Post-Apple world?

Msafiri’s technology expert Ben Sillis wonders whether we are entering a Samsung-era

When Apple launched the iPad 2 in 2011, Steve Jobs claimed we were living in a “post-PC” world. But with the company founder gone, and share prices plummeting, is it now a post-Apple world?

Once upon a time Apple was unstoppable. The Californian tech giant unrolled hit after hit, like clockwork, revolutionising industries overnight and ultimately becoming the most successful non-energy company in history by revenue and profit. But things have changed. Visionary founder Steve Jobs passed away in October 2011, and late last year, successor Tim Cook radically shook up the executive team, forcing out iOS software boss Scott Forstall, one of the central figures in the iPhone’s runaway success.

The company has struggled to come up with a compelling cloud service of its own that actually works. And something strange has happened to Apple’s once unstoppable stock price too. Since October 2012 it’s dropped from a high of over $700 to just $428 at the time of writing. What’s going on?

The rise & rise of Samsung
It’s easy to assume that Apple’s fall is down to a new CEO who lacks the same will and genius as Jobs. But that’s far from the case, and besides, it’s likely that Apple’s roadmap for the next few years was approved by Jobs when he was alive.

No, it’s because for the first time, Apple has some competition – and it doesn’t have a clear response. PC sales are falling, and mobile is now what matters. With a little help from Google, creator of open-source smartphone software Android, South Korean technology firm Samsung has shot from smartphone also-ran to the biggest mobile phone maker in the world in just a few short years. Its Android-powered Galaxy S series of phones has sold scores of millions. The Galaxy S3 (launched with adverts poking fun at ‘iFans’ queuing blindly for the latest Apple gear) alone has sailed past 40 million global sales.

Samsung is even pioneering new product categories: its gigantic Galaxy Note phones have sold by the million, proving that people really do want bigger screens. Its new Galaxy S4 phone meanwhile is bigger, faster and more feature-packed than ever. At its launch in March, journalists queued around the block in New York to watch a Broadway-style show to mark its debut.

Apple’s real advantage was its easy-to-use software on top of hardware built in the East. But when other companies can offer Silicon Valley usability with bleeding-edge Eastern hardware, it’s the company that can charge the least that wins.

The Chinese invade
But if Apple needs to look over its shoulder now, so does Samsung. There’s another revolution, and it’s already started. You might not have heard of Chinese companies like ZTE or Huawei, which have become giant multinationals selling mobile network infrastructure, but they’re already the fourth and seventh biggest handset makers in the world respectively. They’ve got global aspirations, Google’s free Android software, and they can undercut their competitors. Sounds a bit like Samsung a few years ago, doesn’t it?

Don’t rule out Lenovo either: it’s already the second biggest laptop maker in the world, and it has the Chinese smartphone market sewn up – you can bet it’ll start moving into international territories soon.

One thing we shouldn’t do, however, is mourn for Apple. Competition always leads to creation. Apple still has many of the world’s most talented engineers and designers. If Apple’s competitors get them to pick up the pace of innovation again, it can only be a good thing for us, the consumers. Who knows? Apple’s fall from grace might actually be the best thing that ever happened to it.