Is Apple using the iPad to take over the world?
The launch of Apple's iPad highlights the challenge the company poses to rivals such as Nokia, Sony and Samsung.
When Steve Jobs told the audience at Apple’s iPad launch in San Francisco that only his company could produce such a tablet computer, it wasn’t mere hyperbole.
And when he added that his company was now bigger, in revenue terms, than Nokia, Samsung and Sony, he gave a glimpse of Apple’s aim to dominate every sort of mobile device, from smartphones to laptops. Little wonder, with those ambitions, that Barclays Capital immediately suggested the iPad would raise Apple’s share price by 10pc.
A multitouch interface and beautiful styling mean that the iPad is quintessential Apple, but when Jobs claimed only Apple could build it, he was right in a very practical sense, too: literally no major company owns the process of building such a machine as Apple does.
Since the firm bought PA Semi in April 2008, it has been able to dictate how a processor chip is built in a way that even major clients of Intel or AMD could never effectively manage.
Its designers, led by Briton Jonathan Ive, have always been famed for their fastidious approach and for their secrecy.
And nor does any other company have the same control over retail. Dell sells online; Asus, Acer and other brands are widely available; but Apple’s network of dealers and its own Apple Stores ensure that the image of the brand is closely dovetailed with the products themselves. Look at Apple announcements from around the world, for instance, and you will find that once a form of words is found to describe something, no deviation will be tolerated.
To some outsiders these are what make the company feel like an off-putting fortress – to fans, they’re the key to its success. And now with the iPad Apple is seeking to effectively merge the netbook, phone and mobile entertainment sectors: in Jobs’s keynote address, he claimed that Apple was already bigger than Sony, Samsung and Nokia because so much of what the company already makes is designed to be used on the move. There are many ways of measuring all four companies that would in fact put Apple towards the bottom of the pile, but the fact remains that their strategy is to move away from being a computer manufacturer and into areas which would mean, in fact, that their products were of more mass appeal.
As Richard Holway, of analysts TechMarketView, says: “Get on any train in five years’ time, and people will be reading the newspaper (downloaded at home or automatically when they walk through Waterloo Station on the way home), books, watching TV, playing games (quite possibly with fellow passengers!) or whatever on their iPads.”
That means a challenge to Nintendo, for instance, as much as it does, primarily through the iPhone, to Nokia. But what it means above all is that Apple has stopped thinking of a line between the categories of device that they make.
It’s hard to see the iPhone, the iPad, even the MacBook Air laptop, as devices that are built for much beyond accessing the web. Apple seems to believe, as Google does, that the internet will, in future, be the gateway to almost everything consumers need to do. But Apple’s approach is unique: the company controls the hardware and with the iPad it is introducing a level of control to software that is unprecedented.
Only Apps which Apple approves will be allowed. That means, effectively, trying to usurp not only major companies, but also the users’ option to choose the feel of their computer. Yet if Apple can keep the quality as high as in the past, their legions of fans will only become more loyal.