5 Tech Toys More Beloved Than Apple Products

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Why should we deny the inevitable? Apple and its grand master plan that lies beyond the comprehension of simple plebes such as ourselves is going to dominate our lives one intuitive device at a time.

We know this to be so, and by "we," it's implied that such confidence belongs to the anonymous, caterwauling, defensive, ever-pumping, never-dumping crowd of comments-field sycophants with freshly downloaded iTunes copies of every Steve Jobs biopic (even the Ashton Kutcher one) and tattoos of the Apple logo on their check-signing wrists. While the rest of the global consumer marketplace foolishly uses devices as a means to an end and occasionally uses operating systems such as Android ("Stolen!"), Windows Mobile ("Irrelevant!") and BlackBerry ("LOLCanada90sDadJokeROTFLMAO!") to perform these mundane tasks, enlightened Apple acolytes follow iOS through the parted sea of dumbphones and through the swarms of discount smartphone locusts to the Promised Land of enclosed ecosystems and rigid pricing structures.

As they'll tell you each time you argue to the contrary, the numbers don't lie. ComScore's latest mobile market share numbers give Apple a 41.3% share of the U.S. smartphone market in February -- the last month for which figures were available -- with Samsung trailing behind at a paltry 27%. Samsung's share grew by one percentage point during the preceding three-month period, compared with just 0.1 percentage-point growth for Apple, but that's beside the point. Apple's 41.3% share of all smartphone subscribers still trails Android's overall 52.1% share, but Rocco Pendola notes that nobody loves Android as much as Apple fans love iOS.

But what about the global picture? According to Gartner, Apple's 15.6% global smartphone market share pales in comparison with Samsung's 31% stake. Lump all of the Android smartphones together and the combined 78.1% share makes that 15.6% look puny. "Cheap junk," the critics yell. "Profit share!" the bean counters argue. And so on. The Apple purists know that their company's 8.3% share of the mobile market isn't small, but a symbol of just how far the penny pinchers will go to deny themselves technological perfection. With that share up from 7.5% last year, the rubes are coming around.


For some reason, the Luddites continue to buy into other brands that aren't Apple and soak the floors of the Infinite Loop buildings in Cupertino with salty tears. Why won't they see the genius? Why won't the acknowledge the absolute truth? Why won't the prostrate themselves before the brand that's saved not only their worthless, boring lives, but their souls?

With great reluctance and with many apologies to the Apple disciples and their collective wisdom, we present the following five instances of Apple's irreproachable products being undermined by a pesky competitor. While Apple's defenders can tell us the myriad ways Apple products are better, consumers certainly seem to embrace these alternatives as much or more than what Apple is offering:

Operating System
Alternative: Microsoft Windows

Internet Explorer is a hot security mess and entire countries are banding together to keep Windows XP not only alive, but secure, yet Windows continues to just bludgeon Apple on desktops and in offices.

Windows 7 and Windows XP are embedded in more than 75% of all personal computers worldwide, according to web metrics firm Net Applications. Add Windows 8 and Vista and that share swells to about 90%. How's OS X doing? All versions combined add up to little more than 7% of the total. That's super awesome if your main competitor is Linux (1.6% living open and easy), but when your latest update is only one percentage point ahead of Windows Vista -- the official operating system of people who hate themselves -- no amount of pro-design spin can make that look good.

Set-top box
Apple TV ($99)
Alternative: Amazon Fire TV ($99)

We could have placed the various Roku boxes or Google's Chromecast in this mix, but it's all about the ecosystem.

The Apple kids will point to Apple TV's AirPlay function all day and blather on about integration and the wonders of your desktop and iTunes on your television. Of course, it doesn't hurt if all of your smartphone and tablet content is just in your set-top box to begin with.

Amazon's player is a thing of beauty for all of the reasons Apple supporters always mention: It has access to Amazon's cloud-based content, it's integrated with your existing Amazon account for Amazon video and movies and it has access to Amazon Prime customers' streaming libraries -- which will soon include HBO content.

That, right there, is the rub. Amazon's entertainment ecosystem has a streaming video option that may not be as vast as Netflix's, but is more than iTunes offers for a fee already built into its Amazon Prime delivery service. It also offers games, which are notably absent from the list of iTunes offerings. Lastly, and most importantly, it includes both Netflix and Pandora.

