Competitors aiming to take a bite out of Apple
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in Vancouver January 4-10, 2011 issue 1106 High
Not a movie title, at least not yet, but it will be the theme for the
High-Tech Office in 2011, I suspect.
Apple has surfed over economic slowdowns with a combination of
successful products and services. Originally named Apple Computers (to
avoid confusion with the Beatles’ Apple Records), the company dropped
the Computers from its name in 2007 to reflect its broadened product
range – not just smartphones and music players but music and book sales
Generally, Apple hasn’t been the first to market any particular product
or service – there were music players and smartphones available before
its iPods and iPhones, for instance. Microsoft has been promoting the
“Tablet PC” since 2001 – nearly a decade before Apple’s iPad launch.
And not every Apple product is a bestseller. Apple TV, for instance,
remains a modest seller despite several years on the market.
Nevertheless, by building easy-to-use connections between personal
computers, devices like phones, tablets and music players, and online
services, Apple has repeatedly shaken the high-tech market.
Expect 2011 to be the year when Apple’s competitors gear up to strike
back. Among the battlefields:
•Ultra-light laptops. Apple released new models of its slim and light
MacBook Air laptops late in 2010. Look for increased competition from
the likes of Toshiba, Panasonic and Lenovo in 2011.
•Smartphones. Phones running Google’s Android, from a variety of
manufacturers are evolving rapidly, adding features and approaching the
iPhone’s ease of use. The range of apps available from the Android
Market is growing with an increasing number of paid apps making it a
more attractive platform to developers. Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 had
a relatively lacklustre late-2010 release, but that company is nothing
if not persistent, and its phone operating system (like Android,
available from multiple manufacturers) has some promising features. HP
hopes you won’t count Palm out of the running, with the launch of
version 2.0 of that company’s Pre smartphones, while RIM is also
updating its BlackBerrys to a new operating system version.
•Tablets. Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, released late in 2010, has already sold
over a million units; RIM’s Playbook tablet is expected in the spring,
along with a Palm-powered HP tablet. A host of competing models will
show up in 2011, most running some variety of Android, though some will
sport Windows 7. I’ve been working with a Galaxy Tab for the past few
weeks and have found it a very usable competitor to Apple’s iPad.
It’s not all about hardware, though. Apple’s bricks-and-mortar stores
have proved popular with consumers. As of late 2010, the company had
more than 300 stores worldwide.
While PC manufacturers like Dell and Gateway failed at their branded
retail outlets, HP opened its first North American store in Vancouver
Expect “app stores” to similarly proliferate, following the examples of
Apple’s iTunes and Google’s Android Market. Ironically, among the
imitators: Apple, with its Mac App Store promising one-stop software
shopping for users of its computer platform. Licensing issues –
especially outside the U.S. – have limited competitors to Apple’s
iTunes for music, TV and video sales. Expect increased competition in
2011. But it remains to be seen how successful all these attempts to
knock Apple off its pedestal will be.
For years, Microsoft and a host of PC gadget makers tried and generally
failed to compete with Apple’s iPods. Part of the problem: Apple is a
moving target. By the time competitors can bring a product to market,
Apple has a next generation device on the horizon.
Apple’s competitors can generally provide more features at a lower
price, but Apple has succeeded by realizing that many customers are
prepared to pay a higher price, as long as fewer features translate
into less of the frustration that too often accompanies products in the
High-Tech Office (and the high-tech home).