Editorial: Could Apple's lock on premium luxury be eclipsed by an era of good-enough gear?...

Posted:
in iPhone edited May 4
Across decades, Apple has developed its reputation for selling luxurious electronics with both a premium price and elevated expectations. But Apple's attention to detail means it's not often a trailblazer. Could the profits that are currently driving Apple at some point shift to instead support vendors like Samsung and Huawei who offer cheaper access to new tech faster, in a sloppier but "good enough" beta technology form?

Galaxy Fold
It's not flawless nor well-thought out, but is Samsung's work "good enough" to gain the lead and relegate Apple into a niche? Source: @Jaime_Rivera, PocketNow


In reply to the article "Why Is Samsung's Galaxy Fold graded on a curve?" which looked at how differently the problems at Samsung are discussed in the tech media versus issues related to Apple, a reader called "Mr. Lizard" laid out the logic for holding Samsung's Galaxy Fold to a different standard than products from Apple.

Samsung's style of speed

Mr. Lizard had a lot to say about Samsung.
Many Samsung customers view these sorts of products and features as 'cutting edge,' and don't care anywhere near as much as a typical Apple customer would about execution. Consider that many of Samsung's product ranges bear no common design language, and feature tasteless decisions such as non-aligned ports. Their target market just doesn't care about this sort of thing, and that's ok.

Samsung's culture is such that it desires to be seen to be first, and has no qualms with failing publicly. They're not pretending to be perfect, and so the media and their customers don't treat them as trying to be perfect.

Apple on the other hand publicly holds itself to incredibly high standards, and repeatedly and emphatically portrays its design as superior and world class. Therefore, the media and their customers take Apple's assertions at face value, and when Apple screws up with badly designed keyboards you can count on them being hauled up for it.

If Samsung stated their objective as being perfectionists and obsessive over quality in the same way as Apple does, then they might get treated the same by the press. But they don't claim to be these things, so the press understandably doesn't hold them to the same level of account.
Of course, the reality is that Samsung certainly does have "qualms with failing publicly," does pretend to be perfect in its marketing -- even frequently mocking Apple's designs before copying them -- and it clearly wants to present itself as being at least on Apple's level, if not better and more advanced in both style and fashion.

Samsung took pride in being first to releasing a phablet with a stylus, a smartwatch, netbooks, water resistance, Qi charging, and of course being the first mainstream source of OLED phones-- a display technology which Samsung pioneered as the leading manufacturer of advanced mobile screens.

Apple behind but in the lead
A couple years ago, a strident media narrative portrayed Apple as falling behind Samsung. It's still far ahead in any figures that matter.


Samsung has stridently worked over the last several years to portray itself as superior to Apple in both raw technologies and in trendy style. But as Mr. Lizard described, Samsung has taken shortcuts and played down software usability and hardware precision to ship its "fresh trendy new" technology first, warts and all.

Samsung's strategy of "good enough, fast style" has not made it nearly as profitable as Apple. And its efforts to cut corners are increasingly apparent even to sympathetic reviewers seeking to present Galaxy as an equal peer to iPhones.

Its efforts to rush new tech to market have also repeatedly flopped in a spectacular fashion. That includes not just the Note 7's sloppily designed batteries and the Galaxy Fold that began breaking on day two, but also the wildly underwhelming launches of Gear watches, the albatross of VR headgear, fake security authentication, its largely ignored 360 degree camera, the unpopular Bixby, and a number of other fast-fashion flops.

If not Samsung, Android?

Android advocates have long expressed the idea that Samsung and its brand don't need to be that impressive or even commercially successful. If Samsung can't displace Apple, another Android licensee like Motorola, Xiaomi or Huawei eventually will. It's a numbers game. Android has been "winning" for so many years now that you'd expect it to eventually come out ahead.

It may appear that there are just too many other "good enough, fast style" options pushing prices lower-- and subsidized by Chinese state intelligence that Apple will eventually run out of innovations, technical or platform advantages or simply sheer luck and Google's Android will overwhelmingly rule the same way Microsoft did in the 90s.

