The ‘Age of Apple’ will end

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First, a little disclosure. I never really wanted to like Apple, or use any of its products. Sure, the allure was there, all the cool kids sitting at the street-side cafes were using Apple products after all, but I managed to resist throughout. The iPhone 4 changed all that.

Now with that out of the way…

Apple will disappear. We’ll talk about the glory days, arguably the period we’re living through now, where it defined entire product categories out of thin air. At the time, it was the leader, the innovator, the best-designed, the most coherent platform.

Remember when the iPad was a far-fetched fantasy which led to the puzzled look and inevitable: “Yes, but who’s going to use/want that?”

Ditto with the iPhone, which took a few iterations to get right. Ditto with the iPod. And don’t forget the “hobby”, by Cupertino-standards, the Apple TV.

Apple will be gone one day. Get comfortable with that. It’s like the too-good-to-be-true relationship with that girl who is completely out of your league. It will end some day.

History is our guide. And the changes we have seen over the past decade have happened at ferocious pace.

Remember Palm, the inventor of the smartphone (which went by the moniker PDA back then)? We’ve seen this movie play out before. Who had an Alcatel or an Erricsson phone just over a decade ago? A Compaq computer?

It’s not just in the handset/computing/platform space. The examples are everywhere and because of the acceleration in the pace of change, are piling up quickly.

Entire industries are being disrupted. Retail giants like Circuit City, Blockbuster and Borders have literally evaporated in the US.

In the electronics space, Philips, Telefunken, TDK, Blaupunkt and Pioneer used to make everything, right. Right?

Further back, names like Commodore, Compuserve, Packard-Bell and IBM (my first PC was a PS2!) all meant something. “IBM”, now firmly in servers and consulting, would mean very little to a 13-year-old today. AOL has been around for 20 years and is now far less relevant as a brand (and company?) than its Huffington Post business. Even “Instagram” has more meaning to some young people than “Polaroid” — a company that sold millions and millions of cameras.

The thing with Apple is you (already) have a massive installed base.

Apple has sold over 200 million iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) since the original iPhone launched in 2007. And it has an undeniably strong platform.

So surely the installed base, the platform (and the ecosystem!) mean you’re locked in?

Yes and no. The cost of switching exists – it’s not zero but it’s not prohibitive either.

There was a time when Yahoo! was the number one portal in town. You either searched the web on Altavista or Yahoo!. And then, within years the one had been subsumed into the other and both found themselves fairly irrelevant. The cost of switching search engines is zero — something Google has great pleasure in providing as evidence to anti-trust authorities.

Sometimes even the cost of switching doesn’t matter. We’ve seen evidence of this in how easily fickle young consumers have flipped between MXit and BBM. Or between MySpace and Facebook. Try telling someone that switching is difficult because it means they have to rebuild their social graph.

Horace Dediu, perhaps one of the most critical and intelligent writers around, has visualised platform adoption (looking at anything from Xbox 360 to Netscape to iTunes), with some startling results.

(Hint: the further out you are towards the top right of this chart, the better)

Windows is an interesting exception.

Dediu has also hypothesised about the race to a billion users, which is not as simple as it sounds.

“Reaching one billion in less than 10 years is an interesting challenge for any platform and, at first glance, it seems that both iOS and Android have a shot at it,” say Dedieu

Maybe at a billion users, the rules change.

The inherent difficulty is that, at some point, innovation does not scale.

This manifests itself in altogether different ways, both externally and more crucially inside a company. How do you innovate as effectively when you have 50 000 employees compared to when you had 5000 employees? We’re seeing Nokia as well as RIM (BlackBerry) wrestle with these very issues.

Nokia was the gorilla, full stop. BlackBerry owned the enterprise. In two years’ time they could both be toast, perhaps sooner. They could also end up reinventing themselves.

We’ve seen it play out with MySpace in a very short space of time, literally months (Facebook runs a serious risk of not being able to innovate at the scale it finds itself at).

Apple will be gone some day. Maybe in four years’ time. Maybe forty. So too Facebook. And Google.

One might argue, and the temptation is there, that this time it really is different. If you truly believe that, I’ve got some Groupon stock I’d like to sell you…

Image: SubDooM

Graph: asymco.com

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  • Gideon Nieuwoudt

    Love it, very insightful :)

  • Hennie

    Freak this is a brilliantly written article…lets hope and pray that you are wrong :) yes i’m a macfanboy :) yes i’m on my ipho e typing this :) yes I’ll start fasting and praying for this not to happen :)

  • Gjd21777

    What nonesense! You’re probably the same guy who thought that Facebook would overtake Google and put it in its place! LOL! web savvy insight ha ha ha!!

