SWOT analysis and recommendation
According to Apple Computer's 2007 10-K Annual Report, "The Company is committed to bringing the best personal computing, portable digital music and mobile communication experience to students, educators, creative professionals, businesses, government agencies, and consumers through its innovative hardware, software, peripherals, services, and Internet offerings." The company's 2005 Mission Statement reads:
Apple Computer is committed to protecting the environment, health and
safety of our employees, customers and the global communities where we
operate. We recognize that by integrating sound environmental, health
and safety management practices into all aspects of our business, we can
offer technologically innovative products and services while conserving
and enhancing resources for future generations. Apple strives for
continuous improvement in our environmental, health and safety
management systems and in the environmental quality of our products,
processes and services.
In recognition of current market trends, Steve Jobs has claimed that he wants to transform the company by making the Mac the hub of the consumers' digital lifestyle. Despite Apple Computer's recent successes, the company is facing an ever-changing competitive environment on multiple fronts.
1. What are the key strategic challenges facing Apple Computer?
2. What are some of the dimensions along which company success can be measured?
3. What critical external and internal environmental factors have strategic implications for Apple's future?
4. How does Apple's strategy stand up against industry rivalry?
5. What recommendations can be made to enhance the effectiveness of the company's strategy or to change its strategic approach for better results?
Key Strategic Challenges
Competition and the pace of technological change are the most critical issues currently facing Apple Computer. Its strategic moves into mobile communication devices and portable entertainment downloading places the company in stiff competitive conditions from every angle. New competitors, low-priced rivals, and potential substitute products all threaten to reduce the perceived value of Apple products and the success of its strategy.
Apple is also challenged to maintain its core competencies - marketing, innovation, relationship building, and brand management - as it manages a broader range of products and navigates more markets. Its customer base is now more diverse, and new sets of competitors have a wider variety of strengths and strategies. The technology and entertainment industries are constantly and rapidly changing. It is uncertain whether Apple will be able to sustain its brand's reputation for innovative design, continually release technological breakthroughs, and launch new products that will "hit the consumer mark". In addition, the company's suite of products is no longer based on its internally developed hardware and software, but depends upon the ability to secure media content, which has its own competitive forces, dimensions of entertainment value, and proprietary issues.
With Apple's success and growth, balancing stakeholder demands has become increasingly difficult. Managing the sometimes-conflicting expectations of customers, investors, suppliers, partners, legal/governmental entities, and other stakeholders puts an increasing amount of pressure on Apple's management team. And the company's dependence on Jobs' charisma, vision, and public communication and relationship-building skills puts Apple at risk without a reliable succession plan and a pool of equally-talented brand champions.
Apple's continued success lies in careful and thoughtful strategic management of these complex issues and challenges.
A balanced use of financial and strategic controls will help ensure that Apple Computer both benefits from feedback on past performance and communicates the important drivers of future performance. The following criteria provide a set of measures to effectively determine the company's success.
Financial  Revenues by product and region
 Cash flow - amounts and sources
 Net income
Customer  Market share
 Customer satisfaction
Internal Business Processes  Cost management for pricing flexibility
 Inventory control
 Product quality
 Advertising/marketing effectiveness
Learning and Growth  New product introductions
 Technological breakthroughs
 Research and development investments
 Training and cross-organization sharing programs
One of the most important stages of the strategic management process is the situation analysis, which involves an in-depth assessment of forces in the external and internal environments that can impact the success of the company's strategy over time.
Internally, an analysis of the firm environment focuses on the resources and capabilities within the company which strategies can be based upon. An internal assessment identifies core competencies which will support the implementation of chosen strategies and company shortcomings which might interfere with strategic plans. Apple's core competencies include marketing (including the ability to develop appealing designs), innovation (enabled by research and development), alliance building (based on expansive relationships built by Jobs throughout the external environment), and brand management. Significant strengths and weaknesses uncovered by the internal environmental analysis are summarized below.
iPod - largest market share (70%) of the digital music market (nearest competitor only 8%) due to first mover advantages in portable digital music industry
Control over supplier and distributors
Strategic alliances - marketing partnerships
iPod platform - the profit machine
Marketing competence - reputation for brand development which gains customers through well-planned and carefully executed marketing strategies
Extensive content access based on valuable partnerships in the recording industry
Innovation skills and creativity - stream of new product releases
Product design and features - ease of use, high quality format - clear product differentiation
Suite of products for range of applications - iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes, iMac
Internal software and hardware development - R&D
Devoted base of customers - niche audience
Customer relationships - responsiveness to customer feedback
Positive brand image, includes counter-cultural appeal
Strong financial performance - strong sales, cash flows, and net income, low debt, controlled inventory
Historically incompatible software - computer and digital music format - users want compatibility
Profit per song is low
1% share of mobile phone market
Less than 5% of the computer market
Unpopular Apple TV features
Dependence on Steve Jobs for his personality, vision, negotiating prowess, and relationship skills
Need to build management team and conduct succession planning
External to the company, Apple's most pressing challenges emanate from the industry and competitor environments. A multitude of existing and new competitors is poised to battle for market share and requires continuous attention from the company's leaders.
