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The Apple doctrine

The best way to get to the essence of any company is by evaluating its priorities. These priorities are like an unwritten constitution. The analog in theology is dogma which when codified becomes doctrine. In law it’s common or case law.[1] In business, priorities are hard to discern and are usually only anecdotally observed.

At Apple the top priority is the product.

Sounds trivial, but very few companies place product first. Those who do tend to be producing creative works (e.g. movie or advertising studios, companies built around a creative process). Most companies place either production or distribution first.

Placing product first forces the bizarre behavior that Apple is well known for: being innovative and quixotic. It makes them foolish and hungry. Sometimes it even makes them catastrophically destructive to competitors.

Notes:

  1. These definitions are from Wikipedia:

Constitution: A set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed. These rules together make up, i.e. constitute, what the entity is.

Dogma: The established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or by extension by some other group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioner or believers.

Military Doctrine: an established procedure to a complex operation in warfare. The typical example is tactical doctrine in which a standard set of maneuvers, kinds of troops and weapons are employed as a default approach to a kind of attack.

Common law: also known precedent, is law developed by judges through decisions of courts and similar tribunals rather than through legislative statutes or executive branch action.

  • Jan Cifra

    I think Apple is the perfect example of a product leadership culture. This is Steve’s greatest gift to Apple, the industry and consumers. I think it is strongly embbeded in the company and is the reason why I am worried about its future.

    • Evan

      A company does not do what is good for the industry, a company by definition does what is good for its shareholders.

      • Pieter

        I really hope that companies do not only do what is good for the shareholders.
        That way only short-term, low risk, high reward kind of things are done, with only failure in the end.
        E.g. See the Motorola RAZR: Highly profitable, 37 different colors, but no innovation, Motorola dies…

        A company should have their own Constitution and live with it.
        If a shareholder does not like it, they should not have become a shareholder of that company in the first place…
        Of course the company can change, just as constitutions change due to changes in the world. But the principle behind it should stay the same.

      • Joe_Winfield_IL

        I have to agree with @Evan, that by definition, a company does what is best for shareholders. A huge part of this is communicating to your shareholders a strategic plan so that quarterly earnings are not the be-all end-all for investors. Apple has a clear product roadmap that inspires confidence regardless of backwards looking earnings measures.

        The RAZR was good for shareholders; it was actually great for shareholders. The RAZR was not the problem. The issue was that Motorola didn't do anything intelligent with its RAZR windfall profits and marketing success, instead trying to milk the RAZR for as long as possible to hit another quarterly forecast.

        Apple is unique in its willingness to ignore quarterly earnings pressure (or perhaps they are unique in that their results ALWAYS exceed expectations, thusly removing the pressure). Motorola failed because they didn't realize that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming (mobile computing) train. They had built their business around low-cost manufacturing and good marketing, and had no immediate answer for the iPhone. To their credit, they eventually responded as well as any licensed OEM on the planet.

      • Danthemason

        A company does not do what's best for the shareholders. It does what's best for the company's hierarchy.

      • WaltFrench

        Every now and then, shareholder and management interests are somewhat correlated.

        Yes, counterexamples abound. The one I'm trying to wrap my head around is Google's 2005 foray into Android. How likely was it in 2005 that competing with Microsoft or Palm or Nokia was going to be more lucrative than making sure that Google-managed ads were seen on all platforms?

        I suppose Page may reasonably have thought he could have his cake and eat it, too. You know, the "one man, one company" renting out the eyeballs of everybody in the US.

      • Evan

        google has big plans for the future. You forget that Google does not operate in a vacuum, it operates in a dynamically changing environment which is the internet which tends to disintermediate exisiting companies all the time. So I would classify android as long-term strategic bet placed by the company. That was why they paid such huge bucks for youtube outbidding even microsoft and why they were ready to pay huge bucks for groupon. And android gives them a powerful weapon against both microsoft and surprise surprise facebook. Google does not see itself merely as an advertisement company. The key to google is 'they want to capture all information and/or they want to be able to index all information available everywhere', thats what makes their advertisement model so succesful.

      • chano

        Plans that could be easily derailed by a FaceBook phone, perhaps. All the lemmings would buy one…….

      • Evan

        yeah I know making a phone platform is so easy, ask microsoft with their KIN with facebook baked in.

      • vroddrew

        How likely is it in 2011 that competing with Microsoft or Nokia is going to be particularly lucrative?

        Despite the growth of Android marketshare, the amount of actual revenue (let alone profit) that Google sees from its operating systems business is miniscule.

