Let me put my cards on the table. I’ve talked at length with Daniel Lyons, sometimes known as ‘The Fake Steve Jobs,” and he’s a really nice guy. So I was optimistic that Macs would get really responsible coverage when he joined Newsweek.
But I was wrong.
You see, Lyons’ serious columns have been seriously lacking in factual content and reasoned commentary. A particularly blatant example, entitled “Back to the Future,” appeared recently on Newsweek’s site. Again, I’ll withhold the link, but I think the title is sufficient for you readers to find the column if you wish.
Lyons posits that Apple is actually reliving the 1980s, where they ascended with the rise of the Macintosh, only to fall when Microsoft ultimately won the operating systems war. Unfortunately, Lyons believes that Windows 3.0, released six years after the original Mac OS, was the first version to be competitive with Apple. Those of us who actually knew something about the industry in those days realize that Microsoft really didn’t deliver a reasonably usable version until Windows 95 was launched, some 11 years after the arrival of the original compact Mac.
Now some of you might agree with me that it still didn’t match the Mac OS, but it was certainly a decent enough operating system.
In any case, Lyons concludes: “probably Apple’s biggest blunder with the Mac was refusing to let the companies license the software.” In other words, he joins other ill-informed tech writers in believing that, for Apple to succeed, they must follow the same strategy as Microsoft.
Once he decides to travel down that slippery path, Lyons tries to liken the iPhone to the Mac, suggesting that Apple’s closed ecosystem will conspire to prevent this hot-selling smartphone from long-term success. Evidently he believes the forthcoming “tidal wave” of Android smartphones will eventually do the iPhone in.
I’d like to respond to Lyons with a single word: “iPod.” As with virtually all Apple products, the iPod was sold as part of a closed ecosystem. Microsoft tried to feed software to the competition with its PlaysForSure initiative, expecting to repeat the success that came their way from the personal computer segment.
Do I have to remind you what really happened? Even today, the iPod commands 70% of the U.S. market, with Apple’s vertically integrated strategy still in place. More to the point, when they realized the old ways didn’t work with consumer electronics, Microsoft double-crossed its hardware partners and came up with their own attempt at an “iPod Killer” known as the Zune, also part of a closed ecosystem. You all know where that went — which is nowhere. The latest HD version, although it has received extremely favorable reviews, has failed to gain traction.
Now when Apple entered the smartphone segment, the market was already crowded with competitors from all the major cell phone makers. But in less than two and a half years, Apple’s market share has arisen to third worldwide, behind Nokia and the RIM BlackBerry, and the latter two have been selling such gear for years. More to the point, Apple’s profit margins on the iPhone are higher than that of any competitor. The App Store, with over 100,000 varieties and over two billion downloads so far, dwarfs the initiatives of other smartphone vendors, or wireless carriers for that matter.
As far as the Google Android is concerned, it is designed largely as a medium to place ads. That’s where Google earns money, since their mobile operating system is given away free. Just as important, there is no consistency among products, no method to enforce hardware compatibility among the companies who license this operating system. What this means is that your favorite app may work on one Android phone, but not another. If you need an update, you join all the other handset owners — other than iPhone customers — and visit your mobile phone store, so they can use their equipment to download and install the new software.
Now this doesn’t mean that the iPhone will ultimately rise to the top of the market in terms of sales. Steve Jobs has made it quite clear already that they don’t have to beat Nokia, Samsung, RIM, Motorola or other cell phone makers to be successful. So long as they can continue to come out with newer, spiffier models, and the native software and third-party apps continue to flourish, they’ll do just fine, thank you.
At the end of his column, Lyon’s concludes that, with the iPhone, Apple “may ultimately become a niche player once again, content to do a great job for a smaller audience.” Ever attracted to foolish cliches, he drops this one: “it’s deja vu all over again.”
In a sense he’s right, but not in the way he expects. Every time Apple tries something new, the critics line up to tell us why it’s destined to fail. As Apple continues to demonstrate in response, the reality is usually quite different. It’s unfortunate that Lyons again fails to realize that demonstrating a grasp of facts, rather than writing misleading speculation, will actually make him a credible member of the tech community. For now, I suggest he return to satire, where he actually seems to have carved out a “niche” for himself.