A quote from a Columbia Business School star finance and strategy professor Bruce Greenwald comes to mind as I start this post – “ Apple are great technologists but horrible in strategy“. He was talking about Apple’s strategy with respect to the iPhone – of restricting the iPhone to one carrier AT&T. His contention was that Apple was precisely making the same strategic errors that they had made with with the Mac – that left it a bit player in the consumer PC market. Prof. Greenwald’s hypothesis was that Apple’s MacOS will never be truly “mainstream” due to the fact that Windows had that “critical mass” in both the enterprise and educational marketplace. He would ask the class for a show of hands of the # of folks who owned a Mac. CBS being what it is (a top end Ivy League Business School in New York City – about 70% of the class would raise their hands). And then he would follow up with another question, ” How many people use Macs at their workplace (we are the executive MBA class) – and maybe one person would raise his/her hand. And that rather anecdotal exercise made his point – yes, a lot of us have the Macs as our personal toys – but very few used Macs in things that really mattered – work.
And his contention was that the iPhone was fated exactly the same way – unless Apple opened up its closed application development environment and allowed the iPhone to be sold to multiple carriers.
This blogger agrees – the iPhone is really a platform – to limit it to a carrier with serious limitations is AT&T does nothing but marginalize it in the long run. And it’s starting to show. Android is starting to make a serious bid for the smartphone marketshare. WebOS, while still a bit-player has real potential. And the reality is, millions of consumers will never think of giving up their carrier to join the much maligned AT&T (Disclaimer: The author uses Sprint and is very, very happy with his carrier; he would never switch to AT&T).
So what does this mean? Its a much commented upon topic – If Apple has not learnt from its Mac debacle – that to truly gain marketshare (which btw, should be the mantra of a public company -to increase shareholder value – not just gratuitous comments about ” we dont care about marketshare at Apple”), then it should seriously revisit its iPhone strategy.
Yes, overall, it still is the best smartphone eco-system in the market yet. But the operative word is “yet”. Very competitive (and competent) players are catching on. And it would be a shame to see the iPhone platform become a bit-player, not due to technology – but due to misplaced corporate strategy.