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Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) has taken a lot of flack for failing to wow consumers with new products over the past three years. Ever since the iPad was released, there have been fewer flashy product releases, as CEO Tim Cook relies more heavily on incremental improvements rather than big innovations, which were the forte of Steve Jobs.
But that doesn't mean that Apple has lost its edge over the competition. In fact, Apple has managed to stay ahead, and even expanded its ecosystem to a number of new areas.
Falling behind no one
comScore's latest numbers show Apple's smartphone market share edged up slightly between May and August, to 40.7%. Samsung held 24.3% of the market, but it's worth noting that the company launched the Galaxy S4 in late April and, during those three months, Apple enthusiasts were awaiting the iPhone 5s and 5c.
Google's (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) Android still holds an operating system lead, with 51.6% of the market, driven by Samsung devices.
The combination of Google and Samsung is a challenge to Apple, but also gives the company its biggest competitive advantage.
The big challenge to Apple is the flagship product from Samsung and Google Android -- the Galaxy S4. The problem is, there's not a lot of difference between the S4 and the iPhone 5s. The S4 has a larger screen, better battery life, and very arguably a better screen, while the iPhone arguably has a better processor and operating system. The S4 isn't a leap ahead of the iPhone in any measurable way.
Comparing tablets is even more difficult, with the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 comparing well with the iPad on size, speed, and display -- though not user experience.
In a way, Samsung has tried to differentiate itself with gimmicks like the "no touch" features on the Galaxy S4, as well as near-field communication, neither of which have been a hit. Samsung may have caught up to Apple, but it certainly isn't out-innovating the company.
Galaxy Gear and Smart TV
Samsung has taken the battle with Apple to watches and televisions but, again, it hasn't wowed many people. The Galaxy Gear smartwatch has been criticized for having little functionality and a high price tag of $299.
Maybe there's a reason an Apple smartwatch hasn't been released yet. Apple allowed Samsung to be on the bleeding edge of the industry, and to prove that there's a lot to be done to make smartwatches work.
Samsung's Smart TV is another new product that's a nice feature, but it's a copy and paste of what Apple did with the Apple TV, not a great leap forward. I have both devices, and the Apple TV gets far more use and is much easier to use.
Samsung can't out-Apple Apple
It's true that Apple hasn't introduced any revolutionary products in the last few years, but neither has anyone else in the industry. Samsung, HTC, and Nokia aren't improving smartphones, tablets, watches, or TVs at breakneck speed, and that keeps Apple in a comfortable lead in tech.
Google continues to command strong market share with Android, but it has run into a challenge persuading manufacturers and users to upgrade to the latest operating system. Combine that with the fact that companies like Amazon.com and Samsung modify Android, and strip out features that push users to Google's service, and you have a disjointed ecosystem of devices.
The bottom line is that even behemoths like Samsung and Google can't combine to make a product far superior to the iPhone or iPad. Apple may not be the innovation machine it once was, but it's not being overtaken by the competition. That makes Apple's stock a safe bet even in a volatile tech industry.
The handful of winners emerging in smartphones
Mobile is the future of tech; that much isn't hard to see. But not every company is able to compete in this massive market, and scale has become just as important as technology. To find out which tech giants are set to rule the next decade, we've created a free report called, "Who Will Win the War Between the 5 Biggest Tech Stocks?" Inside, you'll find out which companies are set to dominate, and we'll give in-the-know investors an edge. To grab a copy of this report, simply click here -- it's free!