The big risk to Apple’s integrated hardware-software gadget strategy is that it will eventually lead to the same fate that almost killed the company last time: marginalization in a niche “premium” market while the rest of the world standardizes around a more ubiquitous platform.
Last time, the software platform that killed Apple was Microsoft’s Windows. This time, the software platform that is threatening to kill Apple is Google’s Android/Chrome.
Apple fans howl with derision at the suggestion that this could be deja vu all over again. Apple is CRUSHING everyone, they point out. The iPhone is way better than any Android phone. The App Store is miles ahead of the competition. The joy of Macs and iPads are the seamless integration of hardware and software. And so on.
And that’s fine. Apple does have a big lead here, and the gadget market is different in some key ways than the PC market was (vendor fragmentation, carrier control–for now, more apps, lighter apps, Android fragmentation, payments, and so on).
But the threat remains.
And to get a sense of how real this threat is, you need look no farther than the browser market. Specifically, you need to look at how much share Google’s 20-month old Chrome browser has gained relative to Apple’s Safari–despite the world’s having gone hog wild for Apple’s sexy integrated devices over that period.
Over the past 20 months, Chrome’s browser market share has gone from 0% to 7%. Apple Safari’s market share, meanwhile, has gone from 3% to 5%. (See the detailed share shifts here).
Extrapolate those trends for a few more years, and Apple will be left with the same thing it was eventually left with in the PC market: a niche. Google, meanwhile, will be on its way to overtaking Microsoft and Firefox.