蔡雨辰 — 週五, 2011-03-18 00:12
根據英國《衛報》的一篇評論，從前蘋果公司還只是一家電腦製造商的時候，人們習慣將蘋果比作BMW，那是因為蘋果為一群注重設計的富裕客戶所組成的 利基市場，製造昂貴、設計精美的產品，這群客戶對蘋果這品牌充滿宣教士般的熱情。蘋果的產品被視為具有創意和多變，但並非業界的主流，當時整個電腦業由微 軟和內裝視窗軟體的電腦製造商所主宰。對蘋果的這種看法，可從Commodore創辦人蔡米爾（Jack Tramiel）一番談話做總結。當蘋果執行長賈伯斯首次將麥金塔電腦向蔡米爾展示時，他說：「好極了，史蒂夫（賈伯斯之名），我猜，你會在精品店賣這台 電腦！」
那是很久以前的事了。如今蘋果的市值超過3,310億美元，遠高於微軟、甲骨文或Google，這家多變的電腦公司已變成巨人，但未必是如雜誌出版 商最近所發現，或如音樂和軟體界已知一段時間的友善巨人（Big Friendly）。蘋果現在幾乎全面支配線上內容產業，看起來又將控制行動電話產業，而且似乎沒有人能阻擋。
在策略部分，蘋果展現出對科技的高度理解，也能精明地評估銷費者會購買哪些物超所值的潛在產品和服務。多數執行長若經營一家擁有上述4分之1能力的 公司就會覺得精疲力竭，但蘋果似乎擁有所有能力。蘋果目前的支配地位建立在三大概念。首先，蘋果重視設計，不會像很多企業一樣將此事外包給設計公司。其 次，蘋果認為，Napster引發的非法音樂下載風暴不能持續下去，第一家提供簡易線上合法購買音樂的企業將清理戰場。最後也是最重要的，蘋果認為，行動 電話可以作為接發電話、運算的手持電腦。
無論解釋為何，事實是，蘋果在幾項主要產業具支配地位，而且對行動電話產業具有干擾性影響。尤其是，蘋果的iTunes商店使其控制了數十億付費歌 曲、專輯、影帶、應用軟體下載至全球數百萬用戶時的關卡，通過這個關卡的任何內容，蘋果都可以索取傭金。蘋果所販售的每支行動裝置，只能透過連接這個關卡 來啟動。
這給與蘋果空前的權力。有很多企業也提供付費下載，但沒有一家像蘋果那樣掌握了這麼多網路用戶的信用卡資料。這是iPad問世時，很多印刷雜誌發行 人淌口水的原因，他們只要把雜誌內容上傳至iTunes，並由蘋果負責收錢就好，雖然蘋果索取30％的傭金讓他們心痛，但至少終止了網路上猖獗的看免費雜 誌問題。
義大利語言學家艾可（Umberto Eco）曾寫過一篇令人難忘的文章，認為蘋果的麥金塔電腦像天主教的裝置，IBM個人電腦像新教徒的裝置，理由是，就像羅馬天主教，蘋果提供了一條保證的 救贖路線，即蘋果模式（The Apple Way，譯按：way也有路線之意），而IBM個人電腦用戶得負起個人責任，自己找到上天堂的路線。
Forget Google – it's Apple that is turning into the evil empire
You may think you own your iPad or iPhone but in reality an invisible string links it back to Apple HQ
Once upon a time, when Apple was mainly a computer manufacturer, people used to liken it to BMW. That was because it made expensive, nicely designed products for a niche market made up of affluent, design-conscious customers who also served as enthusiastic – nay fanatical – evangelists for the brand. It was seen as innovative and quirky but not part of the industry's mainstream, which was dominated by Microsoft and the companies making the PCs that ran Windows software. This view of Apple was summed up by Jack Tramiel, the boss of Commodore, when Steve Jobs first showed him the Macintosh computer. "Very nice, Steve," growled Tramiel. "I guess you'll sell it in boutiques."
That was a long time ago. Now, with a market capitalisation of just over $331bn, Apple is the second most valuable company in the world – bigger than Microsoft ($220bn), Oracle ($167bn) or Google ($196bn). The quirky little computer company has grown into a giant. But not necessarily a giant of the Big Friendly variety, as the world's magazine publishers have recently discovered and as the music and software industries have known for some time. For Apple now controls the commanding heights of the online content business and it looks like doing the same to the mobile phone business. At the moment, it looks as though nobody has a good idea of how to stop it.
Every year, Fortune magazine polls a sample of US CEOs asking for their opinions of their competitors. The results for 2011 have just been released and they show that Apple is the "most admired" company in America. This is the sixth year in a row that it has held that title.
The reasons are obvious. On the product side, Apple creates beautifully designed, highly functional and user-friendly devices that delight customers and provide fat profit margins; it has a corporate culture that reliably delivers these products by specified dates; it's much more innovative than any of its competitors; and it has a unique mastery of both hardware and software.
On the strategic side, the company has displayed a deep understanding of technology and a shrewd appreciation of potential devices and services for which people will pay over the odds. Most CEOs would kill to run a company that possessed a quarter of these competencies. Apple appears to have them all. Its current dominance is built on three big ideas. The first is that design really matters. It's not something you can outsource to a design consultancy – which is what most companies do – and design is as much about ease of use as it is about aesthetics. The second insight was that the maelstrom of illicit music downloading triggered by Napster couldn't last and that the first company to offer a simple way of legally purchasing music (and, later, other kinds of content) online would clean up. And third – and most important – there was the insight that mobile phones are really just hand-held computers that happen to make voice calls and that it's the computing bit that really matters.
Most of the media commentary about Apple attributes all of these insights to Steve Jobs, the company's charismatic co-founder, on the grounds that Apple's renaissance began when he returned to the company in 1996.
This may well be true, though it seems unlikely that such a comprehensive corporate recovery could be the work of a single individual, no matter how charismatic. What's more plausible is that Apple's corporate culture took on some of the characteristics of its CEO's personality, much as Microsoft was once a corporate extension of Bill Gates, with all that implied in terms of aggression and drive.
Whatever the explanation, the fact is that Apple now has a dominant position in several key businesses (content distribution and mobile computing) and is having a seriously disruptive impact on the mobile phone industry. In particular, its iTunes Store gives it control of the tollgate through which billions of paid-for music tracks and albums, videos and apps cascade down to millions of customers worldwide. It levies a commission on everything that passes through that gate. And every Apple mobile device sold can only be activated by hooking up to the gate.
This gives Apple unparalleled power. Lots of other organisations offer paid-for downloads, but none has the credit card details of so many internet users who are accustomed to paying for stuff online. This was one reason why proprietors of print magazines began to slaver when the iPad appeared. Here at last was a way of getting people to pay for online content: just make it available on iTunes and let Apple collect the money. Sure, it rankled that Apple took 30%, but – hey – at least it would bring to an end the parasitic free riding that was endemic on the web. Henceforth, the web was dead: publishing magazines as iPad apps was the future.
Then Apple abruptly changed the rules, stipulating that any publisher selling a digital subscription on a website must also make the same subscription offer within the app, from which Apple would take a 30% cut. Publishers have been furious about this, but there's nothing they can do about it. If they want to do business on the iTunes store, then they have to do it Apple's way.
In itself, this was just an example of the Big Unfriendly Giant flexing its muscles, but it could be a harbinger of things to come.
Umberto Eco once wrote a memorable essay arguing that the Apple Mac was a Catholic device, while the IBM PC was a Protestant one. His reasoning was that, like the Roman church, Apple offered a guaranteed route to salvation – the Apple Way – provided one stuck to it. PC users, on the other hand, had to take personal responsibility for working out their own routes to heaven.
Eco's metaphor applies with a vengeance to the new generations of Apple iDevices, which are rigidly controlled appliances. You may think you own your lovely, shiny new iPhone or iPad, but in reality an invisible virtual string links it back to Apple HQ at One Infinite Loop, Cupertino.
You can't install anything on it that hasn't had the prior approval of Mr Jobs and his subordinates. And if you are foolish enough to break the rules and seek your own route to salvation, then you may find when you next try to sync it with iTunes that it has turned into an expensive, beautifully designed paperweight. If that isn't power, then I don't know what is.