A recent report describes how Apple is overhauling its in-store learning initiatives this week, creating “modern-day town square”-type experiences for customers. And that gave me an interesting idea about what I believe to be Apple’s biggest advantage.
And that thought led me down an obvious path: What about the other personal technology giants? What are their biggest advantages?
Consider this a game of sorts, and not a definitive list. These choices come off the top of my head, for the most part, and all are certainly debatable regardless. You may make other choices.
Apple: Retail stores. When Steve Jobs took over Apple in the late 1990’s, he couldn’t convince stores to stock his company’s products, and even those that did, did so poorly. After the success of the “store within a store” concept at CompUSA, Apple struck out on its own. And today, the company has over 270 retail stores in the United States and almost 500 worldwide. This is clearly Apple’s biggest advantage, a local place you can go to get your iPhone’s screen fixed, or to troubleshoot a problem with any Apple product. And then browse among the most expensive impulse buys in the history of retail. What are you going to do when your Samsung’s screen cracks? Exactly. Start praying.
Microsoft: Enterprise customer base With very few exceptions—Xbox, Minecraft—Microsoft has never had any direct traction with consumers. Instead, Microsoft’s “success” with consumers was always about users getting the same tools they had at work—a PC, Windows, Office—at home. Now that such a thing no longer matters, and users have turned to mobile devices and online services, Microsoft is leveraging its biggest strength, its enterprise customer base, by bringing them along for the ride—sorry, the transition—to cloud computing. Microsoft is uniquely qualified to manage this transition, as they’re trusted by the enterprise and have the only viable hybrid solutions that bridge the on premises past at the cloud. And for the software giant, this is the ultimate new business. It’s like the music industry selling customers the same music on CD as formats change. Except that the business model is a subscription service, ensuring a steady income for years and years to come.
Google: It’s the Internet gateway. Everyone makes fun of Google because it’s really just an advertising company. But we’re lucky that the company’s founders are computer scientists who care about solving deep problems, and the company’s core end user product, Search, has made Google the Internet’s gateway keeper. So the firm has leveraged this huge audience base—5 billion people and counting—and is attracting them to other platforms, like Android (2 billion users), and Chrome, YouTube, Maps, Play Store, and Gmail, all of which have over one billion users. Look over that list, folks, because all of those products are excellent, and are market leaders. And then imagine how terrible it would be if they used their power for evil. (To the privacy-averse, I’ll just point out that the privacy concerns that everyone, including me, rails about isn’t evil to Google’s founders, and I bet they’re just confused by the complaints. Yes, they’re robots.)
Amazon: It can mix and match physical and digital rewards. Amazon is the world’s biggest retailer but what makes this company unique is that they’ve also created interesting ecosystems of devices and online services for consumers and, more recently, for businesses too. But the firm’s biggest strength is that it can combine the physical and the digital, and offer unique value to its customers. Case in point, the Amazon Prime subscription, which delivers free two-day shipping on most physical items for just $99 a year. But Amazon puts Prime over the top by bundling a bunch of digital goodies into the subscription too: Prime Video, Prime Music, Prime Photos, Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Prime Reading, Kindle First, Audible Channels for Prime, Amazon Music Unlimited, Video Add-on Subscriptions, Twitch Prime, and much, much more. No other tech giant has this kind of versatility, and given Amazon’s customer service focus, this firm is utterly unique.
Facebook: Eyeballs. Loathed by many, Facebook is loved by even more people, and with almost 2 billion monthly active users, this company has created the most successful social network on earth. Which it has leveraged by creating offshoot services like WhatsApp (1.2 billion monthly active users), Facebook Messenger (messaging, over 1 billion users) and Instagram (photo sharing, over 700 million users). This is a captive audience that catches up on their friends’ meals, political views, family events, and stupid meme sharing rather than reading real news sites to find out what’s going on. And it’s working: All of Facebook’s services are growing at ever-faster rates.
On a related note, it might be fun to debate what these firm’s biggest disadvantages are.
For example, Microsoft has never understood consumers and is never considered cool (for good reason).
For its part, Apple will never field a truly awesome online service let alone a digital assistant that works well because it refuses to disrespect your privacy, a high-minded policy that limits the effectiveness of such things.
Google can’t stop copying other companies in order to enter new markets, a character trait that makes it second rate in the eyes of many. It’s never seen an idea too good to not steal.
Amazon isn’t cool in any way, shape, or form, which will limit the successes of its consumer-focused hardware, software, and services offerings. I suspect that most Prime customers never take advantage of most of its freely bundled digital services.
And Facebook spreads fake news and people are already growing tired of all the whining on the service, and would have left already if only there were a viable alternative. That wasn’t owned by Instagram.
And so on. Maybe this is too easy.