The Macalope: Party like it's 1995


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Prepare for an argument that will shock and amaze you! One that will shake the pillars of your faith in Apple and your commitment to iOS as a platform.

Because according to Computing’s Graeme Burton—are you sitting down?—the battle between Android and iOS is just like the battle between Windows and the Mac.

I know, right?!

“Welcome to the real world, Apple” (tip o’ the antlers to Kevin Davidson).

Apple, apparently, has been living in a fantasy world for years. A fantasy world full of real-world money.

The last 15 years at Apple have been nothing short of sensational, from the launch of the iPod music player to the popularity of the iPad. But what will happen to the company if the blockbuster products dry up?

Indeed, that is the most important question of our age, isn’t it? More so than climate change, healthcare, NSA spying, and Biebergate combined.

In many respects, Apple is a prisoner of its own stellar success …

Which, for some reason, seems to get more attention than the companies that are prisoners of their stellar failures.

When it announced its first quarter results for fiscal 2014, investors - unusually - were nonplussed.

Super unusual. Unless you count all the times it’s happened before, since the dawn of time.

Overall revenues were up by a solid six per cent from $54.512bn to $57.594bn, but these sales were largely driven by China, where sales grew by 29 per cent.

Which, apparently, doesn’t count.


Now, put on your flannel shirt and hiking boots, because here come the greatest hits of the ’90s, all in one compilation never before seen on late-night TV advertising!

The figures also suggest that Apple is not going to compete head-to-head with Google Android and will let Android take de facto control of the mobile operating system market.

OK, first of all, there’s Google Android and then there’s “Android,” the operating system that may not legally be called Android because someone’s beaten the be-Google out of it. By some estimates, the latter is up to a third of what pundits glibly call “Android.”

Man, sometimes the Macalope feels like an animated GIF making this argument, just looping over and over. How’s that metaphor, by the way? Not that he doesn’t support the vinyl renaissance, but the horny one was looking for something more modern than “a broken record.”

Anyway, the assumption Burton makes is that the mobile market will play out exactly like the desktop market did in the 1990s. Android will take over and developers will code only for that platform and Apple, having been given up for dead more times than Rory Williams, will die again.

It may even lose out to Microsoft, whose Windows Phone operating system is finally shifting some units.

Indeed. Because “finally shifting some units” is almost exactly like beating the platform currently in second place. Hey, don’t forget BlackBerry. It’s due for a resurgence! It’s the law of low numbers!

Indeed, in some markets in Europe, Windows Phone and Apple’s iOS are running neck-and-neck.

Let’s ignore all the major markets where Windows Phone is a pathetic also-ran and focus on the handful of smaller markets where it’s doing modestly well. Actually, you know what? Let’s just type up this Microsoft press release.

Windows Phone sales have largely been propelled by the low-end Nokia Lumia 520. Apple, in contrast, offers just old kit - the iPhone 4S - as its desultory budget offering.

What’s the opposite of damning with faint praise? Because it seems to the Macalope to be demonstrably true that selling a few high-margin phones is better than selling a few low-margin phones.

Apple’s strategy in the mobile sector, therefore, is reminiscent of its strategy in the 1980s - staying resolutely proprietary and premium. That, though, is a strategy of drift, one that will end in the same way: allowing nimbler, more price-competitive rivals to become the market standard.

What does Burton think is the threat to Apple’s platform here? That developers will flee to the “standard” Android platform? The one with several kinds of Android and dozens of screen sizes on thousands of different devices? As the Macalope has pointed out time and time again, the money is, duh, in the platform that costs more. Also, development isn’t anything like what it was in 1995. The tools are far more robust and readily available, as are developers themselves.

Yes, the phone and tablet markets are maturing and, yes, if Apple wants 25 percent or higher growth rates again it’s going to need to move into new product categories (as Tim Cook keeps saying the company’s going to do). What’s funny about all this concern about Apple is that no one seems to have the same concern for any of its competitors. Why? Because the onus is on Apple to reinvent product categories. Other companies just have to copy what Apple does.

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