Why would anyone buy a Mac with there are a dozen different Windows-based PCs with similar or better hardware specifications that are priced less? Why would anyone buy an iPhone when there a dozen different Android-based smartphone models with similar or better hardware specifications that are priced less?
Quality hardware, so it seems, is becoming a commodity with little differentiation, and it seems both logical and plausible that such a scenario cannot bode well for Apple.
Let’s look at the premium end of the notebook, smartphone, and tablet industry segments. All the products are good. Some HP and Asus notebooks have better specifications than Apple’s hot selling MacBook. Some Samsung, HTC, and other Chinese manufacturers have smartphone models which rival or are better in some specifications than the iPhone. Ditto for the iPad, which may suffer in sales because cheap Windows tablet-cum-notebook hybrids abound.
Can Apple prosper when hardware is a commodity?
Perhaps a quick view of history is in order, starting with the Mac, notorious for being more expensive than comparable hardware running Windows. Yet, not only did the Mac survive the commodity wars, it prospered even while the PC industry was being pummeled by the growth of mobile devices.
What about the iPhone? It didn’t take but a few years for Google’s Android to rebuild itself into an iPhone OS clone and populate itself to hundreds of manufacturers selling hardware for far less than a new iPhone. The vast majority of smartphones run Android, and almost all of them sell for far less than an iPhone, so how is it that Apple can prosper?
Rummage through ZDNet for a few days and you’ll be treated to a litany of articles about various and sundry Android or PC hardware that is better for you or the enterprise than anything Apple makes. Comparisons are made, analysis is proffered, but in nearly every aspect where Apple’s products barely compete with hardware competitors, a few things are overlooked.
First, software. From applications to iOS itself, there remain gargantuan differences between Apple’s iPhone and Android-whatever, from a security and privacy perspective, as well as something Apple customers take for granted; upgrades to the latest version. There is no comparison here, folks. Apple’s latest iOS version runs on nearly 90-percent of iOS devices worldwide, while Google’s latest Android OS runs on barely 10-percent of smartphones worldwide. How is that a good experience for users? Yet, it’s a major point of differentiation that is seldom mentioned by the nattering nabobs of negativism.
Second, user experience. Technology magazines love to compare and contrast hardware specifications as bullet points as if those alone make the difference in how a device is used. In reality, hardware is way down the list of what is used. Why? What we actually use– what the finger touches to initiate or accomplish a specific action– is software, and it’s software which makes up the lion’s share of what is often dismissed as unimportant in product comparisons. Usability rules. Why are Mac users so adamant about using more expensive Macs? Usability. Why are iPhones in such great demand among the upwardly mobile? Usability.
Finally, a key component to product marketing is differentiation, and that’s exactly what Apple’s products provide to customers in abundance. While the hardware of any Apple device may not be the latest and greatest (is it for all of Android’s billion customers?), Apple’s customers get the advantage of more frequent updates for software; both iOS and applications. That only enhances the differentiation and the usability of Apple’s products, not to mention how well they work together in Apple’s Disney-esque ecosystem.
Hardware might be a commodity but that’s been the argument for decades and yet there are still different tiers of products, and on the premium end of the spectrum, Apple not only prospers, it rules.