Huawei China spy funding
Can Apple compete against a world of state-subsidized firms using Android?


Lots of Android proponents believe the platform has "already won" simply by shipping the most devices. It certainly does seem counterintuitive that Apple can continue to sell virtually all of the profitable devices in phones, tablets, notebooks, and wearables, in a world where there is a major price disparity between iOS and Android, and between Macs and iPads and commodity PCs or netbooks.

Yet Apple has maintained its lock on collecting nearly all of the available profits in consumer electronics for well over a decade now. And rather than just retreating into a premium tier niche that is profitable but not particularly popular, Apple's iOS now accounts for the majority of actual activity across the installed base of users in the U.S., in many affluent E.U. countries, in Japan, and even maintains a very strong installed base in China-- tied with the leading Huawei brand, and well ahead others -- even in place where cheap phones are everywhere, IP counterfeiting is rampant and competition for sales is intense.

Device Atlas
In affluent nations, the percentage of mobile activity occuring on iOS is higher than Android. Source: Device Atlas


Is it possible, however, that global tastes in hardware may shift to the point where cheaper phones become so popular that industry profits begin fueling faster advancement outside of Apple than within its Walled Garden?

Paradise Lost, Regained

Anyone who lived through the 1990s already knows that a much younger Apple once lost its once premium position with well-built Macintosh hardware and thoughtfully designed software to an era dominated by Microsoft.

In the 1990s, Windows PCs began offering more choices, faster chips, and in many cases much lower prices-- along with shoddy hardware, flimsy cases, poorly designed software rushed to market with bugs, and an overall level of slapdash sloppiness that everyone just passively accepted. Nobody cared that PC-era tech was crap, because it was cheap.

The allure of a lack of attention to detail-- as long as the price was right-- was also seen in the devolution of printers, which changed from well-built machines into flimsy garbage designed only to last long enough to sell a few cycles of consumable inks. At the same time, the rapid collapse of prices in memory, storage, and processing-- driven by price-centric consumption-- opened up entirely new ways to use technology.

By the end of the 90s decade utterly dominated by cheap PCs, Steve Jobs had returned to Apple and was seeking to rebuild the company as a more-cost competitive, consumer company. The 1998 iMac and the next year's candy-colored "toilet seat" iBook were radically cheaper products (compared to its Power branded line) that aggressively pushed higher-end tech into cheaper, consumer-friendly packages that introduced fresh and new enabling technologies into the mainstream, including USB and WiFi.

Apple 2000
Twenty years ago, Apple popularized innovation and style at premium prices

Apple's era of affordable luxury

After finally regaining a solid footing, Apple appeared to shift aggressively toward premium in the 2000s. It introduced a high-end Titanium notebook, the glassy G4 Cube, and a $400 digital music player. iMac turned from a blue CRT bubble into a sharp-looking but significantly more expensive flat panel machine, and the iBook turned into a more conventional but also more expensive box before becoming the MacBook-- which has evolved into a skinny line of ultra-premium notebooks.

In 2007, when Apple showed off its new iPhone, it prompted howls of laughter from Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer, who found Apple's pricing hysterical: "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share," he said at the time. "No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item!"

Yet Apple's $500 iPhone trounced the $150 Windows Mobile Motorola Q that Ballmer was touting. The idea that Android would take over as the "new Windows," in pushing Apple's platform into a minority niche while becoming the mainstream choice of most users and companies, is based entirely upon the history of Windows in the 1990s. But that logic often fails to acknowledge that Microsoft itself failed to repeat its Windows playbook against iOS over the last decade.

Premium sales are driving the future of technology

Since the debut of iPhone, Apple's ability to popularize higher priced, premium products has fueled its profits and paid for expensive developments including a decade of advanced custom Application Processors that have outpaced the development of rival processor chips; Apple's tightly optimized operating systems; custom development of proprietary technology including Touch ID, Metal and the Apple GPU, TrueDepth cameras supporting Face ID, and mainstream Augmented Reality; as well as paying for the refinement of multiple development platforms that each lead their categories in driving custom app, games, and custom enterprise software development for iPad, Apple Watch and iPhones.

