The Apple Paradox (Premium)

Open solutions always win in the end. Which does nothing to explain Apple's success.

I recently relistened to Steve Jobs' official biography on Audible. I've listened to this audiobook more than any other, and by a wide margin, though I cherry-pick the chapters that are about major Apple products and events, and skip the bits about Jobs's personal life, Pixar, and other things that are not of interest. I strongly recommend this book to all readers of this site, no matter your feelings about Apple or Jobs. It's an incredible story.

In the chapter about Google copying the iPhone with Android, Jobs speaks about "going thermonuclear" to stop this product. And he tells Eric Schmidt that no amount of money would prevent him from killing Android.

That never happened, of course. But this episode is, perhaps, the best example of what the Steve Jobs story is all about, from a personal technology standpoint. It's about openness vs. control. And today, Apple's control over its ecosystems has resulted in what is inarguably the most successful company in the history of mankind. Which is amazing, since open solutions always win in the end.

(To be clear, "open" doesn't mean "Open Source." Windows, as originally envisioned, is open. Windows 10 S is less so, but still technically open in that it is available for third-party developers to target. It's just more limited.)

You can see this very clearly in Steve Jobs' approach to competing with Microsoft and the PC in the early days of Apple. And then again in his identical approach to competing with Android in the smartphone era: Steve Jobs was many things, but he was unflinching in his belief that central control over the entire platform is the key to success, and to the best possible user experience.

Most Apple fans would agree with that assessment. That the limitations of choosing Apple are offset, and then some, by the fact that these products typically work very well, and seamlessly, and especially so when you combine them with other Apple products and services. Apple has created something unique, a safe and reliable bubble.

But history will record two things on this topic.

First, that this approach led Apple, and Jobs, to great success, yes. And second, that this approach, ultimately, is a loser. Just as Apple lost to Windows in the PC era, it is by most measures losing the smartphone war to Android as well. And it is losing the war over digital personal assistants---or ambient computing---as I write this. That's a perfect strikeout over three waves of the five waves of personal computing.

And yet. Apple is the only company that is playing---or, will play---a major role in each of those waves. Microsoft dominated the PC wave, but it failed miserably in mobile. Google dominated in mobile and will most likely dominate ambient computing. But Apple is still fighting, is still a major player.

The Apple story is complex. Worse, there's nothing to learn from it. No company can dupl...

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