Why Apple Must Not Rest on its Laurels

It seems right now that Apple just can do no wrong. With record sales of its devices and huge amounts of money sat in the bank, it’s all very rosy over in Cupertino. But other companies have had successful periods before, only for things to go a little awry in future years.

Despite great results from Apple ever since Steve Jobs returned to the company back in 1997, it wasn’t really until the iPhone’s introduction in 2007 that the world really took notice of what was going in at 1 Infinite Loop.

Now it’s a worldwide phenomenon, with people owning iPhones who would never have contemplated picking up a Mac.

Throw in the beginnings of a tablet market that is still being dominated by the iPad, and Apple have every right to feel smug. But it may not last forever…

We don’t have to look far to see a tale of woe unfolding before our very eyes, and one that should be seen as a warning for those in Apple’s corridors of power. RIM, if you think back, was once seen as the king of the smartphone space. Untouchable. And they were, until Apple came along and turned the whole smartphone space on its head with the iPhone. Google got Android out quickly and RIM has been playing catchup ever since.

Now I’m not saying that Apple will end up in a similarly dire situation to RIM’s, but it does illustrate just how quickly things can change. It’s taken Apple five years to get to where it is in smartphones. It could take less than two for it to go wrong.

Tablets, another area where Apple is dominent, could also change if Google gets its act together. Ice Cream Sandwich could see tablets running Google’s OS become a real force against iOS, a situation that just hasn’t materialised yet, partially due to poor software. If Ice Cream Sandwich changes all that, and a hardware partner can step up to the plate with some nice designs, then things could change swiftly. Throw in Microsoft and the time (and money) it is spending on making Windows 8 play well with touch-screen devices, and the market that currently belongs to the iPad could look very different by the end of the year.

The MacBook Air isn’t safe either. While a little beyond the purview of iDB, it is worth mentioning that Intel’s Ultrabooks could provide stiff competition in the super light, super thin notebook space. You’d be surprised how many people buy MacBook Airs to install Windows on. If you can buy a Dell or Samsung and get a machine pre-configured, why would you step into an Apple Store and potentially pay more?

I’ve almost succeeded in getting all the way through this post without mentioning the Steve Jobs factor, but I just couldn’t quite do it. Jobs was a huge figure both inside and out of Apple. While Tim Cook does appear to be a strong CEO with all the required credentials, it should not be underestimated how powerful Jobs was when it came to dealing with outside companies. Could anyone other than Steve Jobs have taken control of the music labels in the way he did?

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not sounding the death knell for Apple and all its market-leading products, but what I am saying is that the battle is not won. Apple is not safe from being a victim of its own success.

When companies have years of record revenues and can seemingly do no wrong, you usually find that they can, and they will.

Just ask RIM’s two outgoing co-CEOs.