

        I don’t think there’s a lot of direct value in breaking or forking away for Samsung, and there’s a high cost, both in $$ and in “features”:

        Samsung have no ad business whatsoever. They’d either have to build it from scratch, buy it (not sure there’s any independent player left) or become or reseller of… MS or Google.

        Ditto for the content business (apps and media). They do have an appstore, but it’s very minor. They have no media to sell. Switching OSes or even forking Android means losing access to the PlayStore (needs Google Play Services), so what then ? Make a deal with Amazon ?

        And finally, Android versions are not the whole story: Google Play Services evolve more quickly than Android these days, and lock in a lot of value.

        As for the pros… It’d cost money (all that ecosystem to build and deals to make). It might increase stickiness at the cost of an initial exodus (cognoscenti would flee, probably taking quite a few of the vulgum pecus with them).

        I don’t think the costs and risks are worth it.

        We’ll see how well Tizen does. Stalwart OSes (WP, BB, Symbian) are having a hard time hanging on, I’m not holding my breath for the raft of upcoming newcomers (Firefox OS, Tizen, Unbuntu, Silfish…). Getting the OS right, then building the ecosystem, is an herculean task.

        Again, this is a variant of what happened on the PC. It’s worse on the PC actually: MS have been making a lot more money off each PC than the OEMs. Yet MS have been unshakable. Mobile could be a bit easier to upset because it’s consumer, not entreprise, so network effects are weaker. Not weak enough, though.

      • Lun Esex

        Consider the Chinese market. Various Chinese handset manufacturers are already forking Android, or stripping away Google’s apps and services. The Chinese government favors having native Chinese services like Baidu and Sina Weibo used by manufacturers selling in China. The Google Play Store, Google Play Services, Google Maps, etc. are non-entities, there. It would make sense for Samsung to try to better address this market by doing the same.

        Compared to Windows Phone/BlackBerry/Symbian, right now Samsung has a huge base. A high percentage of those don’t choose their phones based on platform. What Samsung has managed to do is push heavily with ad spend, dealer incentives, and a wide shotgun of different models hitting all price points. Android is just convenient for them, right now. If or when it gets less convenient, or something else becomes more convenient, it really wouldn’t be hard for them to switch a bunch of their range to something else, or to their own controlled fork of Android. Most of their mid to low range customers wouldn’t much know the difference, as they’re not really tied in to Google services and apps. They could easily just keep their high end phones on their skinned version Android, where some people do buy based on platform, and switch the rest to or fork with their skin, or Tizen, and their sales wouldn’t really be affected.

        The fact is that Samsung has already been setting their own path largely independent of Google. So far they’re straddling the line. No doubt they’re constantly weighing the benefits and detriments of forking or not forking Android, or switching to using their own Tizen OS. And of all the manufacturers out there they have the least to lose, and probably the lowest cost of doing so.

      • obarthelemy

        I’m aware of a single instance of a Chinese company forking Android. Link for “various” ?

        I’m actually seeing 100% PlayStore support in new Chinese phones/tablets, which is a strong uptick from even last year. That’s for export-oriented stores and brands though, maybe it’s different on the internal market.

        How does NOT having Google Play Services help Samsung ? In what sense it is a positive, per se ?

        Indeed, forking costs are not very high. Again, what’s to be gained though ? Switching Ads provider to MS, and apps+media provider to Amazon ? At the cost of losing all the Play Services functionnality and of having the pleasure of maintaining an OS ?

        There’s so little overlap/competition between Samsung and Google, I’m not seeing a case for a split.

      • Lun Esex

        Links for “various”:

        Aliyun OS –
        Baidu Yi –
        MIUI –
        OPhone –

        Ask these people, and Amazon, and the people doing CyanogenMod and Replicant, what’s to be gained from a fork or otherwise significant variation from Google’s official releases of Android.

        You appear to be completely ignoring Google’s purchase of Motorola as a very direct form of competition between Google and Samsung. Google’s GoogleTV and ChromeCast also compete with Samsung’s smart TVs and SwipeIt app for Samsung devices. Samsung’s S Voice competes with Google Now. Samsung is likely keeping a close watch on Google’s other forays into hardware.

        Again, Samsung is also probably keeping an eye out for Google shifting attention and resources significantly from Android to ChromeOS (which actually fits Google’s focus much better than Android).

        Samsung keeps making their own apps and bundling them as replacements for Google’s. Why? They do this to differentiate themselves from other Android licensees. They really don’t want to ship stock Android. They may decide at some point they need deeper/better integration with the underlying OS, and if Google doesn’t want to give them that then they’ll have another reason to fork.

      • obarthelemy

        Aliyun OS – had forgotten that one. Seems very fishy.
        Baidu Yi – that’s the one
        MIUI – have playstore. the UI is for… UI.
        OPhone – dead

        Indeed, the ChromeOS situation is weird. I still don’t get why they need 2 OSes, especially when they are converging them… A desktopified Android seem so much closer to a nice desktop OS than ChromeOS, even today…

        I do tend to discount Google’s hardware aspirations, and Samsung’s cloud aspirations. We’ll know in 5 years :-p

      • jehrler

        You nailed it. Galaxy is the brand people know/recognize, not Android.

      • macyourday

        Are people really “buying Samsung” apart from nerds? Isn’t it just sold as a “cheaper” alternative to iPhones because the salesmen get better commissions and the carriers still control it?

      • Space Gorilla

        I should clarify. I mean the consumer’s awareness doesn’t extend much past “It’s a Samsung”. I also see lots of people that say they bought “an Apple”. The average consumer just doesn’t care about the same things nerds care about, and nerds just cannot understand this.

        I think you’re right, people walk in to get a new phone and take whatever the salesperson suggests, and when they walk out they probably know it’s a Samsung, or an HTC, etc. But there’s very little awareness outside of the nerd crowd about what the heck Android is. The average consumer isn’t aware and doesn’t care. So if there’s more profit to be had by owning more of the stack, Samsung could move to a new OS. There are real issues they would have to deal with, but they aren’t impossible problems to solve. I’d predict an Android fork is more likely though.

      • Sander van der Wal

        Consumers knew at some point that they specifically needed a Windows PC to run certain bits of software. They might not care enough about it to try to know everything about PC’s. but they knew enough to choose the kind that had the most software available. That was 20 years ago. Why would the situation be different now? The consumers who have used PC’s know it. The ones who did not have PC’s will be or are being educated to that effect.

        And secondly, the people running the businesses know it too. Who is going to risc that conventional wisdom? Besides, Apple is using this particular effect to increase the attractiveness of iOS across iPad and iPhone.

