Opinion: Why Apple can’t sustain tablet dominance

apple amazon google ipad kindle nexus 7 tablet marketFor the last decade, Apple’s success has largely been driven by massive dominance. I’d even call it market ownership. At its peak the iPod claimed better than 85 percent of the MP3 player market. Then Apple spiked the smartphone market and initially took a leading position in it. But now the iPhone has fallen behind both the Android and, more recently, Samsung. Rather than leading the smartphone market, Apple currently seems to be chasing it, racing to get the larger iPhone 5 into stores this quarter to offset massive market share declines.

With tablets, Apple started out owning the new market, and it still leads it. The iPad initially held a position analogous to that of the iPod. Until recently, we even talked about the tablet market as “the iPad market.” But the iPad has fallen to 68 percent share (it started out with 95 percent), and that was before the Nexus 7, the new Kindle Fire line, and the Microsoft Surface tablets shipped. So Apple no longer owns the tablet market, and will likely lose dominance this year or next.

So why is Apple unable to maintain iPod-like dominance with smartphones and tablets? The reason is the vastly different market dynamics surrounding smartphones and tablets. The current environment favors a multi-vendor market, while the iPod market didn’t. That also explains why there really isn’t an iPod market anymore, either. Let me explain.

iPod: Unique product in a unique time

Music is what made the iPod work, and Apple figured out how to provide a service that would allow you to get the music on the device and manage it relatively easily. The company then created an ecosystem of proprietary accessories and interfaces that allowed you to move you music around your home and into your car. Apple’s iPod worked natively on radios in hotel rooms; you could control them from your dashboard; and there were a massive number of unique iPod accessories that no one else could match. Smartphones eventually eclipsed iPods, so we don’t really talk about iPods anymore. Much as we look back at IBM’s loss of mainframe dominance, we will eventually look back and see Apple’s failure to defend the iPod as a strategic mistake.

first generation ipod appleBasically, Apple got it right first then, created an ecosystem that locked everyone else out. The iPod became a key to the music lock and no one else was allowed to make another key. At its peak, Apple likely had over 95 percent of the MP3 player market. The only surprising thing is that Apple never got to the even higher percentages Microsoft achieved with its similar Windows strategy, or that IBM reached with the original mainframe — approaching 100 percent.

But that kind of dominance can’t be sustained with tablets or smartphones.

Why Apple couldn’t sustain smartphone and can’t sustain tablet dominance

The key thing with massive dominance is control. IBM controlled mainframes so it controlled the market. Microsoft controlled Windows and it controlled the market. But IBM has never recreated that dominance, and if you consider that tablets and smartphones are hand held PCs, it’s clear that Microsoft has lost its dominance as well.

Currently the PC, tablet, and smartphone segments are becoming very similar. Interfaces are increasingly standardized across all platforms, and connectivity has always been standardized. Applications are tied to unique app stores, but developers are aggressively moving between platforms. And key apps, like the Netflix and Kindle apps, are available on all volume platforms. For the time being, this mostly occurs between iOS and Android which is why those two dominate both spaces but even that co-dominance can and will be challenged as we move more aggressively to Web-based services and can more easily move between products from different vendors.

So, while Apple could still get out in front of a segment — like as it did recently with tablets — it can’t sustain dominance. No one can, unless they can assure lock-in. And the current environment doesn’t allow that.

The once and future king

That doesn’t mean Apple couldn’t become dominant again. After all, IBM did it; then Microsoft; then Apple. Each, in a way, passed dominance to its successor. But this level of sustained dominance doesn’t appear to recur with the same vendor even if it launched the category. IBM was early on PCs, but had to leave the segment after Microsoft’s dominance. Microsoft led with MP3s, but had to exit with the Zune after Plays for Sure failed. Apple did have moments of massive dominance with the iPhone and iPad, but just couldn’t sustain it.

vizio google tv set top box

The leading candidate for the next dominant product is a TV set-top box, and the one that suddenly has interest is the Google TV product from Vizio. Following the Microsoft Windows model, Google — which owns the ecosystem — would become the dominant player in this scenario, not Vizio. Set-top boxes, as a segment, have been controlled by cable and satellite providers who fully subsidize the hardware, making me doubt this outcome. But I see no other new product with a similar capability.

