The iPhone invented a market but, like all markets, it became flooded with me-toos and similar devices.
There are plenty of lemmings out there who are willing to pay a premium price for an iPhone but, at the same time, there are many devices out there that duplicate or exceed the features of the iPhone at a better price point and with a wider selection of service providers. This is not a way to keep a brand alive - except by arrogance and brand negative identification - a scheme that will, in time, burn the brand that sponsors negative advertising (think of what-his-face vs. Obama in 2012).
I have never been a fan of Apple's marketing strategy. It is a Borg-like envelop and own scheme that captures clients and keeps them in the walled garden.
At the same time, Apple has come to the market with the best and most reliable hardware - while making it almost impossible for anyone to repair their devices when they fail. From replacing batteries on iPods to repairing the screens on iMacs I have seen the repair model go from 'fix it' to 'replace it' - this is not good for the technology ecosystem but has been great for Apple's bottom line.
Apple will, in the long term, become a forgotten brand - a developer of breakthrough devices that were, in turn, pwoned by others.
Their only way out is to come up with something that breaks the mold - and I'm betting against the company doing this, both from my own feelings and my knowledge of the evolution of technology companies. Jobs ran Apple as his own fiefdom and allowed no completion within the company - that is not a way to develop a skilled successor. History calls it the 'long reign' syndrome - in Great Britain think of Edward III, Victoria I; in Russia think of Ivan Grozny; in Prussia think of Fredrick II - all succeeded by incompetents that started wars that reduced the empires - either to nothing or less than they were.
Of course the iPhone is relevant - but companies don't live on this year's bottom line or even next year's but the bottom line in five or ten years. If a company can't keep the market stirring with new devices they are dead in the water - just like an oil company with plenty of production but little reserves. Technology companies are incredibly difficult to keep 'fresh' - what can they do that will 1-up their own products as well as the competition?
Apple has succeeded in this area to a phonemenal degree - but it can't last forever. Success in battle breeds understanding on the part of the opponent and eventual defeat - be it a few years or a few decades, but the model can't keep producing a good bottom line when the company is using existing technology to milk the market. I don't see Apple pulling rabbits out of its hat forever - and alternative is market lock-in and technoligical stagnation, which is bad for all of us.
Interesting comments. I hope you got a chance to see the archive of our chat today. So you're saying all empires come to an end, sooner or later. However, if Apple is still selling something that people perceive to have value beyond the cost, it doesn't matter if other people can't see holes in Apple's marketing or can't see value in other products. Apple will able to afloat as long as someone still buys product and services. What if making smartphones eventually becomes like making beer...some breweries have been around for centuries. They aren't empires but instead good local or worldwide business that have become tradtions. People get used to a tradition and a good product. They keep buying it. That would be strange if Apple were around in 100 years making the same stuff or making --- hmmm --- making beer?
Not sure I can enjoy a phone the way I ejoy beer - and I live in Madison,WI, the center of the micro brew business these days - at least 100 breweries wihin a 50 mile radius. Some are excellent, some are kiddie beer (over hopped, other strange ingedients). They won't all survive but it's nice to have a wide range of choice.
That's the opposite to what Apple would have us do - Apple or nothing - and I think better interfaces and a wider range of devices and carriers would make the industry a lot more interesting. As it is now we have a few choices, especially in carriers (Verizon is the only carrier that works at my mid-central Wsconsin farm, for example).
But, yes, all empires and monopolies fail in time, either due to competitors with a better mouse trap or their own errors or the law catching up with them. Some manage to survive in another form - AT&T is a good example - while others break up due to other market forces - the railroads are a good couter-example.
Semiconductor technology and software is a new game - it's not been around for long enough for the definitive book to be written (not for lack of authors trying) but semiconductors and software have a long way to go before they become dollar alarm clocks - it will take many generations for a stable market to evolve, but my bets aren't on Apple - the 'long reign' rule, for one, is against them - it's hard to keep that fesh, invenive spirit alive when all the internal competitors have been beheaded or thrown under the bus.
But time will tell - nothing I say will be true in 10 years - that's the only certainty.
What an interesting parallel Susan! I wonder if the smartphone market will ever level into the kind of regional business of some beer manufacturers - e.g. Olympia beer in the Northwest. We all know it's in the water...