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Apple: Top dog of value

In early 2007 Mr Jobs stood on a stage and showed a new direction for his company, essentially an iPod Touch with a GSM chipset or an MP3 player that could also make calls.

Many competitors scoffed at this late entrant afterall what had Apple achieved? "oh... he made a phone call, big deal" one stalwart of the industry was heard to say. While that was true, Apple had fundamentally changed the way that we as humans interface with a machine, it became so natural for all and was now not just the domain of early adopters (aka the geeks).

The iPhone has become a runaway success for Apple and they now totally own the high-end/premium segment. But they understood something else, we don't just want to make calls and so apps have found their way into almost every part of our lives now.

These are indeed time fillers, because let's face it we spend only a few minutes using each and most on our device we never use, but have them in case I go to Moscow and need the rail schedule or know annual rainfall of Guinea Bissau I have an app for that. I say time fillers, because these are not complex apps that require over investment of your time, look the best selling game Angry Birds, your time investment can be from a few seconds to a few minutes. No longer do you have to commit for extended periods in order to conquer the world. And thats why we like it, it fills up gaps in time, to combat boredom.

I know that in my case only a few mobile apps are really useful to myself on a daily basis; Sky News, News24, Facebook, Engadget, Tunein Radio and my remote for Boxee. I have many others, but they are mainly noise. I must say on my iPad I do have some magazine applications with subscriptions, but screen size of the mobile does not lend itself well to books and magazines.

But where to now for Apple? They have annihilated the value segment of the mobile market, other player struggling to keep their heads above water because of it.... but again.... where to now? Apple's penetration of traditional value markets is very good, but what can they do in growth markets? We have seen them come down the value chain with iPods which now start as low as $49. There has been speculation for ages about an iPhone nano or similar, but where is it then? I think it is locked away in the safe of value protection.... Or the talk of a cloud based iPhone with no on board apps/memory etc, well that again keeps it in the preserve of developed markets, internet just costs too much elsewhere.

So, what of the future? If history has taught us anything, it is not to underestimate Mr Jobs. But, the worrying part for any investor in Apple is not that they start to come down the value chain in their most profitable products line but rather in the future leadership of the company. Another massive player this year had some trouble with Burning Platforms et al. but Apple may just have the problem of no legs under their platform... until then I guess we all wait with baited breath and anticipation to see the long queues to buy what Mr Jobs will tell us we just have to have next!

[Grant Marais]

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