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Editorial: A friendlier Apple Inc now invites media through its Infinite Loop front door

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At this week's Apple Event showing off the company's newest iPads and Macs, invited members of the media weren't directed around the back of Apple's Infinite Loop campus to the Town Hall door, as usual. They were greeted at the front door and led through the private campus courtyard.

Open Apple + Shift

The uncharacteristic media micro-tour of Apple's headquarters is part of a new experiment in dialing down the company's reputation for excessive, nearly paranoid-level secrecy that it has maintained since its recovery in the late 1990s.

While still operating with full security measures in place— comically highlighted in assurances voiced by Stephen Colbert during the keynote to "triple down" on security— Apple is now working to share legitimate things for people to talk about rather than trying maintain an awkward silence between its product introductions.

The move follows a similar step by the company earlier this summer to invite roughly a dozen outside observers to experience WWDC, the company's confab for developers that has previously been strictly limited to partners under Non-Disclosure Agreements.

Apple also opened up its WWDC session videos and actually encouraged its developers— and members of the media— to talk about the new technologies it was introducing, a marked departure from the days when even registered developers were advised not to say anything about anything, even to other developers.

The result has been nothing short of spectacular. Even people who don't know C# from Shinola know about Swift, the new language Apple introduced at WWDC. APIs and initiatives from Metal to CarPlay and HomeKit to HealthKit are now familiar terms even to many non-technical people, despite being just a few months out of the gate.

Inviting the media through its front door and walking them across the inner courtyard of its campus (to a gourmet spread of Caffe Macs breakfast foods and a row of attentive baristas before the presentation) was a symbolic gesture representing a friendly, more open company.

But rather than being a phony facade, the new and more welcoming Apple appears to be aware that it has become something new. It is no longer the beleaguered underdog that Steve Jobs almost reluctantly took over in a moonshot effort to revitalize against all odds almost 18 years ago.

Born out of the fire of intense competition, Jobs' Apple is now the world's most powerful and successful tech company. And it knows it.

One of Apple's biggest remaining problems right now is that it is operating beyond capacity from its Infinite Loop headquarters (below). That's why its working to rapidly build an additional, massive Campus 2 facility nearby (profiled yesterday).

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After surviving unscathed— and stronger than ever— through years of protracted onslaughts by three of its closest partners— each of whom sought to appropriate Apple's products and then destroy it with counterfeit copies of their own— Apple is now playing a hardball offense with Microsoft, Google and Samsung, and scoring all the points that matter.

Those rivals are now mocking Apple even as they slavishly copy it, because they too are aware that they are now the losers. That shift is also apparent in how Apple relates to the media, its developers and its customers.

In response to the confusion expressed by customers about last month's iOS 8.0 missing a "Camera Roll," Apple announced it would be adding it back in iOS 8.1, available on Monday. Compare that to Microsoft's extended, bumbling effort to replace the Windows 8 "Start Menu" that disappeared for users in early 2012 and didn't return until (ironically) Windows 8.1 arrived two and a half years later.

Apple used to be seen as the company that didn't listen to its users' feedback, didn't get video games, didn't get the cloud, and couldn't sell in relevant volumes to customers outside of its narrow niche. Not anymore.

Rather than just introducing its new iPads, Macs, OSs and iWork apps, Apple showed off why its new introductions matter, coyly disguised as that comedy bit about "tripling down" on security. Apple's new Continuity features are only possible because Apple manages its own hardware and software platforms, and deploys large volumes of higher end products.

While all modern iOS devices feature Bluetooth 4.0, dating back to late 2011, only some the newest, expensive Android and Windows Phone devices do, making it impossible for those platforms to even start copying Apple's modern OS features like wireless Continuity.

Additionally, Google and Microsoft, despite their efforts to get into the hardware business like Apple, only sell a tiny fragment of the devices needed to really influence the direction of their own platforms.

Chitika Insights recently noted that in North America, Android usage rates attributable to Google-branded phones and tablets was at only 3.6 percent in September, a ten percent drop from June. Samsung dominated with 57.4 percent of all Android devices, making it no wonder why Google is fighting Samsung for control of its own Android platform.

