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Note to Apple: Be more like Microsoft

One (astronomically successful) company is not an ecosystem

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Open...and Shut Despite challenges from Google Android, the Apple train continues to roar forward at an incredible pace. The Cupertino company smashed analyst estimates in its most recent quarter, with revenue up 82 per cent to $28.57bn and profits up 125 per cent. Apple is minting money.

It's just too bad that Apple isn't sharing that money with anyone else.

This isn't to suggest that Apple should slow down or cut a dividend to its shareholders – though at some point the company will need to figure out what to do with its $76bn cash hoard. Rather, it's simply to point out that unlike previous industry hegemons, Apple doesn't know how to spread the wealth around, a point made by Wall Street Journal columnist Dave Kansas over the weekend.

In the Apple economy, only one company gets richer: Apple.

Yes, ARM, Qualcomm, and other Apple suppliers aren't exactly signing up for unemployment insurance these days, but their results are also not keeping pace with Apple's own success. Qualcomm, for example, just notched a decent quarter, but its profit growth was just 35 per cent year-over-year, compared to Apple's 125 per cent.

This may not seem like a big deal until you compare it to the industry's most recent titan, Microsoft. Love it or hate it, Microsoft has long enriched its partners while enriching itself, with as much as 97 per cent of its own revenue coming through its partner channel. A Microsoft-sponsored IDC report suggests that for every $1 Microsoft makes from Windows 7, other companies earn $18.52.

Going further, IDC pegged Windows 7–related employment at 19 percent of total IT employment by the end of 2010, adding 300,000 new jobs to the workforce.

Even if you heavily discount these numbers due to Microsoft's sponsorship of the research, it's not hard to look around the industry and find a bevy of Microsoft partners and others who are cleaning up in the wake of Microsoft's own success. Try to find a similar group surrounding Apple.

As Kansas writes, "As Apple races to become the biggest stock in the land, it is swiftly becoming a sector unto itself." A sector that may churn out lots of lame iPhone cases, but not an entire ecosystem of successful Apple partners. Apple's end-to-end product ethos means that a wildly successful Apple may well lead to a mildly successful industry around it.

Apple is not, of course, "bad" for being independent. But its go-it-alone model is enough to make even enthusiastic Apple-product users such as myself hope that Android and others displace it at the top of the technology mountain. ®

Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register.

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