In case you missed it, Tim Cook's Apple is a completely new company
This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
For all intents and purposes, Tim Cook has been in charge of Apple since January 2011, although he didn't officially take over as CEO until August of 2011. In March of 2012, Cook put his brand on Apple by changing the iconic logo to the one seen above that both separated the company from the Steve Jobs era, while still paying homage to its roots. Later in 2012, Cook stepped away from Jobs' comments that "7-Inch tablets are dead on arrival" by releasing the iPad mini. 2013 brought a completely new UI with iOS 7, and a range of colors for both the iPhone 5c and 5s. At WWDC this year, Cook announced iOS 8, which is going to open up the platform far more than anything we've seen before. And, Tim Cook's Apple has been far more likely to settle lawsuits than to file them (aside from the Samsung debacle, and even that seems to be coming to an end. Word has it that Apple was even the one to instigate the settlement talks with Samsung.)
danger of carrying over your preconceptions of Apple that were based on Steve Jobs' reign; and, it feels like time to reiterate one simple fact that many like to ignore: Apple is not the same company that it was under Steve Jobs, and there is a lot to like, even if you have been a life-long Apple hater.All of that, and the changes expected to come relatively soon have yet to be mentioned, like a few new pieces of hardware, and significant changes to existing hardware. Back in early 2012, I wrote a long piece about the changes that Tim Cook was bringing to Apple, and the
The same brand...
Sure, there are still reasons to dislike Apple, but you'll have to ignore quite a bit to hold that view. Apple products may seem overpriced to many, but the problem with that idea is still the same as always: why would Apple price devices lower than what customers are willing to pay? Much of Apple's brand still relies on the idea that it is a premium company. Regardless of if you believe that, Apple's customers believe it, and Apple wants to put forward that ideal. Part of that image comes from hardware design; and, Apple design is still top notch.
Apple is one of the few mobile manufacturers that doesn't use plastic for its high-end devices, but rather uses premium materials like metal and glass exclusively. Another piece of maintaining a premium brand is marketing (Apple obviously has that on lock), and last is in the pricing. Lowering the price diminishes that brand, and no company on Earth would do that when there are still millions of people buying the product at the current price. It's the same idea that was behind the Moto X pricing last year. Many called it overpriced based on specs alone, but the price pushed forward the idea that the Moto X was not a mid-range device, but a true flagship with the performance, feel, and design to match.
Even HTC attempted to take the Apple route, but almost went under because of it. HTC swore off low and mid-range devices, and focused solely on the high-end in an effort to differentiate and regain profits. But, the company didn't have the marketing clout to truly change its brand image, and so the efforts failed. Now, HTC has had to go back to making low and mid-range devices in order to bolster profits. The point being that it is very hard to cultivate the brand that Apple has, and no company that has achieved that kind of brand image is going to give it up. No company with a high-end brand image is going release low-end devices that cannibalize its own sales and devalue its image.
...with more products
If you want, you can dislike Apple for a lack of choice when it comes to hardware and software, but even that is changing. Apple started slowly by adding the iPad mini to its lineup, color choices for the iPhone 5s, and it is essentially a given that there will be a 5.5-inch iPhone and an iWatch added to the lineup sometime soon, with the possibility of a larger iPad on the way as well. Apple won't be adding a low-cost model, because of the same brand image reasons stated earlier, but by next year there will be quite a bit of choice for Apple customers, especially if Apple keeps a variant of the iPhone 5s in the lineup for the next few years.
The average flagship smartphone is somewhere around 4.7-inches these days, and there is still a large customer base that would like to have the option for a smaller device that doesn't skimp on the specs. For the most part, there really is no option for that aside from the iPhone and the Sony Xperia Z1 Compact. Apple could keep a hold of that market by keeping an updated iPhone 5s on the roster, but there has been no indication of that happening. Even so, Apple customers will have the choice between the 4-inch iPhone 5s, the 4.7-inch iPhone 6, the 5.5-inch iPhone Air (rumored name), the 7.9-inch iPad mini, the 9.7-inch iPad, and maybe even a 12.2-inch iPad Pro. That's a solid roster of mobile devices that rivals most manufacturers in terms of choice, including Samsung, even if it may not seem so at first.
On the software side of things, iOS 8 is set to be a huge shift for the platform by making it far more extensible. This one change adds a ton of functionality that has been available in other platforms for a long time, but will still add a lot of value for iOS users. Extensibility factors into three major features: cross-app sharing, widgets, and alternative keyboards. The latter two are fairly self-explanatory, but cross-app sharing has the most impact on the overall use of the platform. Not only does it allow for a more universal sharing menu similar to Android, but it also allows for sharing certain features like Instagram filters in the stock iOS Camera app, much like Windows Phone Lenses.
Second place isn't a losing position
As you'll notice, none of this is anything new in terms of the whole mobile ecosystem. Hardware choice has been a hallmark of the Android ecosystem, and universal sharing and alternative keyboards have been part of Android as well. But, Apple doesn't seem to be making these changes to win over Android users. There have been plenty of comparisons between Android vs iOS and Windows vs Mac, and because of the lessons learned throughout the years competing with Microsoft, Apple understands how to exist as the number two in the market and still be extremely successful. Remember, while the PC market has been in decline in recent years, Macbook sales have continued to be strong.
Apple doesn't need iOS to do everything, it never has. The platform has been very successful over the years while trailing behind Android on the feature set. What iOS needs is simply to hold second place by being better than all of the upstart mobile platforms on the way; and, right now, it has that covered. Windows Phone's Cortana may already be better than Siri, if Microsoft's own ads are to be believed, but Windows Phone is still lagging behind iOS on both features and, more importantly, in the app ecosystem. iOS easily beats BlackBerry; and, none of the other options are anywhere near ready to compete with iOS, given that Firefox is focused on the low-end, and Sailfish, Ubuntu Touch, and Tizen don't yet exist in the consumer market.
