Apple, Amazon, and the Growing Importance of Tightly Integrated Experiences

Apple's new iPads
Credit: Susie Ochs

There are a number of contrasts that you can draw by looking at Apple and its competitors, but one of the ones that was most starkly drawn during the company's two recent product launches - this month's iPad and Mac event and last month's iPhone and Apple Watch event - is just how few products Apple actually makes. One slide from the iPad event showing a side-on view of all Apple's product lines - wearable, smartphone, tablet, notebook, and desktop - really made it clear just how restrained Apple is in what it produces.

Between these two events, Apple only introduced a very limited number of new products - two iPhones, two iPads, two updated desktop Macs, and one smartwatch. That's just seven products. Even if you include the updates to its MacBook lines earlier in the year, it's still less than a dozen devices across less than half a dozen categories.

Samsung has released more phones and tablets across a wider variety of price points and with a wider variety of feature sets, including some pretty experimental features like the screen of the Galaxy Note Edge. The company has also released several different smartwatches over the past year.

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And Samsung isn't alone. Several companies offer lineups that span many or all of Apple's product categories and release more new products annually - Acer, Sony, and Lenovo all come immediately to mind. Many also support multiple operating systems for both mobile and desktop.

Apple's restraint can feel very extreme by comparison, but it keeps Apple more focused and the fact that Apple produces for just two OSs - iOS and OS X, both of which it produces on its own - is one of the things that allows Apple to build such a tightly integrated ecosystem that spans from one device or platform to another. The biggest and most recent example is Handoff and other Continuity features in iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, but there are plenty of others - AirDrop, AirPlay, iCloud, the various iTunes and App Stores.

Despite efforts by some of its hardware competitors to build out similar ecosystems, Samsung in particular, those efforts have never really succeeded. Part of that is because Android manufacturers are largely sidelined by the strength of the Google Play ecosystem to one extent or another. The same can be said of Windows device manufacturers and companies building Chromebooks.

Given its recent woes in the mobile device market, it seems that Samsung's overall approach, which is more lets throw a lot of different ideas out there and see which ones stick kind of approach, may generate some successes - the company did create the phablet category after all - but isn't without risk. The question, however, becomes whether those successes are truly sustainable without a serious ecosystem. There isn't truly the depth of reason to stay loyal to any one Android vendor when your Google Play content and apps can easily move to a device from a competitor, particularly when Google is flexing more muscle to ensure a consistent Android experience across devices.

The challenges imposed by lack of a strong ecosystem don't stop with Android makers. One of the big issues facing BlackBerry and Windows Phone are also the lack of an ecosystem. The issue is particularly acute for BlackBerry, which recently signed a deal with Amazon to augment its own ecosystem with apps from Amazon's.

In fact, only Amazon has truly succeeded in building such a sticky and tightly integrated ecosystem, largely for the same reasons that Apple has succeeded. Amazon has a significant digital content store and it controls the development of its devices very tightly, even if the OS for some of its devices is really a forked version of Android. Amazon also doesn't create a large number of new devices each year. In fact, the company is more restrained than Apple in that regard.

Although Apple and Amazon have vastly different business models - Apple uses content, apps, and services to sell hardware while Amazon uses its devices to sell content, apps, and services - both are succeeding because they can offer tightly integrated and seamless experiences. That ability seems to be resonating with users. Microsoft also seems to be aiming for that approach in its universal apps approach. It seems clear that this will be a driving force in the mobile, desktop, and home entertainment markets in the coming years and it's a trend that could define computing for the long term.

This story, "Apple, Amazon, and the Growing Importance of Tightly Integrated Experiences" was originally published by CITEworld.

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