A close look at Apple's competition reveals that the company is confronted by aggressive opposition in all areas of its business. The markets for consumer electronics, personal computers, related software and peripheral products, digital music devices and related services, and mobile communication devices are intensely competitive. They are characterized by rapid technological advancements, which have substantially increased the capabilities and use of PC's, digital electronics, and mobile communication devices. As a result, a variety of new products with competitive price, feature, and performance characteristics are being introduced into the marketplace. And over the past several years, price competition in Apple's main product markets has been particularly zealous.
It is common for competitors selling personal computers based on other operating systems to aggressively cut prices and accept lower product margins to gain or maintain market share. This puts continuous downward pressure on Apple's margins. Other than price, key competitive factors in the computing market include product features, relative price/performance, product quality and reliability, design innovation, availability of software and peripherals, marketing and distribution capability, service and support, and corporate reputation. As the industry and its customers become more reliant on Internet connectivity, alternative (even substitute) devices are becoming increasingly smaller, simpler, and less expensive than traditional PCs. These devices compete for market share with Apple's desktop and laptop computing products.
The company's music products and services also face significant competition from firms promoting their own digital music and content, including some who offer free peer-to-peer music and video services. iTunes competes along the following dimensions: media compatibility, price (monthly subscription or per song/album), selection (content agreements), search and preview functions, content sources, encoding format/technology, quality, availability of downloadable materials, and other online features. iPod specifications which influence purchase decisions include battery technology and life, weight, price, storage, size, viewing screen, touch pad, control precision, wireless functionality, product type, installed flash memory, storage capacity, supported digital formats, resolution quality, software inclusion, and technological breakthroughs.
Apple currently dominates this market, retaining a competitive advantage based on superior innovation and solution integration of hardware (personal computer and iPod), software (iTunes), and content distribution (iTunes Store and iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store). However, the competitive rivalry in this arena is expected to intensify as competitors imitate Apple's approach and tightly integrate their own offerings to appeal to consumers. Probably most threatening to the company's position is potential collaborations between competitors and content providers to offer integrated solutions that produce more value or exclude Apple from access to content.
The risk of new entrants is also high in both the player and music service businesses, particularly from large, established consumer electronics companies, such as Casio, Sony and Toshiba (for players) or from on-line companies like Yahoo and Microsoft or retailers like Virgin Music (for downloads). Given the attractiveness of these markets, new competitors are likely to enter because of low barriers to entry. The primary barrier is capital, and even that is not high enough to discourage organizations with available resources. And the speed with which information about new technology spreads enables start-ups to gain legitimacy in the industry very quickly.
The company's entrance into the mobile communications field with the introduction of its iPhone has placed Apple in another highly competitive industry, where several large, well-funded, and experienced competitors operate. Price sensitivity on the part of consumers is very strong, and rivalry is especially fierce in this market. (Motorola has been the undisputed leader for years.) To gain an edge, competitor behavior is characterized by aggressive pricing practices, frequent product introductions, evolving design approaches and technologies, and rapid adoption of technological and product advancements by competitors.
New entrants also pose formidable opposition to Apple in the mobile phone market. The notable acceptance and gains made by RIM's Blackberry demonstrate the potential of new entrants to increase rivalry. Due to the success of the iPhone and the Blackberry, other producers will undoubtedly attempt to imitate their appealing features and functional applications in order to create customer value and compete effectively with their own smart phones. In addition, Apple's exclusive use of Cingular/AT&T does not prevent the phone service provider from entering potentially harmful agreements with the company's competitors, such as its threatening relationship with rival Palm.
