04 June 2014

re/code: “What’s Apple Really Up To? Keeping You in Apple World”

To my mind, the overwhelming theme at WWDC was that your digital life can be better if your phone, tablet and laptop all have the familiar Apple logo. Unlike in the past, it wasn’t just about a better laptop operating system, or a better phone-and-tablet platform. It was all about the advantages you get if you use Apple hardware, software and services for everything.

The biggest new features were about making iPhones, iPads and Macs work seamlessly together, so that people on Planet Apple have no reason to leave, and those toting other brands might be tempted to fully join the Apple tribe.

Walt Mossberg

Well, that’s generally what platforms do, constantly reinforcing the positive effects of being member of an ‘exclusive club’. But this can also work against the platform if the costs to join the club are too high. Since you only get the ‘full Apple experience’ by owning two of their devices or more, people who only buy one (be it an iPhone or iPad) don’t get the benefit of many features. They are likely in the majority, as the recent numbers mentioned at WWDC show there are about 80 million Macs in active use, compared to hundreds of million iPhones and iPads.

Better integration with other Apple products might tempt them to go further into Apple’s world, but since their hardware is consistently the most expensive on the market, it would require serious investment and most people can’t justify paying extra for commodity devices. It’s no coincidence Apple has a strong market share in the U.S., where iPhones are heavily subsidized and appear much cheaper than in the rest of the world; and with developers and designers who can pass the cost of purchasing Macs to their clients. At this point, deep integration with a Mac might actually drag down iPhone adoption, since people can have a similar level of integration with services on Android devices or with a Windows 8/Windows Phone combo at lower cost. And platform integration itself will play less of a role as people adopt larger phones as their main devices, leaving both tablets and PCs behind.

Still, Apple has started opening up lately: iCloud Drive should be available on Windows as well, iOS 8 will allow custom third-party keyboards and remove the performance limitations for in-app browsers, which should help compete better with Safari on iOS. So maybe there is some hope to see iMessage on other platforms sometime in the future; probably in another year, when messaging apps will be over and it won’t matter anyway.

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