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Declaring the Success of Apple’s Competitors

It seems to be a nasty habit on the part of the tech media. A company announces a product or service that appears to compete with something Apple is building, and the immediate conclusion is that Apple is in big trouble and needs to so something pronto!

This was particularly true in the early days after the iPod became a spectacular success. Everyone else’s newest digital music player was declared an “iPod killer,” without actually explaining how that could possibly be true. Well, I suppose it’s easy enough to add a bullet point feature or two to make the knock-off appear to be superior.

Even Microsoft got into the game when their PlaysForSure partners failed to deliver the goods. Instead, Microsoft tried hard to duplicate the iPod with the Zune music player, including the integrated ecosystem for syncing the device on a PC and buying music. Typical with Microsoft, however, the best they could do was imitate the iPod of a year or two earlier, which meant they leapfrogged nothing. In the end, customers stuck with the original rather the pale imitation.

This isn’t to say that Apple necessarily is first to market. There were digital music players around before the iPod, although they didn’t sell very well. Smartphones can be traced back, in part, to the original Apple Newton MessagePad and Palm Treo. In fact, when the iPhone was announced, the critics complained that Apple couldn’t possibly deliver a credible product, simply because the market was already saturated with the BlackBerry, Sidekick and loads of other entries.

With tablet computers, they’ve been around for years. Some were even announced during the CES in January, although two highly touted contenders, from HP and Microsoft, will probably never reach the marketplace. Yes, HP might produce a tablet device, but if they do it would use Palm’s WebOS instead of Windows 7.

In all those cases, Apple examined existing products and found them wanting. They fixed what they perceived to be the problems and came out with surprisingly successful solutions.

Even though the so-called mainstream media continues to tout the success of Google’s Android OS smartphone platform, sales of the iPhone more than doubled during the last quarter. Anticipation is building towards the next version, buttressed by the premature disclosure of what might be in the new model as the result of those notorious prototypes.

With the iPad, Apple hit the ground running with aggressive marketing and an equally aggressive opening price. Starting at $499 for the 16GB version, they can’t keep them in stock. Even as the iPad expands internationally, you will be mighty lucky to find one at your local Apple Store or Best Buy. The online wait remains 7-10 days as of this writing, which clearly indicates that there is a whole lot of pent-up demand for a tablet computer that really works.

Now in recent days, the forthcoming Google TV has been declared an overwhelming success, even though all you’ve seen so far is a product demonstration. There’s nothing on sale, and these gadgets won’t arrive until later this year, perhaps in time for the holiday season.

However, Google has a problem. They haven’t proven to anyone that they can succeed in the consumer electronics marketplace. They tried with the Nexus One smartphone and it flopped miserably. Android OS devices are marketed and sold in the U.S. by the wireless carriers, and even the manufacturer’s name is usually an afterthought. Buy two for one, and pay through the nose if you cancel prematurely. Then again, AT&T is also boosting early termination fees for their more expensive gadgets, including the iPhone.

And, of course, Google TV devices are slated to be marketed and sold by other companies, such as Sony.

So what is there that’s so attractive about Google TV anyway? The best I can see is that it is a device that interfaces with your cable or satellite set-top box to deliver Internet access and, of course, those targeted ads from which Google derives 95% of its income. Yes, there may be apps, but it’s still all about advertising so far as Google is concerned.

Besides, how original is this concept anyway? Anyone remember WebTV, which also provided Internet access on your TV? Yes, some people still use those pathetic gadgets, but they were very primitive and, in the end, weren’t that successful. Can Google TV do better? Remember it doesn’t replace your DVR.

Some choose to compare Google TV with Apple TV, but the latter is an utterly different product. It’s mostly an interface that sits between iTunes on your Mac or PC and transports your downloaded content to your TV. It doesn’t give you Internet access, or record your favorite TV shows from your cable or satellite provider. Indeed, Apple still regards the product as strictly a hobby. Some day they might find a killer function for it that will let them take over your living room. Or maybe not, but so long as Apple TV remains profitable, it doesn’t matter. But Apple doesn’t just pump loads of money into products year after year that ultimately don’t pay off.

That’s what separates Apple from Google and Microsoft, both of which continue to believe that if you write enough fat checks, you’ll make out just fine in the end. Unfortunately, that concept has yet to be proven in the marketplace, but they’ll never learn.