Amid all the hullabaloo of Apple’s travails against Microsoft, Google, and Adobe—and it’s riveting theater—one thing struck me that differentiates them from Apple.
It’s not that Apple just thinks different, the company performs different than their rivals and former partners. One thing in common, of course, is that all four of those major companies want to succeed at any cost. How they go about it is different.
Microsoft, Google, Adobe
Before pointing out how Apple differs from the Gang of Three™, allow me point out first that all these companies, Apple included, will do anything to grow their respective businesses.
In the case of Microsoft, laws were broken.
In the case of Google, friendships and partnerships were broken. In the case of Adobe, they learned the hard way that the only company you can trust is your own.
All three of Apple’s current rivals are wildly profitable and have been for years. Despite their ill gotten gains, Microsoft has not been able to diversify their revenue or profits. True, the company has many products and many revenue streams, but Windows and Office account for the lion’s share of both revenue and profit.
Microsoft – Microsoft has lost tens of billions of dollars in lame and losing ventures which range from game hardware (XBox) to search (still in third place after all these years). In other words, Microsoft has been unable to diversify beyond early successes.
The stock market rewards growth, and despite continued profits, Microsoft has not made much headway in areas beyond PCs. For decades the company has thrown tens of billions of dollars against the wall in a vain attempt to expand and diversify—all efforts met with failure. The stock market reward is a stagnant stock.
Google – Like it or not, Google is the ultimate example of a one trick pony. The company is dominant in search, with nearly 70-percent of the internet’s searches aimed at Google. Google’s revenue, over 95-percent of it, comes from search advertising.
What else? That’s it. Few technology companies have planted the seeds of more beta products in technology than Google. The end result? Google spent tens of billions of dollars and advertising still remains the dominant revenue and profit stream.
However, Google has disrupted the marketplace with Android OS and potentially Chrome OS, both competitors to products from Apple and Microsoft. But to what end? No substantial revenue or profit will come of such efforts. Google remains the quintessential one trick pony.
Adobe – Adobe is the runt brat of personal computing. Profitable, but dependent upon Microsoft and Apple for success. For all their technological prowess, much of Adobe’s success came from acquisitions (Macromedia, Aldus, Omniture among many others), rather than internal development.
Adobe’s relationship with Microsoft and Apple is more parasitic than complementary these days, all the while becoming a master of obfuscation (witness Adobe’s attempts to cloud the conflict with Apple) though not as deceitful as Microsoft or Google.
True, all four companies want the others to succeed, but not at their own expense.
Apple, Inc: The Four Headed Beast
Contrast the history, performance, and behavior of Microsoft, Adobe, and Google with that of Apple. All strive mightily to expand and grow their various revenue streams through new products.
Apple is the only company of the four to succeed and diversify.
Clearly, Microsoft and Adobe would not have minded in the least had Steve Jobs failed and Apple shuttered the doors. Apple and the Mac prospered. Apple grew the iPod from an expensive toy to the market leading portable music player with billions in revenue and substantial profits.
Apple grew the iTunes Store from infancy and Mac-only to yet another market leader—a strong and growing and profitable revenue stream. Apple disrupted the cell phone market with the iPhone, arguably more profitable now than either the Mac or the iPod. The iPad—panned and praised—gives Apple yet another opportunity to do what Google or Microsoft have not been able to accomplish—expand into a new market with a wildly successful (read, billions in revenue, and hundreds of millions in profits) new product.
Competition is intense, so time will tell just how well Apple succeeds, but clearly the company performs differently than rivals. Why? How? All these companies are greedy and selfish and exploit one another wherever it benefits their objectives. Why and how has Apple been able to diversify so well?
That’s an argument for another day, but suffice it to say that Apple focuses far more attention on the user experience than Microsoft, Google, or Adobe. After many years of toiling near death and obscurity, that relentless attention and focus has paid huge dividends for Apple; unrivaled by their competition. Unlike the other three, Apple doesn’t throw product ideas up against the public wall to see what sticks.
Continued growth and success—measured by tens of millions of customers, record products sales, record revenue, record profits, and a record stock price—come after a product is created that customers are willing to stand in line to buy.