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  • The Why Apple Was Late Report

    September 23rd, 2014

    I’m sure a lot of you believe that the Apple II and the Mac were firsts in their categories, but they weren’t. Yes, it’s true there were personal computers with graphical user interfaces before the Mac debuted in 1984. An early version of a GUI debuted in 1973 on the Xerox Alto, developed at their PARC labs. The now-forgotten Alto sported a bitmapped screen and a desktop metaphor.

    Before the Mac, Apple introduced the high-end Lisa in 1983, but it was too expensive for the mainstream. I do recall, though, that it was, for a time, offered as an alternate front end for phototypesetting systems from Agfa Compugraphic. So the Mac was the less expensive product, but the one that spurred the desktop publishing revolution. The critics naturally branded the Mac a toy not meant for serious business use, at least until Microsoft’s imitation, Windows, came to dominate the PC landscape.

    Now you may not realize it, but there were digital music players before the iPod arrived in 2001. The critics branded the iPod overpriced, and predicted Apple’s foray into consumer electronics was fated to fail. The only failures, however, were all those iPod killers that never gained much traction in the marketplace.

    The launch of the 2007 iPhone may have represented a unique development for Apple’s customers. But the business world had been using a BlackBerry, with that infamous and awkward physical keyboard. But the first BlackBerry appeared in 1999, so Apple was eight years late, right?

    But Apple took the time to get it right and make it consumer friendly. It wasn’t long before the competition struggled to build their iPhone killers. If you look at the designs of Android ahead of the iPhone, they were clearly inspired by BlackBerry, the one time standard bearer. As was brought out during a certain patent infringement trial in Northern California, Samsung’s designs also took on the look and feel of the iPhone when its success was assured. Before then, a Samsung smartphone was mostly a copy of a BlackBerry.

    For years, Microsoft touted the year of the tablet, but the year remained, for them, at some uncertain far future date. Most tablets were used by businesses, and they were thick, heavy, with clunky convertible touchscreens. These days, the typical Windows tablet is based on Intel’s reference Ultrabook design. The convertibles are just as clunky, but use thinner and lighter parts. Things really haven’t changed all that much, as Microsoft, even with the Surface 3, continues to pursue a failed vision.

    When the iPad arrived in 2010, however, other companies took the hint and attempted to build their own imitations. At least Amazon’s tablets make sense as consumption/e-book reading devices sold at roughly cost. There doesn’t seem to be a valid economic model otherwise for selling gear with little or no profit.

    But as you see, the iPad was definitely not first to market. This is quite typical of how Apple does things. They let others rush products to the stores often without long-range plans, or even considering if the products are even ready to put on sale. When Apple enters the game, it’s often with a daringly different product, one far more usable by regular people.

    The forthcoming Apple Watch has also been sharply attacked for not being first to market. Since none of the existing so-called smartwatches has been a barn burner in terms of sales, does it really matter? If the Apple Watch becomes the gadget that defines the market, you will see Samsung and other companies attempt in typically awkward ways to come up with a scheme that marries a gadget and a piece of jewelry. If the past is a guide, they might get some traction with Apple Watch killers by selling the wanna-be gear more cheaply. Instead of 18 karat gold, maybe there will be a 14 karat gold Samsung.

    You get the picture.

    When it comes to the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the main criticisms were, once again, that Apple was late to the party with larger displays. But that hasn’t stopped iPhone sales from mostly exceeding expectations. Initial sales of 10 million units for the first weekend is particularly impressive, considering that the iPhone 6 Plus remains in unusually short supply. Sure Tim Cook’s response, saying they could have sold more if they had more to sell, is nothing new. It often takes a few weeks for Apple’s contract factories to ramp up the production lines, and increase yields, particularly for new display hardware and assembly schemes.

    You can argue till the end of time why Apple stayed in the 4-inch zone for four years, but the new displays are getting high marks for clarity, brightness, color accuracy and maximum viewing angles. Battery life seems pretty good, particularly on the iPhone 6 Plus; well, a certain New York Times blogger suggested otherwise, but that’s nothing to take seriously.

    And, by the way, fingerprint sensors were also there before Touch ID appeared on the iPhone 5s. Indeed, the company Apple bought to develop them, AuthenTec, used to supply that technology to other companies. Siri also existed before the iPhone 4s appeared.

    Do I need to say any more about this endless argument?



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