Seems a weird thing to wonder when Apple recently became the second biggest company on the Dow by stock value, but could this be the high water mark?
Apple has out powered all contenders by repeating its trick of game-changing UI’s (remember the Apple Mac GUI that started the whole thing) and allying it with product design that has turned the brand into not far short of a cult for many. Add the virtuous circle of i-Tunes; forcing an ever expanding audience to return to the company store for content ,and you have the money machine that makes the markets love Apple.
But where Apple innovates, others imitate and then, often, overtake. Nothing is so groundbreaking that its success can’t be cloned and the more successful it is the quicker that will happen. Android phones are now significantly outselling iPhones. As alternatives to Apple become acceptably Apple-like, new users and even current users may increasingly prefer the open platform and, therefore, wider content offering of others. Certainly, the ‘tied retailer’ approach is unlikely to work for TV.
Steve Jobs sensitivity to the clone effect was on show the other day when he riled unreasonably at the new smart pads from others dismissing them as ‘too small’ at 7.5 inches. It seems unlikely the difference between 7.5 inches and 9 inches is really going to underwrite the iPad’s long term supremacy, particularly if Apple remains addicted to much higher margins that its rivals.
That’s the other thing that may begin to undermine Apple. It has benefitted hugely from its hip, indie, outsider image; being David to Goliath, i.e. a major part of its brand has been that it is not Microsoft. Now that it is Goliath – and acts like it; trying to stop ITV use its’ own name anyone? – where does it go from here?
Finally, what of Jobs himself, author of that image and driving force behind Apple’s innovation and design? He returned from terrible illness to resurrect the company, but where is the succession plan? Even when Bill Gates was very much in charge everyone knew who Steve Ballmer was. Who is in the wings at Apple?