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Suddenly everyone wants to follow Apple's integrated hardware-software model


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by Ron Miller
Ness Blogger 

It seems that everyone has caught on that one of the charms of Apple products is how well the software and hardware work together -- and much like NFL coaches jumping on the latest offense or defense, Apple competitors have taken note of Apple's model and are trying to emulate it as best they can.

Let's start with Google, which just last week wowed some people with the announcement of the Pixel, a touch-screen device with some pretty nice specs. Although the Chromebook concept has limitations, as Seth Rosenblatt, Senior Editor at CNet pointed out in this video review, it is the first true hardware device made by Google engineers and it could represent the beginning of a move toward a fully integrated hardware and software solution from Google -- possibly eventually bringing Android into this scenario to offer a larger variety of apps than you can get in the ChromeOS alone.

Chromebook PixelChromebook Pixel - Image courtesy of Google
Meanwhile, Mike Elgan writing on CITEworld pointed out it's not just Google looking at the hardware-software strategy. Samsung which is the most successful of the Android device manufacturers is working on its own mobile OS based on Linux and called Tizen. Samsung recognizes that there's no future in being a pure hardware player, which as it commoditizes becomes a race to the bottom in terms of pricing and profit. So it wants to build its own software platform, then begin to take advantage of the financial rewards of having your own software ecosystem. It sees how well it has worked for Apple, and Samsung wants a piece of this action, but Elgan is not so sure that giving up Android is a good idea or if there is even room for another mobile phone platform.

Next, we have Microsoft, which until this year seemed content to build operating systems and software for the most part and let its OEMs deal with hardware. This year with the release of Windows 8 we suddenly see Microsoft building its own hybrid tablet laptops with the idea of having a hardware device that can act as a model for the rest of the platform. It's not clear, however if Microsoft can have its hardware cake while keeping the channel partners happy.

It's a similar dilemma that Google will face, which up until now has allowed partners to create its hardware, even those times when it has the Google brand on the product such as the Nexus 7 tablet.

Even Amazon has a similar if different vision. Instead of truly being a software platform, Amazon wants to follow the entertainment side of the iOS platform model and make the Kindle Fire a pure media consumption device.

Google is trying a similar model making Google Play more than just an App Store, but a place to buy apps, books, music and movies and TV shows.

And of course, Google is following Microsoft, which followed Apple and building its own retail stores where they can sell this hardware with the integrated software. Can Samsung be far behind?

All of these scenarios have one thing in common. They are all following the Apple iOS ecosystem model. At the time of the release of the iPad 2 in March, 2011, Steve Jobs famously said it would be a mistake to think of the tablet format as simply a keyboardless laptop. He added that it was a device where the software and hardware intertwine.

Two years later, it seems that all of the major players heard Jobs' message loud and clear and all are trying to emulate the model that has made Apple such a huge success in recent years. Whether these companies can pull it off remains to be seen, but all recognize that in order to make money and to build devices and software that people want, the hardware and software need to be part of a whole system.

Steve Jobs may be long gone, but his vision lives on and everyone suddenly wants a piece of it, but just because they each recognize the magic behind Apple's strategy doesn't mean each can successfully copy it or that the market will follow. And that is the real challenge these companies face.

iPhone Photo Credit: Sean MacEntee on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Share Alike license.

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