      • Space Gorilla

        You’ve hit the nail on the head, platforms have always been about apps. As long as a consumer can run X, Y, or Z app, they’re happy. Consumers did have a pretty good awareness of Windows and that it was the default choice and had the most apps, because Microsoft and OEMs marketed the heck out of Windows. The current situation in mobile with Android is different. It is not a paid licensed OS, the OEMs don’t promote it very much (or at all), instead they promote their own brands. And I’ve only recently seen TV advertising for Android. Google doesn’t make direct revenue from selling Android licenses, and it seems that a natural outcome is they aren’t paying that much attention to building awareness and promoting Android. I know smart people with Samsung or HTC phones, and they really have no idea what Android is. To the sort of people who hang out in comment threads like this, that seems unbelievable. I assure you it is true, in fact it is the norm.

        They know their phone is Samsung or HTC, and they know the apps they use, which goes back to what you said, “they knew enough to choose the kind that had the most software available”. This bodes well for Samsung, if they can fork Android and find a way to let ‘traditional’ Android apps run, then they can swap in their own OS. This will allow the Galaxy brand to become the “kind that had the most software”, so to speak.

      • DarwinPhish

        No, not the way Google Play Services now work.

      • Space Gorilla

        Yes, I assume there would have to be some kind of workaround. It would have to super simple for consumers.

      • Sprewell

        Yes, it is fairly easy in fact, because Android is open source, which is why Blackberry was able to pull it off. Of course, you might need to get Android app devs to place their apps in your app store, as Google may not allow their Play store on non-Android devices, I don’t know, but that shouldn’t be hard for the top Android OEM, Samsung, to pull off.

      • marcoselmalo

        They wouldn’t need an emulation layer. They could license Java from Oracle and reverse engineer Dalvik.

      • Walt French

        Most of the “OS” these days is in the form of services that are very tightly tied to Google. Location and maps for instance. Connecting gamers with one another. Backup, synch, streaming media, mail, notifications.

        Amazon has to build versions of the parts of these that depend on Google’s services, and developers need to re-write apps to the extent that they use deprecated Google services, and distribute those modified apps thru the Amazon store (which also sells “Android” apps in addition to KindleFire apps).

        Yes, in concept it’s pretty straightforward. “Core” Android is pretty similar to any other linux from the app perspective. But I doubt we’ll see another attempt at it.

      • Space Gorilla

        Could be Samsung just doesn’t have the chops to do it, plus the developer complexities involved. But if they do manage a fork of Android, and have enough users, I would think Google would ‘play nice’. Google needs its services on all platforms. But for Samsung maybe a skin/layer on top of Android is good enough.

        I wonder how worried Google is about the situation in China? There’s a heck of a lot of non-Google stuff going on there.

      • TheBasicMind

        Blackberry has launched a modern mature OS but have found they have been “dropped by the Peloton, which is currently comprised of a very large team iOS and very large Team Android.” In a bike race, once you drop out the back of the peloton, you never return. Microsoft have just about stayed in touch, but are knackered by the effort taken to catch up with the tail end, and are now just about cling in by their fingernails hoping the peloton doesn’t put down the hammer and they have time to recover. Given Tizen has yet to even start the race, it looks like some non existent magic is required. iOS and Android are 6 years + down the road!

      • Sander van der Wal

        Maybe in solo bike races. A team can bring a member back in the race, if the team member is important enough. And a team can try to slow down the race.

      • obarthelemy

        We can imagine anything. Nobody seems very interested in Yet Another OS though, niether devs nor customers. How do you propose to kickstart Tizen ?

      • mjw149

        Samsung has never shown much accomplishment in software, let alone services. One can imagine a Korean regional OS achieving some small share, but with the Chinese OEMs catching on with Android, the only potential new entrants is the technically different and well-branded and positioned on the low end (Firefox) and eventually a Chinese Android funded by the Communist Party, significant only in China.

      • rationalchrist

        If Samsung copies old Microsoft’s “embrace, extend, and extinguish” approach and applies it to Android.

    • Microsoft has a chance to move their game on with the acquisition of Nokia. But I don’t see it working. This article explains very eloquently why Microsoft’s reorganisation will not help, at least in the short term. Please also note that this was written BEFORE the announcement of Ballmer’s retirement and the Nokia acquisition … both of which will add considerable chaos to an already chaotic situation at Microsoft for the next year or two … or maybe even longer. The article is well worth the read:

      Basically as I see it the only real contenders right now are Apple and Samsung. Samsung had massive global distribution for their consumer devices, which Apple didn’t. That gave Samsung a massive advantage once they tried making cheap but good-enough iPhone knock-offs. Where Apple has secured the distribution it is fighting back strongly and gaining market share. The US market is a case in point. And I can see the same thing happening elsewhere as Apple get their distribution channels up to speed, along with the introduction of new offerings like the iPhone 5C, that will be more appealing and affordable in emerging markets.

      Samsung might to have peaked. All they seem to be able to do at the moment is throw in more and more features to try to win the features war. They just add confusion and do nothing to enhance usability. Their position is also now under attack in China, the world’s most important market, and India, both of whom have some excellent emerging local competition … that could succeed globally. I’m thinking in particular of Huawei and Xiaomi.

      My personal experience of Xiaomi products is limited to a fibre router … bit I can tell you this, it is ten times better than the Netgear equivalents that preceded it and has been 100% trouble free, which is more than I can say of Netgear. If their phones are as good, and I hear they are, then they will likely give Samsung a good kicking as they gain strength globally.

      As for Xiaomi, everything I hear about them is outstanding. They have a cult following in China. They appear to be doing an outstanding job on all fronts. They clearly have global ambitions, although it will take time to build up their distribution.

      So my sense is that down the track the main contenders will be an even stronger Apple, a somewhat weaker Samsung and two strong emerging Chinese brands, Huawei and Xiaomi. I don’t think the others can seriously compete, including Microsoft … or should I say especially Microsoft, with all the turbulence they will be having to deal with in the foreseeable future.

  • Space Gorilla

    It has always seemed obvious to me, since the late 1980s, that Apple’s approach to technology was correct. The more computing devices shift to become consumer-facing appliances, the better Apple will do, since abstracting the computer and curating the consumer experience has been at their core for a long while. What other company offers me a full range of computing solutions, from desktop to pocket, all quality products, all well supported, and all from a single retail point of contact? That’s incredibly powerful, and it took Apple decades to build this kind of complete integrated offering. I think others don’t copy Apple because it’s very difficult and would take far too long. Going forward, half-measures aren’t going to cut it. Devices are going to be more integrated, abstracted, and curated, not less. Apple has a huge advantage over the next ten years.

    • Very well stated. I agree.

