If you answered Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer, and Mozilla’s Firefox, you answered correctly. Whatever is #5 doesn’t matter. We live in the golden age of web browsers. They’re all pretty decent, both the popular and the unknown. That’s why Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and other competitors are having a difficult time competing against Apple.
Say What What?
What does a web browser have to do with competing against Apple? There once was a time when Microsoft’s notorious Internet Explorer was the dominant browser on planet earth and while competitors existed for Windows PCs and Macs, they were few and far between, and didn’t gain much traction in the market.
Microsoft became a sleeping giant early in the 21st century and that opened up an opportunity for Google, Apple, and Mozilla to improve on the browser by adhering to web standards, making browsers faster and easier to use, and eclipsing Microsoft with the all important security issue.
In other words, three competitors built better browsers.
While Microsoft continued to snooze the entire personal computer industry was upended by the rapid growth of mobile devices led by Apple and the iPhone. Microsoft is nowhere to be found. How did Apple change the industry?
Apple built a better smartphone.
It’s an arguable point, but generally speaking the iPhone in the first few years was leaps and bounds better than any smartphone in the industry; competitive on price, readily available, easy to use, and it improved steadily every year. Microsoft and the entire mobile device industry was caught flatfooted and the result to date is that Apple rules the industry’s profits and sets the standard for design.
Why is it so difficult to compete against Apple?
Last week I read an article about the founder of Vivaldi, a company which publishes a new browser for traditional PCs and mobile devices. Vivaldi’s executives think they can carve a niche out of the browser market by appealing to discerning users and providing features other browsers do not have.
Maybe they can, maybe the cannot. I’ve tried Vivaldi. It’s a good browser. It’s different. But it’s not leaps and bounds above anything on the browser market today and that’s what’s required to gain a foothold in the industry and compete against the front runners.
That’s the issue with competing with Apple. In product marketing, differentiation is a key component, and products can be differentiated many ways. Price, design, usability, features, support, and so on. That also means that a new product needs to improve substantially upon a leading product in order to gain market share or sales, otherwise, the customer has no compelling reason to switch sides.
Generally speaking, Android-based devices are priced far less than iOS devices; iPhone and iPad. And, Android devices have massive market share, but those lower prices also mean lower gross margins, which have reduced manufacturing profits to zero. Yet, Android devices work much like Apple’s iPhone and iPad, yet not as cohesive and compelling thanks to Apple’s growing ecosystem which focuses on interoperability, and quality vs. quantity.
Apple’s competitors need to leap frog Apple’s designs and usability but Apple is a moving target. Competitors have failed to produce a smartphone or tablet that excels the same way the iPhone and iPad did when launched.
The old adage ‘build a better mousetrap’ applies here. Apple’s competitors have built a mousetrap, not a better mousetrap. They’re priced lower, but that tactic also means lower perceived quality, and that helps to reduce gross profit margins.
To defeat Apple in the marketplace means a competitor must be like Apple yet better than Apple and as long as Apple continues to improve products and add new products to the ecosystem defeating Apple is a zero sum game with no winners and plenty of losers.