Upsetting the Apple cart

Technology has so entrenched our lives that it seems impossible to imagine living in a world without the conveniences it offers. Until and unless one builds a cabin in the woods and consciously escapes civilization à la Thoreau in Walden, it’s near impossible to live a life unaffected by the influence of technology and the companies that offer it to us. Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple – or GAFA – now yield more power and have more information on people than any other corporations in the past. Of course, technology is responsive to the people it affects and from where I come from, which is India, things are a bit different. While Google, Facebook and Amazon are big players in India and have offices in the country, Apple has yet to make a significant dent in the Indian market. Instead, Microsoft – with its operating system, software and phones – is a major player, having made inroads into rural parts of the country. This leads me to imagine a world without Apple. I’m not sure about the time it would take for Apple’s influence to start waning. The reason I hazard a guess that Apple would decline is because beyond North America, I don’t think Apple is that omnipresent.

To imagine a world without Apple, it would be worth acknowledging the major contributions of the company. Smartphones existed before the iPhone, but Apple consolidated all the features that one wanted from a must-have smartphone into one attractive, easy-to-use package. They changed the PC industry with the iMac, which did away with the clutter of multiple components and offered just a single, sleek machine that did everything you wanted a PC to do and then some more. With the iPod and iTunes, they revolutionized the music industry by offering a convenient way to legally download music and enjoy it on a single device. With the iPad, they made personal computing portable and keyboard-free. And all this is not even keeping in mind the design, which, with its simplicity, minimalism, elegance and ease of use, was unparalleled. When they launched the App Store, they launched an entire industry dedicated to creating apps that could be sold in one virtual marketplace. So dependent are we on apps today that Apple’s interpretation of the apocalypse is a world without apps. Leading up to 2017’s WWDC – Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference – the company released a video envisioning the end of the world, where humanity does not know how to act in the absence of apps and dissolves into chaos.

While Apple’s contributions are undeniable, it is possible to imagine a world without it. While the company makes highly covetable products, it is not the world-leader in them. Apple’s most anticipated product is the iPhone. Every new version of the phone is met with a lot of media buzz and excitement. But, globally, Apple does not dominate the smartphone business. The largest smartphone brand in the world is Samsung, followed by Huawei, and then Apple. China is the biggest smartphone market in the world and although Apple has a massive presence in the country, it faces stiff competition from Huawei, Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo. India, the world’s second largest smartphone market, is a battleground between two giants: Xiaomi and Samsung; Apple is nowhere nearly as powerful in the country. Samsung, besides manufacturing phones, is also a leading maker of semiconductors, the chips that go into smartphones. Among Samsung’s clients is none other than Apple; they do business with and compete with the American tech giant. In the personal computing market, Apple is behind HP, Lenovo and Dell in terms of worldwide sales of PCs. For Apple’s influence to wane, its competitors would just have to continue doing what they are good at, and edge Apple over the main criticisms levelled against it, some of which include being anti-competitive and fostering a closed-ecosystem. For decades, Apple has stubbornly adopted an “our way or the highway” stance. The apps on its system cannot be replaced, many apps which are free on Android and Windows devices are charged on Apple’s; Apple enforces changes to apps without notice and restricts the loading of apps it does not approve of. Experts have long criticized Apple’s tactics that go against a free and open marketplace. If this continues, they maintain, “we may never see the technological future we are being promised” (Loggia, Rob, 2016) and the market will be small and monopolistic.

For things to change, not only should the lawmakers of the tech industry enforce a level-playing field, but we as consumers should demand an open marketplace. The tech industry has only benefitted when small start-ups – probably run out of someone’s garage – have experimented and innovated and offered their end product to the world. If we stifle such efforts, innovation as a whole takes a beating. Apple might be the biggest tech company in terms of its profits, but it cannot take its influence for granted. Apple lost respect when it recently admitted to slowing down the battery of older iPhones  so that people would buy newer ones. Apple’s planned obsolescence has not gone down well even among many of its staunch loyalists.  The company has stiff competition and if its rivals continue to offer the same products at better prices and often, with better features, and if consumers demand the enforcement of a free and open marketplace and transperancy, it’s not inconceivable to think of a world in which Apple does not rule the roost.

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