In the near term, companies making iPhone and iPad competitors are never going to beat Apple at their own game. Apple has supply chain advantages, a massive number of their customers’ credit card numbers (why do you think Jobs brings this up at every single Apple event…it’s important!), key patents, one-in-lifetime personnel like Steve Jobs and Jony Ive, solid relationships with key media companies, and an integrated ecosystem of stores, apps, applications, and hardware. They are an imposing competitor.
But Apple also has some weak spots which a canny competitor should be able to exploit to make compelling products that Apple won’t be able to duplicate or directly compete with.
1. Apple doesn’t do social well on a large scale. Ping? Game Center? Please. Social applications don’t seem to be in Apple’s DNA…their best applications are still single-player or 2/3/4-player. Someone should figure out how to leverage Facebook’s social graph to make the phone/app/gaming/music/video experience significantly better than on the iPhone/iPad and then partner exclusively with Facebook to make it happen. The Facebook Fone would be a massive hit if done right.
2. Apple can’t do the cloud either. Mobile Me has been around since January 2000 (when it was called iTools) and the service is still not as compelling as newcomer Dropbox. iPods, iPhones, and iPads are still very much tethered to plain-old desktop/laptop computers and iTunes…there’s an opportunity here for a better way.
3. iTunes is getting long in the tooth. The cloud and social are the two Apple weaknesses, but iTunes is showing its age and over the years has become a bloated collection of functionalities…music store, video store, app store, mobile device manager, “social” network, and, oh, by the way, you can also use it to play your music. Spotify, Pandora, and Rd.io point the way to a different approach.
4. I can’t remember if this is my own theory or I read about this on Daring Fireball or something, but the Apple products & services that Apple does well are the ones that Steve Jobs uses (or cares about) and the ones he doesn’t use/care about are less good (or just plain bad). Jobs uses Keynote and it’s very good…but I’m pretty sure Jobs never has had to schedule his own appointments with iCal so that program is less good. Cloud apps and social apps are at the top of this list for a reason…I just don’t think Jobs cares about those things. I mean, he cares, but there’s not a lot of passion there…they aren’t a priority for him so he doesn’t really know how to think about them and attack those problems.
And then there are a couple of Apple weaknesses that actually aren’t weaknesses at all:
1. Price. Everyone still thinks that Apple products are expensive, or, more to the point, overpriced. But no one else has made a compelling tablet for under $500 yet. And if you attack Apple on price, potential gothchas lurk: Apple is absurdly profitable and cash-rich; if they feel the need to compete with anyone on price in order to protect their business interests, they can do so with price cuts deep enough and long enough to drive most potential competitors out of business.
2. Openness and secrecy. Competitors should take a page from Apple’s playbook here and be open about stuff that will give you a competitive advantage and shut the hell up about everything else. Open is not always better.