Alright, take another quick look at Apple’s competitors and their respective product lines and what do you see? Up and down the line– for the most part, Mac, iPhone, and iPad competitors occupy the mid-range or low end of the product spectrum. That may change soon.
Follow The Money
Technorati elite, market prognosticators, and Apple’s competitors have viewed a similar perspective and wallowed in a similar strategy view in recent years.
Marketshare matters. From Samsung to HP to Lenovo and knock off brands rolling out of China, every maker or major brand wannabe would copy Apple’s product designs, but make them far less expensive, usually with lesser quality.
The end result has been a disastrous string of weak financials for Apple competitors despite hefty marketshare numbers for a few, such as Samsung in smartphones and tablets, and some good press for others, including Microsoft’s Surface Pro, and HTC’s string of high end smartphones.
Therein lies the secret to really copying what Apple does best. Premium products as part of a premium brand.
If you can’t beat ’em– and few companies selling PCs, smartphones, or tablets, can claim to be topping Apple while living on the bottom end of the product spectrum– the only recourse is to join ’em. In this case, joining Apple as a premium brand, not just a maker of premium devices.
That’s easier said than done because not only does Apple make premium hardware which is easily differentiated from plastic riffraff competitors, iOS is clearly differentiated from Android, and OS X is clearly differentiated from Windows– both are perceived as premium, and make up Apple’s premium brand.
Both Android OS and Windows suffer from guilt by the association to cheap, almost throwaway level products. Even when smartphone maker HTC builds a classy and highly acclaimed aluminum clad device that competes with Apple on the hardware scale, it remains just an expensive Android smartphone; hampered, by, well, Android.
The HTC One (M8) with Windows, remains clearly differentiated from Apple’s iPhone and iOS, yet clearly associated with Windows (and that’s not a good thing). Everything about HTC’s One Family smacks of good quality– except the association to Android and Windows, an association which makes it difficult to gain sales traction in the marketplace.
‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em‘ only works if a product is competitive across the board with the perceived industry leader, in this case– PCs, smartphones, and tablets– it’s Apple. Hardware may compete with Apple’s level of quality, but competitor’s software and brands are perceived as lesser in the marketplace, therefore competitors not only can’t beat Apple and can’t even join Apple as a premium brand.
Even if a new HTC or Windows or even Samsung model could compete with Apple’s hardware, and a package of Android and built-in apps were every bit as good as Apple’s iOS and App Store offerings, the products would need to sell for less because Apple’s brand and ecosystem is perceived by the buying public as worthy of the slightly higher price– premium.
At the premium end of the product spectrum, ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em‘ only works when the brand is perceived as premium at the same level. That explains why Toyota sells luxury, premium brand cars under the Lexus brand, why Honda sells premium cars under the Acura brand, why Nissan sells premium cars under the Infiniti brand, and why Volkswagen, a powerful brand unto itself, cannot sell premium cars that compete with BMW, Mercedes, Lexus or others using the Volkswagen brand, and instead relies on Audi to penetrate the premium market.
With the Surface Pro and HTC One models, both Microsoft and HTC have gained some traction and respect in the industry and the marketplace, but neither line of products truly competes well against Apple because of the power of the company’s brand.