Is Apple becoming more concerned with strategy than technology?
That's the question (and accusation, really) leveled at Apple by the Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins Jr., who decries Apple's strategy as little more than "zero-sum maneuvering versus hated rivals."
He has a point. But is it valid?
Apple may be succumbing to the seductive temptations of "network effects," in which the all-consuming goal becomes getting its mobile devices into more and more hands simply for the purpose of locking more and more users into iTunes....
Network effects can be a path to power and riches, but (as Microsoft has shown) much of the proceeds can also end up being squandered on defensive and paranoid attempts to secure the privileged position.
So is Apple the company that creates "insanely great" products or is it the company that creates insanely great business strategies for locking customers into its walled-garden content emporium?
It may be both, which is exactly how Microsoft got started.
In stark contrast is Google. Google is no saint, and has its own ambitions for owning the Web. But Google's recent foray into ultra-fast broadband is instructive. The Mountain View search giant isn't fencing in its prospective customers to Google-only Web properties. Google plans to give these customers the key to a blazingly fast Web, and then compete for their business in search, e-mail, and so on.
Granted, Google is only willing to do this because it feels that more consumers will choose its offerings than those of Microsoft or other competitors, but it's still a very different strategy from Apple's.
I've long been a devout Apple fan, and remain such. But Apple's my-way-or-the-highway approach rankles somewhat.
The thing I particularly like about Google's approach is its heavy reliance on open source. It may be, as ZDNet's Dana Blankenhorn argues, that Google is growing beyond its open-source roots, but it's also true that Google views open source and open standards as open doors to its services.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt is quick to admit Google's competition is just "one click away," but Google's model works because it does so much to foster "one-click" open access to its services. The more people on the Web, the more will use Google.
So Google open-sources the Web, as it were.
Not Apple. It's a phenomenally successful company, but its strategy is the inverse of Google's. Apple is all about creating a closed (but enticing) ecosystem, one that becomes more closed with every device, as Tom Foremski cogently argues. It's a bit more like Microsoft every day.