In the decade we’ve been publishing TechSpot, we’ve seen Apple go from making fun of the G3 and G4 machines to Apple’s Mac vs. PC’ debate – during a time the company had better luck selling MP3 players than computers – thanks to today’s ubiquity of Apple products in all forms of computing devices.
After coming close to bankruptcy during the ’90s, it took years for Apple to transform, but perhaps most importantly, it took a number of innovations and successful products to rebuild its image as a tech pioneer. Today, Apple enjoys a great deal of respect from its competitors, and within the industry, there is an unspoken expectation that they are paving the way for the next big thing.
Apple has systematically attacked and conquered many fronts during the past 10 years. Here is a brief rundown of those winning products, and where it applies, the industry believes it failed or at least failed to beat Apple in breaking the products to the public for one reason or another. Stayed.
After nearly going bankrupt, Apple showed the first signs of a rejuvenated spirit with the release of the translucent iMac in 1998. It was bold and showed their willingness to leave the old technology behind by removing the floppy. It was the first product to carry the “i” branding and set the company on a course that it follows today. But it was the iPod, three years later, the hit product that changed the company.
The iPod was a combination of clever marketing and the company’s relentless effort to perfect the formula—on hardware, ergonomics, and ultimately, music delivery. It was by no means the first digital music player, but it was the first to appeal to a mass audience.
The original iPod offered up to 10GB of storage in a package that fit in your pocket and synced only with Macs. Sure, Apple didn’t get everything right off the bat, in fact the first-gen iPod had as many flaws as it had advantages, but then came the heavy reckoning. Adding Windows support and USB was key, then two years later with iTunes to get the music industry on board. No one might have considered the $0.99 per song model at the time, but with record labels struggling to combat piracy, Apple saw an opportunity and nailed it.
By the time serious competition was seen (Sony, in particular) Apple had largely shut down the market. The iPod worked really well, so there was no reason to gamble on an unproven gadget and leave your iTunes purchases behind.
iTunes Music Store
Apple was among the few players that were able to shape the new market dynamics at the dawn of digital music. The store launched with five major record labels – EMI, Universal, Warner, Sony Music Entertainment and BMG – priced at $.99 per song. Thousands of independent labels were added shortly thereafter.
As it turned out, people were willing to pay. A year after its launch, the iTunes Store had crossed the 100 million song sales milestone. Even though users can still load ripped and downloaded songs to their iPods, iTunes has simplified the process of buying and transferring music to your portable player.
The iTunes Store flourished because of a huge iPod user base and Apple’s ability to strike a balance between copyright holders and users. Today, all songs are sold without any DRM, and Apple is the world’s largest music seller, with over 15 billion songs sold.
Today we may see the iPhone as a natural progression of the iPod, but at the time of its release the iPhone was very different than anyone else at the time (Nokia, Motorola, RIM, Microsoft, you name it…).
Based on a smaller version of OS X, the iPhone was the first smartphone that came close to mimicking the browsing experience of a traditional PC. It rode on the success of the company’s previous hits – known as the iPod, a phone, and a web browser in one.
Apple didn’t get everything straight on day one, in fact, some key elements of the iPhone formula didn’t exist until a year later, but the company was quick to react where it might be. For example, the phone was first launched on contract at a whopping $500 price. Better subsidies eventually brought the upfront cost down to $200. As before, Apple was able to function like a well-oiled machine running on the same basic device, with improved design, processor, camera, and connectivity, year after year.
Developers soon realized this baby platform had huge potential and when the App Store launched nearly a year later, it was game over for everyone else. Apple was years ahead of the game and it took so long for the others to catch up.
Android has taken the market share crown, which speaks highly of Google’s performance, but the same cannot be said of many other incumbents. RIM, once the darling of the smartphone world, failed to see and respond to the changing times with Nokia, Microsoft, Palm, Sony, Motorola, all facing a tough bat.