We'll note that Amazon Fire TV includes Netflix despite the fact that it's a direct competitor to its Prime streaming video service. Apple, meanwhile, stubbornly refuses to carry Pandora because of its in-house streaming music service -- iTunes Radio. Amazon realizes that giving customers something they actually want may earn you more business than ignoring your biggest competitor in favor of a not-quite-ripe competing version of their product.

Speaking of that distinct lack of ripeness....

Streaming music service
Apple contender: iTunes Radio
Alternative: Pandora

Hey, iTunes Radio is the third most-popular streaming service only a few months after its launch! Eat that, troglodytes!

It's surpassed Spotify, it's more giant than Google Play, it's slapping around Slacker Radio, it's... wait, what? It only has 8% of the streaming market despite having more than 40% of the smartphone market? And the No. 2 streaming service -- iHeartRadio with 9% -- is basically an app for terrestrial radio? So more people like listening to regular radio with its tiny playlists and corny drive-time DJs than iTunes Radio and its streamy goodness?

Yep, and that's not even the worst of it. Because it knows absolutely nothing about streaming other than the fact that consumers like it better than buying downloads, Apple has invested in it solely as a Trojan horse for download sales. That's worked out about as well as you'd expect. After Nielsen reported that music download sales fell for the first time ever in 2013, it was discovered that only 1% to 2% of iTunes Radio listeners clicked the "buy" button when listening to songs.

But hey, that's better than nothing, right? And "better than nothing" is why this company still sells the iPod and will do so until it's unprofitable, right? Right, but the difference is that people once bought the iPod in droves and used it to revolutionize music. Apple's iTunes Radio is obsolete on arrival and asks users to do a whole lot more than Pandora, which gives them a passive, curated listening experience that they never have to download.

Apple: iPad Air ($499)
Alternative: Google Nexus 10/Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 ($399/$354)

There's no badmouthing the iPad air. It weighs all of a pound, is faster than any iPad produced to date, is perhaps the ideal video conferencing tablet and is just aesthetically pleasant.

It's also $499 for a 16-gigabyte version. Adherents argue that it's worth the premium, but the entire reason that Google's Nexus 10 and Amazon's HDX 8.9 have been competitive is because consumers strongly disagree -- and their points are valid.

Even Apple gives ASUS Nexus products the respect they deserve, with Tim Cook dragging the Nexus 7 on stage a few years ago to compare it to the iPad Mini. Steve Jobs wouldn't have brought an Android product on stage to spit on it.

That said, the Nexus 10 and Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 each have responsive screens, fast performance and a broad array of available media through Amazon and Google Play. What gives them a slight leg up, however, is their displays. It's not Apple's Retina screen, but the Nexus and HDX screens are far more vibrant when playing video. Deride them as media toys all you'd like, but for non-business applications, that's basically a tablet's most valuable function.

Even for businesses, the Nexus and HDX aren't so appallingly inferior to the iPad Air to warrant an extra $100 to $150 per unit. This is a tighter race than the faceoffs we looked at earlier, but when money matters more than minutiae, the Google and Amazon tablets will win every time.

Low-end laptop
Apple contender: MacBook Air ($899)
Alternative: Google Chromebook ($199-$319)

That MacBook Air price is the recently announced reduced rate -- from $999.

That's it. That's Apple's low-end, base laptop and its concession to the fact that Google's been letting laptop owners in on the ground floor cheaply since 2012.

Now Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Toshiba have joined Samsung in cranking out Chromebooks that are the exact same size as the MacBook Air and have similar battery life. Do they have Apple's proprietary apps and OS? Nope.

But will any of that really help a nonpartisan consumer justify paying four times more for a MacBook Air when a Chromebook will get the job done? Holiday 2012 should be a decent test.

Do they have the Mac ecosystem? Nope? Do they give someone looking for an entry-level laptop a fighting chance by keeping a slim profile, using Google Drive for storage and booting up in a reasonable time? Absolutely, and it's working in a segment of the market that Apple can't even bring itself to sniff.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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