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King of the Hill

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Written by: Denis Storey

Sometimes being on top can be your biggest weakness.

It makes you content, slow and everyone’s target. Just like in King of the Hill – you’re either lost in the crowd or have everyone against you. And it’s a quick slide down.

A full decade before the iPad, Microsoft introduced a tablet computer. By all rights, it should have dominated the market. Microsoft practically ruled the world at the time. But its poor design – including its weight – and poor user interface relegated it to niche status.

(It should be noted here that Apple’s Newton debuted even earlier and is considered by many to be the company’s greatest failure. Just in case you thought Apple could do no wrong, remember this is a company that flirted with bankruptcy right around 2000.)

Apple’s “innovation” with the iPhone, which paved the way for the iPad, caught everyone flat-footed and essentially rebooted an entire industry practically overnight.

But I’d echo the argument that its iTunes product was the real game-changer. Not only did it disrupt not one but two industries (and counting), it quietly laid the foundation for what would come later. But Apple wasn’t first here, either. Microsoft’s media player launched before that. But, again, it was clunky and simply a pain to work with.

(Not to belabor the point, but iTunes not only upended the traditional music business, but completely changed how nearly everyone consumes music. It disrupted as many industries as it gave birth to.)

Without picking on Microsoft anymore, we’ve seen this play out in other industries, as well. Blockbusters were as ubiquitous as Starbucks, but came crashing down all because of a stubborn reliance on late fees for revenue – and faster Internet access.

(Funny thing here is that while Netflix, David to Blockbuster’s Goliath, now finds itself set upon by a host of would-be on demand video providers, including some of the content producers themselves.)

As an extension of that, we’re seeing the long-dominant cable providers scrambling to maintain the status quo. But people have been unplugging at an incredible clip, and now that at least one major cable and broadcast network have announced plans to offer standalone service, it’s only a matter of time before that Tower of Babel comes crashing down.

It’s great being the market leader. But it’s also a helluva lot more work. Status quo is your worst enemy, and while everyone might look up to you, they’re also looking to take you down, too.

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