The disruption hammer: Apple still drives the smartphone market


When all you have to explain how markets work is the hammer of disruption, then every problem looks like a nail.

Eh, not every lede can be a winner.

Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Juan Pablo Vasquez Sampere tells us all about “Apple’s Shrinking Impact in the Smartphone Industry.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Dan Moren.)

Please keep your hands and feet inside the car at all times as this ride goes immediately into a briar patch where the wheels come off before it skids to a stop. And bursts into flames.

The first three seconds are great, though.

First sentence:

Apple is the poster child for how to make a disruption strategy successful over time.

True, true. No problem there.

Back in 2007, when it launched the iPhone, Apple took functions that few mobile devices had previously provided and made them accessible to millions of consumers.

Indeed! This is going swimmingly. What was the Macalope even worried about? There is no reason to believe this will not go on indefinitely!

Subsequent versions of the iPhone further enhanced the apps available: the iPhone 4 introduced Apple’s multitasking system (designed especially for apps)…

[sound of squealing tires, guardrail breaking, panicked screams, Godzilla roar, alien death ray, clown horn, slide whistle]

No, actually, it was iOS 4 that brought multitasking.

Quickly the piece devolves into iPhone word soup.

…the iPhone 5 provided apps using other coding languages such as Xcode and iOS SDK…

OK, now you’re just throwing out random words. And, unfortunately, these particular words don’t make any sense. Admittedly, sometimes you get lucky when you write a piece exclusively by using words from a Boggle throw. Not this time.

Xcode is a development environment. The iOS SDK is a collection of APIs and other tools Apple provides so developers can make iOS apps. Neither is a coding language.

…and in between those iPhone generations, Apple launched versions of each that improved and refined the new functionalities (iPhone 4s, iPhone 5c, etc.).


But after Steve Jobs came the iPhone 6. It was a game changer for Apple, and not in a good way.

Steve Jobs died in 2011. The last phone he helped introduce was the iPhone 4s. Now, you can argue that he probably had input into iPhone 5, but this is a pretty nebulous territory. It doesn’t matter anyway because Sampere’s argument holds up about as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Schenectady Pudding House, which perished in the hurricane of 1938.

What’s that?

Ah, the Macalope is being told that’s not a real thing. Much like Sampere’s argument.

Increasing the screen size of the handset is the iPhone 6’s major difference from the iPhone 5.

Uh, OK, but to use your addled parlance of conflating software features with hardware releases, the iPhone 6 “provided” Apple Pay, as well as HealthKit and other features. See, you can’t just play this game of pretending all iPhones came with miraculous software features and that all stopped when you say it did and they only started coming with hardware features. Because it’s simply not true.

Apple is getting plenty of competition at the low end of the market. Samsung was first, of course, but now there’s also Xiaomi and many other companies with similar smartphone offerings.

None of these things explain Apple’s current predicament. It’s not like competition in the smartphone market is brand new and Apple doesn’t even compete in the low end of the market. The real problem is simply that the smartphone market is getting saturated, that’s why many vendors, not just Apple, are struggling. But Sampere doesn’t buy it.

Finally, it’s important to note that the recent reported slowdown in smartphone sales does not necessarily mean that the industry is maturing. An industry’s growth rate is the result of the activities of the companies in it.

All you have to do is build phones and people will buy them! It’s easy!

Supply-side economics aside, the fact that most everyone in the market already has a smartphone now might make it harder to sell more smartphones.

It’s certainly possible for Apple to disrupt itself, but if it does it’s more likely to do that with a different product than re-reinventing the iPhone. After all, it’s already making the best iPhones it knows how to make. Not to hear Sampere talk about it, of course.

Regardless, just like always, Apple still drives most of the innovation in the smartphone market. Just ask Samsung.

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