        "Free" is a great business tactic. Its not much of a business model.

      • Evan

        hmm, revenue/profit can come later on. Actually I believe Android is already profitable. Just because Google is adopting a different business model than either Microsoft or Apple does not make it a weaker or less sustainable business model.

        "In a talk at the Wall Street Journal's D:Mobilized event, Rubin told Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg that "We're making money on the advertising that's generated through Android."

        Mossberg asked: "Are you profitable if it was broken out as a separate business?"

        Rubin: "Yes."
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/blog/2010/de

      • asymco

        Profitability is an interesting claim. I've also heard that Rubin oversees a head count of 3000 people. I'm not sure that he has only Android as a profit center. If this covers AdMob or not. It's possible of course that Android is a profit center in itself, but the accounting would be interesting to look at.

      • Evan

        my guess is google is ok as long as android platform development is sustainable by ad/service revenues, they are not looking at android platform as a major profit earner. Their business model is not the same as microsoft.

      • Evan

        ok what I meant was google wants to make money from people/customers who are directly using their services, making money from OEMs is fraught with risk as OEMs might then migrate to other platforms, so google wants to make money from end-users of their android devices basically whether it is services or ads. If customers migrate away from google, it is ok but due to this, they are in charge of their own destiny. They fail or succeed by their own efforts.

      • chano

        Android exists solely for controlling access to mobile eyeballs – that's where most users are migrating to.

      • Evan

        what do people use in office ?

      • davel

        i read some analyst attributes Android to be worth $1Billion dollars to Google in search and ad revenue from that platform in the coming year.

        Not exactly minuscule.

      • vroddrew

        That figure includes all of Google's mobile revenue: Not just pure Android search revenue, but also AdMob; iPhone ad placement; App sales, etc.

        But it is important to recognize that a great proportion of that revenue would have come Google's way even if Android didn't exist. They'd still get ~ $300 million from AdMob; $200 million running ads on the iPhone; etc.

        To understand why Android isn't necessarily the answer for Google, consider the following: In China (which apparently accounts for a large fraction of 2010 Android activations) Google gets ZERO search revenue. Google search is unavailable, and Chinese search engine Baidu is reaping the benefits. And here in the USA, all of Verizon's Android smartphones come with Microsoft Bing as the default search engine.

        Bottom line: Google might be making a profit off Android. But even if Android becomes the leading mobile operating system – Google is poorly positioned to monetize that position.

      • Evan

        in US everyone knows google, so even if verizon android phones come with bing, people will download google search app from market and use it. I guess you don't understand the value of owning a platform, and don't think from a long term perspective and look at it merely from a profit/revenue basis in the short term. Think long term instead of short term.

      • kevin

        Google's control of the operating system allows them to take control from the handset makers, and monetize the ecosystem chain above it. But in choosing to make it open, they have allowed others to build alternative ecosystems (like Amazon, Verizon, China Mobile) on top of Android, thus reducing the "power" (arising from the huge customer base of Android users) with which they have to confront other companies who are being forced to converge upon the mobile space (such as Amazon, Walmart, News Corp).

      • kevin

        Your definition is correct but the major point in Horace's post is that Apple management's view of what is best for the shareholders revolves around taking risks to make the best product, on the theory that the best product will provide enough sales and profits to keep taking more risks to make more best-of-class products. Obviously, Apple management is quite sophisticated in how it defines "best", as I've mentioned in my comment below that Apple clearly inserts what is best for its own long-term survival in that equation. As Stephen Elop noted, this is a war of ecosystems, not just devices.

        Apple has done very little to manipulate the pricing of its shares for the good of its shareholders, though, the announcement of Jobs' medical leave on a Monday holiday in the US was one time that they did so.

      • Evan

        good point

      • Hamranhansenhansen

        > a company by definition does what is good for its shareholders.

        That is meaningless MBA talk. All you are saying is companies attempt to make money and stay in business and increase their share price. But the best way to achieve those indirect goals is different for every company. For Apple, the best way to make money is making great products. Otherwise, a cloner will copy their mediocre product with a thinner margin. We've seen Apple run product-focused by Steve and MBA-focused by others and Steve made more money.

        It's like:

        1. idea
        2. ?
        3. profit!

        Yes, there are lots of ideas, and companies all want profit, but it is step 2 where rubber meets road, and that is what Horace is talking about here. For Apple, step 2 is "make the best product."

