Apple created a unique way of working which was called the “Apple way”. It was a set of principles with a deep commitment to great products and services at its core. These set of principles can be divided in design thinking, clear development strategy and execution, its CEO as chief innovator, and the rational courage to conduct bold business experiments. The first principle of the Apple way is the most important one and has made the brand as where it is now. Design thinking is a way of how Apple developed his products which was quite the opposite of what competitors did. The goal was to design a computer that both supported and fostered individual work.
Apple wanted people to fall in love with their products because of the looks, ease of use and benefits they could receive from it. To reach this goal the focus in Apple’s products was first on what they believe that people would need and want, and how they would interact with their computer. When this was realized the next step in product development came, which were the actual technical aspects of the product. During this process the simplicity in design and use became really important: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, a quote by Steve Jobs. To realize this simplicity, designers worried about the smallest details.
These details combined contributes to why people like the products of Apple so much. These detailed designs led to a product development that was the opposite of what competitors were doing. When other organizations see “detail” as adding extra features to their products, Apple eliminated features of their products in order to simplify the design. By creating simple and easy-to-adopt solutions results in a better product experience for the consumer. There was no compromise between simplicity of use and functionality, which made the products of Apple so special.
By focusing on the same philosophy (simplicity), it also led to the use and development of other production techniques and technologies, which on their turn resulted in new product innovations. Through these developments in resources and capabilities Apple created a huge advantage over their competitors. The biggest difference is that competitor think that detail is about fashion and surface appearance. The complete product expressed on the outside has to speak for the inside as well.
“Insanely great products”
Innovation, product development and execution have been deeply intertwined with the history of Apple and the co-founder Steve Jobs’ pivotal influence on it. Apple exemplified the way of how people could (and should) work with their computing device. This is a powerful vision resulted in that Apple’s computers retained a considerable amount of their design integrity, and a fanatical “fan” base during their entire existence. During the period between ’85 and ’97, when Steve Jobs had to leave the company, Apple changed its course in order to stay close to the upcoming competition. Competition became strong because of the developments in ‘cloning’.
Apple had zero penetration in the ‘cloning’ and the business market. A licensing agreement in ’97 resulted eventually in 20% of the Mac unit sales. During this period the creative technology development became more ‘traditional’ which lead to many new products, but the rapid proliferation of models confused customers and increased complexity at Apple. Working according to a devised system was something that didn’t work for Apple. Apple needed to go back to the process which was concentrating on the things that were really important.
During the absence of Steve Jobs Apple became too big and slow. On his return he slimmed down the company to its initial shape and focused again on the innovation process. Soon after, many new insanely great products rolled out of the factories. This was because the core approach to development remained consistent: working intimately with manufacturers and being completely attuned to customers. This is the vision of Apple from the start and was the proved way of developing insanely great products that people love.
Innovation and Experimentation
Apple develops and designs products based on what they believe that people would need and want, and how they would interact with the product. This resulted in great products, but integrating customers’ experience into the designs and development processes could make the products even better. People can, after they tested the products, see where the problems lay and how it could be fixed. In this way new products were constantly innovated and tested with the help of consumers. Through this Apple could make its products simpler. This kind of innovation and experimentation had a huge impact on the philosophy of Apple’s product development.
The products needed to include features covering the most important needs and desires of the consumer in the most simplistic way. The developers weren’t afraid of throwing away entire designs because of missing details in the design. Cordell Ratzlaff: “people don’t use a computer to enjoy the operating system… they use a computer because they want to create something… the computer is just a tool… It’s all about what the people want to do… You have to know who those people are and what they are really trying to accomplish”.
One of the most important attributions to the success of Apple is the influence of the founder Steve Jobs. His vision about “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” lead to an ongoing product and design development by really understanding the complexity of the problem. Apple had been imprinted by the personality characteristics of Steve Jobs. His well-known temperament, often characterized as dictatorial, may in fact reflect demands that arise from a distinct vision of the meaning of the company, its products and how that can be achieved. This vision has been a demand to across-the-board excellence; in aesthetics, it is Jobs’ own ideas of what constitutes design perfection, but in other areas, superior operations are the result.
Jobs’ vision also held that Apple products were to be personal tools that enabled and enhanced individual efforts for problem solving. Apple was one the first computer company that selected individuals instead of organizations or businesses as customers. This lead to a huge radical change in the market in the early 1980’s.
The innovative image of Apple also created a mysterious vibe around Apple.Apple didn’t role out its products soon after the production started, but the products are presented by the product by Apple’s management team in periodic extravaganzas that are shrouded in elaborate secrecy beforehand. In this way, the consumers gets curious and excited about what Apple is coming with next with, resulting in a dedicated customer base.
It was clear that Apple was an outlier. When other computer companies moved their business to the internet, Apple did the opposite by moving into retail. On top of that consumers could only buy a products with a fixed configuration and price. It was a foolish idea to bet on off-line retailing, but Apple’s strategy worked quite well: ‘foot traffic’ ultimately lead to curious non-Apple customers, along with Apple fans that were drawn into the beautiful stores which established a virtual circle in the foot traffic. This resulted in the highest revenues per square foot in the entire retail sector.
Another big success creator of Apple was of course the platform strategy that Apple rolled out. By this strategy Apple envisioned a family of products that were all connected to the same platform. In Apples case this is the ITunes store and the App store. All products of Apple are connected to these two stores which created a ‘lock in’ strategy wherein consumers of Apple are only able to get digital products (music, books, apps, video) through the stores of Apple only. This resulted in huge revenues for Apple. This strategy also caused a lot of critique as well because Apple was running against the open source movement, but it has mostly been (successfully) ignored by Apple.
Systematic innovative approach
“we make progress by eliminating things” is a citation of Steve Jobs by stating the simplicity of Apple’s products that has been heralded from the company’s origin. From the beginning of Apple’s founding it focused on the individual, problem solving and detailed design taking the needs and wants of the individual into account. The products of Apple evolve and go on to include things that were previously eliminated. This systematic approach of innovation created a huge advantage for Apple in comparison with its competitors.
Imitation of this innovation approach can be difficult for other competitors, specifically for existing competition. These companies in most of the cases started developing products first and tried to sell their products to businesses and organization. Making the switch to customer focus and developing products based on the needs and wants of the consumers changes the whole company which could be a problem.
This last point would not be a problem for newcomers. It can also be possible that these newcomers create products based on the needs and wants of the consumers, but to develop the same vision of Apple (simplicity as ultimate complexity) you need to invest a lot of time and effort en the innovation process; have a dedicated leader; need an unconditionally supportive customer base and finally you need to have the rational courage to conduct bold business experiments.