Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Apple having to Think Different again

Fifteen years ago Apple launched a campaign in which it proclaimed the company had a different approach to its business model than other technology companies. The "Think Different" advertising campaign paid homage to "the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes," and the "ones who see things differently."

Whilst many saw such individuals as crazy, Apple claimed they saw genius, "because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

Apple have certainly changed the face of technology and how individuals interact with it. But can the technology giant that brought the world the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad really be considered to be as innovative as it once claimed?

Innovation and imitation

Before the smartphone came into being Apple was certainly a force to be reckoned with. While not overtaking PC sales the Apple Macintosh and iMac brought good design to the office with functionality beyond what many PCs could do at the time.

The creative industry particularly focused on the Mac for its graphics and photo editing systems and its simple user interface.

But Microsoft soon caught up and were providing computers with just as powerful tools for a far smaller price tag.

While no-one could doubt the strength of Apple's products both in design and functionality, consumers were ultimately drawn on price.

iPods and MP3 players

Apple carved another niche with its launch of the iPod, a line of portable media players which surfaced just as the popularity in the cassette based Walkman was waning.

The ease of storing music, digitally on a small device was very attractive to consumers. Apple developed their iPod in tandem with iTunes in order to draw people into their ecosystem. iTunes facilitated the purchase of music or other content which could then be transferred to a portable device from their Mac or PC.

This innovation too was scuppered to some extent by the generic MP3 player where users could transfer their own music, ripped from a CD, to the device.

iPhones and smartphones

The real breakthrough for Apple was its highly innovative iPhone, a smartphone which was in essence a small handheld computer. Users could download apps, or applications, from iTunes and access any number of services including maps, email, weather or news as well, of course, as making conventional phone calls.

At its launch WAP was the only way of accessing the Internet by a mobile device with many smartphone competitors using the often less than stable Symbian operating system.

One popular device had been the Sony Ericsson P900 and its successors. However, the 2007 release of the iPhone changed the whole nature of the smartphone market and what people might expect of such a device.

Apple had brought simplicity to the smartphone market. In fact to coin a phrase "it just worked". Browsing the web was much easier on the iPhone than it had ever been before with its forebears. Checking email was also much easier, as was the sending of a message.


But Apple soon faced some stiff competition from another tech giant. Within months of the release of the first iPhone, Google launched its Android operating system running on the G1.

While the G1 was a rather clunky smartphone compared to the iPhone's sleek design and features, Google soon built upon Android's versatility, pulling in a variety of manufacturers and soon cornered the market with devices that easily rivalled the iPhone.

Symbian had certainly lost its way by the turn of the decade, and popularity of Windows Mobile operating system that had been flag-shipped on devices like the Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 had been dropped in favour of Android.

The iPhone, while still popular was becoming stagnant with its market share paling into insignificance compared to Android [Wikipedia]. Even while many sales of Android devices are in China where they are stripped of Google Play, from which the Internet giant makes much of its money through the Android ecosystem, the revenue drawn from devices sold elsewhere is still highly significant compared to that of iOS devices [Fool.com].

Failing functionality

By 2013 the iPhone had begun to fall flat on many functionalities now readily available in most modern Android handsets and devices.

Android possessed a simple file manager system with the ability to plug the device into a PC or Mac to browse, move or delete files. Music, video content, PDFs and other files could be easily transferred to or from an Android device. This was far less easy with the iPhone which by nature of its set up was tied to the iTunes ecosystem.

Sharing with Android with its intuitive infrastructure was also much easier than the iPhone. Indeed the iPhone, and later the iPad, often came up with inappropriate programs through which a file might be shared or manipulated.

Even with its 2012 release of the iPhone 6, Apple had failed to incorporate NFC [Near Field Communication] which, given both devices had the function turned on, facilitated the sending of information or files from one device to another simply by touching them together.

The iPhone also restricted users concerning certain defaults such as the type of browser, forcing users to browse with Safari, even if other browsers were installed. Android, on the other hand allowed users to set a particular browser as a default.

Android was also becoming far more customizable. Whereas iPhones were simply a five by four grid of icons, the Android operating system allowed users to install widgets such as a world clock or weather app and ones that even worked with the screen locked such as Google Now, Twitter/Plume etc., or the "What's this song?" app.

Think Different

Until the launch of the most recent model, the iPhone was not truly multitasking. If downloading something for example it would pause when opening up say YouTube. In Android both applications worked in tandem.

In fact despite Apple's consistent criticism that Google had based its Android system on "stolen" ideas, the two, iOS and Android, were a world apart.

The two operating systems were different, but iOS was failing its users in so many respects. Apple, with sales of the iPhone falling in comparison to world wide Android sales, had to change its strategy.

iOS 7 copies Android

With iOS 7, Apple has brought with it features which Android users had been using for years [Phandroid]. The iOS 7 lockscreen and wallpaper were eerily similar to Android, but beyond the surface there were other strong similarities. Apple's iOS 7 now supported lock screen notifications and for the first time simple toggles to easily turn off and on features of the phone such as WiFi, Bluetooth, Flashlight, Camera, or adjust volume.

With iOS 7 Apple introduced iTunes Radio which looked very similar to Google Play Music. Users could now create their own playlists and take advantage of recommended stations. However, Google Play Music All Access allows users to save full albums or tracks to their library where iTunes Radio doesn't.

Many Apple apps also now feature navigation drawers something which has been a part of Android for a while. In addition some of the new iOS 7 interface looks very similar to its arch rival with both Calendar and Mail app bearing a striking resemblance to Google's Calendar app and GMail respectively.

Of course there are those within the Apple camp, and particularly so-called Apple fanboys, who will say that Apple's iOS is simpler and more intuitive.

In essence this is partly true. Android does require some fiddling to get certain things to work, and not all Android devices work the same, partly due to what is known as fragmentation. While some Android users may be using Jelly Bean [Android 4.1+], there are many still using older operating systems such as Ice Cream Sandwich [Android  4.0+], Gingerbread [2.3+] or even Froyo [2.2+] which all have less functionality than the latest build. Nonetheless there are many features even in Froyo that are unavailable on iOS devices.

Changing strategy

But all said and done, Apple is having to rethink its strategy and "Think Different", not so much to win back Android users but in order to stop losing users to Android.

Given Apple is particularly increasing its focus on the Chinese market it is unlikely to rekindle its 1998 "Think Different" campaign which featured notable characters as CNN's founder Ted Turner, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, the radical poet and songwriter Bob Dylan and even the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. Even at the time Apple decided to eventually dropped the Dalai Lama from its campaign due to political sensitivities, and it is likely that the company would not wish to draw attention to such past campaigns.

Even without such sensitivities the iPhone is losing ground in China primarily because of price [Tech In Asia / NYT]. There is some evidence that Apple is still holding its own in the rest of the world, though in terms of actual numbers iPhone usage falls way below Android [Aquarius.biz].

The 1998 campaign however does bring into sharp focus the way the company has changed, both in terms of its philosophical strategy and how much the company has digressed. Indeed Apple has, instead of continuing to be an innovator, become an imitator of rivals inspired by its own innovation.

tvnewswatch, Kunming, Yunnan, China

1 comment:

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