Apple’s Definition Of “Winning”

We are winning with our products in all the ways that are most important to us, in customer satisfaction, in product usage and in customer loyalty. ~ Tim Cook, Apple earnings call

Customer satisfaction. Product usage. Customer loyalty.

Is Tim Cook right? Is Apple really winning in those areas? And is that really what’s most important?

Customer Satisfaction

Based on their most recently published research, ChangeWave measured a 96% customer satisfaction rate among iPhone users and a 99% customer satisfaction rate among those who owned iPads. Impressive, to say the least.

Product Usage

Experian reported that iPhone users spend an average of 53% more time each day on their phones than Android phone users. Nearly two-thirds of iOS devices are already running iOS 7. The App Store now has over 60 billion downloads. And Apple has nearly doubled its total payout to app developers this year — now at $13 billion, up from $7 billion in January.

“Regardless of what you might hear or read about how many are bought or sold or activated, iPad is used more than any of the rest. And not just a little more, a lot more. The iPad is used more than four times more than all of those other tablets put together.” ~ Tim Cook

Now before your read on, stop and think about that for a moment. The iPad is used four times more than all other tablets put together. Astounding.

Industry analyst, Alexander, noted that “In an increasingly bifurcated tablet market, Apple has yet to experience any serious competition for the premier customer, particularly those users wanting to do more with a tablet than watch videos, surf the Web, and do email….”

If usage is the defining criterion, then there are actually very few tablets that are directly competing with the iPad.

Customer Loyalty

Based on the most recently published research, Kantar measured a 92% customer loyalty rate among Apple customers, significantly higher than that of the competition.


Based on the above, I think it’s fair to conclude that Apple is “winning” in Customer Satisfaction, Product Usage, and Customer Loyalty. But is that what matters? What about things like profits, growth, innovation, and market share? Aren’t they what really matter?

But, Apple Is Not Growing…

True enough. Apple has not released any significant new products over the past year and, consequently, they have not grown over they past year either. But they have remained extremely profitable.

apple-profitsFor example, Apple’s sales of 33.8 million iPhones earned more than the combined sales of 211.2 million phones sold by the rest of the world’s top 5 phone makers.

Still, profit without growth is like sex without love. It’s an empty experience…

…but, as empty experiences go, it’s one of the very best.

Eventually, Apple will have to grow or die. But in the meantime. Apple, can take solace in the fact that they’re making money hand over fist, while simultaneously screwing the competition, to boot.

But, But, Lack Of Innovation…

Many analysts covering Apple are bearish, citing ‘dwindling catalysts.’ But seriously, who are they to judge? Those self-same analysts missed every catalyst that Apple ever caught on their ride from last to first.

They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea.” ~ Francis Bacon

Apple naysayers act like small children who think that if something is out of sight, it ceases to exist. Just because THEY can’t see what’s coming down the pike doesn’t mean that Apple and others can’t see it. As always, it’s a question of vision. And I’d put Apple’s vision up against the analysts’ any day of the week.

But, But, But, Growth Should Be Constant, Continuous, Ever Upward…

Really? Show me an example of something healthy, where growth was constant and ever upward and I’ll show you the exception to the rule.

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. ~ Groucho Marx

NO ONE is always at their best. Well, I take that back…

Only the mediocre are always at their best.” ~ Jean Giraudoux

Sun Tzu said that “Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger.” A bowman needs to pull the bow before releasing the arrow. The arrow won’t go very far if he doesn’t take the time and effort to do so. Similarly, a company needs to do the preparation before releasing a new product.

I means, seriously, do I really need to cite Sun Tzu in order to make this point? New products take time to prepare. Duh.

