Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Windows vs. Apple

I was thinking about a conversation I had with Sud a while back about his Asus tablet.  He mentioned that one drawback was that Android apps aren't as stable, on average, as Apple apps are because of the variety of hardware they have to run on.  There's nothing new about this issue.  In fact, it's been a central point of contention between Mac and PC users almost from the beginning.  However, this morning was the first time I connected these different business models to our tight/loose distinction.

Apple has almost always retained tight control between its operating system and its hardware.  It had a very brief run in the 90s where it licensed its software to run on non-Apple made computers but it quickly reverted back to its standard model.  For years, this was a major bone of contention with investors and was often cited as a reason Apple never commanded much of a market share.  Yes, Apple computers were rock solid stable, at least compared to their PC counterparts.  Moreover, they had far more intuitive and aesthetically pleasing user interfaces.  However, the draconian control Apple exercised over its operating system left no room for outside innovation and it left its users with precious few choices.  A Mac computer would only work with an official Mac keyboard, mouse, monitor, etc.

Windows, on the other hand, went a completely different route.  They didn't bother with hardware at all, investing instead in an operating system and software that could run on as many different platforms as possible.  The operating system was butt ugly, far less intuitive to use and buggy as hell.  However, it was much cheaper to buy a PC and put up with those quirks than it was to buy an equivalent Mac.  Moreover, PCs gave users far more options for buying peripheral equipment.  Windows may not have been as innovative as Apple, nor as reliable, but Windows nevertheless commanded the lion's share of the PC market and threatened to bury Apple on more than one occasion.

Today, though, things are considerably different.  Windows still has a larger market share, but Apple has carved out a much bigger piece of that pie for itself.  The turnaround point seemed to come from Apple's entry into digital music and, later, into the phone business.  In fact, Apple trounced Windows in the MP3 player market.  From our perspective, it might be interesting to study why these niches provided an advantage for a tight organization like Apple as opposed to a loose organization like Windows.  At the same time, it might be useful for our theoretical work to explore how these forms of tightness and looseness compare to those we've been studying with religious groups.  I have a gnawing sense that there are important differences, but at the moment I can't unpack what these might be.  If they are equivalent, though, then it provides one of the few examples we've come across so far in which looseness has a significant competitive advantage over tightness.  This might help us shore up that part of our model.


  1. This is what you think about at 6 in the morning? An interesting idea, and seems like something heavily influenced by Darwin's Conjecture. However, market forces aside, the one thing that seemed to catapult Apple into the mainstream (at least music and phone wise) was the dead simple and intuitive user interface - nothing has come even remotely close what Apple had, starting with their original iPods. It's frustrating to own other devices and realise how quickly one could be already utilising whatever it is one wanted to utilise if one was in possession of an iPhone/pod. (I can't speak for computers). If the adaptive trait was the interface, could some relevant environmental characteristics be the reduced attention span and 'want it now' attitude of recent generations? Once people have these periphery Apple devices in their lives, purchasing a Mac computer surely simplifies connectivity between all (which could lead to increased computer sales). Would be interesting to see how much growth has occurred in each of these product lines over recent years.

  2. I think the key would look in tracing their advertising history. What are the major themes that have been introduced/exploited?

  3. Heh! Well, that early in the morning I have no control over my thoughts at all. ;-)

    That's just the thing about the interface, though. In the early Wild West rough and tumble world of the personal computers in the 80s, Apple's Macintosh offered by far and away the easiest to use and most innovative interface. Nevertheless, there was something about that historically situated moment that was not favorable to Apple but that was favorable to DOS and Windows.

    Perhaps it was a function of the sheer variety of platforms that were available at the time? There weren't nearly as many competing platforms when Apple went into the digital music business. It's likely more complex than that, of course, but it is one striking difference between the two eras.

  4. Interesting thought!

    Emergence of Android OS is doing what Windows did for Apple OS. Apple had a strong hold over mobile devices a few years ago, in comes (loose-open source) Android and takes a major share of the market (about 50%). Android operating system can be installed and made to work with various types of mobile hardware again there are parallels with what made Windows popular.

    I see a some sort of frequency-dependence scenario occurring. If tight groups are common, then the situations may favor loose groups (Apple-Windows PC interaction. You see something similar occurring now as loose-android has taken over a majority of market share in presence of tight-apple.

    What would happen if you were to run a simulation where you introduce loose-group(s) in an ordinary existing population of tight-group(s)?

    1. It's funny you should mention that, Sud. Ian and I just yesterday were having discussions of frequency dependence selection, though within a different context. Moreover, we also renewed our discussions of modeling. This is definitely something we could add to the model at some point. Before we get there, though, we need first to understand the basics of what conditions favor tightness and looseness more generally.