  • Anonymous

    Great article Hilton thanks!

  • Nils

    How I dislike those link-bait articles without any real news/insights…
    You know that Apple is 35 years old? And not just a Silicon Valley startup.You know that Apple’s market cap is $350 Billion? And that they are therefore the second most valuable company in the world.
    So don’t even start comparing it to MySpace or Facebook. Apple has around $80 Billion in their petty cash box – they could buy Facebook ($50 Billion) cash and get Nokia ($20 Billion) as a treat on top.

    Rather get creative and inspire me where Apple could be in 40 years. Maybe they’re going to build the next generation space shuttles. Or holodecks. 
    Yes, iHolodeck it is!

  • ThatGuy

    Oh Please. Like you’d know any better. Done a lot of research on this have you? And besides, it’s entirely possible for Google to overtake Facebook. I bet you were sitting there updating your myspace profile in 2003 thinking: “aaah, myspace is so awesome. This will last forever. Man I love living in the future!”.

  • http://twitter.com/MvelaseP Mvelase

    Oh Apple-o-philes, how you do make me laugh.

    Great article Hilton.

  • http://twitter.com/sladec Slade C

    I wonder what sort of new tech could replace them ? maybe a more biotech solution , “in eye” displays ? integration between a device and our body’s neuroelectrical system  ? iBrain…better get the patents started Apple so you can keep your lawyers busy.

  • Gjd21777

    Can you read? Oh wait, probably not. Must be a Windows user? No, I haven’t done research into it at all, but I’m tired of these online journalists making sweeping statements to attract traffic to their sites.

  • http://twitter.com/BrandShepherdSA Dylan Cromhout

    I
    like how you have given some perspective to this industry. As a
    marketer I know that trend analysis is key to understanding how the
    future of an inustry will develop, and I think that you have nicely
    shown how fragile this industry actually is. 2 years ago Groupon didn’t
    even exist, now Google wants to buy them for $6 Bil. I think in this
    social commerce and IT driven economy we may see that as quickly as new
    concecpets and businesses rise, so too will they fall. Only a little time will tell.

  • http://twitter.com/BrandShepherdSA Dylan Cromhout

    I
    like how you have given some perspective to this industry. As a
    marketer I know that trend analysis is key to understanding how the
    future of an inustry will develop, and I think that you have nicely
    shown how fragile this industry actually is. 2 years ago Groupon didn’t
    even exist, now Google wants to buy them for $6 Bil. I think in this
    social commerce and IT driven economy we may see that as quickly as new
    concecpets and businesses rise, so too will they fall. Only a little time will tell.

  • Brattstar

    MacFanBoy – please.

  • Brattstar

    MacFanBoy – please.

  • http://crazysexycool.co.za/shop/ Monkey

    What he said!

  • Brattstar

    Nice article Hilton. Seems all the MacFanBoys dont seem to agree :) FrakApple! (as I type this on my Macbook) Technology has to evolve and sometimes players fall off the scale, which is good for a fair playing field and introduction of new players and ideas into the market. If that didnt happen we would still be playing on Atari systems… not that I have any doubt that the cycle of “old school” tech will return with a vengeance one day! Cos onedayisoneday 

  • Icem@n

    Too many Apple fanboys commenting here hence the lack of objectivity. This article is merely highlighting trends past and present, not declaring war on you beloved Apple.

  • Nils

    No, that is not what he said. Read the article again.

  • http://walterpike.com Walter Pike

    Yes, it is a link bait article with no insight.

    Certainly Apple may lose ground one day. If they become complacent, and if they allow the lead they have on the market get eroded. It often happens when there is only one game in town.

    Maybe it would be interesting to read about where the competition will come from. instead of the wonderful insight that what goes up must come down.

  • http://walterpike.com Walter Pike

    Yes, it is a link bait article with no insight.

    Certainly Apple may lose ground one day. If they become complacent, and if they allow the lead they have on the market get eroded. It often happens when there is only one game in town.

    Maybe it would be interesting to read about where the competition will come from. instead of the wonderful insight that what goes up must come down.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zach-Harper/100002701782554 Zach Harper

    I just paid $21.87 for an iPaad 2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, http://bit.ly/qGSvJX

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Zach-Harper/100002701782554 Zach Harper

    I just paid $21.87 for an iPaad 2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from, http://bit.ly/qGSvJX

  • Pingback: Forget the rest of the world, Apple’s real future is in the BRICS | memeburn

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