Why Gruber may be wrong re: “Smartphone Mojo”

John Gruber wrote a rebuttal of sorts to a piece in The Nation about the iPhone “losing its Mojo” against the ever-growing wave of Android devices.

Gruber did point out (correctly, in my view) that the iPhone does attract the more valuable segment of customers, and so they can still do well with a smaller share of the market because they have the customers that matter.

One comparison I found a bit less convincing was when he talked about how iPhone “was never the smartphone market share leader” being behind Symbian and BlackBerry (while still having a superior ecosystem to the companies with larger shares of the pie).

I don’t think that is relevant to Apple’s situation vis-a-vis Android. See, BlackBerry and Symbian were not at all into the whole “ecosystem” thing. Symbian (pre-Qt) and BlackBerry (pre-BB10) developer platforms were technically rough and a headache to develop for. The powers that be behind Symbian and BlackBerry OS weren’t working furiously to match their market size to a developer platform from a technical or business perspective. The difference between Apple building a superior ecosystem with smaller market share then (vs Symbian and BlackBerry OS) and now (vs Android) is that Google has done (and continues to do) spectacular work in recognizing the importance of a developer ecosystem and building the technical and business supports for that ecosystem.

Apple has never been in a situation in which a competitor held considerably larger market share and put just as much effort into its developer platform/ecosystem as Apple did.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Apple did face a competitor like that before. It was called Windows.

image credit: FTD.de

Apple didn’t do so well when a competitor combined a real ecosystem effort with bigger market share. Nearly killed ’em, actually…

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One thought on “Why Gruber may be wrong re: “Smartphone Mojo”

  1. There is another link towards the history, though:
    Nokia and RIM totally failed to see the importance of developer ecosystem in time. Their focus was on fighting against each other and perhaps Apple, the small player. Or perhaps against iPhone, but never did they really understand that real fight was iOS vs. Symbian vs. BB OS vs. Android (that would never grow to be else than a niche player).
    In the timespan of 2007-2009 it was still all about devices.Well, Nokia and RIM perhaps woke up in 2009 but way too slow even then.

    How does this link to history? Easily: Steve Jobs was interviewed in 1985 and his own words then were

    In terms of supplying the computer itself, it’s coming down to Apple and IBM. And I don’t think there are going to be a lot of third- and fourth-place companies, much less sixth- or seventh-place companies. Most of the new, innovative companies are focusing on the software. I think there will be lots of innovation in the areas of software but not in hardware.

    even though Steve talks about innovations in software, he still sees it as “IBM software” and “Apple software”. The fact that there became to be “Microsoft OS”, “Microsoft software” but no “Microsoft hardware” was not seen by him (and as you fittingly said, it nearly killed Apple).

    Now compare that to Nokia (using Symbian that they more or less owned), RIM (using Blackberry OS that they totally owned) and Android (to which Google still does not manufacture software but even Nexus’es come form various other Android-using companies).
    Currently Android eats the majority of cake (around 80% of the manufactured smartphone units and Android manufacturers taking around 50% of the revenues). Nokia and BlackBerry failed to see the future where ten to twenty makers are producing smartphones to mass market using common operating system that lures in developers. In their view it was going to be Nokia software agains RIM software against Apple software.

    A bit further:
    Apple survived its PC business by focusing on low-share, high profit segment of expensive computers. Even today Apple has most expensive PC’s and makes incredible profits from PC business.
    Apple stole the profits of mobile by focusing on low-share, high profit segment of smartphones. In terms of profits, Apple still leads all Android manufacturers – combined.

    There are many sides in the strategy of Apple. And they have executed them well in the past. Remains to be seen if Cook can keep up with the task to set and execute as winning strategy also in the future.

    My $0.02.

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