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Kathryn Cave (Global) - Can Apple Keep it Up?

In the 1980s everyone wanted a Sony Walkman, and ‘Walkman’ quickly became the byword for any portable cassette player. In the 1990s the product du jour was a Nokia mobile handset. Next it was Apple’s turn: first the iPod, then the iPhone, now the iPad. There is no doubt that Apple’s brand hegemony has been truly incredible, but for how long can it realistically stay ahead?

Our recent research on iPad use amongst worldwide IT and business professionals appeared to show an almost indestructible brand loyalty to Apple, even outside the consumer space. When we asked the question “would you consider buying a different tablet device next time?” the response was unequivocal, with an overwhelming 83% answering “no”. The only continent which seemed even vaguely receptive to the possibilities brought by other vendors was South America, where 39% would consider purchasing a different tablet next time. However, this was a real anomaly with “yes” percentages otherwise ranging between 11% (Asia) and 22% (Europe).

We also asked iPad users why they chose this tablet over other rival devices, and the results were quite fascinating. The global majority did say they favoured the iPad for its functionality (54%). However, large volumes (23% globally, rising to 58% in Australia/ New Zealand) stated that they simply always buy Apple products. I wonder what reasons Walkman enthusiasts, or the Nokia fans would have given in their heyday?

To be honest, the brand passion elicited by Apple never ceases to amaze me. There are those who love it, and those who hate it, but it always gets a reaction. You hear heated discussions on buses, it is the subject of numerous online argument, and when we ran an opinion piece on the iPhone 4S on this blog, we gained 29 comments, some almost as long as the article itself.

Steve Jobs is also guaranteed to get people interested. When his death was announced, Twitter actually struggled to keep up with the volume of comments. Last year’s Amazon bestseller list was topped by Walter Isaacson’s biography, and when we ran a Steve Jobs themed newsletter at the end of December we achieved our highest response since we sent out salary reports back in April.

Now the question on everyone’s lips appears to be whether or not Apple can retain its market stronghold without Jobs at the helm. Yet surely Apple’s continued success cannot purely be a question of leadership, or even products, but will in the end come down to the laws of sustainability. I don’t see how fervour on this scale can last. Surely Apple must eventually become a victim of its own success.

Android is already creeping up as a rival platform, and the recent attempts to sue Samsung for copying its devices seem almost ludicrous. From the middle of last year onwards different tablets have begun to flood the market, and with iPad coming in at more than twice the price of many others, it is hard to see how Apple can possibly keep it up. But I think the real lesson here is history. Today “Sony Walkman” says bubble perm, bad denim and Duran Duran. Apple is part of the iconography of now - does that mean tomorrow it can only be “retro”?

The full global research paper can be found here, which includes case study tabs for each continent.  Please add your comments below, or drop me a note at Kathryn_cave@idg.com.

By Kathryn Cave, e-Editor at IDG Connect

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