They say it’s lonely at the top. So they say. I wouldn’t really know because I’m a member of the Manhattan Cubicle Farm Society and the closest I’ve ever been to the top of anything was The Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, and Mount Rushmore.
Apple Inc is at the top of its game, at the top of market capitalization, at the top of a giant cash pile, and at the top of mind of dozens of competitors and hundreds of millions of customers. Is Apple a lonely company? I think so but whatever loneliness Apple imbues is by choice.
One Is The Loneliest Number
It should be obvious to seasoned and experienced Apple watchers that the company is completely unlike most technology gadget makers. At Apple engineers are artists, designers are artists, and based upon how much money the company takes away from customers and competitors, even executives are artists.
Apple makes a modest handful of products, most of which, even with multiple versions, could sit comfortably on an office desktop. While most competitors prefer to package their products with off-the-shelf components– batteries, screens, CPUs, operating system– it’s Apple which goes to the extra trouble and expense to segregate itself from the common competitor.
Apple designs its own chips and seems to have done such a good job of it that the new A9 CPUs in the new iPhone 6s models and iPad Pro smoke their smartphone and tablet counterparts in the Android world, and are sneaking up on Intel Inside by matching benchmarks of the latest MacBook.
Why does Apple go to the trouble of doing its own thing? Like true artists, Apple, as a company of artists, wants to exercise complete control wherever possible. What most customers do not realize is that Apple also has a big hand and bigger checkbook in the manufacturing process and components used in all of the company’s products.
Think Different™ is embedded into Apple’s DNA from the beginning of the second coming of Steve Jobs back in 1997 and we see more of that effect in the Tim Cook era. Apple likes control and exercises it upon every vendor that supplies device components to Apple’s exacting standards.
Apple has become very good at building first party components which are superior to the off-the-shelf components made by companies that design and build such products for other companies. How do you explain that Apple’s A9 CPUs, designed in-house, humiliate the CPUs designed by industry leaders Qualcomm and Nvidia?
Even Apple’s venerable iMac uses a custom designed video controller to drive the larger number of pixels on 4k and 5k Retina displays. Apple says the upcoming iPad Pro’s A9X CPU will outperform 80-percent of all the Intel powered notebooks sold in the past year. And Apple has only been at the design game for five years. Intel was founded in 1968, nearly 50 years ago, and ARM, which formed the basis of Apple’s mobile CPUs, was formed 30 years ago (Apple was an early investor).
As much as Apple relies on many hundreds of vendors to beef up the component supply chain, it’s obvious the company does not want to rely on those vendors who also sell components to Apple’s competitors. That go-it-alone mentality is one aspect of Apple’s corporate disposition and personality that enables it to take large risks on new product endeavors which competitors cannot.
It was not Microsoft, Samsung, Google, Motorola, or HTC which invented an iPhone-like mobile device. It was Apple. The company also pushed the industry forward with a demand for Retina displays, faster flash memory and storage, and upended the entire smartphone and cell phone industry with a single product.
While Apple’s mobile CPUs are best-in-class that cannot be said for other important components, including screens and batteries. How long before Apple’s loneliness brings those components in house, too.