I’ve given some thought to the Apple of old, circa 1976 to 1997, and the Apple we know and love today, run by a more mature Steve Jobs.
They’re much different. The products are different. The focus is different. Apple’s treatment of customers is different.
Sure, Kate. Things change, right? When Steve Jobs returned to run Apple (again) in 1997, Apple had products galore, none of them selling well. Printers, cameras, scanners, handhelds, and so many Mac models you could find them at Office Depot.
Today, Apple has, arguably, more products that matter. The Mac? It’s never been better, either technically or in popularity. The iPod? It rules media players as a product segment. The iPhone? Everyone wants an iPhone and it has shaken up the cell phone industry.
When was the last time that Apple made a major product blunder, either software or hardware? By blunder, I mean a dud, as in The Cube. Some would argue that the original candy coated clamshell iBook was a bad product, but Apple sold plenty of that model.
The original candy coated iMacs sold well. The MacBook Air has been dissected and prognosticated to death. Some raged about another Cube episode in aluminum clothing. Two months from launch the MBA looks like a hit.
Steve Jobs gave an interview to Fortune Magazine recently and he intimated that Apple does no product research. Since the effects of Steve’s infamous Reality Distortion Field can affect the truth, we may need to know what he means by “market research.”
Does it not seem odd that a company with so many products and with millions of customers does not do product research? Steve indicated that Apple simply makes products they like themselves. Perhaps. If there’s one thing to note about the New Apple, it’s their ability to be disciplined about products.
Back to the question: when was Apple’s last product blunder?
Apple, and notably, Steve Jobs, seems to have learned that they can actually learn something from listening to their customers. Is that action not a part of market research? Apple plans to put Microsoft Exchange access into the iPhone. That request came from customers and those who want to be customers. Surely, Exchange connectivity isn’t something that Apple’s employees, engineers, and designers “want”, right?
Apple has become better at making new products better than old products, rather than waiting for the market to tell them by having their customers buy someone else’s products. Apple killed the iPod mini in favor of the iPod nano.
Sure, there are Apple products many of would like that Apple doesn’t make. Yet. A mid-range MacPro would be nice. A tablet Mac or tablet iPad would be nice. But there’s a difference between a customers dream and what they’re willing to shell out money to buy.
Obviously, Apple listens to customers despite their inherent corporate secrecy and closed design and testing methodology. I don’t believe it when Jobs says the company does not do market research. I do believe it when he says they don’t bother to build a product for a market segment that doesn’t exist. Apple builds what Apple likes, so in that sense, Apple is customer #1, and a large portion of their market research is internal.
Did Apple build retail stores because “market research” indicated that they should? All the common wisdom at the time said, “Don’t build a retail store.” Apple’s customers love the stores. The stores are highly profitable and will end up being textbook instructions on how to do it right.
From my perspective, Apple has learned how to listen. How to wait. How to let a market unfold. How to plan and execute, not on a quarter-by-quarter basis, the bane of most publicly traded tech companies, but with a world view that is years ahead.
A store for Macs? That’s nice. A store for Macs, portable music players and cell phones and software and immediate service? That’s a revolution. Did Apple learn how to do all that from their customers by using traditional market research techniques? Or, did Apple learn what to give customers by listening to the innate customer #1, themselves?