Apple Not Doomed To Repeat History

    December 27, 2010

In 1995 I remember waiting in lines to buy Windows 95. It effectively ended the design lead Apple had for 11 years in personal computers. From then on Microsoft had both the thought leadership and the market share. Apple ended up with less than 10% market share. Microsoft had most of the rest.

Lots of people think that Apple could repeat 1995 in 2011. This time with iOS instead of Macintosh OS and with Google in the place of Microsoft.

We forget one little thing: 1995 was different.

Here’s how.

In 1995 Microsoft had a HUGE marketshare lead with DOS. That meant it had a huge army of developers who didn’t want to switch over to Apple’s system, which they saw as very closed and inflexible. I remember developers coming into the consumer electronics store I helped run in the 1980s and they’d complain bitterly about Apple’s policies (Apple was far less flexible back then than it is today and forced developers to fit into a “look and feel” set of guidelines).

But I look at who is making money. Back in 1995 developers were mostly making money from DOS. Remember, this caused WordPerfect and Borland to make bad bets. They bet on DOS for too long, while Bill Gates went and built some of the first and best Macintosh apps. The lesson, though, doesn’t pass from 1995 to 2011. Today where are most of the developers making their money? iOS (according to Sephora, Starbucks, OpenTable, eBay, and many other developers). So, Android has to convince developers to switch, or do both platforms at same time. That’s quite different.

Plus, back in 1995, who owned the best distribution and supply chains? Microsoft did. Today? Apple does. Apple didn’t have stores back in 1995 which will ensure its products get seen in the marketplace. Back then Microsoft could outspend Apple for shelf space at Frys and other retailers. Plus, Microsoft’s model of having many OEMs building hardware for its OS was far superior to Apple’s approach. Today that’s not really true, because the OEMs aren’t really able to bring that much value to the table and Apple has the best supply chains in China locked up (I visited one of them about two years ago and keep in touch with the folks there and that’s still the case). So, it’s not very likely that a Google phone will ship with better screens or better materials. At least not in volume. That is a huge difference from 1995 to today.

Other differences? Apple has outspent Microsoft on Advertising around the world. Look at this picture. It’s in Paris subway. Apple bought every square inch of advertising space (it bought the entire subway system’s advertising space, it seemed, iPad ads were plastered down the entire trackway). Google isn’t able to get its message there. That didn’t happen in 1995. Remember how dominant Microsoft’s advertising was back then? Microsoft even convinced the Empire State Building to change its colors that evening.

Let’s go back to how closed Apple is. Most apps this month got approved in less than a week. Some even got approved in less than four days. During the Christmas rush. Is this as good as Android’s (you can ship in minutes) policy? No. But, on the other hand, there are quality controls which consumers appreciate. The apps — overall — ARE better on iOS than on Android. Just check out TweetDeck. It crashes every few minutes on my Android phone. Twitter isn’t nearly as nice. Facebook isn’t as nice. And most apps aren’t as well designed, nor crash resistant, as on iOS.

I am sensing a switch, though. Fred Wilson is leading the charge. But other developers are grumbling about Apple and want there to be an alternative and they are all comparing notes with each other. “How’s Angry Birds doing with its advertising-only Android apps?” they ask. Very well, the answer comes back. So that means more developers will take the bet on Android, but so far I haven’t seen many go “Android only.” Why not? Because they know most of the PR comes from journalists who use mostly iOS devices and most of the best users are on iOS devices too (Sephora’s lead mobile developer told me 80% of the users who pull out a mobile phone in her stores are using iOS, that is echoed by nearly every developer I talk with). Even Swype, which has been kept from delivering their keyboard on iOS devices showed me a prototype of it running on an iPad and the inventor whispered “if Steve Jobs wants to talk, we’d love to ship this on iOS.”

So, when someone says that Apple is repeating the mistakes of 1995 (yes, I’ve been guilty of saying that in the past couple of years too) you should tell them that 2011 is not even close to the same set of conditions as 1995 has.