Speaking as a marketing guy and someone with a high geek factor, Apple has a very important ace: Market cachet. To the average consumer – particularly ones not adept in tech, and they are legion – “cool” is very often more important than the tech. This is often because the customer doesn’t know enough about tech to care; they respond to emotional qualities first and, for many, that’s as far as they get. For instance, there are many cars that are outright dogs, yet they sold well because of the design. Not all Cuisinart products are good quality, but folks proudly display them.
A mass of designers and engineers can change the game, but Apple is the de facto winner among artists and celebrities, and those in the creative side of media. So long as they stay in the Apple camp, folks will want Apples because that’s what the “cool” people are using. For instance, to enroll in Full Sail University’s classes, you must have a Mac. (Note: I am not endorsing FSU by any means.) Voluntary product placement by celebrities buoys Apple (e.g., Jimmy Fallon’s MacBook on his desk every night). After all, if you know anything about tech, you can immediately spot Apple products at a hundred paces, giving them a huge passive advertising advantage.
As one who’s worked at a printer manufacturer and spent thousands of hours with engineers, few are good at the emotional qualities because their job is to live and die by the specs. This isn’t a cut against them, it’s simply the truth. I also worked training customer support people around the globe and the biggest complaint they hear from customers is, “This thing makes no sense.” Apple has excellent UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) factors.
There are companies that have gobbled huge chunks of market share through promotion, price and manufacturing efficiencies; Apple is rare in that, while their tech is quite good, and they have created a system that is simple and fairly seamless to use, much of their success is due to emotional qualities. Many users don’t care about chipsets or other tech aspects, but Apple consistently ranks first in customer satisfaction polls, and that creates a huge pool of fuel for marketing and sales. Happy users spread the word, and that is the most powerful sales tool … period.
The other side of it is the aftermarket vendors. There are SO many pieces of add-on, plug-and-play tech built for iPhones, and iPads: Many magazines offer only iPad versions; Wal-Mart is chock-full of Apple-compatible speaker towers, clock radios, keyboards and so on. Each new device built to dock an iOS product is advertising for Apple, and the shelves are full of them. It also gives weight to the brand by showing their popularity, which appeals to the herd effect to which we are all susceptible.
When you’re dealing with a juggernaut like Apple, no matter how huge your claim against them, you have to deal with the product and brand inertia. iOS devices have a projected 17% market share in 2012, vs. Android’s 68% across all vendors and Windows Mobile’s paltry 4.1%*. That alone provides sufficient capital to battle any and all competitors when you consider that Android vendors have to battle Apple and every other vendor; Apple builds one market strategy and defense, and their competitors must battle Apple and every other vendor selling a mobile product. Overcoming that chasm is almost impossible in the short term, and perhaps Sisyphean in the long-term. Only an out-of-the-blue, Hail Mary, game-changing, Oh-my-God-gotta-have-that product development can quickly narrow that gap; those do happen, but very, very rarely.
As a note, Android is gaining market share but, is it due to increases in overall mobile devices, or because Android is their preference? The projected IDC figures in the Washington Post article (link below) show that, Android will finish 2012 with 68% this year vs. 47% for 2011, and Apple will have 17% vs. 2011′s 19%. I suggest you compare figures, to see what you think.
Technology aside, when you put dollars and emotion to the equation, it would seem Apple has lots of latitude to keep their market dominance. Their legal victory only puts more distance between them and highlights why they’re so successful in the first place: They get what users love, and they give it to them in wrapped in simplicity.
*Washington Post, 8/24/12, “Worldwide market share for smartphones, a market dominated by Apple and Android“