Apple can't compete with the entire Android ecosystem by itself. The idea that it could is patently absurd because the two platforms aren't even on the same field. Android devices cover every conceivable price point, spec loadout, and form factor that you might want, but Apple doesn't make low-end devices or even mid-range devices, really. Apple makes its high-end devices and then trots out year-old or two year-old devices to fill in the mid and low-end markets, although the price of those devices never really fits into those markets if you are buying them unsubsidized. However, Apple can compete with the high-end selection of Android devices (which, despite great hardware from companies like HTC, Motorola, Sony, and LG, tends to be boiled down to simply Apple vs Samsung), in developed regions (North America, Europe, etc).
Apple vs Samsung still favors Apple
As I've mentioned plenty of times over the past few years, Apple and Google are playing two different games. Google wants Android everywhere on every feasible device. It has certainly accomplished that goal with mobile devices, and is now looking to other devices - wearables, TVs, cars, smart home, etc. - to expand the reach of Android. On the other hand, Apple wants to maximize profits, and it has done that very effectively by focusing on the high-end market. Recently, Apple's share of the mobile profits has dropped, but it is still essentially just Apple and Samsung as the only mobile manufacturers posting profits. If there is a chance at continuing to dominate profits, Apple needs to compete directly with Samsung, meaning a 4.7-inch iPhone and a 5.5-inch iPhone, as well as possibly a 12-inch iPad, because Samsung's high-end selection includes the 5-inch Galaxy S5, the (likely) 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 4, the Galaxy Tab S 8.4, the Galaxy Tab S 10.5, and the Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.
Apple's new lineup matches that pretty well, especially when you consider a couple of things: 1) iPads outsell Samsung tablets by a wide margin, and 2) sales of the Galaxy S5 have been lagging behind the iPhone 5s as well. According to a new report from IDC, Apple still holds about 27% of the global tablet market on 13.3 million units sold in Q2 2014. This is a year-on-year decline, but Samsung's tablet sales stayed almost the same at 8.4 million units sold, which was good enough for just 17.2% of the market. Overall, the Android tablet market gained even more ground on Apple, but the vast majority of those sales were in the mid to low-end market where Apple has no presence at all.
All this to say that the only segments in which Samsung wins are those where Apple doesn't have a product in the race - low/mid-range smartphones and tablets, phablets, and smartwatches. As noted, Apple won't be entering the low or mid-range markets, but it is planning to take on phablets and smartwatches, likely within the next 6 months or so. If the rumored iPad Pro becomes a reality, Apple would be directly competing against Samsung in every high-end segment, and the only advantage that Samsung may hold is the home court advantage, because Koreans love phablets, and Apple may not be able to crack that market with its own phablet.
Is focus spreading too thin?
Tim Cook has slowly changed quite a lot in the way Apple does business. He has done his best to keep the brand image the same while still adding new products, and new features to iOS in order to compete in the far more diverse ecosystem of mobile. When it came to the PC market, Apple could get away with having limited choices, because there is more of a limit on the different form factors that can exist with laptops and desktops. For the first few years of the mobile boom, the same was true, and Apple could get away with one iPhone and one iPad. But, that is no longer true. Apple wants to remain competitive, and so it must offer users more choice than it ever has before. The question though, is whether Apple can keep this up while still holding on to its claims of focusing on "getting a few things right".
Apple loves to use this phrase for a number of reasons, including that it gives the impression (accurate or not) that other companies rush out unfinished products, and because it allows Apple leeway in holding back features that users truly want. The trouble is that with an ever-growing roster of hardware, it can be harder and harder to actually follow through on those promises of focus. Of course, Apple is the most valuable company in the world (in terms of market capitalization) and has plenty of money to be able to scale production, depending on how badly Tim Cook wants to keep those profit margins intact.
The software side of things tends to be more resource intensive than hardware, so it is good that iOS will run on all of these devices, but the time may be coming when Apple will have to work harder to optimize the iOS UI more specifically for different size displays. As is, Android optimizes its UI into three general classes: smartphones, small tablets, and large tablets, while leaving responsive design to handle making apps work on the different sizes and resolutions. Apple has put down a couple building blocks for responsive design, but the overall UI for iOS is the same regardless of the screen size, because there is really no optimization needed when everything is a grid of icons.
But, in order to keep ahead of the competition (aka all mobile platforms except for Android), Apple may be forced to make the iOS UI more elaborate. Doing so would require more work by engineers and designers, and would require shifting resources. And, as the iOS hardware roster grows, Apple will need to move fully into responsive design for apps, because as is developers need to build for the specific resolutions and screen sizes of Apple hardware. iOS 8 is moving part way towards responsive design, but developers may find building apps for so many Apple devices to be more difficult than iOS development traditionally has been.
Apple is huge and successful, and makes products that many people love. It can also be said of those same products that there are many people out there that hate the devices. I haven't owned or used an Apple product as a primary device in about five years, and I don't expect that will change any time soon (because I'm too deep into the Google and Play ecosystems), but I do find it hard to see how so many can still be harboring so much hatred towards Apple. I would absolutely love to have the option to buy an Android tablet with the hardware design of the iPad Air, but that won't happen in the near future.
I know that I count myself in the number of those who disliked Apple at one point in my life, and Steve Jobs was certainly a very polarizing (if fascinating) man. But, the Steve Jobs Apple is gone, and has been for quite some time, actually. Tim Cook has made this company his own, and righted many of the wrongs that existed in the past. A whole new Apple has been created over the past three years, and many of us have failed to recognize or accept that.