The economies of scale Apple enjoys, combined with the exclusive technology it has built using the sustainable profits of its hardware sales, has kept the company ahead of rivals that are trying to knock off what it did a year or two ago. Will that cycle of reinvestment get derailed by something happening in the world of Android?

Pixel C
Like Samsung, Google can develop products it equates with Apple's, it just can't sell them because they aren't as attractive


Rather than losing steam, Apple's cash machine keeps going, creating new expansions of its ecosystem into health, personal audio, automotive, original content programming and new exclusive arcade games, and custom enterprise apps built in partnerships with Accenture, Cisco, Deloitte, IBM, Salesforce, and SAP. Those are all areas that neither Samsung nor any of its Android peers are doing well in, despite public efforts and intentions.

Is there any real likelihood that Apple's high-end luxury-class engineering will hit a wall where the company is no longer able to out-innovate the collective "good enough" efforts of every other phone competitor, either in association with Google or on their own with Android Open Source Project forks--including Amazon and phone makers in China?

The historical answer is wrapped up the complex frenemy relationship between Apple and Android's largest licensee, Samsung. And it appears that other Android licensees will follow the same general trend. So consider how these two massive competitors have ruthlessly fought and closely cooperated with each other over the history of smartphones, as the next article in this series will detail.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 148
    Johan42Johan42 Posts: 163member
    Diminishing returns is here. Apple’s planned obsolescence as well. Who will prevail? The customer who has no sense will.
    xixo
  • Reply 2 of 148
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,988member
    If good-enough will prevail than Apple will transform itself with enough differentiator to prevail. As Apple expanding it's services business which also draws customers to Apple hardware and it's eco-system.
    jahbladewatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 148
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,257member
    Johan42 said:
    Diminishing returns is here. Apple’s planned obsolescence as well. Who will prevail? The customer who has no sense will.
    You’re high. Apple devices have the longest lifespan in the business — both in official support terms (iOS), and in real world useful lifespan. My primary desktop is a 2011 iMac. I have an iphone 4s that was used as a primary device by a family member until a year or two ago and now is a backup device. What other brand has the same support and lifespan longevity? 
    davenmacplusplusracerhomie3MisterKitbb-15firelockbaconstangericthehalfbeeredgeminipaSpamSandwich
  • Reply 4 of 148
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,019member
    In the beginning Android was crap.  It’s good enough now, to give Android devices a look.  I remain concerned about the security of the Google Play Store, but I’m not a kid that downloads a bunch of junk. So, it’s less important...

    The iPhone and IPad don’t have me in an “ecosystem lock” but if I owned an Apple Watch the convenience factor would be compelling.  I don’t like watches... 

    I’m watching what Microsoft does with Android/Linux.  If they get better integration than what’s offered on Apple, that might move the needle...
  • Reply 5 of 148
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,257member
    Good article. “Good enough” will always be popular with the budget crowd, which uses price as the primary purchase consideration. Affordable luxury brands like Apple will continue to do fine with those who do not select based on price alone, and consider the value derived from better built systems and devices. 