If Google TV is going to ensure dominance, it will have to be tied to some form of sustainable customer lock-in and that, in a Web world, is increasingly likely to be a Web service that favors Web companies like Google and Facebook. So the next iPod-like dominant product is likely to come from the Web, and thus unlikely to come from Apple — even though, as with IBM and Microsoft, we’ll likely find that it could have.

Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the authaor, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Digital Trends Live

Microsoft has #*!@ed up to-do lists on an epic scale

Microsoft has mucked up to-do lists on a scale you simply can’t imagine, a failure that spans multiple products and teams, like a lil’ bit of salmonella that contaminates the entire output from a factory.

Need a new tablet? The best iPad deals for January 2019

In the wide world of tablets, Apple is still the king. If you're on team Apple and just can't live without iOS, we've curated an up-to-date list of all of the best iPad deals currently available for December 2018.
Smart Home

Want a smarter home? Ditch the keys with these great smart locks

A good smart lock should offer a combination of security and convenience. Fortunately, these devices keep your home protected, your family safe, and your belongings secure from possible intruders.

Android vs. iOS: Which smartphone platform is the best?

If you’re trying to choose a new phone and you’re not sure about the merits and pitfalls of the leading smartphone operating systems, then come on in for a detailed breakdown as we pit Android vs. iOS in various categories.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.

As Amazon turns up the volume on streaming, Spotify should shudder

Multiple players are all looking to capitalize on the popularity of streaming, but it has thus far proved nearly impossible to make a profit. Could major tech companies like Amazon be primed for a streaming take-over?

Throw out the sandbox. ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ is a fully realized western world

Despite featuring around 100 story missions, the real destination in Red Dead Redemption 2 is the journey you make for yourself in the Rockstar's open world, and the game is better for it.

‘Diablo Immortal’ is just the beginning. Mobile games are the future

Diablo fans were furious about Diablo Immortal, but in truth, mobile games are the future. From Apple and Samsung to Bethesda and Blizzard, we’re seeing a new incentive for games that fit on your phone.
Movies & TV

He created comics, movies, and superheroes. But Stan Lee lived for joy

Stan Lee was a creator, a celebrity, an icon, and beneath it all, a real-life good guy with all the same human qualities that made his superheroes so relatable. And his greatest joy was sharing his creations with the world.

Brian Eno sets out to change music (again) with Bloom: 10 World

We always felt that Bloom was a musical system that could be developed further -- it was as if we’d built a CD player and only ever released one CD. For this release, we’ve created ten new worlds, starting with a reimagined version of…

Can two operating systems coexist? The Pixel Slate thinks so

The Pixel Slate is a 2-in-1 device like no other. It’s not the most polished product we’ve ever used, but Google has laid the foundation for letting mobile and desktop software live side-by-side in peace.

Why commercials in Android Auto could turn your dashboard into a dumpster fire

Google announced some tweaks to the Android Auto experience, focused on making messaging and media easier, but I worry about the future of the platform. For better or worse, there’s a real chance our dashboards could turn into dumpster…

These are the best video games you shouldn't leave 2018 without

Developers showed up with a number of amazing games this year. Each capitalized on something unique but there's always one that outdoes them all. Here are our picks for the best video games of 2018 and game of the year.
Home Theater

Will Marvel’s shows lose their punch if they move from Netflix to Disney Plus?

Disney could pick up the Marvel shows being canceled by Netflix, but the idea raises all sorts of questions. Is continuing Daredevil, Punisher, or Jessica Jones on Disney's own streaming service a good move?