The Guardian has a brief analysis centering on things like prestige (Apple products are expensive), ecosystem (Apple’s stuff works well together), and branding (you know what you’re going to get).
These are all true, but somehow, even taken together, they miss a key point: We’ve made Apple the world’s most valuable company because a whole lot of us really want to buy Apple products. This may seem obvious, given the sales data, but think about it for a second. You have lots of choices for smartphones, for example, and a lot of them get great reviews in the tech press. But Apple continues to gain market share, even at their prices, while their sometimes technologically superior competitors lose.
I’m going to toss out a guess. Deep within Apple, Steve Jobs’ mantra is still alive and well: Insanely great! In other words, there are still enough people who influence product development and who understand the cheng / chi game. As you may recall, this ancient idea — the subject of Chapter 6 of the Sun Tzu text — involves using both the expected and the unexpected in combination to surprise and confuse an opponent and then exploit the situation before the opponent can figure it out. It’s the basis of Boyd’s concept of “operating inside the OODA loop.”
In business, though, it should focus on the customer, not competitors, and becomes something like “it works great but it also delights users with …” It works and it’s super cool! Yeah, I know that sometimes it doesn’t work that awfully great — I remember “MobileMe” and the first iteration of Apple Maps — but so far Apple has been a fast learner and fixes problems before they become fatal. Besides, as Boyd always insisted, you don’t have to be perfect, just better than your competition.
The result of expectation and delight working together is an emotional need, you just feel like buying their products is what you have to do. It’s just the right thing to do.
What’s really amazing is that Apple has kept corporate entropy at bay for so long. What usually happens is that slowly, over time, bean counters take over. Risk taking subsides as profit taking dominates. Nokia could have had the first awesome smartphone, but they didn’t. And putting arbitrary sales targets ahead of making the best products cost Toyota dearly earlier in the millennium.