        One advantage that Apple has when Steve is on leave is the clarity of the mission statement. It's not that hard to remember that what Steve wants you to do while he is out is "make the best product." That is also a big reason the company seems to speak with one voice. When conflicts arise, they are all asking themselves "which choice results in making the best product?" This leads to customers saying "Apple made the best product again, I am going to buy their product again," which leads to step 3: profit!

      • chano

        H
        When you're right…you're RIGHT!

      • Evan

        I was just commenting on Jan Cifra's post that Steve Jobs has been great for the industry. That is coincidental to Apple's real mission is what I meant.

    • Hamranhansenhansen

      Pixar is doing pretty well without Steve, no? Pixar is similarly 100% product-focused. They are also similar to Apple in that their aggressive use of prototyping. Both Apple and Pixar make finished prototypes before they even start production work.

    • capablanca

      Perhaps it is just as much John Lasseter's gift.

      -capa

  • Guest

    British "Product Based" companies in the 50's & early 60's drove their customers away in droves as they created beautifully engineered products that no-one wanted to buy.

    Then in the 70's they abandoned "Products" as a concept and built badly designed & made goods that no-one wanted to buy.

    See motorcycle and car industries.

    • JAmes

      so they had no talent, is that what you're saying? Apple has talent.

      • chano

        No. They had no customer-centricity. Fatal attribute. Shame too.

    • SteveP

      If you're specifically referencing British cars and motorcycles, what drove people away was that they BROKE! Regularly. And most of that problem was with the British labor unions and workforce. (and Lucas electrics! :) )
      The "Prince of Darkness" struck often. I LOVED my Triumph Bonneville AND my '66 E-Jag. for the design and handling – but not for the pieces that fell off!

    • r00tabega

      A nice looking but hard to maintain product is not good product design.

      Apple spends tons of money researching better ways to improve and differentiate their products. A classic example is their "magsafe" power cords, which are not only highly functional and aesthetic, but have a patented connection so you need an Apple license to interface to them (ie, no cheap knock-offs).

      Another example is the aliminum unibody design used on macbook pros and ipads, which make the products lighter, stronger and better looking … and yet to be copied.

      Steve's war on buttons is as much about aesthetics as it is about eliminating potential breakage points.

      Design is more than looks and glitz. It's about how it works (and stays working).

      • AC88

        Exactly right.
        "Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it's this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, 'Make it look good!' That's not what we think design is.
        It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.'' –Steve Jobs, NYT, Nov. 30, 2003

        From the mag-safe connectors to the retail environments, it's about how it works

        Apple design = how it works as a product, as a brand, and as a business model

  • Jahangir

    I used to work for a company that was a service partner to Dell providing their field break fix service. Whenever I met with Senior Dell folks, their famous assertion was that Dell was not in the business of building computer, but that rather Dell is a logistics company. And of course Dell computers sucked, and because of this we made good money fixing their crappy computers as we get paid per fix.

    In all my dealings with Senior Dell folks, they never gushed about their design prowess or quality aspects of their products. It was always about boxes shifted through the channels, number of SKUs per quarter, reduction of customer calls into their call center, etc. So it was not a surprise that Dell eventually become known for selling crappy computers to enterprises with crappy support to boot.

    Apple's fanatical focus on their products and services is what drives Apple's momentum and their resultant success. And I think the number of achievement of Jobs is that he has infused that into the DNA and culture of Apple and that long after he is gone, Apple will remain as a product leader in its category.

    • Silps

      Why does everyone think Jobs is not going to be around much longer? That's some serious negative vibe people are sending out. Yes he is unwell but lend the man some support, don't just write him off yet.

      • OS11

        Well, the problem is his body is not accepting nutrients, so his body is eating itself. The best minds in the world are trying to solve it, but the prognosis isn't good. Granted, he is a force of nature so anything is possible, but a 3rd medical leave in 6 years isn't good.

    • r00tabega

      > It was always about boxes shifted through the channels, number of SKUs per quarter, reduction of customer calls into their call center, etc.

      This would have been great if Dell had actually stayed on top of their game… but Apple even beats them logistically now.

      Supply chain is hard, but real product design is even harder.

      • Evan

        I guess Dell was not the premier PC vendor, it was HP. I never heard a customer actually liking a Dell product, but many people liked HP computers. It is a big blow for microsoft that HP might move away from PC ecosystem all together.

      • dchu220

        Hey Evan. Do you have a twitter account? Although we often disagree, I do like getting your point of view. If you want to add me, I'm at @davidchu

      • Evan

        I am not on twitter :(

  • http://maheshcr.com/blog Mahesh CR

    I would go so far as to argue that the product is not the primary thing at Apple. It is their desire to create unique customer experiences.