    • poke

      I think the key is to imagine the industry without Apple. Apple was really the only company that ever cared about creating a consumer-oriented product. What we saw with Apple was not one company losing to another, but a stalled revolution. The period between Apple’s decline and Apple’s re-emergence was a Dark Age for consumers. We really only got Microsoft’s version of what Apple had released and then a lot of marketing fluff. I think without Apple we wouldn’t have seen a GUI capable of real consumer-engagement and the consumer appeal of PCs would’ve remained much more limited. Maybe we wouldn’t have the web as it exists today. It’s important to remember that markets are made and not discovered. Just because it’s nice to sell something to everyone doesn’t mean you can make a product it makes sense for everyone to own; that’s an act of creation.

      There’s apparently something especially difficult about building consumer-level software, particularly the UI, that requires a special sort of culture and organisation to get it right. I think that slide Jobs liked so much with the sign post at the cross-roads between technology and the liberal arts is the key to understanding what that is. The company has to be poised somewhere between a technology company and a creative organisation. I suspect that Apple’s stalled revolution was because they didn’t get the culture right the first time around and it didn’t work as an organisation. The Enterprise-oriented PC companies saw an opportunity to sell their wares to consumers and copied its software (note that it took Microsoft an entire decade to successfully copy Mac OS). Meanwhile, Jobs learned something important during his exile, probably from Pixar, and managed to fix the issue on his return.

      • macyourday

        That’s pretty much the right nutshell you’ve got it all in I think. It’s also a matter of taste, largely discussed in the latest Talk Show. Apple builds stuff they want to use that helps, not hinders, something that ms and the others never comprehended. It sort of works, so it’s ok. The passion and inspiration is knocked out of any capable engineers or designers by the clueless and the sociopaths in charge, whereas at apple, the culture was largely able to encourage it or even insist on genius and elegance, once the bean counters where sidelined by desperation to survive. It would seem the path to success is to return the bean counters to their place and ignore squawking from “investors”. In other words, stop the tail wagging the dog.

      • lukefrench

        That is quite right.

        But there is another point.

        Apple has always focused (even as soon as the later II era) on the just work attitude, building a combination of hardware and software that is adequate, perhaps not the best, but that will require a very small maintenance time and/or specialised knowledge. That is what was lacking either in windows and linux, and is especially lacking in androïd.

        Did not matter much in big companies (specialised skills are available, maintenance is not that much a burden with the right toots), but is completly needed in this mobile era. Suddenly, Apple was offering the right thing for the masses. And this is something which is very hard to copy.

      • Absolutely right.

    • obarthelemy

      The issue with a monolithic approach is that each individual part ends up being below par: iPhones are not the best phones, iTunes is not the best store/sync app, iOS is not the best mobile OS…

      The ease of use and sense of coddling that comes with it does have value, but as customers grow more refined and confident, the trade off ‘and the price of it !) may come into question.

      • Space Gorilla


      • This is contrary to what we’re seeing

        iPod, iPhone, ipad, iMac and MacBook are all typical well integrated apple products. If you look at critical reviews they almost always come out leading in their categories. Google CNET, consumer reports and so on…

      • But when combined within the Eco-system, the iPhone is easily the best phone. The iPad is, by a wide margin, the best tablet. iTunes is far better than any other media store/sync service and so on.

      • Agreed.

      • obarthelemy

        Depends on what you want. It’s the best small, pen-less, FM-less, SD-less, NFC-less, cute looking expensive phone.

        There are other categories 🙂

      • Tatil_S

        Since you don’t mind buying from different vendors for the best of every module, a sort of systems integrator, you can buy the best pen on the market instead of Samsung’s whatever they could afford to put version. NFC is completely useless in the US a payment platform and BT is probably a better device discovery mechanism. If you’d like I can sell you a little black box with best technology in it. Unfortunately, you need to take my word for it, as it will not give you any functionality. The last time I bought a “mobile” gadget with an FM radio in it, it worked horribly inside buildings. Heck, my new HiFi system cannot get good FM reception inside our house, possibly due to our metal roof. I guess we now why half the US buys iPhones.

      • obarthelemy

        Reciprocally, when ouside, only FM works reliably (if that, depending on how far away from civilization you are)

      • Walt French

        Back when I was a wee lad, we thought it necessary to put a TV-style antenna on the roof, or at least at a window, to get decent FM.

        The laws of physics, and especially the background blackbody radiation noise level that requires a clear look at the transmitting tower, haven’t changed in those few centuries.

        A metal roof would make it worse—probably the more so not from blocking FM signals as from reflecting them, causing “multipath” interference.

        Since moving to the Bay Area, with steel-reinforced buildings, overpasses and hills everywhere (not the wide-open spaces of central Iowa where I was actually a broadcast engineer), I have to remember where to stop for streetlights while driving, so my favorite station comes through clearly, due to all the multipath.

      • Usability. Best programming API set (and this is by many many miles). Best overall compromise of size/portability/battery. Best mobile browser (I am underwhelmed by Chrome on Android).

        As for NFC: another way to push viruses:-)

      • Kizedek

        And “best” mobile OS is decided by, what? That you can tweak it? Perhaps other things should be considerations, too: security, depth and range of apps, developers, how much processing can be done by the GPU, usability, whether the owner gives a toss about it, etc.

      • obarthelemy

        That you can tweak it? yes, partly.
        security: Indeed. Android/KNOX got gov’t approved before iOS. No charger hack :-p
        depth and range of apps: not really part of the OS. Then again, apart from Music creation, Android is at par (if not, examples, thank you)
        developers: not really, both are widely supported.
        how much processing can be done by the GPU: say, performance in general ?
        usability: indeed. But hang on, you’ll be getting semi-up to date notifications and quick settings soon. Maybe even widgets one day ? keep hanging on !
        whether the owner gives a toss about it: not really

        I’d add support for a wide range of hardware (CPUs, SoCs, screen sizes), ports (full USB stack, full BT stack, NFC…). But I’m terribly biased 🙂

    • “You have to love what you do. The work we do is very hard, and time consuming: years of work on the same idea. If you do not love this job, you will not last.”

      Steven P Jobs

    • StevenDrost

      I’m still not sold that integration is the primary ingredient to their success. Not trying to be all things to everyone is certainly part. Smart management, carefully choosing what technology to adopt, making choices that make their products easier to program for and easier to support has nothing to do with being integrated. Making big bets like Jobs did with all the major products over the 15 years is not integration.
      The Allies did not take Europe back from the Germans because they were a better organization, it happened because they were willing to drop a million men on a beach a day.

      • Space Gorilla

        At a higher level Apple tries to do what works best. An integrated consumer-facing offering is a natural result of that goal, because that’s what delivers the best consumer experience. The core of what Apple does is quite simple (and obvious), but the execution is extremely difficult.

