Pipelines, Platforms, and the New Rules of Strategy

Back in 2007 the five major mobile-phone manufacturers—Nokia, Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and LG—collectively controlled 90% of the industry’s global profits. That year, Apple’s iPhone burst onto the scene and began gobbling up market share.

By 2015 the iPhone singlehandedly generated 92% of global profits, while all but one of the former incumbents made no profit at all.

How can we explain the iPhone’s rapid domination of its industry? And how can we explain its competitors’ free fall? Nokia and the others had classic strategic advantages that should have protected them: strong product differentiation, trusted brands, leading operating systems, excellent logistics, protective regulation, huge R&D budgets, and massive scale. For the most part, those firms looked stable, profitable, and well entrenched.

Certainly the iPhone had an innovative design and novel capabilities. But in 2007, Apple was a weak, nonthreatening player surrounded by 800-pound gorillas. It had less than 4% of market share in desktop operating systems and none at all in mobile phones.

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