    Their willingness to plan obsolescence of products/software versions, or create brand new integrated platforms, must be driven by a need to provide a superior experience. The product seems almost incidental to this need.

    And in doing all this, they are willing to step on a few toes and force fit perceptions to their world view, which in my book is not a bad thing at all.

    • WaltFrench

      “The product seems almost incidental to this need.”

      It's just the box that defines, and on which you put the price tag for, the experience.

    • Rick

      The experience is the product. (To very loosely paraphrase Marshall McLuhan)

      • asymco

        When I said "product comes first" this is not to exclude experience, which I think is part of product. "Product" is what you sell. It's in contrast to asking "who will buy it" or "how you sell it".

        Rather than getting tied up in semantics, I give an example. We think of McDonalds as a restaurant franchise. The "product" is food, but product is not the core priority of McDonalds. I would bet McDonalds is a process-orietned company which thinks first about how to sell its franchises.The recipes are usually not modified for years, if ever. In that sense it does not prioritize the "what" over the How or Who will buy.

        An ex-HP exec (@antrod) commented on twitter: "—took me 2 yrs to realize HP is a channel mgmt machine, not a product house."

    • Joe_Winfield_IL

      Well put. Apple looks for problems to be solved, then goes about building products to solve the problems. But while competitors attempt to find multiple solutions or faster solutions, Apple's relentless focus is on BETTER solutions. More is more, and not necessarily better. Simplicity is key in the Apple UX, both in software and hardware. The incremental changes in iOS are typically very gentle on users, with very little relearning required even as massive new functionality is introduced.

      A perfect example is Honeycomb. The presentation last week showed off lots of new features, but most users won't experience most of the features:
      *There are widgets, and there are apps; they both provide the same basic functionality, but in a different container. Users are left to decide between a weather widget and a weather app, and there are likely several of both. To a typical consumer, too many choices means no good choices.
      *Honeycomb has multiple home screens which can be stacked, swiped, zoomed, scrolled, and rotated. Again, choice is nice – but again, choice is confusing. Google should pick an interface and allow its millions of users to familiarize themselves with a common experience.
      *There is a recent apps section which also helps for multitasking. If finding an app is so easy on the zoom/scroll/etc. experience, why muddle both multitasking and recent apps into a shared feature?

    • chano

      But the product IS the experience, surely?

    • chano

      Or, put another way, Apple doesn't sell the sausage, it sells the 'sizzle'!
      Watch any Apple video ad. They don't describe the product, they simply show it being used, demo what it can do. That's selling the sizzle. The experience that awaits you …. if you buy.
      It is profoundly effective. Need becomes irrelevant, a distraction. It's all about WANT.

      • Steve W

        To a Apple customer: The specs are the 'sizzle'; what is can do is the 'steak'!

        To a Dell customer: What is can do is the same as what every competitor's PC can do. The best thing Dell can say is, "Dude, you're getting a Dell!" Look at these specs!

      • http://maheshcr.com/blog Mahesh CR

        Nice way to put it. And fair point on the advt messaging. But the issue is this, we tend to view Apple with a coloured lens, anything they do gains a glossy sheen, even if they occasionally don't deserve it.

    • Steve W

      In the high technology industries, obsolescence is as inevitable as Moore's Law. Apple is not so much planning the obsolescence of its products, as it is accepting that they use Moore's Law to forecast and plan around this inevitablity.

      For instance, Apple builds "all-in-one" computers, knowing that every part of the computer will become obsolete. Each following generation attempts to improve on the preceding one in EVERY way, thus justifying the fact that the previous generation is not upgradeable.

      Other companies sell the illusion of upgradeability, knowing all along that the path to upgrades lies along a slippery slope around the money pit. They sell empty memory slots, knowing that in two years the best and cheapest memory will have a different pin configuration. Ditto expansion cards slots, I/O connectors, etc.

      Their customers balk at the changes as they consider their investment in "legacy" tech. Meanwhile, who really wants to buy a replacement battery for a three year old laptop that costs 10% of the price of a new laptop that has longer battery life PLUS runs faster, runs cooler, makes less noise; has more RAM, faster storage, a better display, a better graphics card, a better trackpad, etc.? Spend $50 on a battery, $200 to upgrade to SSD, etc. and it all adds up. Meanwhile the siren like MacBook Air sits on her rock singing "I am everything you want".

      • http://maheshcr.com/blog Mahesh CR

        'Meanwhile the siren like MacBook Air sits on her rock singing "I am everything you want".' :) That just about captures it. A colleague of mine succumbed to the lure a couple of days back and got himself a MacBookPro. Though its significantly expensive in India.