Android NA use share fragmented Sept 2014

Yet all Android devices in total amounted to just 35 percent of mobile web traffic. The other 65 percent came from Apple's iPhones and iPads. This is in North America, where Google has the most relevancy. In China, Google and its services are really not relevant to users at all, but iOS devices are selling rapidly.

Android NA use share trails Apple iOS Sept 2014

Even in the U.S., Google's own hardware experiments are greatly overshadowed by Amazon's own "Fire OS" variant of Android that doesn't use Google's services (or otherwise benefit Google) either. Amazon has a 6.9 percent share of "Android" traffic, nearly twice that of Nexus. The only common thread between Amazon and Google are some shared Android vulnerabilities.

Apple's ability to introduce new technologies, quickly bring them to market and just as rapidly gain widespread adoption for them is nothing short of unprecedented. Massive, immediate adoption of new versions of iOS and OS X is unheard of in the Windows or Android worlds, in part because those broadly licensed software platforms are used by licensees (like Dell or Samsung) to sell their own new stuff, not to support existing users with an ecosystem that effectively encourages customers to subsequently defect to a cheaper, largely undifferentiated alternative vendor (like Asus or Xiaomi).

In the Apple world, every step the company makes to improve and enhance its platforms results in greater loyalty among its own customers. Apple now sells four models of iPhone, for example, but the vast majority of the phones it sells are its highest end, most luxurious new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models. That's the opposite of every other phone maker and platform licensee.

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Apple's new dominating leadership position over the consumer tech industry means that it doesn't have to worry that every feature it releases will be appropriated by larger rivals with monopoly-like power to run it out of business using its own inventions.

Back when IBM entered the computer market with the PC in 1982, Apple was a fledgling company. By the time Microsoft began selling the Mac desktop as its own product, Apple had already been greatly outmatched by sales of PC-compatible rivals at all levels, not just on the low end.

Apple introduced the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad at points where it was an underdog among entrenched market incumbents who were already selling lots of products profitably. Critics consistently believed Apple would fail, or would be immediately copied by commodity makers.

But that never happened with iPods. In fact, when heavyweight Microsoft entered the market with PlaysForSure and then Zune, there was widespread belief that Microsoft could repeat Windows. It could not.

No phone has ever challenged the volumes or profits of iPhone, with rivals only capable of expanding into the profitless low end of phones. No device has ever rivaled iPad in sales. In fact, despite all the handwringing about iPad sales being down over the previous year, Apple continues to sell more iPads than the rest of the top five tablet vendors combined.

The only way to portray Apple as having effective competition of any kind is to amalgamate the shipping volumes of every company on earth and compare this total against Apple. Just don't use profits to compare things, because Apple makes the majority of the money in the PC and mobile industries.

Some new competitor may eventually introduce a new disruptive product that changes this reality, but for now Apple has a global presence larger and more powerful than Microsoft— or any other tech company— ever did.

Unlike Microsoft, Apple not only makes an OS, but also designs most of its own CPUs, builds all of its own hardware, develops many of its own apps, operates its own cloud services and controls an App Store ecosystem that regulates and taxes third party development to avoid the problems of malware, junkware and spyware that have plagued Windows and Android. Apple is now like Microsoft, Intel, HP and Google put together. And last year it earned more net income than all of them put together.

Apple is now like Microsoft, Intel, HP and Google put together. And last year it earned more net income than all of them put together.

With Apple's current position, it now has options to do things it hasn't been able to do before. Like reserve incredible manufacturing capacity at the world's largest chip fab for its new A8 and A8X. Or introduce the first product from a tech company that can be sold as a fashion product to people beyond tech bloggers.

Or introduce a new payment system and immediately forge partnerships with virtually every major bank to support it. Or partner with one of the largest professional services companies to develop 100 new enterprise mobile apps tailored to drive adoption of iPad.

Or develop the world's leading 64-bit Application Processor and then drive massive volume sales of it. Or line up gaming industry heavyweights behind a new API to unlock console graphics power from that same mobile Application Processor.

Apple still needs to maintain secrecy in order to drive its product cycles. But now it's big enough to open up and achieve a new stature as company that can publish public road maps without worrying about ending up roadkill.

It will be interesting to see what Apple does with its newfound power next.