What it is: Far too many companies use Apple as the standard to beat, but this guarantees that they’ll never make revolutionary changes.
The common refrain is that Apple leads and everyone else follows. The truth is that Apple copies features from rivals just as much as rivals copy from Apple. The big difference is that Apple isn’t afraid to introduce something new, even if it backfires on them in the short-term.
At one time, Apple was the first to drop floppy disk drives since few people still used floppy disks. Gradually, every computer manufacturer dropped floppy disk drives, but Apple was one of the first and took a storm of criticism for their decision.
That same “crisis” occurred again when Apple dropped the DVD drive. Eventually, others dropped the DVD drive in certain light weight laptops such as the Microsoft Surface tablet. When Apple refused to include Blu-ray drives, rivals jumped on that advantage by touting Blu-ray drives in their own computers — until that feature became relatively useless with the popularity of streaming video.
While Apple copies minor features from rivals, rivals copy major changes from Apple. If it wasn’t for the iPhone, Android would have been a Blackberry clone. Only after Google saw the iPhone did they realize the future of smartphones was no longer the Blackberry but the iPhone. For how many features Apple may have copied from Android, the bottom line is that without the iPhone, Android would look and work like a Blackberry instead of an iPhone.
Most companies compare themselves to Apple. The problem with competing against others is that if you define yourself only by comparing yourself to others, you’ll always be dependent on others. In other words, it’s impossible to be a leader if you’re always trying to be a follower.
Microsoft ran into this problem after Apple introduced the iPad. Rather than focus on making great products for its customers, Microsoft simply panicked and decided they also needed a tablet to compete against the iPad. So Microsoft followed two routes. First, they shoe horned Windows 8 into tablets and wound up wrecking the traditional Windows user interface in an attempt to make Windows 8 more tablet-like. Second, they created Windows RT as a tablet operating system that looked like Windows 8 but couldn’t run traditional Windows programs.
Not surprisingly, both Windows 8 and Windows RT flopped. That’s because neither operating system was designed with customers in mind but were designed more so Microsoft could copy Apple’s iPad.
Microsoft made similar mistakes when they created Microsoft Band to compete against the Apple Watch, Microsoft Zune to compete against the iPod, and Microsoft Kin to compete in the smartphone market against the iPhone.
Now Samsung has made the same mistake by trying to beat Apple by releasing their Galaxy Note 7 before Apple could release the latest iPhone 7. Reportedly, Samsung pushed manufacturing of the Galaxy Note 7 too fast. Rather than develop a product and refine it so they could release it when it was ready, Samsung focused too much on simply beating Apple’s iPhone 7 release. Once again, when you neglect your customers and release a product for your own benefit and not theirs, don’t be surprised when it backfires.
That’s why Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 keeps exploding. It’s not because Samsung can’t designed good products. It’s because any company that rushes products to market just to beat a rival isn’t putting their customers first.
In the latest development, Apple’s Tim Cook keeps hinting about augmented reality. After acquiring numerous augmented reality companies over the years, it’s easy to see what Apple’s augmented reality plans may be. Apple can simply take their time refining and polishing the product until it’s ready. Rivals who wait to respond to Apple will always be too late and too rushed to compete effectively.
Imagine running a race where you start running only after you see your rival start running first. Chances are good you’ll always be behind.
Instead of trying to beat Apple, rivals should simply strive to make the best products possible with features that customers actually find useful. When you focus on pleasing your customers, it doesn’t matter what rivals are doing. Apple actually holds second place in the smartphone market share with Android dominating. However, while Android manufacturers fight among themselves, Apple simply pleases a small minority of the market and rakes in a large percentage of the profits.
At one time, Apple missed the phablet market and sold tiny iPhones while Samsung and other companies cleaned up selling larger phablets. When Apple introduced the iPhone 6, they fixed this deficiency and pleased customers who wanted an iPhone phablet, not just an Android phablet. Apple was late responding to the market and copied Samsung’s lead, but they didn’t hurriedly rush a phablet to market just to sell a phablet. Instead, Apple made sure their phablet iPhone 6 would still retain the quality people expected.
It’s not always possible to be first and a trailblazer. Sometimes you have to wait, but waiting does not mean rushing a product to market just to make money. Instead, waiting means refining your product so it’s the best it can possibly be. Then it doesn’t matter if it copies a rival just as long as it pleases your customers and that means making money too. If you simply rush a product to market without regard for the customer, don’t be surprised when customers don’t buy that product either.
You can either lead or follow. If you’re not willing to lead, at least be the best at following by putting your customers first and the haste for profits second. Samsung found this out the hard way with their exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones that they rushed to market just to beat the iPhone 7. If Samsung had worried less about beating Apple and more about selling a quality product, they wouldn’t be in the predicament they’re in now.
The lesson is to be a leader or be a smart follower. It’s easy to be a dumb follower, and that’s what too many companies choose to do when they blindly chase after profits without regard for actually delivering a great product to the customer.