        On your WWII comment, we can thank Russia for defeating Germany. Seriously, look it up. Something like 80 percent of German forces were killed on the Eastern Front. Most people educated in North America have no clue about this.

      • StevenDrost

        A Microsoft or Google could very well develop an OS and set strict standards on what technology it supports. Working closely with hardware partners and Software developers to ensure the full product is delivered on schedule. It would not be easy, but there is nothing easy about Apples approach. Integration is a small piece of what makes them successful and by no means a recipe for success for others, there is more to it.
        The Story of the Russians against the Germans might as well be Apple against Microsoft. One party is being badly beaten only to take big chances, retool and ultimately defeat the opponent with an inferior product (see the Russian T-34 tank). Makes you think twice when ruling Microsoft out.

      • Space Gorilla

        What you’re suggesting Microsoft or Google could do, that’s not true integration from the consumer’s point of view. We’re obviously not defining integration in the same way. I’m talking about how Apple combines everything they do into one unified offering to the consumer. I can walk into an Apple Store and come out with a complete computing solution, from desktop to pocket, and I can then plug right into their content ecosystem, app stores, iCloud, I can tie my iMac and iOS devices into my television, access all sorts of great content via Apple TV, and all of it is supported by a single vendor.

        No, Google or Microsoft cannot do this. It took Apple decades to get where it is and at least ten years to build out the current infrastructure. Nobody is going to copy it. What Microsoft or Google will try, and are trying, is copying parts of the whole, but that’s not enough. A controlled OS is only part of it. Working to integrate the hardware and software is only part of it. And both Google and Microsoft have a very difficult (maybe insurmountable) problem, the consumer is not their customer.

  • Tim Burks

    Now to see how long Intel can survive as an independent company.

    • peter

      Intel’s market cap is about $110B, so they are too expensive to buy for most. The handful of entities that are big enough would undoubtedly end up with all sorts of anti-trust troubles.

      The disaster scenario for Intel runs as follows: 1) x86 revenues/profits drop, 2) overcapacity and reorganisations drain resources, 3) capex/R&D budgets are reduced, 4) their production advantage/scale withers away over the next three/four generations of process development.

      Now what is interesting to contemplate is a scenario in which Intel and Apple set up a joint venture to produce the latest Apple mobile processors using Intel’s latest factories. It would be quite a climb down for Intel, but possibly quite a profitable and sensible move. Apple brings funding/revenue and Intel production technology to the party. Apple gets a one-off bump in processor speed and a supplier who is not a competitor, while Intel is able to leverage its production prowess in the mobile space (where x86 is not going anywhere anyway and if Intel’s mobile offerings do become competitive then Apple might be interested anyway).

      Obviously something like this is not as simple as it seems, but rejecting it out of hand would be a bit careless.

  • Alok Nandan

    What about Amazon?

    • james


  • Neil

    I think you waded too deeply into jargon here. Can you provide a plaiin English version since this one is the hardest to copy and thus the most important to understand? Thank you.

    “Developing products using integrated “heroic” efforts which shun every best (or even adequate) process for product development.”

    • JaneDoe12

      I think “heroic” efforts means doing everything possible to achieve your goal. Anything less, i.e. adequate efforts or even best practices, is insufficient.

      • My point is that “best practices” in product development consider “heroic” efforts as anathema. In other words, heroic effort is not sustainable, corrosive to employee satisfaction, creates antipathy and often fails at great cost.

      • JaneDoe12

        You’re describing the “down” side of heroic efforts, which I ignored in my post. OK, here’s an example of heroic effort with Microsoft:

        I think that MS could have beaten Apple in mobile plus stayed with the Enterprise (rather than going into consumer products) if they had:

        • Shunned the safe and “best procedures” of just incrementally improving Office during 2000-10. They should have bought Documentum in 1996 when it went public. (EMC bought it in 2003.) Documentum is collaboration document software that runs as a native web application. It has been used by Boeing to maintain training manuals that are thousands of pages long. It can be used by drug companies when they prepare their massive documents for new drug approval with the FDA. The software manages snippets of information in addition to documents. [1]

        • MS could have cannibalized the Office word processor (Word) with Documentum. Perhaps they could have embedded the spreadsheet (Excel) in the documents, too.

        • MS had a tablet way before Apple. And Windows mobile was available in 2003-04.[2] Documentum could have run as a mobile app and been the beginning of MS’s ecosystem.

        • For small businesses that didn’t want to install and maintain the web software, maybe MS could have offered a web document service, along with cloud storage for their documents/data.

        • MS could have stopped using their per-computer license plan and replaced it with site licenses. This would have appealed to businesses that had work groups where many employees only contributed snippets of data and didn’t need a license.

        • The Documentum acquisition would have been very costly if it failed — the company sold for $1.7 billion (to EMC) in 2003 [1]. But if it had succeeded, MS would have been a leader in mobile.

        1. Wikipedia: Documentum (link here)
        2. 5by5. The Critical Path #94. The Limits of Executive Power. September 2, 2013. At 22 minutes.

    • I was confused on that line as well. Not Horace’s better collection of words. What does “shun every best (or even adequate) process” mean?

  • poke

    The relevant question is: What is being played for? The answer is: The entire end-to-end experience from device to data centre. Those are the stakes. Online punditry has a myopia here due to wishful thinking: the voices of the internet do not want to contemplate a world where one company has so much control. Apple, Google and Microsoft know better.

    There’s still all to play for because iOS entered the world half-formed. It wasn’t and still isn’t a fully-fledged OS of the internet-era. Bizarrely, neither is Android. Google just created a traditional software project within a services company (Google’s myopia has always been conflating web technologies and the web user model). The winner here is going to be whoever combines the twin disruptions of devices and services and figures out how to make a genuine internet-era OS. The beauty of it is that they all have clear weaknesses: Apple in services, Microsoft and Google in devices. I wouldn’t even be surprised if they were disrupted by a new entrant.

    • obarthelemy

      Unfortunately, the internet era stops at the entrance of any subway station. Or plane. Or train. Or car. Or…

      • TDC_123

        hhhmmm not really the case I think the Internet era is not stopping but rather encroaching everywhere it can.

      • Kizedek

        We have free WIFI on our trains in NL.

        UK has WIFI on their intercity coaches (comfortable busses) — like two companies that compete for the London to Oxford route, with coaches running every ten minutes 24/7.

        Ferries between France and UK, yep.

      • Tatil_S

        Does your Android phone stop working in your car?!?!