Finally, the market that Apple TV is entering (with mobile media, set-top box, and video download industry segments) introduces even more management complexities and promises greater competitive challenges than Apple Computer has experienced in the past. Film distribution has exceedingly more platforms for reaching the audience, and multiple competitive segments have already emerged to offer access to content through mail, downloading, rental, subscription, set-top box systems, and manufacturing-on-demand services. Powerful partnerships, with substantial resources to pursue joint efforts, have already been established (such as the joint venture between five of the top movie studios, Movielink, which is now operating as a Blockbuster subsidiary). In addition, studio executives are much more aggressive about protecting content rights, and unless agreements benefit their distribution objectives and maximize the value of their releases, attempting to secure content contracts for Apple TV will meet limited success. In fact, Apple's dominance and relative power in the music industry (as well as Jobs' reputation for control) may build resistance among film producers who are accustomed to maintaining their own levels of control over content. NBC's decision to contract with Amazon-TiVo demonstrates the industry's independence of thought and potential obstacles to Apple's strategic approach. Even new entrants, such as Vudu, pose substantial hurdles to competitors by offering what appears to be the "cure-all" for the video-on-demand market, delivering immediacy, affordability, broad access and selection, and direct delivery to the viewing device. The company's ability to successfully apply its iPod/iTunes model to this competitive field is still uncertain. But in all certainty, this industry is not structured as simply as the music industry, and relationships with key content providers are absolutely essential to gaining a competitive edge.
The table below summarizes important opportunities and threats existing in Apple's external environment.
Retail stores - brand exposure
International growth and expansion
Upgrades for installed music base
Licensing brand name with accessory manufacturers
Web technology and marketing
New ways to integrate electronic devices and change the way they are used in customers' daily lives
Product line extensions and new content distribution systems
Consumer demand for "custom" features
More customer programs
Consumer image consciousness
Strategic partnerships - cooperative marketing
Growth in new user segments
Complementors to interaction
Consumer/corporate needs merging - tools and features to appeal to alternate markets
Apple did not have an easy time finalizing contracts with movie studios that will allow Apple to sell movies on iTunes for use on the iPod and Apple TV
Strong competitors for iTunes market share - Wal-Mart number one online music retailer in U.S.
Very large competitors with good reputations and extensive resources
Pricing pressures as products mature and competition increases
Inability to please more diverse customer base
Inability to continue marketing success for broader range of products for mainstream customers
Technology and entertainment industries are constantly and rapidly changing
Collaborations between competitors and content providers
GotVoice (Web-based free subscription service records voicemail messages in MP3 format and sends to e-mail accounts for discretionary review) rivals iPhone's Visual Voicemail and is not limited to cell phone devices, giving it an advantage
New entrants from backward, forward, and cross-industry integration
Apple Computer's business strategy leverages the company's unique ability to internally design and develop operating systems, hardware, application software, and services to deliver superior new products and solutions which are differentiated by their ease-of-use, seamless integration, and innovative industrial design. Marketing begins with simple and aesthetic product design, which generates viral customer interest in Apple products. In an industry of low profit margins and cost cutting, Apple focuses on revealing radical concepts and appealing designs to making its products different. Its differentiation increases brand loyalty and reduces price sensitivity.
While competitors seek to imitate Apple's successful products and the innovative complementary relationship between iPod and iTunes, Apple continues to introduce ground-breaking new products timed perfectly to achieve first mover advantages. The company continually re-invents itself to enter new product categories and avoid price competition in maturing product markets. Identifying emerging trends and exploiting the advantages of early market penetration has been fundamental to Apple's revolutionary success in the distribution of music, and the company plans to achieve similar results in video distribution and mobile phone connectivity. Apple seeks to change the way people behave rather than just competing in the marketplace for traditional products or with incremental innovations. Product refinement and development now aims at capitalizing on the convergence of PCs, digital consumer electronics, and mobile communications.
Using the company's core competencies in different product markets (employing a mulitproduct strategy) decreases Apple's dependence on revenues from a single market. Related diversification allows the company to share resources, activities, and technologies across product lines, and the transfer of skills and intangible core competencies can build a competitive advantage that is difficult for rivals to emulate.
Apple's valued supply chain relationships, reseller agreements, wireless carrier contracts, and innovative co-branding arrangements play a critical role in supporting the company's differentiation strategy, powerfully linking the success of strategic partners together. The company's strategic alliances have provided an effective avenue for gaining sizeable market share. Also, affiliations with other strong brand names serve to increase Apple's marketing exposure and build consumer confidence.
Apple's strategy also involves the pursuit of opportunities to create demand for its products in the global market. In today's business environment, it is common to expand into international markets when domestic markets mature and commodity pricing tactics infiltrate the industry. The impact of downward pressure on prices can be minimized when alternative markets are discovered. For high-tech products like the iPhone, immediate success can be found in many different cultures and societies. Additionally, operating and selling beyond the home market can enhance the company's ability to compete with major rivals and bring knowledge into the organization to expand its pool of innovative ideas.