There Is A Season For Everything

You’d be a pretty poor farmer if you planted the seed and then walked away before the harvest. And you’d be a pretty poor investor if you thought that every season was harvest season and no season was to be set aside for the planting.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant. ~ Robert Louis Stevenson

Apples critics deny the realities of life. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want crops without plowing the ground. ((Inspired by Frederick Douglass))

When clouds form in the skies we know that rain will follow but we must not wait for it. Nothing will be achieved by attempting to interfere with the future before the time is ripe. Patience is needed. ~ I Ching

I mean, are you prepared to argue with the freakin’ I Ching?

I didn’t think so.

When you walk through a farm, some see the (beauty), some only observe the manure. ~ Henri Matisse

Manure is often used to fertilize crops. If you can’t stand the sight of manure and you can’t patiently wait for the seed to ripen, don’t become a farmer. And if you can’t stand the turmoil of the market and you can’t patiently wait for an investment to mature, don’t become an investor.

Warren Buffett said Apple is run ‘for the investors who are going to stay, not the ones who are going to leave.’ Which are you? Do you walk away in the Spring or do you wait for the Autumn to arrive?

But, But, But, But, market share, Market Share, MARKET SHARE!!!

If you see the world in black and white, you’re missing important grey matter.” ~ Jack Fyock

Apple regularly fires some of its customers for the sake of empowering its target market. News Flash: Apple has been “ignoring” a large portion of its potential customer base since 1996. They could have done worse.

For example since Google’s IPO, Google is up 833.8%. On the other hand, since Google’s IPO, Apple is up 3200.2%. Not bad for a company that doesn’t cow-tow to market share.

What the heck do you think the phrase “target market” means anyway? If you “target” everyone, you target no one. Seems to me that Apple is aiming for the premium market and their aim, so far, has been spot on.

And remember, just because YOU’RE not the target market doesn’t mean there is no target market.

The Critics Have Big Buts

“Critics? I love every bone in their heads.” ~ Eugene O’Neill

There seems to be a law in human nature which draws us to passionately condemn the preeminently successful. For every action there is an equal and opposite critical reaction.

The critics are always ready to give Apple the full benefit of their inexperience and are never without multiple ways for how Apple should spend its wealth. Some critics even think that they are more powerful than God. After all, Jesus was only able to turn water into a wine but critics are able to turn anything they focus upon into a whine.

Look, everyone has the right to be stupid. But some of Apple’s critics are abusing the privilege.

Watch Carefully What Apple’s Competitors Are Complaining About

Companies like Samsung and Microsoft spend their time criticizing those very aspects of Apple that they would most like to emulate. Samsung mocks Apple’s customer’s for standing in line? Microsoft mocks Apple’s tablets for their inability to do “real” work? Don’t kid yourself. They’d both cut off your right arm to have what Apple has.

Watch what people are cynical about, and one can often discover what they lack. ~ George S. Patton

Turns out that copying products is easy. Copying the culture that produced those products is hard.


The eight most terrifying words for any CEO must be: “I’m Carl Icahn and I’m here to help.”

Sheesh, thanks but no thanks.

And as if Carl Icahn weren’t bad enough, other investors are demanding that Apple lower its prices in order to capture more market share. Market share sounds great and all, but what they’re really talking about is a price war. As Pliny the Younger put it, “An object in possession seldom retains the same charm that it had in pursuit.” A price war is a delightful thing to those who don’t have to participate in it, but a rather frightful thing for those who have to pay for it.

When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers. ~ Oscar Wilde

Sadly, A CEO must always be prepared to defend his company against his investors.

The right to be heard does not automatically include the right to be taken seriously. ~ Hubert H. Humphrey

Lessons To Unlearn

We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore. ~ Mark Twain

I think that most critics are like a cat that sat on a hot stove-lid. They got burned when Apple fell in the nineties, misdiagnosed the cause of that failure as missing market share, and they haven’t stopped lecturing Apple on the wrong lesson ever since.

Memory is the greatest of artists… ~ Maurice Baring

Meanwhile, the very actions that the critics are begging Apple to stop taking are also the very actions that have made Apple successful for the past 13 years. It’s like telling a football coach that wins Super Bowl, after Super Bowl, After Super Bowl, that he’s doing it all wrong.