        The illusion of ugradeability is what kills companies and consumers. Reveals lack of systems thinking at the scale of the entire ecosystem. Folks still view the device by itself.

  • Robin Waters

    I guess a company should aim to provide one of the basic necessities of humans and do it well, for example in online shopping, amazon is what comes to mind, and shopping is a basic need for everybody. For talking with friends, facebook is what comes to most people's minds and socializing is a basic need, so too is search. People hardly know about the massively complex data centers in the background which support all these services, all they know is that if they want to buy something they go to amazon, if they want to socialize they go to facebook, if they want to search, they go to google. These memes once implanted in people's minds are extremely difficult to dislodge and these services are not device dependent, they operate at a much deeper level of human psyche. Ultimately IPhone is a tool to access these services. Apple needs to go a deeper layer to provide such services, Facetime is a good start. They need to deepen their relationships with customer by taking advantage of the best social graph out there, the contact book.

    In short companies need to provide solutions to fundamental issues. And of course that should be backed by technology which is difficult for others to copy. They should not think of themselves as product companies. Become a solution provider. For example everybody needs electricity and if you can provide electricity at a cheaper price with scalable manufacturing costs, then become one.

  • relentlessfocus

    "Our DNA is as a consumer company – for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it’s not up to par, it’s our fault, plain and simply." Steve Jobs

    "Marketing is not the same as advertising. Advertising is a tiny slice of what marketing is today, and in fact, it's pretty clear that the marketing has to come before the product, not after. As Jon points out, the Prius was developed after the marketing thinking was done. Jones Soda, too. In fact, just about every successful product or service is the result of smart marketing thinking first, followed by a great product that makes the marketing story come true.

    If someone comes to you with a 'great' product that just needs some marketing, the game is probably already over." Seth Godin http://bit.ly/2ygXBP

    "It’s not about pop culture, and it’s not about fooling people, and it’s not about convincing people that they want something they don’t. We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do.
    We just want to make great products." Steve Jobs

    Some people think product comes first, some think marketing. I think you hit the nail on the head.

    • arvleo

      Marketing comes first for most products as they fulfill some existing customer need.
      On the other hand most apple products are so novel(and disruptive), that its difficult to imagine they are derived out of customer need instead the product themselves create the need/demand. Based on that I am also leaning towards products first strategy for apple.

      • dchu220

        I think Apple products still classify as 'filling a need'. People may not know that they have a need, but it's still there.

        Creating a need would infer some type of government intervention such as mandating that every driver have car insurance.

      • Evan

        it is a little deeper, successful companies identify a need which the consumers don't know they need yet.

      • Joe_Winfield_IL

        Building a product and user experience around a yet unidentified need is the key to successful entrepreneurship. It gives a first mover advantage unlike any other business model. Apple had the iPad ready to go, with thousands of apps, before competitors realized that consumers need something more mobile than PCs but bigger than phones. If the need had been identified and obvious to all, Apple wouldn't be a full year ahead on tablets.

    • http://twitter.com/aegisdesign @aegisdesign

      Jobs presumably actually believes that statement and yet we still have iTunes with it's many failings and awful user experience.

      • OS11

        The user experience of iTunes is only bad on Windows since that OS's UI is out of date, but on Macs, iTunes is wonderful. So get a Mac and you'll never go back.

      • relentlessfocus

        Well its hard to know what YOU see as its many failings and awful user experience since your criticism is devoid of any detail.. Perhaps you can name a paradigm for iTunes like software that hasn't copied the iTunes user interface, that has a better user experience, that improves on iTunes "many failings"? I'd be curious to know which software you prefer or is this just an empty slam at Apple?

      • dchu220

        I don't think it's an empty slam. A lot of people think iTunes has become bloated. I cringe every time I launch it on accident.

        As the theory goes, iTunes became bloated because it was Apple's trojan horse into the PC. Apple puts all it's cross-platform applications into it. It explains why iTunes and the AppStore are separate for the iPad but merged on iTunes.

  • arvleo

    forgot to add the following quote from jobs
    "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new."

  • http://www.parkinson.com/blog Reid Parkinson

    This is an excellent observation. Especially that "very few companies place the product first…they focus more on production or distribution."

    I also did an analysis on what makes Apple special, http://tinyurl.com/4w6h4lk
    I put the iPhone in the context of four general business strategies. The key factor I found was "the quality of the individual user experience." Applied to your very apt focus on product, I'd now modify that to "baking a quality user experience into each product."

