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  • Are competitors eating away at Apple's tech leadership?



    Back when standard definition TVs ruled the world, there was one company whose name was synonymous with cool, fun, easy to use, and super stylish technology: Apple. It's 2013 now... has Apple given up?

    Sure, Apple has had a misstep or two, such as the recent Maps debacle, but the real problem is that Apple's competition is getting better, faster. Technologies that once seemed the exclusive province of the Cupertino chaps are now popping up in other devices, and it's beginning to feel like there's never been a worse time to pay the "Apple tax."

    Take several examples from just this year, a year that's only two months old:

    Mobile World Congress, one of the trade shows that has traditionally housed the Apple wannabes of the cell phone world, has named the HTC One its Best in Show. Here's the hitch, as described by Signal Pro Bill Van: The thing's actually pretty darn good. It's leaps and bounds better than HTC products from the past, and its specs are amazing. A fast processor, bright screen and a classy looking UI are all wrapped in a solid aluminum case. Do you know who used to be the only company doing solid aluminum cases? Apple.

    That's ok, Apple still has music tied up, right? Think again. Google thinks the future is streaming, something that Apple hasn't completely conquered. It's true, Apple has made a few steps toward letting you stream your own music but as far as a true streaming service, Apple's had its lunch money stolen by Spotify, Pandora, and others. Now it looks like Google's heading into the mix. Android Authority reports that Google's looking to do to music what it did to videos with YouTube. It wants to launch its own streaming service to compliment Google Play Music, its iTunes competitor. Chances are they'll do it right, too, while Apple struggles to figure out how to do it at all.

    Wait, so where does Apple still reign? They've figured out the ecosystem. Apple users rarely stop at one device since they all play so nicely together, a fact that has the Apple faithful drooling over the prospect of an Apple-branded TV. But not so fast... the Wi-Fi alliance has their own idea about how to create a seamless experience in the home. Apple fans know about Airplay, the technology that easily beams content from device to device, quickly and simply with no passwords and no trouble. Now, here comes Miracast. It's the same thing, except the devices it supports can have any logo you want, not just an Apple one. Of course, there have been other competitors in this arena that have failed, but maybe Miracast could just succeed. The Miracast folks were long on bluster and short on manufacturer support at CES but imagine if Samsung, Sony, Google and LG all agreed to support Miracast, and imagine if it really worked as described.

    It's not to say that everyone can pick up and imitate Apple's successes so easily. A recent update to the YouTube app -- for iPad no less -- does let you beam your content to a surprising number of TVs and smart devices, but the interface is confusing and it's not clear what you're supposed to do on the tablet and what you're supposed to do with the TV remote.

    Making matters worse, Samsung (who sells both TVs and phones already) announced its AppleTV competitor, HomeSync, aimed squarely at creating the kind of closed, easy to use ecosystem Apple excels at. Samsung could take this level of integration to its home appliances (they already showed app-enabled washers at CES) and build a level of product loyalty that Apple used to think was exclusive to them.

    No question about it, Apple has its work cut out for it as it struggles to catch up in a world where it's not the only slick, easy and stylish name in town. Apple's had struggles before -- in the 90s they came close to bankruptcy -- and each time they've prevailed. Can they do it again? You tell me.

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