'iCulture' gives Apple a tactical advantage

'iCulture' gives Apple a tactical advantage

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled an updated line of iPods last week, including the updated iPod Touch 4 which is essentially an iPhone 4 without the phone function. The range of gadgets available from Apple offer a degree of consistency that gives it a tactical advantage over competing smartphones and tablets.

The iPod is a sort of "gateway" gadget that gets younger users hooked into the Apple culture. Entry-level iPods like the iPod Shuffle and the iPod Nano have a dominant presence in the portable music player market, and begin the process of building comfort and familiarity with iTunes.

Eventually, many users transition from base model iPods to an iPod Touch. At that point, the relationship with iTunes evolves beyond music to include apps and games. Users get indoctrinated into the iOS user interface and conventions, and begin investing in a library of apps that expands the functionality of the device and makes the iPod Touch uniquely personal.

As the young iPod Touch user matures and the time comes to move on to the world of smartphones, the iPhone is the natural choice. There are a wide variety of very capable--and in some ways superior--smartphone options available, but choosing Android, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7 or some other platform would require abandoning the familiar iOS interface and throwing away the cumulative investment in apps.

The same logic holds true with tablets. The Samsung Galaxy Tab is only the first of an expanding array of iPad competitors that will be hitting the market. Tablets built on Android, WebOS, the full Windows desktop OS, and hopefully the Windows Phone 7 mobile OS will all be available soon. But, a user with an extended relationship and indoctrination into the Apple culture is likely to stick with what they know, and preserve the accumulated library of apps by keeping it simple and embracing the Apple iPad.

Other platforms recognize this tactical advantage and are making efforts to establish a similar addictive indoctrination. Microsoft has had marginal success parlaying user comfort with the Windows desktop operating system into Windows Mobile users, and in trying to establish the Zune as a gateway gadget similar to the iPod--especially with the new Windows Phone 7 devices which are built on a familiar Zune-like interface.

Android is the most successful Apple competitor in terms of developing an extensive library and culture of apps. The iPhone may outsell any individual Android smartphone, but there are many Android smartphones and the sheer volume has enabled Android to gain ground on iOS as a mobile platform.

Just as users comfortable with the iOS interface and invested in iPhone apps are likely to adopt the Apple iPad, users that are familiar with the Android OS and have built a library of Android apps are more likely to select an Android-based tablet like the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The genius of Apple's iCulture strategy is that the relationship with iOS and the investment in an extensive library of iOS apps is a much stronger bond than the two-year wireless contract. Aside from the early termination fee, there is no reason most users won't switch wireless providers given a better deal, but switching platforms requires a culture shift that many are unwilling to embark on.

The recipe for success is hook 'em young and keep feeding the addiction.

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