New Facts Demand New Conclusions

Logic?” Jim says. “What’s that?” The professor says, “I’ll give you an example. Do you own a weed eater?” “Yeah.” “Then logically speaking, because you own a weed eater, I presume you have a yard.” “That’s true, I do have a yard.” “I’m not done,” the professor says. “Because you have a yard, I think that logically speaking, you have a house.” “Yes, I do have a house.” “And because you have a house, I think that you might logically have a family.” “Yes, I have a family.” “So, because you have a family, then logically you must have a wife. And because you have a wife, then logic tells me you must be a heterosexual.” “I am a heterosexual. That’s amazing! You were able to find out all of that just because I have a weed eater.”

Excited to take the class, Jim shakes the professor’s hand and leaves to go meet Bob at the bar. He tells Bob about how he is signed up for Logic. “Logic?” Bob says, “What’s that?” “I’ll give you an example,” says Jim. “Do you have a weed eater?” “No.” “Then you’re gay.”

Apple’s critics seem to rely upon a similar chain of “logic” to predict Apple’s future. Apple doesn’t have majority market share (a weed eater) so they must be doomed.

We should all be so lucky as to be as “doomed” as Apple is.

After a battle in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) Villars, the defeated commander of the French forces, was justified in writing to King Louis, “If God gives us another defeat like this, your Majesty’s enemies will be destroyed.” His judgment was prophetic in so far as the battle proved to have cost the allies their hopes of victory in the war.

Apple could rightfully claim nearly the same as Villars. Should Apple “suffer” another “disastrous” year like 2013, their competitors will be utterly destroyed.

Look, maybe Apple is doomed, maybe they’re not. But Apple’s critics have got to start coming up with better reasons for predicting Apple’s demise ’cause the same tired old reasons they keep trotting out and using over and over again just ain’t cutting it.

Attention, Attention! The naysayers have been predicting Apple’s demise since 1997 – and for the very same reasons. All the while Apple, by ignoring their critics, has merely grown to become the richest company in the free world.

Criticize Apple all you want, but please, come up with something that hasn’t been proven wrong year after year after year for the past 13 years.

“We’ve clearly never seen a tech company like this before. Perhaps it’s time to stop using tired PC tech company metaphors to predict their future.” ~ Ben Thompson

Listening For Genius

The principle mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the opening of new frontiers.” ~ Arthur Koestler

If a company values its profits more than its vision, it will first forfeit its vision and subsequently forfeit its profits, too.

Talent hits a target no one else can hit. Genius hits a target no one else can see.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

Look, there’s risk in everything. But Apple has proven itself successful by doing things their way.

I’d rather be a failure in something that I love than a success in something that I hate. ~ George Burns

The Stoic Philosopher, Thales, when asked “What is difficult?” replied “To know oneself.” When asked “What is easy?” he said “To give another advice.”

Critics shout boldly, but genius speaks in a whisper. Perhaps, in lieu of shouting instructions at Apple, we should be quietly listening and learning from them, instead.

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

806 thoughts on “Apple’s Definition Of “Winning””

  1. These articles are definitely in “Doth protest too much” territory.

    can take solace in the fact that they’re making money hand over fist,
    while simultaneously screwing the competition, to boot.” – See more at:

    Screwing which competition? Samsung is arguably Apples biggest competitor and over the the last three quarters of declining Apple profits, Samsungs have grown, so much so that Samsung profits now exceed Apples.

    We should all wish to be so screwed.

    1. “screwing” the competition was supposed to be a playful reference back to my suggestion that sex, like market share, was an empty experience, but one of the best empty experiences there is.

    2. Notice the article didn’t say “screwing all competition,” but “screwing competition”. Look at HTC, Nokia, Motorola, LG, Sony, etc. The _only_ company that has grown, Samsung, has done so by copying Apple products (hey, the court says so, not me). Even if they haven’t, in general it would be a valid statement to say that Apple is “screwing competition” since the _vast majority_ of competition is getting screwed.

