I came across this article today which speaks quite highly of Apple, and I thought I'd drop some thoughts on this topic as well. I'm programming for the iPhone myself, and learning to use MacOS, Xcode and even the iPhone have been interesting experiences. I'm an Apple newbie, but perhaps it's that what gives me a unique viewpoint of the whole situation.
It's so convenient. Everything related to Apple is convenient and easy. The article I linked to above mentions the huge success of iTunes over Walmart when it comes to selling music. The success of the iPod and the iPhone are no-brainers. Having used the iPhone myself I have to say it's incredibly polished. It's smooth, nice and a pleasure to work with. It feels good to use it. Unlike the Android developer phone, which just feels like a phone. Apple does that little bit of extra work to make its products special and unique. That's a large part of their success. Not playing to be the fastest, the biggest or the smartest. Instead, they have the coolest, the most popular and the most easy to use products.
I have to admit that I love the convenience that comes with all Apple products, but the more I use them (MacOS, Xcode, iPhone) the more I hate the fact that you can't configure things manually. There is an 'Apple-certified' way of doing things with your Apple products, and you'd better not deviate from that way or else you'll pay the price. You'll suffer for hours trying to find an obscure feature that wasn't really popular so Apple didn't bother to put in their product, or sometimes the feature simply doesn't exist at all. It's Apple's way of saying: "you do it our way, and you'll like it, but it's not like you'll have a choice in the matter". And this way works. As long as you're the typical user you'll love everything about Apple. And besides, there was never really any good alternative to Apple. If you wanted to do things your own way you're condemned to using Windows or Linux, neither of which is as 'smooth' as MacOS. Mp3 players are a similar matter. I've looked long and hard to find a simple mp3 player that fits my demands, but in the end I chose the iPod cause it fitted my needs best. Apple was the leader in quality for the longest time. Until Google came along.
To be fair, the user experience I got from Android was lacking compared to the iPhone, but in a more general sense I think Google has a much better vision than Apple. If Apple's vision can be summarized as "Do it our way, and you'll be cool", then Google's is "Do whatever you like, we'll support you". This is reflected really well in Google's tools. Buttons are where you expect them to be, the things that you want (or could ever possibly want) to do are easily accessible, and if there's a feature that you might one day need in the future, you can find it. Google accommodates it's users in every possible way, and not just in ways that lead them to use more of Google's products. For example, Google recently announced that they will create export functions to the most popular formats for their internet office suite. They're basically saying: "If you don't think we're good enough, you can try something else". Apple, on the other hand, is desperately trying to protect what it owns. An example of this is the new iPhone firmware, which once again prevents users from 'jailbreaking' their phone and using applications that are not Apple-approved.
It's control versus freedom. Apple impresses by creating products that are of excellent quality and a pleasure to use. That is, if you do it the 'Apple way'. Google, on the other hand, lets you choose how you want to use their products. You're free to do whatever you want with it. The keyword here is 'free'. Going back to the article mentioned above, it compared the successfulness of iTunes versus Walmart, but it didn't compare it to the amount of songs downloaded through illegal means on-line. It is of course quite impossible to track how many songs are downloaded every day by illegal means, but that only illustrates how iTunes would lose if such a comparison were ever made. People don't want to spend effort on buying songs online if they can get them for free more easily. The only reason iTunes is so successful is that it's very convenient (the Apple keyword, again) to download songs and pay for them at the same time.
It won't be like that for much longer. Everything that has been free since the beginning of the internet is gaining in quality. It may take some time, but things are getting better all the time. Powerful companies like Google that accomodate the user and give him/her freedom have arisen, the open-source world is growing larger and larger, and long-time open-source products have increased in quality tremendously since they were first created (Linux, anyone?).
I don't think Apple can fight this. Since I would love to appear in a list of famous mispredictions in the future, let me make a prediction here. Apple's market share will decrease in the coming decade. I don't think it'll decrease much, but unless they change their company philosophy they won't be able to keep up with 'newcomers' like Google. Microsoft too seems to have learned a few lessons from Apple, so let's see who comes out on top ten years from now.