Apple prides itself on its innovation. When reviewing the history of Apple, it is evident that this attitude permeated the company during its peaks of success. For instance, Apple pioneered the PDA market by introducing the Newton in 1993. Later, Apple introduced the easy-to-use iMac in 1998, and updates following 1998. It released a highly stable operating system in 1999, and updates following 1999. Apple had one of its critical points in history in 1999 when it introduced the iBook. This completed their product matrix, a simplified product mix strategy formulated by Jobs.
This move allowed Apple to have a desktop and a portable computer in both the professional and the consumer segments. In 2001, Apple hit another important historical point by launching iTunes. This marked the beginning of Apple’s new strategy of making the Mac the hub for the digital lifestyle. Apple then opened its own stores, in spite of protests by independent Apple retailers voicing cannibalization concerns. Then Apple introduced the iPod, central to the digital lifestylestrategy. Apple continued their innovative streak with advancements in flat-panel LCDs for desktops in 2002 and improved notebooks in 2003.
In 2003, Apple released the iLife package, containing improved versions of iDVD, iMovie, iPhoto, and iTunes. Product differentiation is a viable strategy, especially if the company exploits the conceptual distinctions for product differentiation. Those that are relevant to Apple are product features, product mix, links with other firms, and reputation. Apple established a reputation as an innovator by offering an array of easy-to-use products that cover a broad range of segments. However, its links with other firms have been limited, as we will discuss in the next section on strategic alliances.
There is economic value in product differentiation, especially in the case of monopolistic competition. The primary economic value of product differentiation comes from reducing environmental threats. The cost of product differentiation acts as a barrier to entry, thus reducing the threat of new entrants. Not only does a company have to bear the cost of standard business, it also must bear the costs associated with overcoming the differentiation inherent in the incumbent. Since companies pursue niche markets, there is a reduced threat of rivalry among industry competitors.
A company attempts to make its strategy a sustained competitive advantage. For this to occur, a product differentiation strategy that is economically valuable must also be rare, difficult to imitate, and the company must have the organization to exploit this. If there are fewer firms differentiating than the number required for perfect competition dynamics, the strategy is rare. If there is no direct, easy duplication and there are no easy substitutes, the strategy is difficult to imitate.
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