    This is fine. There will always be both, likely in any product category from smartphones to hammers. Tho only in this product category will we see the price people creating accounts and posts to spin the narrative of decreasing sales to somehow imply their knockoff brands are “winning”. 
    tmayracerhomie3baconstangmattinozredgeminipaVirgilBoy99jahbladepscooter63watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 6 of 148
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 8,257member
    In the beginning Android was crap.  It’s good enough now, to give Android devices a look.  I remain concerned about the security of the Google Play Store, but I’m not a kid that downloads a bunch of junk. So, it’s less important...
    Just the Play Store? Let me know when the FBI is petitioning congress for backdoors to the knockoffs. 
    macxpressbaconstangredgeminipajahbladewatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 7 of 148
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,934member
    Johan42 said:
    Diminishing returns is here. Apple’s planned obsolescence as well. Who will prevail? The customer who has no sense will.
    Honestly, do you ever have anything good to say about Apple or are you just here to piss all over everything Apple does? Seriously! If you don't like Apple products and services then just go somewhere's else. 
    cdarlington1StrangeDaysjahbladepscooter63albegarcwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 148
    Daniel correctly points out that Samsung has borrowed a lot (by which we mean, nearly all) of its inspiration for its products from Apple. We have a fair idea what Samsung phones would be if the iPhone had not come along, for example. The idea could be extended back forty years as a way of demonstrating how Apple, many times small in the market, sometimes "beleaguered" and troubled, has influenced what computers, printers, phones, and music players should be. What if there had been no Apple ][? No Macintosh? No Laserwriter? No Mac OS? No ImageWriter? More recently, what if there had been no iPod, no Mac OS X? Care to venture what a Microsoft operating system would look like if Mac OS, and then OS X, hadn't come along? Anyone think that Microsoft would have gotten the idea of a GUI? Would Microsoft, or Texas Instruments, or other giants of the day have figured out how to put a computer into a laser printer (a computer more powerful than what anyone had on their desktop at that time), integrate into a distant computer's operating system, and sell it? Who would have pushed object-oriented programming to the front of the industry and given that industry a market for such wares? We all know what the music players of 1999 looked like with their idiot Timex-watch style key buttons, design and market limitations, and unreliable playing of music. Who other than Apple would have figured out the click-wheel, popularized it, dropped onto a little box with a frigging MINI HARD DRIVE inside to store thousands of songs, and gotten the music industry (that band of robber-baron scum) to go along? Name a company, I'll wait. Take Apple out of the history from 1976 on. What does the world look like today?
    edited April 21 racerhomie3baconstangraoulduke42brucemcjahbladepscooter63albegarcwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 9 of 148
    RembertRembert Posts: 8unconfirmed, member
    interesting article. Apple seems to be loosing ground by their appearant stubborn focus on exclusive and fashionable high-tech which does actually function close to perfectly. Just like in Steve Jobs' time, Apple doesn't listen to their customers. With Jobs this seems to have been a good idea as he had a pretty good vision on what people needed even before those people realized they needed this. With Cook it's different. There's no real innovation, it's mostly evolution. People want stuff in the Apple family which is good enough to run within the Apple family. Yes, a market exists for those sensitive to exclusive and fashionable gear. But that market will definately fail if Apple fails to answer to the demands of people who require gear which is good enough. For me, this involves an iPhone-SE-sized phone or even the continuation of the current SE as it's good enough already. And a MBP which is a continuation of the 2015-model as that one is good enough already. Everything beyond the SE and the 2015 MBP is indeed exclusive and fashionable but it's way beyond what a lot of people need (I deliberately refrain from making remarks regarding the newer MBPs regarding touchbar and keyboard). I feel Apple is currently using use-cases which do not sync with reality. If Apple doesn't review these use-cases, I fear Apple will loose ground very quickly, just like in the 90s. I'm already checking-out Android phones and Linux laptops, wondering when I will jump ship.
    elijahgmike54Latkokestralpscooter63
  • Reply 10 of 148
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,949member
    Johan42 said:
    Diminishing returns is here. Apple’s planned obsolescence as well. Who will prevail? The customer who has no sense will.
    You’re high. Apple devices have the longest lifespan in the business — both in official support terms (iOS), and in real world useful lifespan. My primary desktop is a 2011 iMac. I have an iphone 4s that was used as a primary device by a family member until a year or two ago and now is a backup device. What other brand has the same support and lifespan longevity? 
    My Lenovo Thinkpad T60P laptop is over 12 years old and runs like it was new -- but with a modern OS and I'm thinking swapping its main harddrive for an SSD.  How does Apple have the "longest lifespan" ?
    gatorguyelijahgmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 11 of 148
    An era of good enough? HA! Take a look at gamer PCs and laptops. They are a complete rebellion against Apple's sleek minimalist designs with their glass sides, over use of RGB LEDs pulsing colors all over their craggy innards. They are fully customizable so every gamer can have their own unique system. Despite all the gaudiness and customizability they are quite affordable compared to Macs. They are also fast as hell and can outperform even the most expensive Macs especially when it comes to GPU workloads. Speaking of which, did you know that a 2080ti GPU is about 1000 times faster than a typical Mac Intel CPU when ray tracing? Come on Apple. That has to sting a little.
    edited April 21 elijahgLatkomuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 12 of 148
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,949member
    Good article. “Good enough” will always be popular with the budget crowd, which uses price as the primary purchase consideration. Affordable luxury brands like Apple will continue to do fine with those who do not select based on price alone, and consider the value derived from better built systems and devices. 

