What does Apple get that Sony, HP, Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, and LG don't?.... Usability in software. All these other geeks out there making hardware love packing on "specs", stuffing big numbers like RAM, gigahertz, and hard drive space into small or cool looking gadgets. It all looks good on paper, but after you use one of their gadgets for more than a few weeks, you just want to throw it out a window. Thousands of new gadgets released every year all using the same-old crappy unfriendly, unintuitive, unattractive software. It's no wonder so many are flocking to Apple when we can just pickup one of their simplistic products, start taping and swiping our fingers, and lo and behold... it just does what we want it to do. Of course, it isn't easy, or cheap, to make software this user friendly, which is why everyone is having such a hard time keeping up.
As a software developer, I hear the phrase "I just want it to...". Which, as any experienced software developer knows, is the most expensive phrase we ever hear. People have software needs all the time, which may require vast complicated effort to achieve, but they want it to hide all that complication behind a simple and user-friendly interface. What most people don't know is that making software do just about anything doesn't cost nearly as much as making it easy and intuitive for them to use. This lack of cost awareness is what ruins so many "brilliant" product ideas.
Sony is, in my opinion, the worst offender. In the past decade, I have seen Sony release cutting-edge gadgets to the market before anyone else. The PSP was an amazing gadget when it came out, in theory. It played music, videos, viewed photos, surfed the web, and of course, played games. The problem was that, excluding the last feature, it didn't do any of them well. In fact, all the claimed features were so hard to use that almost no one could figure it out. Then, even more idiotically, Sony received reports that users were not using the extra features and stopped improving them! Sony could have been the what the iPod Touch is today, but lost the chance with bad software.
But I don't just write this to rant, I write this as a warning to other business owners and entrepreneurs out there. Developing software and technology is one thing, but making it user friendly is another. In fact, usability can consume up to 80% of a project's time and resources. That is, if your actually going to make something people will want to use. You have to build it, review it, fix it, test it, fix it, beta release, fix it, get feedback, fix it, get more feedback, fix it... and maybe... just maybe... people will be able to actually use it.
This is why the only mobile platform even close to keeping up with Apple is Google's Android. Google is the only one in the fight with the know-how and resources to keep up. Even RIM, makers if the Blackberry, can't keep their mobile software up to par, they have to invest in starting from scratch or spending huge resources in fixing what they have.
If you or your company has a "great idea" for an application or gadget, just remember, once you price the development... multiply it a couple times for usability.