Apple Executives have Balls of STEEL!

The world is all in a frenzy with the launch of the iPad. Even I could not help but get caught up in the madness. I have been reading a whole host of articles covering the iPad launch, ranging from New York Times tech columnist David Pogue’s schizophrenic review, marketing linchpin Seth Godin’s marketing angle, and blogging actor Stephen Fry’s heart felt “why buy” (loved him in V for Vendetta) and Fastcompany’s “don’t buy” reality check. And these are just a small snap shot of all the articles I’ve been tracking!
However, one article that did stuck home was beautifully written by Stephen Fry for Time Magazine online. In that article he goes to Apple HQ Cupertino, and poses the hard questions to Apple executives like Phil Schiller (VP of Worldwide Marketing), Eddy Cue (VP of Internet Services), Jonathan Ive (VP of Design) and the man himself, Steve Jobs. In particular was this question to Jonathan Ive:

I put to designer Ive the matter of all the features that are missing from the iPad. “In many ways, it’s the things that are not there that we are most proud of,” he tells me. “For us, it is all about refining and refining until it seems like there’s nothing between the user and the content they are interacting with.”
That’s not what he’s supposed to say. Tech journalists are obsessed with spec lists and functions. Does it do this? Does it do that? They often look at devices as the sum of their features. But that kind of thinking isn’t in Apple’s DNA. The iPad does perform tasks — it runs apps and has the calendar, e-mail, Web browsing, office productivity, audio, video and gaming capabilities you would expect of any such device — yet when I eventually got my hands on one, I discovered that one doesn’t relate to it as a “tool”; the experience is closer to one’s relationship with a person or an animal.
I know how weird that sounds. But consider for a moment. We are human beings; our first responses to anything are dominated not by calculations but by feelings. What Ive and his team understand is that if you have an object in your pocket or hand for hours every day, then your relationship with it is profound, human and emotional. Apple’s success has been founded on consumer products that address this side of us: their products make users smile as they reach forward to manipulate, touch, fondle, slide, tweak, pinch, prod and stroke.
“It’s not for us to predict what others will do,” Ive says. “We have to concentrate on what we think is right and offer it up.” Ive’s focus and perfectionism are legendary. Any conversation with him is about hours of work, about refusing to be satisfied until the tiniest things are absolutely right. He’s most pleased with what consumers will never notice. He wants them to use the iPad without considering the thousands of decisions and innovations that have gone into what seems a natural and unmediated interaction. “If it works beautifully, it should also work robustly,” he says. “It’s made for people to chuck onto the car seat and thrust into luggage without thinking. It’s not to be delicate with.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Apple executives have balls of STEEL. They have the guts and/or maturity to able to risk resisting the call of the market, where it’s all about making sure you beat the competition with quantifiable means such as price or specification. What’s worst is that design, often seen and relegated as form giving, becomes another tick on the specification list.
Apple has continued to buck this trend. Ever since the launch of the iPod, Apple has been consistently delivering propositions that come below the competition in spec but above the competition on price. And they still beat the market! If you ever needed a better case study in how design plays a major role in shaping and differentiating a product through its use experience, Apple would be an ideal candidate.
Less is, indeed, more.
And they have every reason to be proud. Removing unnecessary elements (a big one was Adobe Flash) and focusing on the strategy behind a product’s core experience is probably one of the hardest things any commercially weighted executive could do.
Therefore, such sensitive pruning does not happen as often as it should.
I’ve been in many similar pruning discussions before and have heard all manner of excuses (ranging from competitive positioning, brand equity and awareness, sales commitments, retail requirements, user tests results, budgets etc.) on why things should continue to be the way it is.
You see, this pruning discussion really only gets difficult when the view is limited to a commercial one. If you focus on designing and creating the best and most engaging product experience there is, this pruning process becomes much easier.
The strange irony is that when companies focus on the user’s experience first, the profits just seem to roll right in.
Check out the full article The iPad Launch: Can Steve Jobs Do It Again? at Time Magazine online.

  • DT

    April 14, 2010 at 1:04 am Reply

    @tim: Sorry for the late reply and thanks for stopping by and sharing your comments.
    I have to say though I don’t buy your reasoning. I know there are a lot of conspiracy theories of the Apple and Adobe feud, and how the bad blood goes back a long way. To me, if Flash was really such a superior product it will be in there anyway.
    Honestly does it really matter to the end user? In my view, the only people that loved flash were the web designers. Lets ask ourselves what will the people miss? Tacky intro animations? A few banner ads? Nonsensical games? Sure there will be amazing content once in a while, but the reality is no one will miss much. (If the youtube app did not exist, I might see this differently)
    The whole topic of open and closed systems (or the internet) is a complete different story and a much larger discussion. Personally, all I have to say is buyer beware. Not happy with Apple’s philosophy or way of thinking, use a PC. Going Mac is a choice, and it is best that people are aware of what they are getting into. Honestly, again people don’t care. Many people feel that Macs are easier to use than a PC, so what if its close system?
    Believe me, I’m no Mac fanboy and it takes a lot to impress me, but there is something good here, I just call it as I see it.
    @Chris: Thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts. Actually Chris, I never said their fans will buy anything, I lamented about the things Apple as a brand get away with, as their fans stand ready to help them out. However Chris, I have heard other people say that Apple fans buy anything so I know where you are coming from.
    Ok so with that cleared, let’s look at risk. I did call it “balls of steel” because in any product launch there is always a risk. No one knows, even Apple, with complete certainty that a product will sell. With experience and good insight, you can predict with a fairly good chance a product’s success, but from my experience you never really know, and Apple has failed before, yes even under Steve. Just look at your response! Many people are also going oh-hum as well.
    However, to risk sounding contradictory, I do think that the iPad was not a really high risk product. I think the iphone was a lot riskier. Check out more of my thoughts here:

  • Chris Loughnane

    April 10, 2010 at 10:51 am Reply

    First, I wholeheartedly agree with cutting the fat from the product until you all you have is what you need for a great experience.
    But balls of steel? That’s a little strong.
    “Balls” implies the risk of failure. I wonder how real that risk is to apple, with their rabid fans who will buy almost anything (as you mentioned a few posts ago regarding the mouse.).
    More interesting I think than the iPad (it’s a great product for sure, but unless I see it improving my life, I say ho-hum), will be when an Apple product bombs. What will it take?

  • Tim Lapetino

    April 9, 2010 at 9:57 pm Reply

    Quote: “Removing unnecessary elements (a big one was Adobe Flash) and focusing on the strategy behind a product’s core experience is probably one of the hardest things any commercially weighted executive could do.”
    Brian, I understand that you’re excited about the launch of the iPad and the great design work. And it’s a great design, overall.
    But let’s not pretend that the exclusion of Flash capability is to “simplify” or because it’s “buggy and bloated” as Steve Jobs claimed. It’s really because allowing Flash in the iPad browser would allowing developers to build browser-based apps that would cost Apple revenue–by competing with their apps, thus shrinking the iPad app market. Allowing the possibility of Flash apps and web widgets would mean giving up some of the strict control Apple has on the iPad OS, and they aren’t willing to do this these days. It seems to go against the tenets of an open Internet–so, I’d say that the basic assumption built into this design is a bad one.

  • Daniel Christadoss

    April 9, 2010 at 5:18 pm Reply

    Enjoyed your write up.
    “Less is, indeed, more.” Very true

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