NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Apple (AAPL - Get Report) introduces the iPad. Suddenly the world is full of tablets. Apple gets interested in TV. Suddenly there's Chromecast, Fire TV and Android TV. Apple looks to be getting into smartwatches and health monitoring. Microsoft (MSFT) is suddenly interested. How does one evaluate the prospects of all the imitators?
When thinking about the prospects of any given company, one has to be aware of why a given product becomes so popular. How a company designs and shepherds a product to market is important, and a rash desire to cash in on a competitor's product popularity, without sufficient technical maturity, can be fatal.
Another consideration for any company facing popular new products from a competitor like Apple is the fear of being left behind. For example, Microsoft spotted Apple a 30 month head start with the iPad and paid a heavy price in unsold Surface write-offs and a post-PC era stagnation of its stock. In fact, Microsoft may never be able to catch up. Samsung (SSNLF), in contrast, got on the tablet bandwagon almost immediately and has been rewarded with much better market share.
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So timing as well technical preparedness is crucial and dictates whether copycat products have potential.
Understanding Core Competencies
Apple's original iPhone may look like an example of a company that jumped out of its previous zone of expertise: the Macintosh. When Steve Jobs returned, to save the company in 1997, he had to jettison everything but a quadrant of four professional and consumer Macs. How does a smartphone fit into that simple Mac portfolio?
The answer is that Apple had developed quite a bit of expertise putting a beautiful, intuitive interface on top of Unix. Frustrated with semi-smartphones of the early 2000s, Apple executives realized that the hardware to run their terrific OS could suddenly be squeezed into a pocket smartphone. They could change the world.