    This is fine. There will always be both, likely in any product category from smartphones to hammers. Tho only in this product category will we see the price people creating accounts and posts to spin the narrative of decreasing sales to somehow imply their knockoff brands are “winning”. 
    I'm not at all sure that "good enough" is only popular with the "Budget Crowd". 
    No responsible person should want to pay more for something they don't need or want.
    ...  Although I could afford a Rolls, Bentley or Porsche, I'm happy with my Honda.  It serves my needs well.

    In the case of laptops or smart phones, why would a person who sits at a table and  browses the internet or checks email or facebook need or want an expensive, high powered, high end product?  In the case of laptops, a $2,000 laptop would simply be a waste of money.
    elijahgdesignrLatkomuthuk_vanalingamchemengin
  • Reply 13 of 148
    davendaven Posts: 538member
    Johan42 said:
    Diminishing returns is here. Apple’s planned obsolescence as well. Who will prevail? The customer who has no sense will.
    You’re high. Apple devices have the longest lifespan in the business — both in official support terms (iOS), and in real world useful lifespan. My primary desktop is a 2011 iMac. I have an iphone 4s that was used as a primary device by a family member until a year or two ago and now is a backup device. What other brand has the same support and lifespan longevity? 
    My Lenovo Thinkpad T60P laptop is over 12 years old and runs like it was new -- but with a modern OS and I'm thinking swapping its main harddrive for an SSD.  How does Apple have the "longest lifespan" ?
    My early 2009 iMac does the same. What is your point? They are talking about cell phones.
    edited April 21 tmaybaconstangredgeminipajahbladewatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 148
    Nothing new to see here. 

