Clayton Christensen on How Apple can Mess Up

Here’s a great interview with Professor Christensen in BusinessWeek:
Apple is doing phenomenally well these days. It seems it’s doing a textbook job of maintaining huge market share in digital music players, long after most experts thought that share would erode. And it’s doing so with the same proprietary strategy that many thought would never stand up to an onslaught from the likes of Microsoft (MSFT), Wal-Mart (WMT), and Yahoo! (YHOO). Can Apple keep it up?
I don’t think so. Look at any industry — not just computers and MP3 players. You also see it in aircrafts and software, and medical devices, and over and over. During the early stages of an industry, when the functionality and reliability of a product isn’t yet adequate to meet customer’s needs, a proprietary solution is almost always the right solution — because it allows you to knit all the pieces together in an optimized way.
But once the technology matures and becomes good enough, industry standards emerge. That leads to the standardization of interfaces, which lets companies specialize on pieces of the overall system, and the product becomes modular. At that point, the competitive advantage of the early leader dissipates, and the ability to make money migrates to whoever controls the performance-defining subsystem.
In the modular PC world, that meant Microsoft and Intel (INTC), and the same thing will happen in the iPod world as well. Apple may think the proprietary iPod is their competitive advantage, but it’s temporary. In the future, what will matter will be the software inside that lets users find exactly the kind of music they want to listen to, when and where they want to, with minimal effort.
But Apple has that software. It can be the one to provide that to everyone else, if it chose to, right?
I’m concerned that they’ll miss it. It’s the fork in the road — and it’s comparable to the fork they faced when they chose not to open up the Mac in the 1980s, when they let Microsoft become Microsoft.
How long will Apple have to make this change?
I’d be very surprised if three years from now, the proprietary architecture is as dominant as it is now. Think about the PC. Apple dominated the market in 1983, but by 1987, the industry-standard companies, such as IBM (IBM) and Compaq, had begun to take over.
Christensen also says something interesting about hedge funds: don’t even think about them as shareholders!
Read the BW article >>
See also my post: Clayton Christensen: The Innovator’s Battle Plan and my interview with Clayton Christensen >>

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *