Battle Of The Tablet Business Models: Apple iPad

on September 25, 2012


Today there are 5 titans battling to win the tablet wars: Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. When it comes to evaluating tablets, we often focus on the differences between the competing companies’ various tablet offerings in the hope that we will detect the little things that make a big difference. However, sometimes it’s best to step back and look at the big things that seemingly make all the difference. A company’s business model is one of those big things.

A tablet business model can be quite intricate but, in essence, it can be broken down into three parts:
— Where does the tablet make its money?
— Where does the tablet provide value to its potential customers? (Why is the customer willing, even anxious, to pay for a company’s particular tablet product or services? What makes a tablet unique? Why does a potential customer choose one company’s tablet over that of another?)
— How well does a company’s business model work overall? How well does it work in comparison to the competition’s business models?

With the above in mind, over the next few days let’s take a look at the tablet business models for Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft in order to see if we can find the patterns that will help us predict which tablet business models are going to be the winners and which tablet business models are destined to be the losers in the upcoming tablet wars.

1.0 Apple iPad


When introducing the new Amazon tablets, Jeff Bezos said:

“We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.”

Bezos was purposely contrasting Amazon’s tablet business model to that of Apple’s. But was his characterization of Apple’s tablet business model accurate?

Pretty much. But Bezos’ description of Apple’s tablet business model, while accurate, doesn’t quite tell the whole tale.

Apple makes their money when people buy their iPads. Many think that Apple also makes a great deal of money from the sale of content and by taking commissions from the sales of apps, but this is a misnomer. True, Apple makes literally billions from those sales but that still only represents a tiny fraction of the revenues made from the sale of the iPad itself.

Apple facilitates the sale of content and apps in order to make their iPads even more valuable and even more attractive in order to sell even more iPads in order to make even more money. Content and App sales are crucial to Apple but Apple makes its money from the sale of the iPad, not from the sale of content and apps.


The Apple iPad provides good value in both its hardware and its software. Apple’s store is also excellent but it cannot match the prowess of the Amazon store which has far more content selection at equal or better prices.

The iPad’s real strength lies in its apps and its app ecosystem. No competitor can touch the iPad there. The iPad has more than 250,000 (and counting) tablet optimized apps. More importantly, the iPad has a thriving app platform. Developers develop for the iPad first, developers are well paid for their services and customers see more value in the available iPad apps and readily buy more apps and pay more for them.

However, in my opinion, an even greater strength of the iPad is how Apple makes all of the various elements — hardware, software, content, apps,iCloud, retail support, etc. — work together as one. Customers get (and are willing pay for) value from the seamless experience rather than from any one particular aspect of the iPad.


The Apple tablet business model is coherent and aligned. (Which is not the same as saying that their tablet business model is the only available business model or that it is always perfectly executed.) Their tablet hardware is the “ticket” that their customer’s buy in order to gain access to “Apple World”. Once customers enter Apple’s walled garden, they seldom want to leave.

Apple’s primary mission is not to provide their customers with the best of any one thing but, instead, to provide them with the best overall user experience. This gives Apple a tremendous advantage. They don’t always have to be number one in hardware, software, content, apps, etc. So long as their overall user experience is excellent, that is enough, and more than enough, to keep their customer’s satisfied.

This often baffles industry watchers, pundits and analysts alike. They look at the individual parts of Apple’s tablet offering, find them wanting, then wonder how Apple can continue to compete so very well against other devices that seem to offer more and better features.

What they fail to understand is that Apple shouldn’t even be trying to add a hardware or software feature to their tablets unless those features perfectly integrate with, and add to, the whole. In a seeming paradox, Apple is not trying to make the best iPad, the best operating system or the best content and app store. Instead, Apple is trying to integrate all the pieces into one coherent whole and provide their customers with the best overall user experience. In this – as reflected by the iPad’s superb customer satisfaction numbers – they have been entirely successful.


Apple’s tablet business model is a very good. The results speak for themselves. However, it’s not the perfect tablet business model and it’s not the only tablet business model. It is now being assaulted from all sides by the entirely different business models of Amazon, Google, Samsung and Microsoft. How does the Apple tablet business model compare and contrast with those competing business models? We’ll see as the week progresses.

Tomorrow we look at Amazon and the Kindle Fire business model.