One of the most talked about aspects of last fall’s new iPhone lineup was the Apple Pay feature. Using contactless NFC (near field communication) technology built into your phone, this software allows for making payment without a physical credit card. And by using your fingerprint instead of an easily stolen PIN, verification is more secure. Staying true to the form of the best technology streamlining simple tasks to be even simpler and aiding in the decluttering of our lives, Apple Pay was a hit.

Much of the appeal for the upcoming Apple Watch comes from it featuring NFC as well, allowing you to pay with a swipe of the wrist.

Critics were quick to point out something; Apple didn’t invent NFC technology. In fact, it’s been present in phones for quite a while. Nokia started introducing NFC in 2006, and Samsung has been using it in their phones for several years now.

Words like “steal” get tossed around quite a bit in tech these days. Sure, tech companies are always at each other’s throats in bitter court battles, but most of that is a formality. But the heart of a thriving market has always been in competition, and that will only come about when companies try to out-do each other. For the most part, this will work out well for everyone involved. In trying to beat the competitor, a company will push itself beyond what it thought was possible and ideally create the best product it can. To that end, customers will end up with a selection of top-notch products or services that they can choose from.

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Pictured: some healthy competition.

Apple didn’t invent the computer. Instead, they made it more accessible to the general public. They didn’t invent the MP3 player, but instead used the classic “razor and blades” approach with the iPod and iTunes store respectively. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but they once again made it accessible and approachable to the average consumer. These innovations were so successful that in 2007 the company changed its name from Apple Computer, Inc. to a simpler Apple, Inc., thus signifying a shift to consumer electronics in a broader sense.

This isn’t a “let us now bow down and worship Steve Jobs” article. But as it stands, Apple is currently the world’s most valuable brand. Even if you hate them, you have to admit that they are clearly doing something right. So what is it?

The two things that Apple has gotten ridiculously right are branding and environment. I’ve talked before about the anecdotes I collected working the sales counter in an Apple retailer and I’m still amused by the amount of people who would complain to me about how much they hated Apple because of how expensive it is, or because Steve Jobs was a jerk, Apple is about to start losing money, etc, etc. Joke’s on them though, because they still came in to buy a $2000 Facebook machine. Oh, and Apple just had the most profitable quarter of any company in history. As in, they blew past the previous record quarter which was held by a natural gas company. Right after “everyone” said their gargantuan iPhones would fail. But negative critics are often the loudest. Most people are happy with the products that Apple offers. Those kinds of numbers don’t lie.

One of the biggest things they have gotten right is branding. Their logo doesn’t say “Apple” anywhere. And yet, you see it and just know. Apple. It’s a McDonalds/Nike/Starbucks level of recognition. That’s impressive. The reason for this is the overall branding of Apple’s products as not just a computer or phone, but also as a lifestyle choice. An Apple product is more than a chunky plastic workhorse. I’ve been in many – I use this term lovingly! – snobby people’s homes that look like something from a magazine or Pinterest board and have often seen a large iMac front and center in the living room, frequently in place of a TV. These are well-designed products and pleasant to look at, not things that get tucked away in a home office. People like to be seen with an Apple product. The pride in the design on both the part of the company and their customers is a large reason for the company’s success and the Apple logo represents that.

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Well, it does now.

The other aspect of Apple that has given them a solid edge over their competition is the environment they created. Apple has their own ecosystem from the moment you buy the computer to every time you use it to rent a movie. Their products all work together seamlessly and require no third parties. The strength of Apple’s ecosystem extends beyond the retail aspect of retail Apple Stores and iTunes. It is inherent in the software as well. Both the desktop software (OSX) and the mobile software (iOS) are built in-house at Apple and in collaboration with the people who design the products. This gives a certain level of seamlessness that no one else can boast of. Android for instance has to work on many devices made by many different companies. This means that glitches and bugs are going to be more common. Many complain of Apple’s closed off ecosystem, but it certainly serves a purpose in functionality.

So why did no one seem to care about NFC until Apple jumped into the game? Because many other tech companies have a history of putting out half-baked prototypes that don’t make enough of an impact to stick around. Apple has a reputation for taking its time and putting out a product that will integrate easily with the rest of its carefully constructed environment.

Is this fair to other companies? Of course it is. Companies like Samsung, Microsoft, and Google are successful in their own way. They’re all worth billions of dollars as well. They’ve all found their own niche and taken it. But Apple’s niche happens to be the one with the widest reach: taking a complicated tech product that others haven’t quite nailed down and making it accessible and understandable to everyone.