In an article yesterday, I pushed for Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) to do the unthinkable for many "iHeads" - to license its iOS mobile operating system and its OS X for Macs to other hardware manufacturers. I was deeply surprised by many of the "iMyths" I discovered among Apple devotees which ran counter to Apple's own history and that of various industries preceding the personal computer. I have highlighted below the most mendacious myths surrounding Apple:
I. "Apple makes high-end products, and low-end competition from Android will never be a real threat."
This was a discredited meme first invented by the U.S. car companies to shrug off foreign competition. The U.S. auto companies tried to argue that Lincoln and Cadillac were insulated from foreign economy car competition represented by Honda (NYSE:HMC), Toyota (NYSE:TM), and Nissan (OTCPK:NSANF), but the tiny economy cars were a beachhead from which the Japanese launched Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti and threatened the U.S. automakers in the luxury market. Similarly, the pairing of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android with Samsung's (OTC:SSNLF) Galaxy III and Galaxy Note II is an authentic and viable competitive threat to the iPhone in the high end market.
II. "Bundling hardware with software will always result in the ultimate user experience."
This ignores the fact that Android users would still have a better experience with the iOS, and Windows users would have a better experience with OS X. Why should people who are unable to pay for premium hardware be doomed to inferior software? Why not give consumers a choice? If Apple does not, its refusal to do so creates a wide open market for competitors to offer alternatives - and competitors have. Since someone will sell these consumers operating systems, why shouldn't it be Apple?
III. "Android is essentially free, so market share numbers are meaningless."
Google and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) proved the new school model: get a massive audience, then find a way to monetize it. Of course, you have to execute on a rational plan for monetizing an audience, but the notion that somehow because "free is unfair" makes it any less of a competitive threat is ridiculous. Apple is not a hostage to some past decision. Like a stockholder for whom a hold decision is an active buy, it is actively choosing not to license its iOS to Nokia (NYSE:NOK) or Samsung, or others. Without an alternative, hardware makers will of course buy or develop something else. Moreover, once people get used to an ecosystem like Android, it becomes less likely for them to ever switch to an iOS operating system, because ecosystems, user experiences, applications, and interfaces are sticky. People get comfortable with an operating system and stick with it. As competitors churn out a variety of alternatives to iPhones, millions of people per day are getting more comfortable with Android, and other mobile OS alternatives and are less likely to buy iPhones in the future.
IV. "Apple has record profits, so that validates its current strategy."
In 1991, IBM (NYSE:IBM) was in a similar situation - on top of the world with record profits. In the next 3 years, it would lose control of the computing industry. Unlike almost any other business except finance, technology is subject to discontinuous paradigm shifts which are non-linear in nature. As the competitive environment becomes more brutal, we are moving to a winner-takes-all society in which dominance is a requirement for survival. In other words, if you're not dominating a category, you're dying. BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY) (formerly Research in Motion) and Palm learned that lesson the hard way. As Andy Grove reminds us, "Only the Paranoid Survive." Tim Cook has an opportunity to make a bold break with the past, license Apple's operating systems, and hyper-charge growth. (It will be interesting to see if BlackBerry comes back. There is a whisper campaign that its new OS might just have the right stuff.)
Current dominance is not necessarily predictive of future dominance unless an industry standard platform is owned. If two kids in Albuquerque (Bill Gates and Paul Allen) could wrestle strategic control of personal computers from IBM, Apple cannot afford to rest easy when pitted against the likes of Google and Samsung.
V. "Steve Jobs was a tech demi-god, and anyone who argues against his strategy is bad."
Most ideas which are now generally accepted were once thought to be obscure and ridiculous (flat earth anyone?). Of course any new thinking by definition must offend any old and well-regarded consensus. Otherwise it would not be innovative. Given Apple's current good health, we forget that in its earliest days, it revolutionized making intuitive GUIs commercially available to retail users, but then stumbled when it came to maintaining dominance in the personal computer industry as the company matured, before returning to dominance after Jobs' return to the company during its flirtation with oblivion.
Dominance is not a birthright in the tech industry - it is a strategy. And one cannot dominate an entire industry if one refuses to sell to the majority of it - the other hardware makers. Apple needs to re-envision some of its current blood enemies as potential customers. Since these competitors will be buying software somewhere, it might as well be from Apple - and since a portion of the market will always be something other than iPhones, Apple might as well capture that business for its iOS. Tim Cook is a CEO in his own right - he is not a caretaker. He needn't repeat Apple's early mistakes in personal computers and lose the future of mobile operating systems.