Retail: Apple's Killer Feature
Google's Nexus 7. Microsoft's Surface. Samsung and Acer's Chromebooks. They're all products that have garnered some level of critical acclaim because they're, at least, somewhat good products. The Nexus 7 is arguably the best 7" tablet out there and, in a significant number of minds, one of the best tablets on the market. Yet, individually, these products probably won't see the same level of success as Apple's own.
There's a number of explanations for why the Nexus 7 is unlikely to sell as many units as the iPad has - all reasonable - but a key one that is regularly left undiscussed is retail. Retail is perhaps one of the most important aspects to Apple's business and a major disadvantage to many of their competitors.
An Apple store is not just a place to buy stuff, it's an experience.
When the word "Apple" is juxtaposed to "Retail", it's not uncommon for your first thought to be of Apple's own collection of stores around the world, so we'll deal with that first. An Apple store is not just a place to buy stuff, it's an experience. Sure, purchasing a product is one aspect of what Apple provides in it's stores, but the chance to get hands on time with a product is an invaluable advantage that few of their competitors are able to offer through their own retail channels.
Case in point, I made a trip to an Apple store just this Monday to pick up a MacBook Air. While waiting for the employee to return with my goods, a small group of people descended on the MacBooks displayed on the table I was standing at. There's a good chance they weren't there to buy anything, yet one quite loudly expressed how good they thought the trackpad was. From that visit, that consumer got a chance to make a justified opinion on a product and could very well contribute to a buying decision in the future.
You've probably been to an Apple store on a Saturday where products on show are dominated by people browsing Facebook. It's frustrating for someone who actually wants to test out a product rather than simply abuse the availability of a device with an internet connection, but those people are experiencing something invaluable to Apple. By providing what is essentially an unspoken service to those with no initial intention to purchase the products they are using yet a desire to use the product at that time, these consumers begin to get accustomed to the devices and could potentially go on to buy one in the future.
Today's visitors are tomorrow's potential customers.
With it's attraction of primarily young, Facebook-surfing visitors, the stores continue to build Apple's identity as a "cool" brand that contributes to the reputation of products like the iPod, and it's consequential success. Today's visitors are tomorrow's potential customers.
People visit the Apple store when they know what they want, in the same way I visit Starbucks when I know I want a Frappuccino, and not just "a drink". When someone wakes up and decides to buy a new computer (or a phone, or a tablet), unless they know what they want is adorned with an Apple logo, they probably use a retail outlet that can provide them with models of computer from any of the major brands; places like PC World, Currys and Comet come to mind, at least here in the UK. These places are much bigger and allow consumers to investigate more products, but yet the oasis of Apple's presentation still resembles their own official stores. The MacBook Air on show is spaciously placed on a table with product information surrounding it, and is even still connected to the internet so shoppers can really use it. However, across the store, the selection of Windows notebooks on show are squashed together running some permanent video loop with no additional information than a list of technical specifications that will make little sense to the majority of customers.
It's even the same online; retailers like Amazon host these special promo pages when you search up Apple products, while Android and Windows devices are left to feel unappreciated on page 27 of the search results in a standard template that emulates the mundane, physical retail experience.
A stellar product doesn't get the credit it deserves when placed next to a worse one on the shelf.
Where Android tablets have already begun to appear in brick-and-mortar stores, it's the same story. They're pushed together on a table alongside details of their processor and the amount of RAM they have, leaving a customer (especially those perhaps don't have that technical competency to spend hours researching the product elsewhere) to make a blind choice between devices, or one based on nothing more than price.
Why will this disadvantage products like the Surface or the Nexus 7? Because, until companies more aggressively dictate how third party retailers can present their products, there's very little to differentiate them to the average joe and a stellar product doesn't get the credit it deserves when placed next to a worse one on the shelf. While the incremental difference in the pixel density of a screen can make all the difference in a review online, the current state of retail, only offers an apt representation of Apple's products, while it's competitors become severely disadvantaged on the front line.