The Transformation of Apple: From Underdog to Overlord?

The Transformation of Apple: From Underdog to Overlord? by Michael Bendit

{3:30 minutes to read} With my first full-time job fresh out of college, the first thing I wanted to buy for myself was a personal computer. I had my eye on one of the earliest “portable” IBM compatible PCs from a fast-growing upstart called Compaq Computer. It was at the Comp-USA/uPro/Shop chain store where I bought that “luggable” PC that I got my first glimpse of Apple’s trailblazing new Macintosh, with its ultra-cool graphical user interface controlled by an equally innovative device—the mouse.

With the Macintosh, Apple had broken free of the stodgy look and feel of its competitors who had all hitched their PC designs to the IBM-compatible bandwagon. To highlight the company’s brash defiance of the norms, Apple launched the Macintosh in 1984 with the famous Super Bowl ad depicting itself as the destroyer of an Orwellian Big Brother figure that had created and controlled a sea of IBM compatible users (depicted as automatons). Despite the company’s brashness and the superior usability of the Macintosh, it remained a niche product with never more than 12% market share for several decades.

Fast forward 17 years to Apple’s foray into the music world with the introduction of the iPod in 2001, which launched Apple into a period of meteoric growth from $6B that year to $234B in 2015. Although Apple’s Macintosh is still a niche player, with roughly 7% unit market share, the company controls such a strong market position in smartphones, music downloads, and apps that many consider Apple to be the industry’s new Big Brother–particularly since it retains its proprietary approach to everything it builds.

The Transformation of Apple: From Underdog to Overlord? by Michael Bendit

By making its PC designs openly available for other companies to build compatible AND competing products, IBM took a huge risk—and also catalyzed tremendous growth in the personal computer industry. For better or worse, Apple Computer stuck to its guns with its own closed architecture. In retrospect, this appears to have been the right strategy for the company financially, but it also means that Apple users are captive to the company’s products and services.

Techies refer to this type of proprietary system as a “walled garden,” which is well-tended, safe, and secure for those on the inside, but also somewhat limiting for those who, like the early Apple Computer, want to brashly defy convention. In the software development world, proprietary products like those offered by Apple do offer some advantages but also tend to be costlier and more confining than open-source systems that are now so widely used.

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of open-source systems and why they are so popular. In the meantime, let us know:

Are you using a proprietary or open-source system for your software development?

Do you intend to stick with your current approach?

Contact us if you want to explore how to do just that.

Michael Bendit

 

Michael Bendit
Managing Director
Software Development Resources Inc.
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