January 26, 2014

SCHULMAN | Pokémon and Apple’s Secret to Success

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In 1998, Nintendo released the Pokémon Red and Blue Version handheld games for the Gameboy and licensed the Pokémon Trading Card Game. The very next year, Nintendo released Pokémon Stadium for the Nintendo 64 Console, and Pokémon premiered on television and in theaters. These were probably the best two years of my childhood.

I wasn’t the only kid who loved Pokémon. The original games sold about 20 million copies and evolved into a multi-billion dollar franchise. Why? If you play the handheld games on the Gameboy, play console games on the Nintendo 64 Console, save your lunch money for trading cards, see the movies or simply watch television during prime time, you can embark on the journey to “catch ’em all”. And of course, parents permitting, you’ll want to expand. If you watch the TV show, you’ll want to see the movie. If you see the movie, you’ll receive a complimentary trading card to start your own collection. While you’re at it, you’ll need the handheld games and the console games to battle your friends with improved graphics. Integrated seamlessly, it all worked together. Trust me –– I had it all.

Does this sound familiar? In 2001, Steve Jobs, in all his turtle-necked glory, announced the release of the first iPod. Suddenly, people on the go could enjoy the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears and the other talented artists of 2001 with its whopping 5 gigabyte hard drive. Sure, there were other MP3 players and other external storage devices, but the iPod combined the two technologies and integrated them with the desktop computer via iTunes.

Over the past decade, Apple has relentlessly weaved devices and software together with enough i’s on their products to rival the mantis shrimp –– they have a lot of eyes. Google it. In 2005, the iPod adopted a little brother, the iPod Nano. In 2007, Apple released the iPhone, and in 2010, the iPad joined the iFamily. Through these efforts, Apple propelled itself past ExxonMobil to become the largest publicly traded company in the New York Stock Exchange.

What is Apple’s secret to success? iPhones, iPads and Macbooks all harmoniously interconnect through Apple’s software across multiple platforms. If you have an iPhone, you’ll need to buy a Macbook to sync your music, photos and applications. Once you purchase your Macbook, you’ll realize you could benefit from an iPad, because your Macbook is too bulky. Having your devices in concert makes your life much easier, though it will also make you dread seeing your Apple Store receipt that much more.

Cross-platform integration made both Pokémon and Apple successful. Fans’ access to some devices and not others doesn’t determine content –– their love of a franchise does. If you had a TV, a Gameboy, a Nintendo 64 Console or bought trading cards, you could play Pokémon. Similarly, if you have an iPhone, an iPad or a Macbook, you can use iTunes, iPhoto and iCloud.

However, Microsoft and Samsung have largely caught up with Pokémon and Apple’s winning strategy. About a year ago, Microsoft began manufacturing hardware and announced the release of Windows 8, which Microsoft designed to integrate tablets, phones and those weird touchscreen ultrabooks. Microsoft’s successful Xbox franchise also dominates console gaming. And Samsung recently squeezed past Apple into the largest share of the global smartphone market, selling smartwatches to complement their phones.

Although the Pokémon television series, movies, trading cards and games are still going strong, Nintendo completely ignored the advent of the smartphone and the tablet –– two new and lucrative platforms created within the past five years. They’ve abstained from broadening Pokémon’s appeal, despite the transition of casual gaming to the smartphone and tablet. It’s no wonder why Nintendo’s stock is nearly one-third of its highest value within the past five years –– especially now that developers increasingly integrate gamers’ experiences across devices. Going forward, industry players that coordinate their products among mobile, tablet, console and handheld devices will dominate.

Pokémon and Apple built an integrated universe that fans could join because they enjoyed its creators’ imagination regardless of the devices they owned. So other companies like Microsoft and Samsung will eventually take full advantage of their presence in the console, tablet and smartphone market, because Pokémon and Apple’s secret to success isn’t so secret any more.

Eric Schulman is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Schulman’s Schtick appears alternate Mondays this semester.