Apple’s Ecosystem Advantage

As I step back and look at Apple fall launch event, the big story in my mind is the incredible strength of the Apple ecosystem. This word ecosystem gets used quite a bit and may often be overused, or even attributed to things that are not truly an ecosystem component. Everything Apple has built from hardware, software, services, retail, customer support, and more has the Apple ecosystem as a central component. Apple’s management has often talked about and demonstrated the many ways Apple’s product work together seamlessly. This seems entirely logical, that of course, a company who makes many different products should have them work together, but often this is not the case. I’d argue that Apple not only has the strongest ecosystem but that their ecosystem compounds (get’s better with more devices) better than any of their competition.

The Best Ecosystems Compound
Just so it is clear, I regularly try and live in all the competing ecosystems like Windows, and Android/Chrome. I do this to make sure I see the benefits and differences of each platform offering as a complete whole. In some cases, the effort of living in an ecosystem is not limited to specific hardware, like in the case of Microsoft and Google there are software-centric ecosystem points. However, that does not discount the role hardware plays in an ecosystem.

The reason both Microsoft and Google have started making more hardware to run their software and services is that they understand what Apple knew all along which is that to provide customers with the best experience with your software and services you also need to have more control of the hardware which runs your platform. Partners who build hardware to run Windows and Android are important, but they often have a broader agenda that is not as aligned with Microsoft’s and Google’s. This point is made clear as I try products like Microsoft’s Surface and Google Pixel. Which are the best implementations of both Window’s and Android as well as more seamlessly integrated with Microsoft and Google’s services than any other hardware.

Understanding that the best ecosystem’s compound means that the more you have/use, the better the whole experience gets. Moreover, while this is somewhat true in a Microsoft and Google world when you use partner hardware, it is truer the deeper you go down each company own hardware solutions.

Apple and the Most and Best Hardware Endpoints
Continuing on the observation that first-party hardware is crucial to an ecosystem advantage, what makes Apple’s strategy here so interesting is how many hardware endpoints they make that extend and deepened this ecosystem. And not only do they make a variety of hardware endpoints, in most cases they make the best or among the best hardware of all hardware they compete.

So not only does Apple make the most hardware endpoints to experience and live in their ecosystem, but consumers also understand the options they have in hardware in the categories from Apple are also compelling choices. For example, if a consumer is interested in a smartwatch, the Apple Watch is the market share, customer satisfaction leader, and most talked about smartwatch on the market. If a consumer is interested in a tablet, the iPad is the market share leader, customer satisfaction leader, and again highly talked about among the top in the category. The same is true of iPhone, and Mac.

This is where Apple is unique, and their ecosystem truly stands out. For a consumer who is interested in all these categories, or even just a few, what company provides such a robust hardware lineup that is also viewed as the best or among the best in all their respective categories? From an ecosystem standpoint, Apple makes the strongest case as the ecosystem of choice for consumers who live in the modern multi-device era.

The breadth and depth of not just options, but also quality, followed with an explicit focus on hardware, software, and services which all work better the more devices you have is one of Apple’s strongest ecosystem advantages. Moreover, it is a luxury only they have at this point. Conceivably, only Google has the potential to match Apple’s hardware ecosystem since they can conceptually compete in all the same hardware categories as Apple but it is unclear if they will.

Consumers Understand the Ecosystem Story
The big question that has always existed was if consumers understood this story. For much of the history of personal computers, consumers have only really had one or two personal computers. But as we enter the multi-device personal computer era, consumers are waking up to the story that if they have one Apple personal computer, and are interested in another category of computing product, that getting another Apple hardware product means they will work better together.

From not just our research, but many other research notes I’ve seen, consumers note that Apple’s products working together as a primary reason to consider another piece of hardware from Apple. This is a critical point because it means the ecosystem story is strengthening not just for Apple but in the minds of consumers as well.

All-in-all, this means Apple remains well positioned in the short and long-term. Ecosystems not only compound but their value also gets spread quickly via word of mouth. Which also happens to be the most significant way people find out about new products and services.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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