      Worth noting, “declining Apple profits” sounds very harsh. In reality, the profits have barely budged. In this last Quarter ending Sep 30, Samsung’s net profit was indeed bigger than Apple’s (7.75 billion to 7.5 billion, respectively), but clearly the difference is negligible. Finally, the reason Samsung’s profits were larger than expected this last quarter was due to larger-than-expected profits from their chip division after a factory fire at one of their main competitors, by about $0.7 to 1 billion. Without that stroke of luck, Samsung would be at 7b net profit or less to Apple’s 7.5b. When it comes to smartphones, the growth has slowed down and Samsung has warned that they only expect 1-5% growth in 4th calendar quarter of 2013 compared to this past quarter. Apple, on the other hand, gave a guidance of around 40% jump in smartphone sales between the same quarters (judging by the increased revenue guidance).

      1. Who is really screwing HTC, Nokia etc? I would say it is actually Samsung more than Apple. Apple is in a smaller niche, Samsung covers everything those competitors do.

        BTW Samsungs latest Quarter was 9.56 Billion profit, which isn’t a negligible difference.

        Really I like Apple, and I don’t like Samsung. I agree the copied to a ridiculous degree, they engage in many shady practices (benchmark cheating, paying for fake reviews, breaking court seals on license agreements).

        I just think some of these Apple rah, rah, sessions get a bit silly. We should be able to have a critical discussion that isn’t so mired in partisanship on either side.

          1. There’s no link. Samsung publishes pre-tax operational income, not net profit, so you have to do the math yourself. A similar story ran back in July about Samsug “dethroning” Apple in profits, with most writers link bait not even realizing the difference between the two.

          2. Not everyone. You can google the fiasco from back in July to get an idea of what really goes on with this kind reporting.

          3. here is a link to samsungs q3 quarterly just announced. Its in korean values for money you can do the conversion yourself. Apple actually made more that samsung before taxes.


            also her is a good article from DED on Samsung versus apple profit.

      2. Is this Samsung’s total profits on all operations and all products they produce? Apple does not do TV sets and appliances and whatever else.
        This fact must be kept in consideration for proper perspective.

    3. I know every article can’t be about how bad iOS 7 looks, but let’s try to be a little reasonable here.

      First, you are drawing a correlation between Apple and Samsung that is laughably inaccurate. Samsung releases what? 10x the number of models that Apple does, spends 4x what Apple spends on advertising and still makes less money in mobile than Apple. Oh, and the one’s paying for this are the other Android makers.

      I guess if you want to factor in selling fridges and vacuum cleaners in the mix, go for it.

      As for declining profits, well, their margins have done down. I suppose Apple could make more plastic phones, use off the shelf components, not run its own App store and cede the OS to google, but that probably wouldn’t make much sense, either.

      I guess it pays not to mention that Samsung’s hero phones don’t seem to be selling as well as expected and there tablets are doing so poorly that they are now giving them away for free with phones.

      Ouch. Screwed indeed.

  2. John,

    Another joy to read.

    One teensy fly in the punch bowl.

    You wrote, “They want rain without thunder and lightening.”
    The word you want is lightning, not lightening.
    Again, always a pleasure to read your prose in “Analysis” make-up…

    All the best.

  3. Bullseye on your take down of analysts. Just because they can’t conceive of what Apple’s next product breakthrough is going to be, they conclude that Apple can’t either and doesn’t have one. All their predictions are thus backward-looking; rote projections of the financials of the current product set.

  4. “Microsoft mocks Apple’s tablets for their inability to do “real” work? Don’t kid yourself. They’d both cut off your right arm to have what Apple has.”

    Love that line.

    That part about target market is a very insightful point indeed. I hear people complaining about (a) Apple’s ‘high’ prices, (b) Apple “sealing up” their Macbooks, preventing upgrade-ability.

