Apple Against Android: Is It Déjà Vu All Over Again?

How the Technology Giant is Again in Danger of Losing a Key Piece of Its Audience


Published: March 30, 2011

A few weeks ago, for a few days, my five-year-old iPod stopped working. It’s a trusty, 30-gigabyte model, which I’ve just about filled, and I was thinking of replacing it soon with something of greater capacity; I just didn’t feel like spending the money at the moment. In the reluctant quest for a new, basic, high storage MP3 player, I turned to the Internet to find out a scary fact.

The only thing I could get over 64 gigabytes? An iPod Classic with 160 gigabytes of storage, based on a design that had not been updated since 2007. With the sole exception of this device, everything available was a large, touch-screen, low-capacity “multimedia entertainment device,” or also woefully out of date, not the perfect solution for someone who wants to carry an enormous music collection around with them 24/7.

Right now, it seems that Apple is the company on top of the world. From the iPad to the iPhone to the latest MacBook, everything that Steve Jobs touches turns to gold—or so it seems. When you look below the gilding of an adoring media and a slick marketing campaign, there are signs pointing to a major decline for Apple as a technological leader. When I look at the story of my iPod, I realized that they had in some ways abandoned one of their core products for greener pastures, leaving the consumer without a modern option for a high-capacity MP3 player.

As the iPhone and iPad bask in their glory, the basic iPod line has stalled. The design of the flagship “Classic” iPod has not changed since 2007. The exponential size increases that used to delight hardcore music enthusiasts have stalled, both on the Classic line and on the iPhone-based iPod Touch. While there are the technological capabilities to create small storage mediums with huge capacities, Apple has left the potentially-lucrative MP3 player market behind to create the “next best thing,” and with the dominance they built over the years, no competitor has tried to take over.

That dominance may be changing, as Apple’s first big competitor comes in the smartphone and tablet market. Google’s mobile operating system, Android, brings scary parallels to the competition between the Windows and Macintosh platforms in the 1990s. Android has the same low-cost, high-volume, open-source qualities Windows showed, and already more Android smartphones are used than iPhones. (According to a February 2011 ranking, Apple is third in market share, behind Android and the BlackBerry, an anchor of the business market.) Apple stock is starting to slip for the first time in years, and they have not shown much progress toward making developments to beat Google’s marketplace. The improvements made on the iPad 2, released in March, are the same features introduced on the iPhone 4 in 2010, placed on the larger device. These features, such as face-to-face calling and long battery life, either exist on Android phones, or are easily created on the multitude of Android devices available.

So between abandoning their former bread-and-butter core market and losing out in the smartphone race they once dominated, are the end of Apple’s glory days nigh? Is the comeback from Cupertino about to become as unexciting as it was in the 1990s?

In my opinion, they deserve it if so. In the technology world, constant innovation is the key, and failing to keep track with your competitor’s advances, or advances in technology, is an inexcusable business offense. It’s even more inexcusable if you already learned about it once before. The lessons that the company learned after losing out to Windows as the market dominator should have showed them that they needed to make their next major technological platform more open and available on more devices. Instead of doing that, they have used the same model that they used with the personal computer market, and it shows the same trends: early domination, followed by being outpaced by the competition. If they can’t figure out that they’re going down the same road again, and for all intents and purposes abandon the successful, useful, monopolizing product that revived them, proportionate losses are deserved.

For now, I’m happy that my iPod revived itself. I’ll hang on to it until someone comes out with something that’s actually an improvement on what I already own, even if I have to sacrifice a few albums.