Apple – A Rare Case of Sustainable Competitive Advantage

Apple - A Rare Case of Sustainable Competitive AdvantageApple has built a truly sustainable competitive advantage and is definitely worth the current valuation premium.

If you’ve just upgraded your iPhone you will not be happy if Apple is bringing out a new one in a few short months. In addition to launching both iPhone 5 and iOS 5, there will be the new iTunes 11 bought to you from the Cloud.

Expect a very clean design and iCloud will be closely integrated with iTunes. iTunes Store is actually turning into a browser (funny without we seeing it that way) and it will actually be integrated into the entire app. Your music will be backed up by the Cloud and everything will be fully synced.

It is harder and harder to beat Apple with its deep integration between apps, OS and devices. It is reported that iCloud will be offered for free initially, and at some point users will be charged $25 annually for subscription of the service. That’s another way to get another recurring revenue stream just like MobileMe service.

Apple has finally locked-in deals with big record labels Warner, EMI, Sony, and Universal. With 30% of revenue from iCloud’s music offering with the major labels, 12% with those holding the songwriting rights, and the remaining 58% for Apple to keep. That’s a good profit margin. Not only it is helping with the bottom line, it is further stengthening the Apple fortress with all these integration.

Apple is building a fortress around its suite of product/services/experiences and it is almost impossible to break that. It is not only around music and devices. They have just filed a patent application that an iProjector that I believe is in the making. It makes perfect sense, a mini-size slim projector that sells for $600 to $1,000 and most of them have problems with setting up. And you thought it should be easy. I will not think for a second of getting one if it is fully integrated with my MacBook or iPhone or iPad. With interactive presentations and sharable contents between devices…. and not to mention a really good looking Apple design.

Apple Projector

The patent application “Projected display shared workspaces” was filed in February 2010 and it is basically a system for taking what’s on screen and projecting it onto a nearby surface such as a wall etc. The true innovation is that about the system proposed in this filing is that it can combine projections from multiple devices into one screen, in what’s dubbed the “shared workspace.” So you can simultaneously show power point from your computer, a video from your iPhone and notes from your iPad. No switching between apps anymore. Called it a “presentation canvas”?

Apple’s horizontal integration strategy across devices and channels and vertical integration strategy from chip design to software and retail is creating a truly sustainable competitive advantage that is hard to replicate. For that reason alone, its valuation skyrocketed. This is a brilliant example of classic business strategy theory at work.

Every single Apple products complement (compete) and complete each other. Get an iPod, and you can download content via iTunes and access them though iCloud and use that to move content to iPad or other devices. The sort of control over the entire user experience or process, from hardware to software, strengthens customer loyalty and provide lock-in. You cannot leave Apple once you’re in. It is becoming the consumer equivalent of IBM for business.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

Idris Mootee




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