    But those are just the decisions Apple has chosen to make, to target the customers that they have chosen to target! It’s as simple as that. You want a tablet with good hardware that can last more than a year (see Nexus 7 which started crapping out in less than a year), with access to a huge bunch of useful and enriching apps? Apple will happily sell you one. But if you want a cheap tablet just for browsing the web and watching video, then no Apple doesn’t sell that. Similar to the Macbooks new direction: Apple CHOSE to focus on thin/light/battery life over factors like upgradeability. They didn’t say “upgrading hardware is for tools”; they just decided to prioritise one thing over another, and target the customers who would appreciate that.

    This is also perhaps one of the biggest differences between Apple and other tech companies; decisiveness and focus. Apple focuses very sharply on a few products and tries to make them as good as possible, and make some very hard decisions in the process; other companies can’t decide what to focus on, and what to decide, so they try and make everything.

  5. Apple’s critics seem to rely upon a similar chain of “logic” to predict Apple’s future. Apple doesn’t have majority market share (a weed eater) so they must be doomed.

    So you’re saying Apple’s gay?

    1. I have heard it takes one to know one.

      Btw John keep up the good works, the whiner doth protest too much, perhaps he should have a column of his own otherwise he will never know the heat of a hot stove plate to be a blogger.

    2. And if it was that might be so much the better. History is full of highly influential creative, innovative thinking people who happen to be gay. I tend to think that their minds being so far out of the mainstream, their being so utterly outside the box, they were are) likely given a somewhat privileged perspective on their outlook of reality, and it shows in their contributions to humanity’s cultural progress.

      1. Easy guys, I didn’t mean it in any derogatory way whatsoever. I was just playing off the joke – I was pretending to be the”Jim” from the story who didn’t understand the takeaway of the logic lesson.

        It’s funny to me that anyone would see my comment and assume it was a jab or a slur. “Gay” has the same sensitive standing in modern PC culture as the word “Mexican.” One of my best friends is Mexican. He doesn’t identify as Latino, Hispanic, or any other more socially acceptable term. Why not? Because he’s from Mexico, and he is proud to be from Mexico. It’s a real place with its own discrete identity beyond the macro culture of the Spanish-speaking world. He is proud to be Mexican like I’m proud to be American. But when telling a story about him to someone who doesn’t know him, I expect to see a cringe if I use the word “Mexican.”

        So too, with the word “gay.” Apparently enough people have used the word in anger that its meaning has been changed permanently for some. As Macklemore says in his great song Same Love “Gay is synonymous with the lesser.”

        1. I am gay. I love a nice hard dong in my butt. Gay love is beautiful. Straight guys don’t know what they’re missing! 🙂

  6. I would argue that Apple isn’t winning, rather they have already won. Apple, as a platform, is almost certainly large enough now to sustain itself for a very, very, very long time. And unit sales continue to increase, despite the hand waving about ‘growth’. Even the iPad, which for some reason many analysts think is experiencing plummeting sales, sold 58 million units in fiscal 2012 and over 70 million units in fiscal 2013. Interesting tidbit, it took the iPhone five years to break 70 million in annual sales. The iPad did that in four years.

  7. I have to push back a bit on some of the critics.

    Lets look at another industry – automotive. At one time Ford dominated the market, they invented the mass produced affordable automobile, they were surpassed by GM, then Toyota, VW, etc. The still exist, are profitable and are market leaders in some key areas (others not). Apple really made the Tablet market take-off and dominated it for a while (market share) now they have multiple competitors . However they are still very profitable – not a bad place to be.

    Is Apple doing everything right? No, but the profitability on their products is consistently high and sales continue to grow a lot (look at Revenue over time say since 2002

  8. Great article.

    It reminds me of talking heads on ESPN. They like to brag on favorites. When one of their predictions fails miserably, they cannot say “I was wrong.” They try to twist out a explanation why the favorite blew it. In other words why they were still right despite the actual outcome

  9. But, Apple Is Not Growing…

    Not true. Apple is not growing *its growth*, but the 50m+ iDevice sales per quarter are adding to their user base, as the majority are not replacing existing iDevices, and even when they are, the old devices are mostly resold and remain in use.

