You’ve probably noticed that virtually every PC and phone maker is rushing to put out a tablet this year. The iPad has been a huge hit for Apple, and nobody wants to miss the boat if it’s not just Apple’s individual product but the entire category of slate-style devices really starts to take off. That all makes a lot of sense. But what doesn’t necessarily make sense is trying to create an entire Apple-like ecosystem. Or rather, it makes a lot of sense for device makers, but not necessarily for consumers.

Let’s break it down. The Apple iPad syncs with iTunes, where you can purchase apps, music, movies, and books to enjoy on your iPad, iPhone, or computer. The iTunes system also works rather nicely with Apple computers — although the software can also run on Windows machines. Basically if you’re a Mac person, you’re all set. You buy a Mac computer, an iPhone, iPad, and maybe even an Apple TV and everything works seamlessly together.

Things get a little more complicated though, if you’re HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo or another PC maker. That’s because while Apple has maintained tight control of the hardware and software sides of its business, most PC manufacturers have been in the hardware business. Sure, they develop value-added software that’s designed to make their Windows computers look more appealing. But most people I know ignore those apps altogether, or uninstall them at the first chance.

The truth is that a large portion of the public views PC brands as interchangeable. Sure, some companies have better reputations than others for building reliable products, offering good customer service, or offering good bargains on products. But you can walk into any computer store today and buy any brand name (or generic) desktop or laptop PC and have a pretty good sense that it will run most Windows apps just fine. If your Dell computer dies today there’s nothing stopping you from picking up a Lenovo computer to replace it tomorrow and moving all of your files and settings from one PC to the next.

But PC makers, like any retailers, want to create brand awareness and loyalty. You know, like Apple has done. The latest approach is to create a software and hardware ecosystem so that if you buy all Acer products, for instance, you get more out of the experience. You know, like Apple has done.

Acer has introduced a new service and a media store that’s designed to work across computers, tablets, and other Acer devices.

HP is going a step further, eschewing Google Android and instead launching a line of phones and tablets running webOS software — which will also be able to run on HP desktop computers. The company may also be developing its own music and movie stores.

Samsung Media Hub is designed to provide music and movies to Samsung device users.

Sony is expected to launch a tablet with tight integration into its Playstation network.

Research in Motion doesn’t make computers, but the company’s BlackBerry PlayBook features tight integration with BlackBerry smartphones. In fact currently the only way to get online using a 3G connection, or to view a native BlackBerry Calender or Contact app is to pair the tablet with a phone.

You know what all of these plans have in common? They’re examples of companies trying to create an Apple-like ecosystem, where you get more out of the experience if you only buy Acer, HP, Samsung, Sony, or RIM products. But I’m not convinced that will work for companies with a long history of making products that are interchangeable with those of their competitors. They’d have to retrain consumers to think there’s something special about their devices, while Apple has been doing that since day one thanks to its proprietary hardware and operating system.

If you buy an HP computer, it will run almost any app that’s available for an Acer computer. But if you buy an HP TouchPad running webOS, it will not be able to run apps designed to run on the Acer Iconia Tab A500 which runs Android. I think that’s going to confuse customers who have been used to the interchangeability of Windows PCs or Android devices.

I’d be surprised if HP didn’t provide a way to use the tablet with a non-HP computer, and I certainly hope that music or movies you purchase from the HP media store will be playable on a Samsung tablet — but the experience won’t be as seamless as using Apple products, and it’s not clear that you’ll be able to run webOS apps on anything but an HP device.

So what’s the solution? Honestly, it might be to leave the whole software ecosystem to third parties. After all, HP, Dell, Acer, Lenovo, and most other PC makers have been happy to let Microsoft develop operating systems for the past 20 years.

Google is expected to launch its own media store for Android soon. The experience of using an Android tablet and media purchased from Google will likely be the same no matter what kind of PC you use.

That’s not to say a Google ecosystem is the only viable alternative to Apple’s. Amazon is rumored to be working on a tablet which will feature tight integration with the company’s digital media stores. In some ways, I think Amazon could offer an even more compelling media purchasing/viewing experience on an Android tablet than an all-Google tablet. Amazon already offers its own app store, eBook store, MP3 music store, and a cloud storage service which lets you upload your music collection to the web and listen on an Android device.

What would set an Amazon tablet apart from a Sony, HP, or Acer device is the fact that Amazon has already built a strong ecosystem for purchasing and accessing media across a variety of platforms. Instead of trying to build one from scratch to work with existing hardware, Amazon may be taking the opposite approach of building hardware to showcase its software — but there’s probably nothing stopping HP, Lenovo, or another company from simply buying into an Amazon or Google ecosystem and sharing the profits from media sales… except for the hope that by going it alone they can become the next Apple.

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14 replies on “Why everyone is trying to be Apple… and why it probably won’t work”

  1. I don’t believe anyone is trying to be like apple, “maybe Samsung”. I do believe everyone is persuing that synergy between their hardware and the android OS. A synergy that Apple has achieved only because they are in control of every aspect of their production both hardware and software, and as being well known for their choices to exclude less than perfected technology in their product, flash for example. Or the fact that the Apple OS is one of the most minimalistic OS on the market, allowing the hardware of today to facilitate its smooth functionality with little to no effort on the part of Intels latest CPUs. Apple has a fantastic product in the Ipad ut the I pad is no Xoom and vice cersa. These devices ate designed for two completely different demographics, Ipad for the Yuppi, Xoom tablet for the diehard PC tech nerd..just my two cents.

  2. I agree that RIM did launch the PB a little early, but not because of half-baked software (OS), but because of available apps. I think that the absence of email and other PIM apps (unless paired with a BB) will make all but BB users shy away. But, I’ve owned an iPad1 (too heavy, too big, too dumb – give me mac os on it and we have something…), bought (and returned) Viewsonic, GTabs. The PB blows them all away. Blazing fast, portable, fantastic screen. i hope it can sustain a market ’til more apps arrive It deserves a fair comparison to the iPad.

    It would not be a stretch to say that the iOS still is half-baked (for me – again too weak) but the apps and Apple ecosystem are highly polished. For the PB, the opposite is the case. Amazingly powerful OS with weak ecosystem and lacking apps.

  3. apple isn’t that amazing! i feel that people tend to view it as this amazing company. In fact, it hasn’t dominated any kind of market ever in its lifetime. iOS is getting beaten by android. mac is never going to win against windows. and the ipad is just a fad that will go away in a few years.

    1. iOS has already outsold Android by a large margin if you count all iPads and iPod Touches in there, so at least Apple is dominating the mobile market.

      In case you missed that bit of information:

      And here’s the information for Europe:

      I feel there are people offended by this article, but I think it was a good read, and it posed an interesting question.

      1. iOS is foretold to be a minor operating system by 2012 compared to Android by some market analytics. In fact Android devices have outsold iOS devices in Q1 of 2011 and it’s unlikely that this will change. (google is your friend)

    2. I wont go as far to say that Apple is a fad, its been around as long as Microsoft has and its products have always played the underdog role as far as market share goes only because the powers that be at apple refuse to allow cloning of their product and for no other reason. Apple’s problem is that everyone is gunning for not just the market share but the synergistic nature of its hardware and software, something that apple has refused to compromise. I am an Android faithful but i would be the first to admit that Apple has retained a level of purity that none of its competitors have ever even considered to be an option, Apple had drawn its line in the sand and shown us time and time again that it will not compromise its commitment to the “experience” for any dollar amount and people respect that. Apple remains the only Virgin in a world of Whores.

  4. Apple does not produce all their own software on the desktop side.
    MS office for mac does very well, as does photoshop.
    Neither of those, of course, in house productions. There are plenty of heavily used third party apps for mac, just like for a PC.
    Apple users like to believe the marketing that everything on a mac ‘just works’. Yet a casual observation of geek space will see regular updates to mac software to fix problems and the like – just like a PC.
    For the past few years, mac and PC hardware has been virtually identical – except for price.

    Ipad was done well by apple and they deserve to be where they are.
    However, as pointed out already, the race has just started so calling it now is a little premature.
    I think you’ve already seen a mistake by apple actually.
    They clearly had their usual product cycle already mapped out with the no-cameras, crap-cameras, decent-cameras (on ipad3 I’m guessing).
    They did not bother to step up too much with ipad2.
    Thinner yes and a bit faster sure – and of course the cameras (which get near universal pans in reviews).
    But – already you hear rumors that ipad3 will come this fall, though it won’t of course.
    I think you hear that rumor due to a silent but real overall disappointment by the apple fan community in the update that was ipad2.
    Most people expected a bigger or higher res screen.

    To me the one thing apple has going on right now is the music software released with ipad2. That’s the only thing which might draw me to it over another choice I think.

    In any event – by this time next year we should know more as the race will have started by then.

  5. I always love how Apple and Apple fans want to finish the race before its even started.

    We should also realize that Windows tablets are not categorized with the iPad–because they do more they are classified as PCs usually, thus the whole market share for the iPad is BS just like the iPod–most people use their phone as an MP3 player but we don’t count them. . . yes, research it 50+% use their phone to play music and cell phones sell a whole lot more than the freakin iPod.

    Apple does a great job at marketing and stealing other companies’ IP and claiming it as their own and then convincing their fan base that it is Apple’s “original” IP–loved how they licensed the Mac GUI to MS. . . Xerox didn’t really appreciate that nor the fact that Apple was patenting their ideas–don’t even say that Apple licensed it form Xerox. They had a cash and carry deal which gave them access to the Alto not the right to blatantly steal/copy the OS, not a licensing agreement and definitely not the ability to relicense it to MS.

    Nonetheless, Apple does great at getting a product hyped and making it popular however, they do a crap job at giving users what they really want and that’s why users went with Windows and now Android. Apple is just too closed, way too controlling and just don’t offer enough hardware choices. Therefore, Apple will always find themselves back in the same spot. . . no where near the #1 platform.

    Wait till MS releases Win8 and we have a tablet like the Asus Transformer running Windows. It will be a tablet, a laptop, a desktop, etc. . . all in one with the huge ecosystem of Windows program, not crappy apps.

    We just entered the bottom of the first inning.

  6. I think HP stands a chance with webOS because it really is a great OS. That said, they have a long way to go before they catch up to Apple.

  7. I really enjoyed that article. 🙂

    To nitpick a tiny bit, though, Sony’s been trying and failing at that since before Apple got into the game, and I only wish I could treat my Thinkpad interchangeably — nobody else uses the trackstick. 🙁

  8. The other problem with competing against apple is equivalence. You can’t have a direct comparison, so value judgement are become much more subjective.

    And apple, if nothing else, is excellent at influencing buyers based on subjective, non-existent differences in their hardware. If they can persuade you to pony up an extra $100 (minimum – way more for their “premium” products) for the logo and case on an otherwise generic PC platform as an underdog, good luck going up against them as the incumbent. No matter how good your product is, it *can’t* compete head to head, because they own iOS. And if it is similar, it *will* fall short. And different is risky…

  9. Except for Android and desktop Windows, it may be too late for a tablet running on any other operating system to gain traction in the marketplace. Apple has set a tremendous barrier to competition by having so many titles in its app marketplace. This means you, RIM (QNX), HP (WebOS), Nokia (Windows Phone).

    Over time, such software ecosystems get to be so big and self-perpetuating that end users don’t want other platforms because
    such platforms restrict the end users’ access to a breadth of
    software. Competitors aren’t able to build similar ecosystems
    comparable in size.

    This is where Microsoft and Nokia took their eyes off the ball. At one time, Windows Mobile (aka Pocket PC, Windows CE ) and Symbian had respectable (if not leading) shares of the mobile device market, in the mid to high teens (for Microsoft) and mid to high twenties (for Nokia) in percentage. They failed to grasp the implications of Apple’s introduction of iTunes’ one stop shopping and device management concept.

  10. I agree with the last poster. The hardware specs of the G-Tab for instance make it look better than what Apple is offering, but even with the best hacked ROM I have found and ran, it still doesn’t “just work” like the iPad. The idea of these super slim, touch interface devices is awesome in theory but they need to do more work to them. Also, similar to what’s stated in the article, PC users are used to interchangeability between OEM’s; turning their “pads” proprietary may be a nail in the coffin.

  11. The problem with all of these other ‘me too’ tablets is that they are rushed to market with incomplete software experiences. Sure the hardware might be on par or even better than the ipad 2, but broken flash, buggy OSes, incomplete marketplaces and such make these product launches fall flat on their face. Then the world yawns and moves on. These companies lose their chances to capture our attention by releasing their half baked products (Xoom and Playbook). The upcoming Amazon tablet looks to be interesting because of amazon’s existing ecosystem.

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