Apple's devoted customers love the company's ecosystem, which weaves the company's devices and software together with users' content almost seamlessly. That ecosystem has become the envy of some rival businesses that actually have better sales and a bigger market share than Apple does.
You may not know, for instance, that in October 2011, Samsung beat out Apple as the world's top smartphone maker, according to the Wall Street Journal. Or that Google's Android OS is currently the most popular U.S. smartphone platform, with nearly 47 percent of the market, according to the latest numbers form metrics firm ComScore.
In the U.S. PC market, Apple claim only about 11 percent of sales, market research firms Gartner and IDC have reported, and its share of the worldwide PC market share is so small that the Mac maker usually gets merged into the "Other" slice of the pie chart. (in 2007, Apple dropped the "Computer" from its name Apple Computer to represent the company more accurately as a consumer electronics firm and not just a PC maker.)
But Apple does have its extraordinary ecosystem, which raises the question: Can any of its rivals beat Apple at its own game? In this story, we'll look at why Apple is so far ahead, and we'll examine the top five contenders--Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Sony--to see what they have, what they don't have, and how they may or may not succeed against the technology industry's most visionary company.
Let's start with why Apple has such a big lead.
CES: Apple's Shadow Presence
Apple doesn't participate in the biggest U.S. technology show, CES, which is held every January in Las Vegas; for that matter, it doesn't even participate in Macworld|iWorld (formerly Macworld Expo), which will begin next weekend in San Francisco. However, the company's influence can be seen every year in product debuts from other companies at CES, including Acer, Asus, Lenovo, Samsung, and Sony.
This year's show was no different. CES 2012 was yet another parade of Apple wannabes touting new iPad challengers in the tablet division, and MacBook Air knockoffs known as Ultrabooks in the ultraportable laptop category.
Some companies aren't shy about focusing on Apple. Samsung's Apple imitations came so close to the original that Apple responded by suing the Korea-based manufacturer for creating products that borrow heavily from Apple's designs. Meanwhile, in November, Sony CEO Howard Stringer acknowledged that his company has spent the past five years creating a platform to compete against Apple, according to the Wall Street Journal.
During last week's CES 2012, other companies such as Acer, Lenovo, and Samsung discussed strategies to create a device ecosystem similar to Apple's that would include seamless content and personal data sharing. Lenovo even went so far as to call itself a "personal cloud solution provider" instead of a lowly PC manufacturer.
Imitation: Sincerest Form of Flattery?
It's no surprise that technology firms want to imitate Apple's success. Cupertino makes some of the most interesting and exciting consumer electronics products on the market, including the iPad, the iPhone, and the MacBook Air. And all of Apple's devices function within a larger ecosystem that has evolved over time.
Starting in 2001, Apple's devices melded together through the use of iTunes and with the PC as a hub for all of a user's digital content.
In 2011, Apple announced a move away from iTunes and the desktop onto iCloud remote servers designed to make users' personal files, music, movies, and apps available to them at any time, anywhere. To access your content, all you need is an Internet connection and an Apple-approved device such as an iPod Touch, an iPhone, an iPad, or a PC running OS X or Windows.
Technology companies trying to emulate Apple's success have devised strategies that focus on four distinct areas: apps, cloud, content, and devices. Apple's competitors only recently figured out this "magic formula," and they are now trying to create their own version of it.
Let's take a look at what Apple's top five rivals bring to the party.
Apps: Appstore for Android
Cloud: Amazon Cloud Drive
Content: Amazon MP3 Store, Amazon Video on Demand, Kindle Books
Devices: Kindle and Kindle Fire
Amazon is the clear front-runner among Apple challengers, thanks to its wide array of digital content, which includes movies, music, and television shows. The online retailer's weakest point may be its devices. The Kindle Fire tablet has received mixed reviews, with some critics calling it a great piece of hardware for the price, and others calling it an unfinished product.
Amazon will need more than just one device to push its content platform, and the next addition may happen soon; every few months, a new rumor surfaces about an Amazon smartphone.
Next: Google, Microsoft, Samsung, and Sony