  10. Some of the best recent criticism of Apple that I’ve heard was from two of Apple’s staunchest supporters: René Ritchie and Ben Thompson, on the Vector podcast. Keen analysis of some troubling signs in the recent iPad event.

    On the whole though, this is a lovely article, demonstrating once again the value of a liberal arts education for viewing the tech industry.

    1. As I point continually point out the iPad has become cyclical.

      When you begin to view the iPad as a replacement PC for the mass market then you begin to see the long term strategic initiatives if Apple.

      Based on all the trend data we see in computing markets I am not concerned

      I respect Ben a ton and haven’t listened to vector yet but I will to see where we may so agree.

      Ben and I started a podcast that he couldn’t continue unfortunately but we still chat frequently.

      1. Neither René or Ben is in, or even close to, the “Apple is doomed” camp, merely seeing some worrying mistakes which should be (and may well soon be) corrected.

        1. I didn’t figure they were. The last iPad event was about personal computing. iPad will be core to that story.

          1. I think the iPad also has a longer replacement cycle. My iPad 2 running iOS 7 still works great. I’ll buy another iPad when this one stops working well, but that could easily be a couple years yet. So that’ll be a four year cycle, but all the while I’m part of the iOS platform. Of course if Apple launches the iPad Pro in 2014, I’m in, immediately. I would love a larger iPad screen.

    2. “Some of the best recent criticism of Apple that I’ve heard was from two of Apple’s staunchest supporters: René Ritchie and Ben Thompson…” – Mayson

      I almost added a paragraph that would have basically said, “if you want to criticize Apple, make it a good criticism like the one from René Ritchie and Ben Thompson, on the Vector podcast. Wish I’d added it, but if I wrote everything I thought about, it wouldn’t be an article, it would be a book. 🙂

    3. Thanks. I looked it up and gave it a listen. Very insightful guys. Added to my RSS.

      Much better than what I am reading here lately. Where it seems that stories are aimed at trying to correct media imbalance, by being equally and oppositely imbalanced in the other direction.

      I don’t want to consume Fox news, but neither do I want to read some equally imbalanced but opposite viewpoint.

      How about a site that doesn’t worry so much about what everyone else does, and attempts always to weigh both the pros and cons no matter which company they are examining. Rather than simply slinging arrows at silly pundits.

  11. Re: “Apple isn’t growing”, (for the edification of the peanut gallery).

    2009: sales: 42.9
    net income: 8.2
    cash, & marketable securities: 34.0
    shareholders’ equity: 31.6
    non-retail employees: ~ 14,000 (I don’t have exact #s for this)

    2013: sales: 170.9
    net income: 37.0
    cash, & marketable securities: 146.7
    shareholders’ equity: 123.5
    non-retail employees: 39,700

  12. No you didn’t post the truth, net profit compared to gross profit is not correct
    apples gross profit 10.2 billion, samsungs 9.56 billion. You must be using fuzzy math where 10.2 billion is less than 9.56 billion.
    See my post above.

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  14. Only Apple and Samsung make profits by selling smartphones. Even Xiaomi for that matter is almost at cost that you are selling the devices. How does the industry make money?

    The industry makes money by adopting different economics. The traditional method is spending an absurd amount of money and charging huge gross margins, but that system is flawed. I see companies out there trying to rescue themselves by making a super high-end device and then trying to sell it for $800. But I don’t think that is the way out, if those companies want to try and reinvent themselves they should be moving in the other direction, which does mean cutting margins. But hopefully in doing so, they will sell larger volumes, if the product is good. So I think it is the shift in the economics of the industry and it is going to take years
    Hope to make money – and that is how an Industry should operate? Trust me, Hugo Barra could be a great engineer hope he never becomes an executive!

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