Apple and convergence

This is a follow up to my earlier post critiquing Al Reis’s iPhone commentary and fleshes out why I like the Apple convergence strategy.

Apple’s iPhone isn’t great because it’s a convergence device itself, but because it is part of the “i-universe”. Everybody has a computer. Everybody has a cell phone. Everybody has a music player and it’s probably an iPod. Everybody has media that plays on their music player and it’s probably from iTunes. If you have an interest in mobile video, iTunes is a great source for that, too. Get the picture?

Remember back in the day (not that that day is totally gone) when Sony had a similar stack in the home electronics world. We bought a Sony receiver, a Sony TV, a Sony CD changer, and a Sony every other component that came along (Sony DVD player…).

Apple also has its own operating system and much of its own software (browser, iPhoto, address book, calendar, are some of the top of mind for me). The brand for Apple isn’t iPhone, it’s “Apple i-…”

I’m not really an Apple fanboy, but I do have an Apple laptop, desktop and an ipod, and I have a lot of iTunes media. It just makes sense to pick Apple for my mobile device when I want an upgrade, the same way someone with a bunch of Sony electronics would tend to pick a Sony for the next component. I wasn’t a Sony nut either, when I realized, gosh, I have a lot of Sony electronics.

I think when a customer gets into the Apple universe from whatever angle (a computer, a phone, even an ipod), Apple is doing everything it can to allure that customer deeper and deeper into the whole Apple universe. And since their products generally fulfill the brand’s “promise”, the customer takes this journey willingly. Compare to Sony when it dominated home electronics. Compare to Microsoft. First the OS, then all the productivity apps, then the browser, the media player, etc. Sure, these rides tend to plateau, but they tend to go pretty far.

Apple seems to do a good job taking a product category and making choices on our behalf. We may not like all the choices, but the overall picture is compelling. At the same time, Apple makes choices that bias their Apple universe.

Another point: this “universe” has alternatives, yes. But when you go out of the Apple universe, things get complicated and frustrating. Try getting an mp3 phone and loading all your $$$ iTunes collection on to it. Sorry, unless you hack it, you can’t! Beyond that, the average ipod user learned itunes. Do they want to now have to select and learn to use a different service? Do they want half their music to only play on their ipod and half to play on their phone? Life starts to look easier in the i-universe.

I have a PDA phone from Nokia. The biggest drawbacks versus the iPhone are the weak browser and no media player for songs and videos. Since I’m already familiar with this “i-universe”, I trust Apple on those two things…browser? Safari. media? iPod/iTunes. So, while I may think, maybe there are better PDA’s out there, the powerful draw is why not stay in this comfortable i-universe? (Sidenote: interestingly, some newer Nokia phones now use Safari. Years ago, Apple also decided to allow PC users to use iPod/iTunes. These are like Apple i-universe trial memberships 🙂 )

Reis’s point was the iPhone is a convergence device and those often fail. I think the bigger convergence going on with the iPhone is the “i-…” meeting the “phone.” Whether Reis acknowledges it or not, PDA’s is a viable market and they are already convergence devices. Apple is not creating that. They are entering the category.

Apple’s overall success/strategy has to do with the success of the i-universe not the quarterly sales or adoption rate of any one given device. Granted, the iPhone is a huge test to the i-universe. To some extent, it is bet the company. Why? Because if it completely fails, the indication is the i-universe might be pushing against it’s limits. If that’s the case, plateau may be around the corner. I, for one, doubt it.

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