    Move along. 
    SpamSandwichjahbladepscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 148
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,352member
    I take exception the very premise of this discussion.  Apple only started the 'Luxury' thing with the Apple Watch.  The rest of Apple's gear isn't luxurious it's just superior and better price/performance/quality not to mention usually years ahead e.g. dropping floppies, dropping optical drives adopting new standards etc..  It's well known and long proven that to build an equivalent PC to Apple machine cost the same or more and that PC users mostly are happy with very substandard (by Apple standards) equipment not to mention operating system, although to be fair Windows 10 isn't bad at all.
    edited April 21 macplusplusburnsideneutrino23watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 148
    knowitallknowitall Posts: 1,409member
    Daniel correctly points out that Samsung has borrowed a lot (by which we mean, nearly all) of its inspiration for its products from Apple. We have a fair idea what Samsung phones would be if the iPhone had not come along, for example. The idea could be extended back forty years as a way of demonstrating how Apple, many times small in the market, sometimes "beleaguered" and troubled, has influenced what computers, printers, phones, and music players should be. What if there had been no Apple ][? No Macintosh? No Laserwriter? No Mac OS? No ImageWriter? More recently, what if there had been no iPod, no Mac OS X? Care to venture what a Microsoft operating system would look like if Mac OS, and then OS X, hadn't come along? Anyone think that Microsoft would have gotten the idea of a GUI? Would Microsoft, or Texas Instruments, or other giants of the day have figured out how to put a computer into a laser printer (a computer more powerful than what anyone had on their desktop at that time), integrate into a distant computer's operating system, and sell it? Who would have pushed object-oriented programming to the front of the industry and given that industry a market for such wares? We all know what the music players of 1999 looked like with their idiot Timex-watch style key buttons, design and market limitations, and unreliable playing of music. Who other than Apple would have figured out the click-wheel, popularized it, dropped onto a little box with a frigging MINI HARD DRIVE inside to store thousands of songs, and gotten the music industry (that band of robber-baron scum) to go along? Name a company, I'll wait. Take Apple out of the history from 1976 on. What does the world look like today?
    Probably exactly the same, maybe not one company doing all of the above.
    If you look at companies like Philips and Sony a similar to Apple profile emerges, only that Apple came later in a lot of aspects.
  • Reply 17 of 148
    ...ummmmmm, no.
  • Reply 18 of 148
    danvmdanvm Posts: 791member
    Johan42 said:
    Diminishing returns is here. Apple’s planned obsolescence as well. Who will prevail? The customer who has no sense will.
    You’re high. Apple devices have the longest lifespan in the business — both in official support terms (iOS), and in real world useful lifespan. My primary desktop is a 2011 iMac. I have an iphone 4s that was used as a primary device by a family member until a year or two ago and now is a backup device. What other brand has the same support and lifespan longevity? 
    One of my customers have some users with 9-year old Dell Optiplex.  Those PC's had zero issues after all of these years, and as today the run the latest version of Windows 10.  Different from your 2011 iMac, that latest macOS version you can run in it is Sierra.  Now most of my customers moved to Lenovo business PC's, some of them with 6-7 years with no issues.  Now they are planning to upgrade to SSD, since RAM and CPU is adequate for their tasks.  High quality PC's can work as long as Mac devices. 
    GeorgeBMacgatorguyelijahgLatkomuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 19 of 148
    jungmarkjungmark Posts: 6,709member
    Rembert said:
    interesting article. Apple seems to be loosing ground by their appearant stubborn focus on exclusive and fashionable high-tech which does actually function close to perfectly. Just like in Steve Jobs' time, Apple doesn't listen to their customers. With Jobs this seems to have been a good idea as he had a pretty good vision on what people needed even before those people realized they needed this. With Cook it's different. There's no real innovation, it's mostly evolution. People want stuff in the Apple family which is good enough to run within the Apple family. Yes, a market exists for those sensitive to exclusive and fashionable gear. But that market will definately fail if Apple fails to answer to the demands of people who require gear which is good enough. For me, this involves an iPhone-SE-sized phone or even the continuation of the current SE as it's good enough already. And a MBP which is a continuation of the 2015-model as that one is good enough already. Everything beyond the SE and the 2015 MBP is indeed exclusive and fashionable but it's way beyond what a lot of people need (I deliberately refrain from making remarks regarding the newer MBPs regarding touchbar and keyboard). I feel Apple is currently using use-cases which do not sync with reality. If Apple doesn't review these use-cases, I fear Apple will loose ground very quickly, just like in the 90s. I'm already checking-out Android phones and Linux laptops, wondering when I will jump ship.
    Give me a break. If Apple listened to customers for design ideas, there would be no iPhone, no iPad, no air pods, no Apple watches. Most users want "faster horses". Most users did not  think about soft keyboards or tablets or smart watches, etc. 

    And as for innovation, slapping a foldable screen on clunky hardware isn't innovative. 

    Apple doesn't compete in the budget good enough market. 
    racerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 20 of 148
    racerhomie3racerhomie3 Posts: 1,148member
    In the beginning Android was crap.  It’s good enough now, to give Android devices a look.  I remain concerned about the security of the Google Play Store, but I’m not a kid that downloads a bunch of junk. So, it’s less important...

    The iPhone and IPad don’t have me in an “ecosystem lock” but if I owned an Apple Watch the convenience factor would be compelling.  I don’t like watches... 

    I’m watching what Microsoft does with Android/Linux.  If they get better integration than what’s offered on Apple, that might move the needle...
    Good luck. You wont be missed.
    Cesar Battistini MazierobaconstangbestkeptsecretStrangeDaysSolijahbladepscooter63watto_cobra
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