        Friends told me about Hong Kong subways offering cell phone coverage in tunnels in the late 90’s. I have observed it working pretty well in Japan two years ago and the only subway system in my area has also been offering cell phone coverage in underground stations for a while. (It actually made news when they shut it down to make it more difficult for protestors to communicate, in a move reminiscent of Egypt’s Mubarak.) Many airlines offer WiFi on planes nowadays. Etc etc…

      • obarthelemy

        In the car, data mostly doesn’t work, between bad coverage in the countryside, and having trouble keeping up with towers when go fast. Works in the traffic jams in the cities though :-p

        Ditto the metro: works a bit, except when moving, and sometimes doesn’t work.

        I must be unlucky with the airlines I use, too.

        I honestly can’t count on having the ‘net when I leave or or work, especially not when traveling for fun or pleasure. Maybe I should stick to my metropolis…

      • Tatil_S

        Try a better phone. Sometimes the bottleneck is not the coverage. 🙂

      • obarthelemy

        Same with all phones, including my brother’s iP5 🙂

    • Walt French

      @poke wrote, “the voices of the internet do not want to contemplate a world where one company has so much control. Apple, Google and Microsoft know better.

      There’s still all to play for because iOS entered the world half-formed. It wasn’t and still isn’t a fully-fledged OS of the internet-era.”

      So I see the issue of monopolization, which was mostly just fine when Microsoft was doing it, because the IT types in power were all (by definition) profiting from supporting, reselling or customizing Windows, but now is not because a bunch of people have their hearts and/or livelihood tied to linux.

      And I see the notion that none of today’s mobile OSs are fully internet-era OSs.

      But I fail to see either the connection or what you think it means. Monopolization: I almost never see intelligent discussion about how market structure changes the economic incentives. Frankly, most of it is simple anti-Microsoft or anti-Apple fanboyism that doesn’t address the real problems. Maybe Google hired all the ultra-bright people who like its approach, and most of them don’t waste their time spouting pro-Google slogans?

      Internetability: if the purpose of an OS is to mediate between the apps and the hardware, do you mean an OS should bundle the cloud with the hardware? Uhh, check. It’s a LOT easier to just ask the iPhone to get data from your servers than to roll your own protocol implementations. Or perhaps, define cloud services such as backup/synch/notifications/communications into the OS? Again, check, although Apple has a lot more to do there (like everybody else, ja?).

      • poke

        I think it’s an architectural imperative rather than a traditional monopoly. We’re moving towards a single system per company (the Google cloud, the Microsoft cloud, the Apple cloud). By “genuine internet-era OS” I mean a device OS that is essentially a client node on the system. The device would be a cache. Everything would have a web user model (essentially, you visit stuff, rather than download stuff – downloading is just a form of waiting as far as the YouTube generation is concerned) but using native technologies. Updates would all be seamless, since what you have on your device is just a mirror of what’s in the cloud (there would, logically, only be one of everything, although the system would make copies for redundancy, efficiency, back-up, etc, including client caching). Many of the components are there, but a rethink is in order.

  • gctwnl

    What I find bizarre in all of this is that Google’s Motorola loses out because Samsung uses Google’s Android (initially as a foundation for copying Apple) against it. Given the effect Samsung has on Motorola, how positive is Google’s Android business case?

    • obarthelemy

      Wrong question. Ask how positive Motorola’s business case is, instead.

      • Walt French

        Until you offer your answer, here’s mine: Google doesn’t care about Motorola. It’s just another science fair project; it will have no impact on Google’s prospects. Best case, it’ll allow Google defer paying Samsung the way they pay Apple; worst case, they’re in a big bag of hurt over Moto’s IP cowboyism that was fine for a firm at risk of failing (a 10% chance of success was their best bet) but just turns the FTC, DoJ, EUCC, various courts and others into antagonists.

        The base case is that they get some nasty settlements on their overreach with Microsoft, and Google inherits any patent restrictions from Apple or Nokia, which could snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on Google’s ability to avoid lawsuits over IP. They certainly have won essentially nothing — the one injunction they got against Apple is being stayed against probable over-turn.

        I actually like Moto’s line about emphasizing usability over features, but Google has built its business on Android being either (dirt cheap) or the analog of teen boys’ Monster Trucks. (Today’s Note comes with 3GB of RAM, 24X! what the iPhone debuted with.) The reviews have been tepid or dismissive; this is not “taking Android to a whole new level” or whatever PR spin might have justified the faux integration. It will not induce Samsung users to trade up to Moto, nor will carriers have any reason to push it to new users. Does its presence threaten Apple enough to cut their phones’ prices? Apple certainly will do that, but not because of a brand that’s almost slipped out of consumers’ sight.

      • obarthelemy

        I think Moto was a defensive move about patents. Those came with a manufacturer attached, so now Google are using it to
        1- push the envelope and try to forestall or at least buck a PC-like race to the bottom.
        2- make it clear to OEMs that if they defect from Android, Google will be able to fill the void. Especially since OEMs would need plenty of time to wean themselves of the PlayStore, giving Moto time to ramp up.
        3- entertain us, punditing what’s going on is a fun passtime.

      • patentfailure

        The patents have been a huge public failure in courts all around the world and, if you believe that was their primary goal, it can only be seen as an embarrassing destruction of value.

      • jehrler

        Just a note…whether here, at ars technica or elsewhere, I find your comments thoughtful and well reasoned.

        So, with the flattery out of the way, what do you think about the possibility of Samsung forking Android and going it alone?

      • Walt French

        Thanks for not groveling too much…

      • jehrler

        Thanks for not making me grovel…too excessively. Much appreciated.

        My concern if I’m Samsung is that they are going to be squeezed on the low end by the Chinese Androidesque gang. I would imagine, but don’t know, that this gang is getting kickbacks from the various services they feature. If so, that only increases their low cost capability.

        I don’t know enough to opine as to Samsung’s ability to compete with them on price, but capturing some of the ancillary revenue would certainly help. And, as it sits, that all goes to Google.

        This is going to be a very interesting case study in whether giving away free options to fork ends up leaving the forkee with little to cash in on in the final act.

      • obarthelemy

        Look at Asymco’s analysis of iTunes revenues: they are mostly negligible. And that’s before costs.
        I’m sure the situation is much worse on the PlayStore side.

    • simon

      Android was more of a defense against Microsoft, not a play to be really profitable. As a business case on profit, when you consider the weak revenue of Android and the money Google has spent on Motorola, it’s pretty weak with most profits going to Samsung and presumably carriers.

      However if we can imagine a hypothetical scenario where users are using Microsoft-based smartphones and presumably more of them using Microsoft’s online services, or a future where less people are accessing web, Google can argue going with Android was a good choice, if not a rousing success in terms of business.

      • obarthelemy

        Indeed: there’s kind of a symmetry of fear:
        – MS fear Consumer-originated devices (phones+tablets) will eventually swamp their Entreprise monopoly. (Plus they’d like a piece of the pie)
        – Google feared walled-garden mobile devices could channel users to other search+track nebulae.

