The difference between Apple and Amazon is in the business model of the two companies. To understand each one deeply is to understand the future prospects of each tech giant.
Currently, Amazon is about the business of laying the groundwork to not just sell stuff more efficiently but to so completely understand every customer, in a digital sense, that it can greatly flourish by selling ever more stuff.
One of the key elements to selling more and more is to seize the purchase authority of the customer by eliminating that annoying unpredictability and contrariness of human behavior. If the customer is presented at every turn with what seems like logical necessities, effective control of that credit card on file is obtained.
One technical way of describing that control is the seizure of what's called the mind's executive function. I ran across an article recently that talked about how chess is good training for young people because it helps to develop executive function, that is: what's important, what's next, how does one focus on a goal and then plan to achieve it? Many people, young and old, have trouble with exactly that process.
The activity of making a purchase decision is driven by the mind's exercise of executive function and authority. A person may want something, indeed, even need something. But a mindful sense of purpose, economy, responsibility, consequences and deferred gratification may lead to a decision not to buy. Obviously, that's bad for Amazon and can't be tolerated.
The self-admitted basic business model of the Amazon Kindle Fire and the Fire smartphones is to reduce the friction when shopping. That's another more polite way of saying that Amazon would like to seize the individual's executive function disguised as convenience.
The long-term effect of this kind of intervention cannot be favorable for a company, no matter how good it makes the bottom line look in the short term. That's because it flies in the face of what people consider more important than spending, and that's human responsibility. A rough analogy is a bartender who keeps on selling a customer strong drinks late into the night because it's good for business. Then the customer drives home -- with predictable results.
Good stewardship of a credit card, a family's well-being (and a family's privacy) seem to be eroding, but the good news is the pendulum will eventually swing back. That's because the concept that a corporation can seize more and more of a customer's wealth until the customer has nothing and the corporation owns everything cannot endure without destroying the very fabric of the society that made the original business model possible.
And Then There's Apple
Apple has had quite a different history than Amazon. The passion of Steve Jobs (and now Tim Cook) to use technology to make our lives better, to reside at the intersection of the technology and the humanities, means Apple has a different business model for selling hardware. Apple isn't isn't trying to sell stuff for the sake of commercial success. Apple sells things that allow us to be more human, more empowered and have more dignity. For that, Apple is embraced and rewarded financially.
Apple's entire design approach is based on strong human values. Apple's devices protect the individual instead of compromising and using the individual. This is a value that many people overlook because, after all, both Apple and Amazon sell tablets and phones.
For a beautifully insightful explanation of Apple's view of the customer, I refer you to a security expert, Rich Mogull, who wrote Why Apple really cares about your privacy. In that article, Mogull lays out the fundamental and really very decent philosophy of Apple regarding privacy.
In addition, a lot of that philosophy was on display during the WWDC 2014 keynote. For example, the purpose of HomeKit is to build a home automation framework in which devices communicate with, say, an iPhone app and the secure environment of that iOS device. There, the customer makes private decisions about what state to put the home in.
In contrast, Amazon, by the very nature of its business model, is all about using the Fire phone's camera and microphone to probe into your household in order to, you guessed it, sell you something.
Learning From History
One of the things we learn from history is that when powerful corporations or governments seek to control human beings for their own purposes, people fight back. It doesn't look good for the people in the short run, but eventually, things fall apart for the opressor who perishes. The very tools the oppressor uses to gain power become the seeds of its destruction.
Apple is a company that's betting on what's best about people. In the long run, that's a winning strategy that will appeal to customers and eventually undermine competitors who seem, for now, to be running amok with power. That power views people as a rich source for exploitative wealth transfer, and it cannot endure for long.
All this is why Amazon, despite outward appearances, can never be truly like Apple.
At the time of publication the author was long AAPL.
This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.
TheStreet Ratings team rates AMAZON.COM INC as a Hold with a ratings score of C. TheStreet Ratings Team has this to say about their recommendation:
"We rate AMAZON.COM INC (AMZN) a HOLD. The primary factors that have impacted our rating are mixed ? some indicating strength, some showing weaknesses, with little evidence to justify the expectation of either a positive or negative performance for this stock relative to most other stocks. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its robust revenue growth, impressive record of earnings per share growth and increase in stock price during the past year. However, as a counter to these strengths, we also find weaknesses including weak operating cash flow and poor profit margins."
Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:
- The revenue growth came in higher than the industry average of 4.4%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues rose by 22.8%. This growth in revenue appears to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, improving the earnings per share.
- AMAZON.COM INC has improved earnings per share by 27.8% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. The company has demonstrated a pattern of positive earnings per share growth over the past year. We feel that this trend should continue. This trend suggests that the performance of the business is improving. During the past fiscal year, AMAZON.COM INC turned its bottom line around by earning $0.58 versus -$0.10 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($1.10 versus $0.58).
- Compared to where it was a year ago today, the stock is now trading at a higher level, reflecting both the market's overall trend during that period and the fact that the company's earnings growth has been robust. We feel that the combination of its price rise over the last year and its current price-to-earnings ratio relative to its industry tend to reduce its upside potential.
- The gross profit margin for AMAZON.COM INC is currently lower than what is desirable, coming in at 33.92%. Regardless of AMZN's low profit margin, it has managed to increase from the same period last year. Despite the mixed results of the gross profit margin, the net profit margin of 0.54% trails the industry average.
- Net operating cash flow has declined marginally to -$2,502.00 million or 5.48% when compared to the same quarter last year. In addition, when comparing the cash generation rate to the industry average, the firm's growth is significantly lower.
- You can view the full analysis from the report here: AMZN Ratings Report