The list is long and growing and dates all the way back to the 1970s with the original Apple computer, to the 1980s with the Mac and LaserWriter printer, down to the second coming of Steve Jobs which began in the late 1990s and extends influence even years after the co-founders death. Here’s how some of those industries have been impacted by Apple.
Mac to Watch to Car
Apple introduced the Mac in 1984 and it was not a resounding success. Jobs may have lost his job because the Mac faltered for a few years before becoming Apple’s bread and butter. What the Mac did, though, as evidenced by Windows 95 over a decade later, was to revolutionize how personal computers are used. Windows is merely a poor copy of the Mac’s operating system stuffed into generic hardware.
After the Mac and after Jobs returned the company blazed a trail of new products and tactics which revolutionized one industry after another.
Apple Store – These were supposed to be failures but have become highly profitable shrines where Apple customers flock to buy, service, and learn about the latest products. Few stores in any shopping mall in the U.S. have the traffic that Apple brings.
iPod – It wasn’t the first media player and it was scoffed at as being too expensive but it became the de facto way to listen to music in the early part of the century commanding more than 70-percent marketshare and embarrassing Microsoft’s efforts to catch (remember the brown Zune?).
iTunes – Apple went outside to bring a music player inside, but iTunes, initially a Rip. Mix. Burn. app became the world’s largest media mall, as Apple became the world’s largest music store. All others combined do less business each year than Apple’s iTunes.
iPhone – Again, the laugher was loud, hearty, and haughty but the iconic iPhone was what all smartphones became; a slender slab of electronics, battery, and screen, an powerful portable computer. Today, all good smartphones look like iPhones.
iPad – The iPad is credited with ushering in the post-PC era, but it did not, and larger screen smartphones have cut a chunk out of Apple’s once industry leading business. What do most non-Kindle tablets look like these days? iPads.
Watch – News on the streets is that the watch industry is going through a slump with a steep drop in sales, revenue, and, of course, profits. When did all that begin? Last year when Apple introduced Watch, now considered the industry leader in wearable technology, yet barely six months on the market.
Those are the visible disruptions that Apple has brought to various industry segments, but there are others, mostly behind the scenes, that have revolutionized parts of the technology industry we seldom see.
Apple’s supply chain is varied and complex, but the company buys components in such volume that it always has the highest gross margins on whatever product it sells. Apple has invested billions in screen technology, battery technology, and custom designed CPUs which are rapidly creating a highly competitive, highly profitable ecosphere platform, the likes of which haven’t been seen since IBM in the 1970s.
Differentiation Thinks Different
Today’s iPhone 6s Plus is as fast as a modern day Intel Inside MacBook. Competitors come up with one or two features which, on paper or in bullet points, appear better or more advanced than an Apple counterpart, but no company has managed to differentiate their hardware and software better as a package– the package that customers buy–than Apple.
Apple’s custom designed CPUs consistently outperform supposedly more powerful CPUs in Samsung and other smartphones and tablets. Component vendors invest billions of dollars to gain Apple’s approval and become a member of the company’s supply chain.
I’ve written about differentiation as an important key to product marketing. An industry leader can be toppled through one of three basic moves.
First, the industry leader stops innovating, stops progressing, stops improving. That’s not Apple which improves each product each year making it difficult for competitors to catch up.
Second, a competitor could build a better product than Apple, but still needs to sell it at about the same price, otherwise current customers would have little incentive to switch from Apple to something new and better.
Third, a competitor could build exactly the same product as Apple, but then would need to sell it for less, otherwise current customers would have little incentive to switch to what amounts to the same thing.
To date, Apple has not stopped innovating and improving, but instead has doubled down on improvements to individual products within the ecosystem. Likewise, no competitor has made a product that is demonstrably better or improved over the iPhone, iPad, or Mac, regardless of price. Technology gadget buyers may start off cheap, but when they go upward in the product migration line only Apple sits at the top.
It’s a common understanding that Apple plans to enter the streaming TV industry, and product an Apple designed car. Neither is likely to be the least expensive of their respective segments, but what Apple does will be copied to an extreme, thereby driving each industry forward in ways competitors have not.