        One of those 2 successfully tackled the issue :-p

      • TDC_123

        Its interesting to see that, that previously the SymbianOS was also created as a defense to Micorsoft but the problem with Symbian was that no one was really in charge of it

    • I’m highly doubtful of the idea that google bought Motorola to start making better integrated mobile devices to compete for iPhone profits. Because if they expend the resources and succeed in overtaking iPhones with Motorola’s they’ll be consigned to low margins in this market. This is because Android is freely available, all their high and mid end customers will be picked off by commoditized players. (MS never had this problem because they controlled and licensed windows.) With lower margins and considering the expense of overtaking apple at their own game, that strategy will fail on the ROI case.

      Instead, I think they’re using Motorola to accelerate innovation on the android platform in conjunction with the other handset manufacturers. I think that they’re hoping this continued pressure combined with a mistake by apple in maintaining the integrated model will eventually topple them. The market will be flooded by a superior android product except margins will collapse because the OS is free and the hardware is commoditised. Of course google don’t really care if the margins in this market collapses. They’re at heart still an advertising company looking to sell ads and data on mobile.

      So really I think google want Samsung to win because it means android wins

  • Walt French

    I wrote 1000 words on this, but I’ll spare the details. In summary, though, integration is an issue, not a panacea.

    Bad integration, such as empires or Microsoft’s famous antagonism between its OS, Office and other groups, is bad. Good integration, such as the tight coordination between Apple’s hardware & software groups, is good, but may get the credit for what was mostly the huge success of the software group knowing what was out there in off-the-shelf hardware. Non-integration, such as Motorola hardware being part of Google’s business in name only, is a non-issue.

    Integration is costly when ossification/empire-building is allowed to run, or when oversight is weak—such as what allowed some HTC staff to rob the company instead of doing their job. Alas, having to go outside has expenses, too; very predictable contracting difficulties, including information leakage. Whichever way you go, you must do a damned good job because this is one hypercompetitive industry with changing rules.

    Often, integration is defensive, as Apple’s Maps for iOS. Surely, Maps will be a money-loser for Apple, but just as surely, not having Maps would’ve made Apple a sitting duck for Google; that’d have been worse. Apple has (sigh) smartly done the minimum it needed to fend off Google’s ability to hold the rest of the business hostage. Apple doesn’t really do services well, because as Ben T so smartly observes, services need to be cross-platform to amortize the costs unless they can be so good in platform-specific forms that they drive platform revenues. iCloud is a good example of where Apple’s services fumbling requires developers to use DropBox or other sharing mechanisms because iCloud is not SO good that devs can tolerate the lack of cross-platform (or tolerate competition that DOES have it).

    So integration can support a bigger company, a bigger playing field for excellence or incompetence, and in this era of monster competitors, you can’t count on just walking down the street and buying what you need. But where commoditization DOES occur — and I think Samsung has a battle ahead of it to stave off the low-cost non-Google androids because the whole segment is commoditized—integration can lock you in to inferior in-house solutions that’d have been better served by seeking bids.

    Microsoft deserves a special shout-out for blaming lack of integration on its failures to develop a strategy for the ’00s and the ’10s. Microsoft’s Win8/mobile effort didn’t fail for lack of OEM ambition, ingenuity or design; it failed because (a) it wasn’t crafted for a consumer tablet and (b) the OS has been disrupted by Apple’s superior consumer-featured products and Android’s zero-cost OS. Similarly, Microsoft has offered inferior services & software because they’ve chosen to withhold them from 99% of mobile devices! What could be crazier than the notion that Microsoft will succeed by bringing “OEMs” in-house, and more tightly integrating services to non-existent hardware customers?

    Disruption, integration and functional organizations are all powerful ideas, but they’re no substitute for vision, strategy and execution. It’s really shocking how Microsoft has come up so short on those.

    • obarthelemy

      Should we bet on *whether* Apple will buy Nokia Maps, or on *when* ? I’d say, yes, and 6 months.

      The ball is in MS’s camp now. Hopefully spending so much money to stay in the game (at a distant last place) will help focus their minds and start to deliver.

      • Lun Esex

        Part of Nokia’s deal with Microsoft is that they can do whatever they want with their mapping services, however Microsoft gets access to the source code. It’s hard to say what clauses might be in there regarding Nokia selling of its maps division entirely.

        Nokia and Apple could now make a deal where Apple just licenses their data, which they couldn’t or wouldn’t do before because Nokia was a competitor. That’s no longer the case now that Nokia’s out of the handset business.

        Apple bought and built out their own map tech, so they don’t really need all of what buying Nokia’s map business outright would entail. The place that they still have deficiencies is in the data, and keeping it up to date. The latter part of that is a big headache. They could let Nokia hold on to that headache and just get a license to Nokia’s data to add into their own. This way they’d not buy the cow, but get a really good price on the milk.

      • I agree.

      • why

        Why would they?

      • Exactly. Why would they? Their maps, though much derided, are already much better than Nokia’s … although not yet as good as Google’s. Try Apple’s maps side by side with Nokia’s maps and you’ll see. Nokia’s maps stink by comparison. That could change, but I don’t think Nokia has anything to interest Apple on this front.

      • mjw149

        Europe is a different case, supposedly HERE is equal to Google in places, and superior to Apple. It’s widely licenses by carmakers, I presume luxury car makers in continental Europe with German accents.

      • obarthelemy

        True maybe in parts of the US. False everywhere else.

      • Walt French

        Stories have it that Nokia wants to KEEP HERE/Navteq, that it was not for sale.

        This may be a cover for the fact that Microsoft didn’t want the thing, and saying so would’ve made it impossible for Nokia to sell it to anybody else for a decent price, but it’s a horizontal service. Maps may be an essential service, but there are only minor technical reasons for they ought to be platform-specific services.

        The best use for nav services is to license them to as many people as possible, spreading costs over many users. In fact, somebody who knows the industry might want to chip in; I think that all the “name brand” map services are using a whole variety of back-end map data providers.

      • peter

        Collecting mapping data is costly because 1) you need ‘world’ coverage (because, say, Ford is not going to deal with 30 different providers), 2) there are always more new attributes to collect (speed restrictions, road sign, congestion), 3) data goes stale. So basically you need $1B to built your company and collect even a basic data set.

        Going back 15-20 years, the assumption in the industry had always been that because of the high barriers to entry it would tend to a monopoly/duopoly and become fabulously profitable for the incumbents (Navteq and TeleAtlas were leaders back then). However, this has never really happened. Part of it is the fact that marginal costs of sales are very low, leading to fierce competition.

