Friday, March 09, 2012

Non-Apple CEOs Should be Frightened

At least that's what Farhad Manjoo thinks … and he provides the doomsday scenario – New iPad: How Apple's tablet strategy parallels its unbeatable iPod success:

Imagine you run a large technology company not named Apple. Let’s say you’re Steve Ballmer, Michael Dell, Meg Whitman, Larry Page, or Intel’s Paul Otellini. How are you feeling today, a day after Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled the new iPad? Are you discounting the device as just an incremental improvement, the same shiny tablet with a better screen and faster cellular access? Or is it possible you had trouble sleeping last night? Did you toss and turn, worrying that Apple’s new device represents a potential knockout punch, a move that will cement its place as the undisputed leader of the biggest, most disruptive new tech market since the advent of the Web browser? Maybe your last few hours have been even worse than that. Perhaps you’re now paralyzed with confusion, fearful that you might be completely boxed in by the iPad—that there seems no good way to beat it.

For your sake, my hypothetical CEO friend, I hope you’re frightened.


I’ve been sketching out two possible scenarios for the tablet market. First, it could go like the smartphone business—one in which Apple commands a healthy share of sales and an even better share of the profits, but where its fortunes are nevertheless circumscribed by competitive rivals whose products have come to be seen as acceptable alternatives.


The other potential scenario, though, is far less optimistic for Apple’s competitors. It’s the iPod model. In this story, Apple begins by releasing a novel, category-defining product. Then, as rivals scramble for some way to respond, Apple relentlessly puts out slightly better versions every year, each time remaining just out of reach of the competition. Meanwhile it lowers its prices and expands its product lineup, making its devices more accessible to a wider audience. Then, to finish the game, it finds a way to boost its position through network effects and customer lock-in. (In the iPod’s case, it accomplished this through the iTunes software and built-in music store.) Put it all together and you have a device that’s unbeatable. In 2011, 10 years after its release, the iPod still represented a whopping 78 percent of the market share in music players.

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