Apple's Q1 2101 revenue and profit results were astounding by any yardstick. A company with $13B in net profit is obviously doing something right. You don't haul in over $46B in revenue in one quarter through slick marketing; customers are rewarding Apple for constructing an interlocking system of products and services that people enjoy using. Apple fans are justified in lobbing a hearty "I told you so" to those who doubted the Apple approach.
Yet there is something unsettling about all the celebrating in the Mac blogosphere. We're losing sight of what's really important.
I've been using Apple products since the late 1980s, and I've forked over thousands of dollars to the company over the intervening years. I fought to use a Mac when I ran the website for a government agency, and had to go all the way to the CFO to gain approval. I created a blog devoted to helping Mac-using law students, back in the days when such a blog was necessary. You could say Apple is in my blood.
That said, I think it's important for those of us who use Apple products to be mindful of what we're celebrating. Are we celebrating the fact that Apple has a staggering $97B in cash? Or is it that the company has a higher valuation than every other company on the planet? Are we rooting for the football team that got pummeled for years and has finally become unbeatable?
In a sense, we are. After years of hearing about how I was a bit weird for using a Mac, there's a certain satisfaction in watching friends switch from Windows to Macintosh. I get a kick out of going to parties and noticing that even the Apple naysayers now have iPhones. The little band of outcasts has become a globe-enveloping swarm, and I was there in the beginning.
This sort of tribal affiliation should come as no surprise. We are, after all, just humans. I'm sure there are some people who are happy to use Apple products because it helps them feel hip and sophisticated. But in my experience most people fork over their hard-earned cash to Apple because they want their personal technology to work in a way that is comfortable and reliable.
For a time, if you wanted that kind of ease of use and quality, Apple really was the only game in town. Apple still holds a strong lead. By building the hardware, software, and cloud services themselves, Apple can maintain a strategic advantage that is difficult for competitors to overcome. As long as Apple stays on its game, no mix-and-match set of hardware, software, and services can provide a comparable user experience.
But Apple's success has forced even the most sluggish of its competitors to realize that the total user experience is of paramount importance. Android v4 marks a leap forward for the mobile OS in style and polish. Windows Phone demonstrates that Microsoft is capable of producing an exceptional user interface without mimicking Apple. Nokia continues to ship hardware of outstanding quality. There is no shortage of companies learning from Apple's success.
One could argue that Apple came first, and that Google, Microsoft, and Nokia are mere copycats. But that discussion invariably devolves into a useless tit-for-tat comparison. The big players in consumer technology are all busy innovating. They're all learning from each other's successes and failures. That's the nature of any market, and that's as it should be. What matters is not that one company succeeds or fails, but that I am well served.
If Apple continues to deliver an intelligently designed, well-implemented array of products and services, they'll get more of my money. But at the end of the day, the reason I have supported Apple for so long is that they have made my life better by producing tools that are valuable to me at work, at home, and on the move. If Apple loses its focus and stops delivering value to me, and another company is able to step in with a better approach, I'll gladly turn coat.
Steve Jobs wouldn't have it any other way.
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