Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Apple vs the world and the "reality distortion field"

Many pundits are discussing Apple and the "great disappointment" people feel because without Steve Jobs and his reality distortion field, Apple is not what it once was.  I also see and hear other arguments:

  • Apple is not really an innovator - Apple just mixes together technologies that already exist in ways we like.
  • Apple is not on the forefront and competitors are coming out with features more quickly.
  • Apple product are too similar to how they used to be and are not changing quickly enough.

Most patents ARE new uses for old ideas.  Most innovation IS putting together existing ideas in new ways.  I recently heard a list of things Apple did not invent as a litany about how Apple is not innovative:

  • Apple did not invent the touch screen
  • Apple did not invent the PDA
  • Apple did not invent laptops, or laptops shaped like a wedge
  • Apple did not invent interfaces like Thunderbolt and Firewire
  • Apple OS X is based on BSD, which Apple did not invent
This kind of list can go on and on.  It completely misses the point.

  • I believe the greatest effort Apple has put in is to design products very carefully that their makers find as simple as possible and that we would want to use.
  • Apple is taking care not to make too many changes too quickly.  This is not the old-style problem of legacy support.  This is the very good problem of making products that people do want and making sure that change does not push people away.  If one looks at the outrage some are expressing about the lightning interface, it is not hard to understand that people really like how Apple is doing things and does not want those ways to change. 
  • Apple has taken great care designing interfaces that are very easy-to-use in subtle ways that we may not even notice.  However, Apple's competitors study those differences in minute detail; they would not do so if such design was unimportant.  Competitors either do not know how to do this design or do not bother to put in the effort to design at Apple's level.
  • No other UNIX-based desktop has been successful for consumers.

No other company is taking the comprehensive approach Apple has been taking to change the aesthetics and usability of electronics.

  • Perhaps aluminum is not unique and new for a laptop or a cellular phone.  But eliminating often-used painted plastic that looks bad after some number of years on a truly mass-market product feels very new to me even after so many years that Apple has done so.
  • Apple appears to have refused to support LTE until power consumption and size-reduction (in wireless technology chip support) were possible.
  • Palm had a phone on which one could download applications from the internet, watch movies, listen to music, and more.  However, Palm did not create an iteratively easy-to-use interface for these features as it had for the original PDA features.  Apple has done this.
  • Apple is making its phone more powerful and more feature rich while making it smaller.  Apple is trying to design it with materials that are very high quality.  Clearly, Apple thinks this lightness, smallness, and quality makes the phone better.  A large enough set of consumers agree to keep Apple working in this way.
I think another word about the Apple "ecosystem":
  • Music Downloads and iTunes:  Google and Amazon, with their online music businesses, are following in Apple's footsteps.  It was Apple that was a first negotiator able to get the music companies to allow online sales.  Then Apple negotiated for DRM-free music.  Music bought from Apple is portable to non-Apple devices only because Apple worked to make this happen.  Apple keeps working to make the entire experience more refined and improve both the buying experience and the listening experience.  Are other products as good or better?  For me, this experience is the best overall experience even if other products are superior in some ways.  Plus, I get the best of both worlds in some ways - for example I can use Pandora on my iPhone.
  • iBooks: Amazon appears to have a monopoly in this area such that Apple, before actually doing much selling, can be called out for being a monopoly.  Wow.  I would like DRM free books, but like that the experience is so good on products I already use.  I think the non-fire Kindle is a superior reading experience on the eyes, but I don't already carry a kindle.  I can read Kindle books on my iphone/ipad if I want to (kudos Amazon).
  • App Store: How unique, how revolutionary is the app store?  It is about removing control from the blockers-of-innovation that cell phone companies have been in the past.  While I could download applications from the internet for my Palm, it was a pain.  I think the cell companies wanted it that way.  They wanted to control the experience, in a way that was bad for us consumers.  Sure, other companies have an online store selling applications.  They operate in different ways and there are many complaints that the Apple app store is too closed, too restrictive.   My app store purchasing and using experiences have been really great.  I have many apps.  I am happy to stay in this ecosystem - it is meeting my needs well.  
  • iLife (other parts) - imovie, garageband, iphoto - it is the design, the refinement of total experience both on my computer and on my mobile devices, that makes this another huge win.  I can see that these products do not meet everyone's needs and that alternatives have advantages.  The balance Apple provides meets my needs and gets my money.
  • Support - I can get support in an Apple store near my home and also in many/most locations I go to.  I do NOT have to go to the store of my cellular carrier or try to get a cellular carrier to answer complex technical questions (which I have found in the past to be a losing game).
Design, making hard choices about a total product and its improvements over time for the end-to-end experience including support...  Apple has continued these traditions with the iPhone 5 and I consider it a worthy home-run next generation product.  Kudos Apple.  It is not a reality distortion field.  It is just one reality people choose to live in.

This does not have to detract from persons seeking other features.  Other products are on the market.  I'm very happy options are available for everyone.

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