  • kevin

    Agree in general that Apple does focus on product. However, their intent to create the best product for the user does face many trade-offs, and I think, Apple has learned from its Mac experience to be very careful in defending it's platform/ecosystem, even when it arguably conflicts with a user's near-term best interests.

  • OS11

    some insights to steve's thinking on products…

    I think you had to think really differently when you bought a Mac. It was a totally different computer, worked in a totally different way, used a totally different part of your brain. And it opened up a computer world for a lot of people who thought differently. You were buying a computer with an installed base of "one". You had to think differently to do that. And I think you still have to think differently to buy an Apple computer. And I think the people that do buy them do think differently and they are the creative spirits in this world.

    They are the people that are not just out to get a job done, they are out to change the world. And they’re out to change the world using whatever great tools they can get. And we make tools for those kinds of people. So hopefully what you’ve seen here today are some beginning steps that give you some confidence that we, too, are going to think differently, and serve the people that have been buying our products since the beginning.

    Because a lot of times people think that they’re crazy. But in that craziness, we see genius, and those are the people we’re making tools for. Thank you very much.

    – steve jobs, Boston – 1997

  • FalKirk

    "At Apple the top priority is the product."

    First, I think I might understand that statement better if you could put it in context. What priorities do other companies focus on? What other companies have used "product" as their focus?

    Second, until I gain more context, I'm going to say that I disagree that "product" is Apple's focus. I think it's something more. Mahesh has suggested user experience. Perhaps. I've struggled with this question for a long time, never coming to a satisfactory conclusion. But I would say that the essence of Apple – and the reason I'm so strongly drawn to them – is that they make products that work the way I think, so that I can think about my work instead of thinking about how to work their products.

    Perhaps, as Mahesh suggests, that means that Apple's focus is on the user experience. But I think it goes one step beyond that. I think Apple's focus is on the human experience – turning a machine into a tool that not only works within the vagaries of human nature, but leverages our nature as well.

    • OS11

      Steve credited a person he met early on at Apple saying:

      Focus, is all about saying "no"…

      Yeah, it's a deep thought… really deep… but infinitely true. You must say NO 1000+ times to a product's design, features and user experience until it's polished to an extreme, then only THEN ready for market.

      Steve also said, "when you build a piece of fine furniture", do you put a piece of cheap wood on the back where nobody else will see? no, the back should look as good as the front…

      Those are a couple examples of steve's views on design you won't hear anywhere else.

      • asymco

        Focus is the antithesis of portfolio theory which says you should maintain multiple products to hedge against failure of one. As such focus is inherently risky and a lack of focus is inherently safe.

        It should be no wonder that focus is hard. It requires extreme confidence in the choice you make and a disregard of safety nets.

    • asymco

      "Product priority" is in contrast to market priority or value proposition priority. In other words, What you sell, vs Who you sell it to vs. How you profit from it.

      I'll expand on this classification method and show examples in a new post.

  • davel

    This discussion is very good. I will agree with the posters above who state that Apple is not a products company. They find a niche that is not well served and seek to provide a product to fit that niche.

    They do this in style, both in software and hardware. They manage costs but do not let cost drive the product. They are driven to minimalism and by all accounts would rather not ship a product than ship a bad one.

    In the past 10 years the only not ready for prime time product that comes to mind is Apple TV.

    In the current environment, Apple makes popular products because even though they may be relatively more expensive than competing offerings, they are still affordable.

    To Horace's point, Apple has a blueprint that it follows for all its products. They are unique but not technically innovative. They are very particular at making all interfaces smooth and intuitive. They identify the important features/functions for a particular activity and make sure it is done well even if they purposely leave functionality out.

    • OS11

      But the AppleTV is fully ready for prime time, the difference is… the "industry" is not. The mangled copyright issues, political infighting among TV, Movie execs is the problem, NOT the AppleTV.

      • davel

        Perhaps you are right. However the first version was not 1080p. The fact that content is not available because the holders of the content do not want to sign is irrelevant. The iPad was a hit because the infrastructure to take advantage of its abilities was built over 10 years.

        I read something where the popularity of the AppleTV in its current form is due largely to netflix.

        Apple sells an experience. It is hardware/software and content. Much of its current empire depends on the willing cooperation of others who hold content. Books/Movies/Music/TV Shows/UTube/etc.

      • kevin

        There was no 1080p because digital file sizes would be too large, and thus, too slow to deliver over the Internet.

      • ______

        Do you know what the MPEG4 bitrate is for 1080p? Can you imagine streaming that over your DSL connection?

