When it comes to ecosystem, Apple proves size does matter

With ecosystem, size does matter

I've argued for a while that iTunes was the tip of Apple's sword. Being able to take payments and sell content in more countries than anyone else let them push the App Store farther, faster than any of their competition. Now, years later, no one else is even coming close, and when viewed as an ecosystem play, there still isn't any viable competition. To make matters worse, Apple's model allows them to sell the iPad (and soon, the iPad mini in 90+ countries. And, because they make their money off hardware, they can even sell it where there's still no or limited iTunes support. That lets them seed the market so hardware is in hand when iTunes eventually, and inevitably follows.

By contrast, Amazon's content appliance strategy with its heavily discounted hardware doesn't allow them to sell the Kindle Fire line in any country without an Amazon content store to subsidize it. They literally can't afford to. That means no seeding, and since Amazon has been nowhere nearly as successful as Apple in pushing their content store internationally, very limited distribution.

Talking about it is one thing though. To really appreciate the difference, you have to see it. That's where Graham Spencer of MacStories comes in. He's taken the time to map the media ecosystems of Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, and as they say -- a picture is worth a thousand words. (Or in this case, really shows the cost vs. value prop for an iPad over everything else in the market right now.)

Whichever company is the “winner” depends on your circumstances (location, device, etc), but if you were to generally draw a conclusion I think it is clear that Apple would lead, Microsoft would be second, Google third and Amazon fourth. Again, that is a gross generalisation of all the above data but ignoring the exceptions (such as Amazon’s eBook dominance), I think it’s fairly evident which companies have put the most emphasis on international availability.

I'd even argue Amazon's eBook "dominance", because like Serenity Caldwell pointed out at Cingleton deux, all of Amazon's early ebook efforts were little more than black and white scans of black and white books. They were and are the volume leader, but until recently they didn't even compete in the quality game. For a certain segment of the market, better is better.

Check out Graham's magnificent graphics and thorough breakdown of media by geography via the link below, and factor that into any tablet or tablet-like-device purchase in your future. Absent content, they're little more than paper weights.

Source: MacStories

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

When it comes to ecosystem, Apple proves size does matter


It's important to note that iOS devices comprise the bulk of Apple revenues and margins. And it's what Apple is in business to do.

The other three? Not so much. Google is in the search/ad business. Microsoft relies on software mostly. Amazon is an online store.

I"ve been an iphone user since the 3G model. But I use amazon mostly for content, not apple. I use google (and microsoft) for email, calendar, & contacts. Google for search. And Microsoft for Windows and Office.

It's kind of a good thing that the other 3 make their services available to iOS users. But they have no choice because of what they are really in business to do. On iOS, you get all 4 worlds.

With MS going on record saying they're shifting strategies towards a devices and services model, some time down the road they will no longer be just a software company, at least on the consumer side of things. They may not have the incentive to provide their strongest assets (ie: Office) on other platforms.

Just a small correction, but in the ebook world, Google (not Amazon) is the volume leader, with more than 4 million books (againt 1.7M for Amazon). The comment on the lack of quality still applies though.

Great article, and I largely agree. This has been something Apple has been building for nearly a decade and can not be overlooked when evaluating the big picture of what is going on in the industry. (I've been having a debate on Globe & Mail with some investors over Apple's success and they seem think it will soon be over, as the industry is becoming a commodity. I think these folks need to learn to be better investors, rather than just uninformed speculators. Heh, one person bet me Apple stock will be half the present value in 1 year... seriously.)

However, I think Apple has quite a long way to go with the book aspect (despite the quality argument). I guess Apple has traditionally started more simply on a number if their software projects (almost so much so that the initial offerings seem stupidly feature-lacking). But I'm not sure at this point they are even getting many of the concepts that makes Amazon the leader. Other than pleasure reading, people value their books more than an music track. And, like music, people are going to be even MORE resistant to being locked down to a particular device, not less.

To succeed, Apple will need to bring iBooks to other platforms, so people don't feel as locked in by the DRM (until, hopefully, DRM can become a think of the past like with music tracks). They need to think of features like Amazon has about syncing note, bookmarks, etc. across those platforms... and then add even more powerful features for people who actually use their books, not just a pleasure read through a novel. In other words, they need to innovate, not just be a me-too, but less well thought through. That's how iBooks currently feels.

At this point, they are so late to the game that they will have problems moving people like me off of Amazon. I'm unlikely to switch and have content on both services unless they provide something terribly compelling (and even then it will be a complete pain). Unless the industry substantially changes, I don't see a good solution to that problem.