        Currently Navteq and TeleAtlas are owned by Nokia and TomTom, respectively. However, many others (notably Google) are also collecting mapping data, some on the road and some by digitizing satellite data, official maps or military maps. Essentially the competition has not diminished much over time.

        To defray the cost, you still need to sell to as many customers as possible. In addition, you will want to collect data through devices (phones) that can send data back about traffic patterns (which are also essential to quality maps).

  • TDC_123

    I think with regard to Motorola, Google will play on the sideline just as defensive measure, I think to be successful in Mobile one needs to have good carrier relations which it seems Samsung has better off (although Motorola did have a good relationship with Verizon). I think Google will try as much not to interfere in this relationship (selling through carriers) and be distant with carriers and continue selling devices through nexus lines. I think this way they can maintain their relationship with OEM partners.

    Of course the problems does arise if their NEXUS devices become more popular than other OEMS, then google will be forced to compete with them because as well know witht he iPhone, when the product becomes popular, carriers will try and use it to sell their mobile plans.

    • obarthelemy

      Nexus devices *are* OEM devices.

  • KirkBurgess

    I would think all future new product categories will feature Internet connectivity to perform their primary functions. Therefore I wonder why the providers of that connectivity (wireless carriers) are not included in the discussion of a company’s desire to create fully integrated customer solutions.

    To me it seems an interesting play for Microsoft to try something different and buy a company like Vodafone (which has a global portfolio of networks and retail stores) and integrate all the way up and down the user experience spectrum.

    • Sure. And get locked out of all the other carriers? I don’t think so.

      • Tatil_S

        Is it that much more crazy than locking Office out of every tablet platform, except Windows?

      • Easy to say that with hindsight. Microsoft did it to “cripple” the competition, and give their own offering a compelling advantage. Or so they thought. But they weren’t counting on the fact that people can manage just fine without office and now know it. In fact they are better off without it. We kicked it off all our computers nearly four years ago and have never wanted to go back. I don’t think this is the same thing at all. Microsoft had no clue as to how big a market would develop for “other” devices … until it was too late.

      • KirkBurgess

        That’s why it works for microsoft – they are virtually nonexistent on carriers as it is.

        But it wouldn’t make sense for Apple or Google because they have so many carrier partnerships already.

        So Microsoft doing this would not be replicatable by the current industry incumbents.

        Isn’t that a classic disruption case?

    • obarthelemy

      Mainly, for the same reasons that electricity companies are not consulted about what we do with electricity, road companies about what we want from our cars. Infrastructure.Dumb pipes.

  • David Leppik

    I strongly disagree with the notion that Apple builds around “heroic” one-time pushes, rather than incremental development. Their software is built just like every one else’s: continuous development, punctuated with occasional thrusts in one direction or another. It’s not like Hollywood, where you make a movie and then everyone leaves for another movie.

    The standard software development strategy today is continuous development. This was described in the 1990s in “Code Complete” by Steve McConnell (Microsoft Press.) It’s how they developed MS Office. The idea is to always have the checked-in software ready to ship, regardless of the deadline. It’s a discipline where bugs are detected and fixed immediately. Many open-source projects, such as Firefox and Ubuntu Linux, do calendar-based releases, rather than feature-based releases. That is, when the release date comes, they ship whatever is ready to release. If a fancy new feature isn’t ready, the product ships without it.

    The opposite model is feature-based releases, in which the product won’t ship until the advertised features are ready. The downside is that typically a release date and features are advertised simultaneously, and if the advertised features aren’t ready, it’s either shipped buggy or the release date slips. Microsoft ran into this with Windows Vista, where the flagship features were delayed by several years, and they ultimately felt compelled to release something half-baked.

    You see evidence of continuous development all over Apple. The big OS changes grab the headlines, but most of the changes from one release to the next are incremental improvements. (It’s taken them 6 iOS versions to change the UI.) In hardware, continuous refinement is even more obvious. Most new iPhones, iPads, and laptops over the years have been shipping the same concept with improvements based on whatever they could afford to put in that year. Retina display too expensive, or 4G too much of a battery hog? Ship it in the same product next year. Behind the scenes, you can bet that you have many of the same people doing the same work year after year: making this battery a little thinner or that camera more energy-efficient.

    • rationalchrist

      Amen. It is just a good business practice. Sometime we over-analyze thing and propose sexy theory. But in reality, execution is the key. Apple executes, Google executes, Microsoft does not, Yahoo did not, etc.

    • Sacto_Joe

      I’d like to segue off of that a bit, if I may. Seems to me that what you describe is an integral part of Apple’s organization, and a major reason why “functional” versus “divisional” is a far better fit for Apple. From the outside, the press clamors for a new disruption or at the least a major upgrade. But on the inside, these things happen when they happen, as a natural result of Apple’s organic development process.

      Now, a few companies (Microsoft, Google, and Samsung come to mind) have had, at one time or another, a chance to peek inside this “disruption generator”. For Microsoft, that led to Windows (via Word and Excel for the Mac), for Google that led to Android (via Eric Schmidt), and for Samsung that led to copycat mobile devices (via being a major supplier), and it’s been pretty darned lucrative for them. And even now, we see Samsung trying to upstage Apple with a “smart watch”, several years after the iPod Nano on a wristband made it obvious that was a good direction for Apple to go.

      But that’s all after the fact. Going back to Horace’s original question, “Why is it that everyone wants to copy Apple’s products but nobody wants to copy being Apple?”,the answer is obvious; it’s because they literally CAN’T!

      • obarthelemy

        i love how everything was invented by Apple in your worldview. No PARC, no pre-iPhone Android, no Samsung smartwatch years ago…

      • Lun Esex

        What Apple saw at Xerox PARC had no menu bars, no pull down menus, no scroll bars, no icons representing files and folders, no self-repairing windows (windows in the background wouldn’t update if you revealed them by moving the foreground window out of the way), no double-click to launch an application or select a word, etc. All of that was Apple.

        Android pre-iPhone looked like a BlackBerry, with a small screen that wasn’t touch capable at all, and a hardware keyboard taking up half the front of the device.

        As for smart watches, there have been many predecessors going back to Seiko and Casio data watches in the 1980’s.

      • I’m glad you put that straight. I was thinking the same things but was getting too bored ( as well as being too pressed for time) to wade in on the conversation to say much the same. Some people here seem to deal in half truths and hearsay. What you say is exactly right. Everyone should take note.

    • obarthelemy

      I’m wondering why hardware isn’t following the same schedule. It would seem to make a whole lot of sense, as for cars, to have model-years, and to time them close to the Yuletide buying spree ?

  • James King

    “Why is it that everyone wants to copy Apple’s products but nobody wants to copy being Apple?” – Horace

    I think the more salient question at this point is:

    Why is it that no one copies Apple’s obsessive focus on UX?