The Apple brand, the company's innovative capabilities, the quality of its marketing strategy, and continued success in building strategic partnerships are likely to determine the outcome of the company's forays into the music, mobile phone, and video-on-demand businesses. Apple's commitments and actions should be integrated and coordinated to exploit the company's core competencies, strengthen its competitive advantage, and maximize value.
The analysis reveals that, to secure strategic success, it will remain important for Apple Computer to be fanatically protective of the Apple brand image and adequately invest in the company's competitive advantages in innovation and marketing. Some suggestions for achieving this include:
? Only cautiously engage in the low-end of the market which can tarnish Apple's reputation as a technology leader.
? Carefully manage brand exposure.
? Continually invest in research and development to stay ahead of and lead radical product and technology discoveries. [The company's future financial condition and operating results are substantially dependent on its ability to continue to develop improvements to the Mac platform and to Apple's hardware, software, and services related to consumer electronic devices in each product market.]
? Maintain and upgrade design appeal to reduce the prospect of new entrants.
? Because the personal computer, consumer electronics, and mobile communication industries are characterized by rapid technological advances, the company's ability to compete successfully is heavily dependent upon a continual and timely flow of competitive products, services, and technologies to the marketplace. If Apple miscalculates or fails to produce commercially viable innovations to enter the market as a first-mover, the company should consider expanding its range of product offerings and intellectual property through licensing, acquisition of businesses or technologies, or joint development projects (such as its Visual Voicemail project).
? Enhancement of existing products in all areas (computer hardware and peripherals, consumer electronics products, mobile communication devices, systems software, applications software, networking and communications software and solutions, and Internet services and solutions) will maximize the value and the life of products. However, Apple needs to know when to engage in planned obsolescence to take advantage of the company's market leader status.
? The company needs to constantly assess if it is moving away from internal strengths or extending its reach too far beyond its known and manageable markets.
Apple also needs to define and reach the customer base more broadly and more deeply. Enhancing security, quality, and image will increase Apple's appeal to more consumer groups. Expanding the company's distribution network to effectively reach more of its targeted customers and provide them with a high-quality sales and post-sales support experience will serve to increase market penetration. Building unbreakable customer bonds (especially through its one-on-one programs and retail "membership" culture) will secure long-term customer loyalty and perpetuate its devoted base of customers. The success of Apple's retail stores presents the company with a unique opportunity to "know" its customers' needs and expectations and provides a forum for floating ideas and generating attention.
In terms of the global sector, Apple has begun to establish itself as a worldwide player. As the company expands its reach into different parts of the world beyond its current locations, major efforts should be made to study the preferences of customers in those regions to make sure that service offerings and marketing efforts are attuned to and targeted to address specific needs in those areas.
Firms that partner with Apple and provide access to new groups of customers are very important in the company's quest to broaden its market beyond the current installed user base. It is also important to pay attention to the needs and objectives of strategic allies, especially the interests of content providers. To revolutionize the Internet video and the smart phone industries (as the company did in the music download industry), good media content and unique carrier services are essential and depend on strong relationships with key media and phone service partners. A limited number of available movie downloads would significantly diminish the success of Apple TV, and standardized carrier service would make it difficult to differentiate the iPhone from its competitors. Seeking ways that the power of Apple's market share and brand name can benefit its partners and protect their business interests will demonstrate that relationship terms can offer mutual value for all parties and benefit the industry as a whole. The company wants to establish partners who are as motivated and engaged in Apple's success as internal stakeholders.
In addition, Apple's product line can achieve significant benefits from unique, complementary products and co-branding opportunities, particularly if they can help overcome resistance to Apple's proprietary technology in the mainstream market.
Some final suggestions to improve strategic success include:
? Vigilant management of costs - to maintain pricing flexibility and improve competitive position relative to low-priced competitors.
? Leverage Apple's 70% share in the music market to strengthen the performance of other applications.
? Develop the top management team and a succession strategy to reduce over-dependence on one individual to advance the interests of the company. With Apple's growth strategy, it is likely that Jobs will soon be stretched too thinly, if he is not already.
An analysis of the case, Apple Computer, Inc was made. The main objective was to propose possible strategies that would further improve the company's organizational performance. Basic contents of the case analysis include: the company mission, objectives, and strategic challenge. To provide a basis in proposing strategies for better performance, a detailed SWOT analysis was conducted.