By Stephen Schenck | August 20, 2012 10:07 AM
Last week, I talked about what we’d need to see happen for an Android tablet to really compete on the same level as the iPad, no longer making Android seem like a second-tier platform for tablets. While there’s been a ton of progress from the Android camp towards creating devices that run as smoothly as Apple’s and have hardware that’s just as impressive, maybe that will just never be enough for some users; regardless of what advances Android makes, they’re committed Apple users, through and through. That raises a good question: is Apple really in direct competition with the likes of Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone, or is it catering to another group of users entirely?
There’s no denying that Apple keeps picking up more and more smartphone users. According to the company itself, each time a new iPhone comes out (as we’re likely about to see happen again in just a matter of weeks) the new model ends up selling just about as many units as all previous iPhones combined; that’s some serious growth.
Sure, many of those users are existing iPhone owners upgrading to the latest hardware, and others are buying their first smartphones ever, but a lot of those people are coming over from the other platforms. Just because there’s churn, though, does that mean that there’s really a competition here?
When You Make It Look This Easy, It’s Not Much Of A Competition
Apple, through a combination of the size of its user base, as well as the devotion of those users to the company and its products, has the luxury of moving at its own pace. It rarely feels like Apple is responding to industry trends as sort of a catch-up move, and more like it’s just taking its good old time in implementing things. LTE is a good example; we expect to see it in the iPhone 5, but where was it this time last year? Despite the proliferation of LTE among Android models, it still doesn’t feel like Apple has anything to prove; its user base may be hoping for LTE, but they’re not about to go anywhere if they don’t get it in a timely fashion.
The same sort of thing is true for iOS software; when Apple introduces features that seem inspired by other smartphone platforms, the “Apple’s just copying” sentiment isn’t very loud, and desire for features not present isn’t strong enough to drive users to its peers.
OK, so Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry may be in competition with Apple, but Apple itself stays calm, cool and collected while it just keeps soaking up users seemingly effortlessly? Let’s back up for a minute and talk more about user devotion.
It’s Not What Phone You Buy; It’s What You Buy With The Phone
The main reason I think Apple isn’t really competing with its peers has to do with how well the company is able to lock its users in to the Apple ecosystem. They may not all have Macs as their computers, and continue to use products from other manufacturers, as well, but once they start consuming things with their iPhones, Apple’s got its grasp on them. More than anyone else, I think Apple excels at selling apps and media: it makes discovery a breeze, and sets a high standard for quality.
Google’s been working hard to do the same, and I’m usually impressed with new Play Store updates when they come along, but it’s still just not quite Apple. And to this day, while I use Google Play to get my apps, I haven’t been tempted to also turn to Google for my music, books, and movies. Apple’s ability to get its users so ingrained with iTunes turns them into a bit of a captive audience.
For what it’s worth, Microsoft makes an admirable stab at creating the same sort of walled garden, but it just doesn’t have the numbers to be relevant in a broad discussion of the market.
Will this situation ever change? I don’t want to say “never”, but iOS is a hard platform to turn your back on. Sure, Android may do some things better, but these either tend to be things the average iOS user isn’t too concerned with, or if they are, it’s just too much of a hassle to make a fresh start on another platform. The only real change-up that might be possible is if Google is able to hold on to its own users with the same force. In that case, Apple and Google would compete for new users, but we might see even fiercer loyalties develop once users chose sides.
Ultimately, it’s easier to keep customers than to get new ones, and Apple’s early iPhone success has become a wave that shows no signs of peaking just yet.