    UX is the advantage that Apple fell back on during its lean years to stay alive as a company and the one that it has used to become the most relevant company in technology. It has been laser-focused on using the best research and scientific principles in the design of its products and user interfaces. The user facing elements of its technology are pain-stakingly researched; Apple engineers and designers know almost exactly what people want to see, feel and do when using a technology product. In my opinion, only Nokia has come close to that level of user experience; Meego Harmattan is still superior to Windows Phone in many significant ways despite it being abandoned by Nokia in favor of WP.

    Commoditizing excellent UX is likely the only way Apple will become irrelevant. However, as long as usability is being driven by engineers instead of UX designers, that isn’t going to happen. The only company that has a chance of replacing Apple as an iconic company and brand has to focus on pushing the state-of-the-art in UX. There is a small company called Razer in the gaming/PC space that is showing that type of promise but, otherwise, everyone else is still skating to where the puck is rather than where it is going. Until its competitors stop copying AT ALL and start actually attempting to understand users and find ways for them to effectively manage the overload of information they confront every day, Apple’s competitors will remain also-rans.

    • Sacto_Joe

      Not copying requires a huge leap of faith. I have to give credit to Microsoft for attempting that leap, Apple stalwart that I am. I think, though, that for Microsoft it’s almost certainly an act of desperation. With Apple, it’s ingrained in the culture, so much so that it was still there when Steve Jobs finally returned, and consequently all he had to do was pick up the reins.

    • obarthelemy


      • James King

        Its Blade computers are excellently designed and have near the same attention to detail as any current MacBook. What Razer lacks is scale and no control of its software stack. Will that change? I have no idea. But at least it’s trying.

  • Steve Jenkin

    Horace, This comment is late to the party, but may be of interest.

    From the odd products I’ve seen in the shops, there are many c/o that _want_ to copy The Apple Formula but haven’t achieved large-scale success yet [and ironically since Jobs, I also include Apple].

    I’ve seen many companies in many fields attempt to copy leaders and replicate their success. Few do and I’m having trouble thinking of any that have.

    There’s an important historical point in this about how Apple’s fortunes & process are tied to a single leader, Steve Jobs:

    – Could Steve Jobs 1.0 (pre-Pixar) have envisioned and delivered the OS/X-iOS / iPod / iPhone / iTunes revolution? I think not.

    – Could Steve Jobs 2.0 (brought back to lead Apple) have made the 1980’s Lisa & Mac profitable? I think so.

    Mostly copycats focus on externalities and replicate those things:

    – like a zillion Silicon Valley wannabe’s pre-2000 pitching bizarre business plans to VC’s.

    – or software dev’s copying free food & ‘designer’ spaces of Google, or the free cola of Microsoft.

    – the whole of the US Car Industry of the 1980’s tried to copy “The Japanese Miracle”. Didn’t GM splurge on a mass of industrial robots?

    None of these copycats succeeded because they copied what was easily observable and easy to do.

    Which implies the real Point of Difference of these “One Off Leaders” is something different and something hard (or it’d be easy to observe and replicate).

    We know that both Google, Facebook & Amazon are in the handful of organisations that can build “Internet Scale” infrastructure and Data Centres. Developers who’ve worked for both Google and Amazon comment on how badly they were treated at Amazon. There are many stories on-record of people at both Apple being treated badly as well.

    This says that ‘treating your people well’ isn’t a necessary condition of success in a Software + Systems enterprise.

    There are two standout companies that have consciously focussed on Innovation and been successful for decades:

    – Kodak and 3M.

    3M is famous for it’s “20% time” projects, a concept copied by Google and probably a lot of other firms. But that idea alone didn’t create their successes, some very unlikely e.g. “PostIt Notes” – a use for a weak adhesive that would’ve been discarded everywhere else.

    Kodak under George Eastman was a lot like Apple under Jobs: not only did he technically innovate, he produced product ‘eco-systems’ [camera, film, processing]. Importantly, both cannibalised their own products multiple times.

    Kodak invented Digital Photography in the early 1990’s, but never became a force and eventually ended because of it.

    Under Eastman, we know that Kodak would’ve embraced the new technology and with huge resources and massive brand-recognition _could_ have become one of the major forces in Digital Imaging, not collapsed because of it.

    This says that “management” plays a crucial role in maintaining an innovative organisation. Unresponsive management burnt through all their assets, brand-value and marketing expertise.

    Kodak is an ideal company to analyse under the Christensen Disruption model: they started being able to embrace and monetise fast-paced innovation, then became “sustaining” and finally rigid and unresponsive.

    I can’t identify all the internal processes, attitudes and practices that make Apple who they are. I’d guess that’s being attempted at “Apple University”.

    I’d agree that your list / triplet are “at least” what successful imitators will do.

    But while these are necessary conditions, they aren’t ‘sufficient’ – there are additional ‘must haves’.

    One of the most insightful ideas from my time in Software is from Jim McCarthy [Dynamics of Software Development].

    He writes it as “Team = Software”, I’d say “Team Software”:

    they’re equivalent and interchangeable.

    It isn’t just people that develop Code, UI’s and Product, but Teams.

    The culture, goals & psyche of individuals, teams and leaders shows up in the Products they produce. It can be gross as in “What do we care about” and it can be subtle, as in “this code is a reflection of my assumptions, biases and unconscious filters”.

    From my experience across many Enterprises, I’d reformulate McCarthy’s thesis as:

    Management Product

    GM couldn’t follow Toyota to great, consistent build quality because it wasn’t done with Robots, but was ingrained in the management culture which encouraged & rewarded line workers understanding and pursuing Quality.
    Dr Demming set out his rules and process – and the Japanese

    My observation on your 3 points:

    What other necessary points of Management Culture are needed?

    From the repeated failures of copycats, I’m guessing “Good Management” isn’t ‘hard’ but ‘very hard’. This has been documented for over a century, yet is still far from common, or even recognised.

    Taylor in his 1911 book wrote a warning about “Taylorism”, the embracing of outward forms of his methodology, but not its principles and intent.

    Taylor understood that to be an effective Change Agent, it couldn’t be imposed and couldn’t be rushed or in too greater steps, it could only be embraced by willing & motivated participants – at their own rate.


    A Dr Dobbs article on one iteration of McCarthy’s programme, BootCamp.

    “You learn the equation TEAM=SOFTWARE, which means that you need an effective team to build effective software (which in this context means any kind of intellectual property).”


    McCarthy’s current views read more like a 1980’s Self-Development Seminar than a software or business tract. We’ll only know they’re good if someone achieves greatness following their advice.

    McCarthy’s book, “Software for you Head” (incl. “The Core”), a large PDF, is at: