Apple's biggest problem is one it can never solve

Commentary: With Apple again being named the world's most admired company, does this mean Apple has it all worked out? Not exactly.

Chris Matyszczyk
4 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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Praying that the competition doesn't get its act together?

Stephen Lam, Getty Images

Winners don't always deserve it.

They end up as winners for all kinds of reasons.

As Apple is yet again named the world's most admired company, I wonder just how much a lack of great competition has contributed to Cupertino's dominance.

Once, it was fanciful to think that Microsoft would be the company that would beat Apple. It had might. It had dominant, if ugly, software.

But Redmond looked at the iPhone and laughed. It was the first laugh. The last one is still ringing in Microsoft's ears.

What about Google? The supernerds believed that their Android operating system would be all that was needed. They could get other companies to do the hard work of hardware.

Yet that didn't work perfectly. Software updates were slow. The variety of phone manufacturers around the world didn't all do things the same way. And here we are, Google is now trying to launch phones again.

It suddenly struck Samsung relatively recently that making phones that looked good was a clever thing to do.

One could even argue that its Galaxy S7 Edge was a far more striking phone than the iPhone 7. Somehow, though, every time Samsung makes inroads, something blows up. Now Samsung has to pull its brand back from being the butt of far too many jokes, ones that reached presidential level.

How many times have we heard of iPhone killers that killed themselves trying?

How many times have people accused Apple of just relying on marketing and being slow to innovate, yet there it is again as the world's top brand?

The truth is that no other company has the combination of design taste, software ecosystem and customer service that moves consumers to commit on a consistent basis.

It's been that way for too long. Much of Apple's recent complacency -- the dull iPhone 7, the messing around with dongles, the MacBook Pro that depressed creative types -- can surely be put down to the fact that Apple sees few large threats.

Competition makes you better. It's a problem if you don't have it. Nothing feels urgent.

The company allows itself to coast in certain areas, while it pursues business dominance or merely creative whimsy -- hey, Jony Ive designed a Christmas tree.

Even as Apple's recent offerings have often been prosaic or merely misguided, no competitor has presented frightening opposition.

Perhaps the closest was Microsoft with its release of the Surface Studio. For just one day -- at least -- it made the MacBook Pro seem like a sad uncle who's suddenly switched from dandy to dowdy.

Too often, Apple's competitors have allowed it to define a whole category.

Tablets aren't tablets. They're iPads. Ask any NFL announcer. Smartwatches are Apple watches -- or, as still many people call them, iWatches. Have you ever seen anyone showing off their Samsung Galaxy Gear?

Of course, in individual business areas Apple does have serious competition. Siri, for example, is currently no match for either Google's or Amazon's AI. Apple also seems to be getting very twitchy about PCs. It protesteth a little too much that the iPad Pro is better than all of them.

Apple has, though, built up so much loyalty that its customers are simply more indulgent and patient.

Moreover, in the areas that still matters most to Apple and to consumers -- beauty, taste, simplicity (although this one is creaking under the strain) and design, Apple's competitors still seem behind or even non-existent.

It's not as if it can't be done. I can't help thinking that Tesla is a better example of inspirational, uplifting design married with technology and desired by humans than most of the gadgets that claim to directly compete with Apple.

Tesla didn't make an electric car. It made a car that people looked at and desired, a car that happened to be electric.

Just as you're being named yet again the best is when you're most vulnerable.

More than ever, Apple needs a Frazier to its Ali. It needs a Dodgers to its Giants, a Yankees to its everyone else hates the Yankees. When Cupertino genuinely feels threatened, it can panic. Who can forget Phil Schiller's frantic, angry emails when consumers and the media began to get excited about Samsung's phones?

There's never been a better time to challenge Apple, as complacency seems to be dancing with a slight lack of inspiration to produce product offerings that don't send chills to vital human parts.

How many companies, though, are truly in a position to knock Apple from the top? Why does it seem like there are none?

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