Microsoft was run by the sales zombies under Steve Ballmer’s reign of terror. General Motors was run by bean counters for a few decades until the company hit life support. Google is run by Engineers. Clothing companies are run by designers. What about Apple?
The Whole Widget
A good friend of mine defines marketing this way. “It’s the process that delivers goods or services to a buyer or user.” Simple. Elegant. Yet encompassing. If you run a company, you’re the chief marketer.
Apple isn’t much different. Steve Jobs approached design far differently than other tech gadget makers. He preferred “building the whole widget” from end to end.
While that’s not quite true (Apple depends upon Intel for CPUs, Chinese manufacturers, etc.), it’s true enough. Apple designs the hardware and software in Mac, iPhone, and iPad to work as a cohesive design.
So, my question is this. Are Apple’s designs the result of creative originality, the plain luck of simple product differentiation, or some honest thievery born of building on what others have already created?
The answer is a qualified yes, yes, and yes. That Apple is creative is a given; yet the company does not stray far from the madding crowd of technology; using iterative advancement more often than disruptive advancement.
That Apple has been lucky is obvious, too, having started the 21st century with a little money in the bank, a strong and loyal customer base, something of a debt-free clean slate to go out and make the “next great thing,” and an executive leadership team willing to bet the farm on the future.
Thievery? With few exceptions– some failures, some successful– Apple’s product designs are not completely original, either in hardware or software. A mostly unknown Chinese smartphone maker has accused Apple of ripping off its design of a rectangular smartphone case with rounded edges. But isn’t that similar to a car manufacturer suing another maker for creating a car with glass windows, bumpers, doors, a metal body, with an engine and wheels and tires?
Like PCs before them, smartphones and tablets are mostly a mature industry, where every manufacturer borrows similar general hardware designs and software functionality. Call it honest thievery, of which Apple is also a player. It’s the nature of the iterative phase of an industry and product life cycles. At least, until another disruptive design influence comes along.
What Apple does better than most is to blend technology and ideas into a creative, original dish made up of parts unknown combined with parts familiar to produce a new line of products that function as something greater than the sum of the parts. Mac, iPhone, iPad all benefit from that recipe. But so does the rest of each industry.