5 things Apple can do to stay ahead
1. Prepare for a new growth phase
: Apple took the market by surprise with its iPod and even the iPhone but it's a sure bet today the management at companies like Nokia won't be caught flatfooted again. As early as the middle of this decade, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony-Ericsson did not rate Apple among their rivals. That has changed. All of these companies now have their guns trained on Apple.
Having lost the element of surprise, Apple's management must prepare for a new growth phase where they manage the company both for hot and stable growth. The company needs to keep its start-up mindset with regard to product development but it must also maintain a squad that is focused on defending current market share.
2. Be even more daring: For all the hype Apple has generated, the company has been less daring than many think. All of Apple's latest and fastest-growing products have come from technologies that have been around for some time. The iPod came out with a fancy name, for instance, but Apple did not invent the digital music player and it certainly did not create a new technology platform with the iPhone. Apple today is a financially stronger company that can afford to expand into even newer areas of the technology world.
A great example for Apple to follow in this regard is Google Inc., which started merely as an internet search engine, but today offers so much more. With about $23.5 billion in cash and short-term investments as at the end of the September quarter, more than double the $10 billion it had only three years ago, Apple is able to finance and support any new initiatives it seeks in the high-tech world. The cash cushion presents an opportunity for Apple to explore areas beyond its current scope.
3. Prepare the market for Steve Jobs' successor: Apple chairman and CEO Steve Jobs has been rightly credited with helping the company regain its footing but the company needs to begin educating its varied publics about the depth of talents available within its management rank.
Apple needs to accelerate efforts to dispel the notion that the company would be hurt greatly if anything happens to Jobs. Company insiders have mentioned this is unlikely because Apple's board of directors already has considered possible replacement for Jobs. However, for many of the company's customers, Jobs and Apple are joined at the hips. This view of Apple has to change and as soon as possible.
4. Make a bigger splash: Apple still has at least one more opportunity to wow the consumer electronics market with a major product. With the element of surprising fading away, the company has to take on established players in another segment of the market.
I have long advocated Apple should enter the game box industry although some observers have noted the enormous challenges the company would face with such a move. If Microsoft Corp. was able to successfully enter the market with the Xbox, Apple should be able to make a dent in the sector. There are other areas Apple can also look into.
5. Re-energize the supplier base: Whether or not Apple realizes this, many of its suppliers are hurting. Despite their enormous contributions to the company, many cannot boast the same level of financial success in their operations.
Supporting Apple can be expensive and the terms of the engagement can also be onerous but suppliers have put up with the company's stringent conditions for so long because they hope to ride its coattails to success too. In order to keep them motivated, Apple needs to constantly review its OEM-supplier relationship and ensure component vendors are getting a fair shake.