    • ______

      I'm interested in the definition of technical innovation. Can you please elaborate?

      • davel

        If you look at any Apple products from a hardware perspective in the last 10 years from the ipod to the ipad what property of the product was innovative?

        I do not recall any particular item that was ground breaking. What was innovative was the interfaces both software and hardware between items that was smooth and quick.

        Apple is very good, I would say the best in the world, at waiting for technology to mature and understanding how to use that mature technology in ways that is not popularly done to produce a unique product that can be mass produced. Apple products have a reputation for high quality. That means that they don't fail and they work.

        You will notice that Apple does not utilize amoled screens. Not that they are not available, but the price and quantity are not there for them to put in their products.

        You can make the argument that they do innovate in the small things that people ignore. For example their connectors are magnetized so that things snap in place. It is not commonly used in the commodity connector business and probably does increase the cost.

      • ______

        This email went to my junk folder, only saw it now.

        You still haven't defined technical innovation. Only answered what you thought wasn't. The problem is people don't see it, because Apple will highlight it as ONE of the things necessary to make an incredible product. It is under the hood, behind the scenes.

        I would consider the following technical innovations, with hundreds more I don't know about:
        – literally the best and most stable personal computer OS in the world, for over a decade straight. It takes countless innovations to make that happen. If you think OS development isn't technical, you're from 50 years ago.
        – the first and one of the best and most stable mobile, touch based OS in the world
        – Excellent SW integration between all its products
        – Incredible development in the fields of video and audio production and editing. Final Cut Pro is an example, a majority of Hollywood productions use this product on the incredibly capable Mac Pros
        – Unparalleled development in product design, pushing the boundaries on thickness of materials, strength, reliability (go watch the video on the unibody MBP construction – that was developed in house, is more expensive to make. No one else will do it). If you were ever able, go ask all the amazing engineers who need to work with batteries, flash memory, radio chips and displays just how much effort is put into making things thinner, lighter and smaller while making it better and more powerful than before. You cannot begin to comprehend the component level innovations, they never make it to the front page.
        – Driving the solutions for, and integrating, high quality displays, high capacity and thin batteries, the best flash memory storage solution for mobile products, these are all fantastic innovations that no other company is capable of doing simultaneously. Again, under the hood.
        – Many others that neither of us know of.

        Your idea of technical innovation is vague and undefined. It takes an amazing amount of innovation to accommodate the conflicting goals of superior performance and reliability, increasing year after year with the reducing physical dimensions and cost goals – all while making an amazing product to sell in the millions or tens of millions. Just because Apple doesn't advertise it, doesn't mean it isn't there. If you've ever built a system in your life, to sell to millions – you would already know this.

  • poke

    I think Apple is about truth. There's a tradition in craftsmanship, design and architecture, both in the Western and Eastern world (especially Japan), that says you should be true to the materials. That's what Apple does. It's just that those materials happen to include displays, flash memory and microprocessors along with more traditional materials such as metal and glass. Apple extends the tradition of craftsmanship into technology and mass production. That's what makes them unique. If you're true to the materials, and those materials happen to include the latest technologies, then innovation comes as a natural extension of that process. Multitouch required a total rethink of the UI, flash memory required a rethink of the laptop, etc. You can never just bolt things on or check off a feature on a list.

  • Todd Salerno

    Jobs' methodology for building great products according to John Sculley:

    1. Beautiful design
    2. Customer experience
    3. Perfectionism
    4. Vision
    5. Minimalism
    6. Hire the best
    7. Sweat the details
    8. Keep it small
    9. Reject bad work
    10. Perfection (yes, redundant with 3., but I didn't write the article)
    11. Systems thinker
    http://www.cultofmac.com/john-sculley-the-secrets

  • mikecane
    • FalKirk

      Thank you for the link, mikecane. That was an awesome read.

  • chano

    What's interesting to me is that Jobs spelled out the essence of his long-term strategy during his detailed 'Digital Hub' presentation in 2001 – just prior to the iPod release. It was all there like a preliminary roadmap from which any informed observer could have extrapolated the likely future directions and outcomes. Jobs thinks long-term. All the CEOs of all CE, IT and media companies (books, press, video, movies, songs, comms (phones) etc) were too complacent to pay attention. It meant the irresistible convergence of computing and all media. It meant chaotic disruption in all those industries as we observe today. And that plan, now much more fully fleshed out, is still unfolding today.
    This is the finest example of the merits of long-term planning. Of course it's always possible to be blind-sided by something wholly unexpected, but if you make the whole widget and you are nimble, you can climb on board most moving trains with relative ease.
    Apple knows what it is doing and where it is heading better than any other corporation. It's actions are consistent with a plan, it has all the skills and assets to do as it will and all its people, its divisions, its thinking and planning are congruent, focused only on clear objectives.
    That is an astonishing achievement.

