When I read Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman’s latest report on the apps Apple is building for Apple’s upcoming AR/VR headset, I was once again reminded of Apple’s unique place in the tech ecosystem.
We talk a lot about Apple’s competitors, and there certainly are in every market it competes in. But while Apple has competitors, none of them play the same game as Apple. Over the decades, I have observed that many of those who dislike Apple as a business do so because they don’t understand it—they try to compare it to other companies in the tech sector to no avail.
The fact that we can even discuss Apple’s future headset, headset operating system, headset app platform, and headset apps says it all that Apple has a strategy that allows it to achieve what no other can do. company.
To truly see Apple’s uniqueness, consider its closest peers in the tech industry. Companies that build their own OS and app platforms basically do it once: Microsoft for PCs and Google for phones. They dabble in hardware too, but other hardware partners do the hard work. Apple has hardware competitors everywhere, but they mostly use other people’s software.
This is because even creating and maintaining a single operating system and application platform for consumer devices requires incredible hard. How many of them have ever been successful in the history of the computer industry? A handful or two in four or five decades. Being a platform owner is a monumental task: software, hardware, and developer relationships. Apple probably owns more viable consumer operating systems than the rest of the world put together. (And if not, it’s surprisingly close.)
This does not mean that Microsoft and Google are weaklings. In fact, Apple stepped in (metaphorically speaking) when it forked Mac OS X in 2007 and turned it into iOS. Yes, the iPhone was a huge world-changing hit, of course we all know that. But consider what Apple was left with: a booming iPhone OS that was supposed to cater to the needs of mobile devices, and the existing OS X base. Two increasingly disparate operating systems with vastly different and incompatible app development platforms. If working with one computing platform is difficult, working with two at the same time seems almost impossible.
This was Apple’s mystery in the 2010s. A victim of its own success, Apple had to find a way to make a lot of plates (iPhone! iPad! Mac! Apple TV! new Apple Watch!) spin in an attempt to make it all sustainable. Gradually, a strategy emerged: to take the most important and successful platform (iOS) and make it the center of the company’s strategy.
The first Apple TV originally ran Mac OS X, but quickly moved to iOS. watchOS was based on iOS and couldn’t actually work without an iPhone nearby. There was even a point in the middle of the decade when it looked like Apple would put the Mac out to pasture.
Of the many platforms, one
What happened after that was a masterstroke. Apple has begun planning to move the Mac to Apple’s own processors, the same as the ones in the iPhone. The company has spent several years bringing the fundamentals of macOS and iOS back together after years of separation. And it has allowed Macs to take advantage of the iOS software platform, either through Mac Catalyst or even running iPad apps directly on Apple’s silicon Macs.
That’s how Apple manages to own the platform for all these different devices. Although they look different and behave differently to a certain extent, they are actually variations on the same platform. Yes, macOS is an exception, albeit much less so than it once was – but every other product is a derivative of iOS, from Studio Display to HomePod… and Apple’s forthcoming headset.
Here’s what struck me when I read Tuesday’s Bloomberg report: Even Apple doesn’t have the resources to build an entirely new operating system, system apps, and development platform for a new AR/VR headset from scratch. But what apple Maybe does and actually excels at it, takes iOS and then makes a variant that suits the product in question.
So, while Apple is building apps for the VR headset, is there any doubt that they are based on the knowledge and perhaps the code base of similar apps for iOS and iPadOS? Of course, any new headset features have to be added, but Apple has a huge code library for screen sharing, messaging, gaming, media playback… whatever.
When Apple introduces this device to developers, it won’t ask them to start from scratch either. Instead, he will be talking to experienced iOS developers, many of whom have been familiar with Apple’s VR/AR-related software tools over the past few years. There is a lot to learn, but they will start from the position of acquaintance.
It will be much easier for Apple to convince developers to develop applications for a new headset running a familiar operating system with a few new flaws. First-time wearers will have an easier time seeing new versions of Apple’s own apps.
None of this is easy. Being a platform owner is not easy. This is one of the reasons why there are not very many of them. But the strategies that Apple has used to release so many different devices are exactly the strategies that they will be able to use to release one more. It’s an advantage that only Apple has and you can bet they’re going to use it.