Aug 10

The more things change…

Sometimes I get all wispy and sentimental thinking about how our little industry has grown up. Things were so innocent when that angelic Bill Gates stood behind Macintosh.

Bill Gates: admiring Mac fan in 1984

While the various players and their market shares have changed, certain things haven’t. Take Apple-bashing, for instance.

Back in the old days, hating Apple was a simple thing. It was all about the technology. Some people attached to their PCs looked down their nose at Macintosh. That childish mouse just wasn’t serious enough.

Today’s Apple-haters have branched out. They still dislike the technology, but now they have two new things to hate. First, of course, is Apple’s raging success. This doesn’t reconcile with the fact that Apple sucks, so clearly the world has gone mad. They must carry the flag of freedom to stop Apple from controlling our lives and ruling the world.

The real nut-jobs have evolved even further. They hate those who use the technology more than the technology itself. Apple users are smug and arrogant, so Apple must be destroyed. Won’t they look silly when Apple discovers the secret of eternal life.

But back to history. Over time, it’s interesting to see how certain advantages have changed hands.

Back when Apple was dying a grizzly death, the weapon most used to bludgeon it was the PC software advantage. CompUSA had rows and rows of PC titles, but only a tiny rack of Mac offerings. It took a while, but this advantage became less relevant over time — until iPhone came along. iPhone’s biggest selling point quickly became its huge, indisputable lead in apps.

Unfortunately for Apple, they won’t keep this advantage as long as PCs did. Android is already up to 60,000 apps and its upside potential is a big lure for developers.

As things settle down though, iPhone vs. Android starts feeling eerily reminiscent of Mac vs. PC.

Like Mac, iPhone shook up the market by reinventing the interface and opening up new possibilities. Like PCs, the smartphone manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started churning out the alternatives. The participants have all picked up familiar roles. Android plays the part of Windows, the smartphone makers become the PC companies and Apple gets to play the part of … Apple.

iPhone will remain the “walled garden,” with Apple’s control of hardware and software offering a certain kind of experience. The Android side will exploit its openness — reincarnating the best and worst of the PC model. Already, the Android market is splintered with different phones running different versions, and upgrades offered to some but not others. Some carriers are even starting to stuff their phones with crapware demos, just like the good old days. When margins are smaller, they have to do something to make a few extra bucks.

So, technology may have evolved tremendously in the last 20 years, but the nature of the competition has not. It’s a safe bet that quantity and quality will forever be locked in mortal combat.

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  • Synth

    Yes, there are eerie similarities but there are also significant and striking differences.

    1. Apps. As you say, Apple has a huge lead, but more importantly, Apple pretty much controls any strategic apps for the iPhone. This was not the case in 1984 – 2000. Apple had to go begging for software in the 80s and 90s.
    2. The fragmentation in Windows is nothing compared to the fragmentation in Android.
    3. IT depts always chose PC. Now they may or may not choose RIM, Android, iPhone, nokia, etc.
    4. Retail: Between apple retail chain and their internet storefonts, apple is no longer dependent on the likes of Circuit City, CompUSA and Sears.
    5. Leadership actually knows what it is doing

  • “They hate those who use the technology more than the technology itself.” It seems quite incredible but unfortunately this is true. I find it quite odd how irrational people can be when choosing their computers.

    Perhaps what’s needed is more use of self-deprecation in Apple PR. The truth is that many Apple punters are fairly unfamiliar with technology. In fact they’d scarcely survive in a world imagined entirely by Bill Gates.