There are times when I drop into an Apple Store at a nearby mall (two in the Atlanta area) and feel, well, a bit lonely. No, the Apple folks are friendly and helpful; no sales pressure. The place is crowded so it’s easy to feel a bit left out even with all the colorful t-shirt-clad staff.
Back in the day, back to the last century before the first Apple Store, Apple and the Mac were synonymous. The Mac was Apple. Apple was the Mac. Then along came iPod, iTunes Music Store, more Apple Stores and a growing line of Macs (with ever increasing sales) and Apple’s numbers grew. All of them. The customer base went from perhaps 20-million or so to a few hundred million. Apple had scaled.
It’s that scale which brings about big numbers and that helps Apple wield power over supplies, competitors, and, yes, customers. Gone are the days when we Apple folk would scour CompUSA, stroll through Circuit City, and try in vain to find a Best Buy employee who could speak Mac. The Apple of the 21st century has some big numbers which beget similar power.
Apple’s customer base is around 1-billion, give or take a rounding error. Apple can be described as the iPhone company but Apple’s major product line– Mac, iPhone, iPad, Watch, Apple Store, Services, et al– are Fortune 500 companies each. Apple’s clout in the marketplace comes from the right source.
Customers. Lots of customers. So many customers that even large enterprise-oriented companies– IBM, HP, among many others– have adopted Apple as something of a partner in IT. Why? Their employees prefer to use Apple’s products, own Apple’s products, and everyone figured out that Macs, iPhones, iPads work better in business than any competitor.
Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and even Samsung have hardly any presence in the business world (compared to Apple) and if you look at a few other big numbers you’ll see what amounts to dominance in a few industries. iPhone revenue is more than half of all smartphone revenue worldwide. iPhone profits make up over 85-percent of the industry. The Mac tells a similar story with a 10-percent marketshare (a nearly worthless relic of a metric) but about half the industry’s profits, in addition to an outsized share of revenue. Yes, iPad and various Apple accessories share a similar fate.
What about Apple Stores? Big numbers. And not just revenue and obvious profits. Profits? Have you seen another similarly sized retail store in the mall with as many employees wandering around? And traffic. Shopping malls around the country are feeling the pinch of Amazon and online shopping, yet Apple remains unfazed as the mall leader in traffic and revenue per square foot of sales floor.
And I haven’t even talked about overall profits or cash on hand. On the surface it would seems as if there is not much Apple cannot do with all those numbers.
Except be creative.
The last great thing from Apple was iPhone and co-founder and then CEO Steve Jobs launched that in 2007. Since then, we’ve seen iPad (a big iPhone), improved Apple TV, Watch, AirPods and Beats headphones, Apple Pay and Apple Music, but no next great thing. Compared to Apple to day, Steve Jobs brought half a dozen next great things to the tech world with almost no big numbers to make it happen.
Now that’s power.