    • kevin

      Totally agree, and it's not just media. In 2 to 4 months, NFC on iPad and iPhone will make digital money another battlefield.

  • kevin

    Apple's product is really it's ecosystem, which as a whole, provides the user experience. Even Stephen Elop has noticed how Apple changed the paradigm. Apple learned this lesson with the Mac, which was dependent on Microsoft and Adobe software, and was almost locked out of audio and video content by Microsoft and Real.

    The Apple ecosystem drives Apple into battles with the many digitally converging industries, because Apple's long-term profit growth depends on it. Right now, as davel mentioned, they are battling with tv/film content holders. Soon, with NFC, they'll be battling with credit card companies. Looking back, several years ago, the music labels made a deal with Apple that left them irrelevant. in 2006, AT&T made a deal with Apple that has likely doomed all US carriers to being dumb pipes. In creating the break-even iTunes Store and App Store, Apple has made digital content retailing a no-margin business for any competitor.

    Apple must ensure its devices don't become dumb devices, dependent on the power of content holders. Thus, Apple has learned to leverage its customer base against the content holders; which results in its continued control over its ecosystem.

    • davel

      nice piece.

  • Evan

    keep underestimating Google, Google is fine with it :)

    • http://twitter.com/PaulMaxime @PaulMaxime

      Google is another non-lazy company.

  • lrd

    All I know is that with Google's forked tablet OS causing more Android market fragmentation than ever, Apple's got a free ride to the top.

    Nothing but a dumb mistake by Apple, can stop it now.

    Wow! Who would have thought in a matter of months, maybe less, Apple's going to be the world's highest market cap company! $500/share? $600/share or maybe up to a $1000/share!!!!!

    • Evan

      yep consumers care about forked OS :)

      • dchu220

        That's actually true. Consumers don't care if an OS is forked. Those are issues for developers to work out. The fact that the Android phone and tablet OSes have been forked is not as important. Developers will tell you that the two form factors are different. In the same way that iOS developers can reuse a lot of code for their iPad apps, i'm sure Android developers can reuse a lot of code for the honeycomb tablet.

    • Evan

      fragmentation is real, but its impact is more on your mind than on the average consumer, the average consumer has not even heard of android, all he knows is that android phone is one in which we get apps.

    • kevin

      I think Google doesn't care too much about the fragmentation issue, as long as every Android version is able to support Google's ads. In Google's view, each fragmented part will still have a large enough customer base to attract content (apps, music, movies, ebooks, digital money, etc) providers. Each of those providers is a potential Google partner/customer; an opportunity for Google to sell them targeted ads and increase their revenue and/or enable them to lower the user's cost for their content. This makes the Android ecosystem even more attractive to content providers.

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  • J. Harper

    I certainly applaud Apple for making great products. They are innovative and most importantly integrated. Why can they offer the best screen on the market? Because only they have afford to have a screen custom made for their product, that's the power of selling 10 million of the same phone.

    However, I definitely do not agree with comments like, "Apple makes products that work the way I think, so I can focus on work and not learning a new piece of software." In my experience creativity and innovation come from constraints. True, you don't want those constraints to actually limit you, but saying that what makes a person creative on a computer is the ability to use the computer without learning anything is just foolish. That's what brings computing to the masses, and the masses aren't all that creative.

    Most artists I've studied have been truly dedicated to their art, and just as learning the perfect brush stroke or method for recreating a color was the technical obstacle back in the day… it's the ones willing to put effort into learning their craft that are truly creative, even if that involves technology.

    • J. Harper

      Because only they *can

      Sorry, looks like I can't edit, even seconds after posting.

  • csrollyson

    Horace thanks for a pithy, on-point assertion that Apple is a great product company. However, I think their approach to being a product company gives even more insight. You imply that to be a great product company, Apple leads the customer, it does not follow. Most companies don't commit themselves as leaders, but Apple does. But to consistently field great products, Apple focuses on customer experience, which is ultimately what defines whether products are great or mediocre. As I argued here, Apple is an experience company, not a product company because its products enable experience that is significantly different from the norm. Also very telling: Jobs says that [successful innovation] "… comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much." Focus and leadership.To lead, you have to be willing to not be followed.

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