After the sad demise of Steve Jobs, there were a lot of apprehensions regarding the future of Apple. However with the recent launch of iPhone 5S and 5C, Apple is back to what it does the best – “hitting home runs”.
Everyone talks about the Jobs era when Apple literally became a synonym for Innovation, but the most surprising fact that I came across from one of the articles on Product-Arts.com was that “Apple’s R&D expense as a ratio of gross profit is only 10%, compared to 12% for HP, 15% for Oracle, 17% for Microsoft, and 21% for Google.”
So it is not only about innovative concepts and huge investments in developing them but some logical and intelligent business decisions taken by them and more importantly, over the years, sticking to them. I have been closely monitoring and analyzing Apple and their – intentional, planned or even unintentional – strategic product launches and their marketing strategies.
Here are some of my key observations and conclusions on “What else Apple has done besides innovation to be what it is today?“
1. Leverage the insights from your competitors’ plans as well as successes
Innovation is not an acquired skill. It’s a talent. It’s okay to acknowledge Apple for being innovative, but Apple itself hasn’t actually introduced everything new, there were several features already introduced by Android specially that Apple took its inspiration from and introduced them with its own adaptation. And as expected they have become a rage since the launch of iPhone 5S.
What Apple did best was, specially with already available features from Android, to acquire the idea intelligently and integrate it in the next launch e.g. control center, Safari or Air Drop additions in iOS7.
Don’t integrate and introduce anything to counter your competition – do it because it’s gonna be the next leap in your product functionality even if its someone else’s concept but it’s a proven success and majority of users are already preferring it .
Gather insights from performance of initiatives by your competitors and launch your product before your competitor does. Samsung is the best example… there was a recent story that Apple is looking into futuristic iPhone with wrap-around display and seamless glass housing. Samsung rushed and launched Galaxy Round, a smartphone similar to the Galaxy Note 3 but with a curve in the middle. It claims that this is the first device on the market to curve a “super flexible AMOLED” display.
Other noticeable example has been the latest craze of gold phones after the recent introduction of iPhone 5S Gold. Samsung launched a direct imitation in Gold and HTC One just did it too. And last but not the least – Smart Watch.
2. Technology has to be an extension of human behavior – a facilitator
When iPhone was launched in mid 2007, Blackberry and Nokia were undisputed leaders in their segments. Nokia was reigning in the consumer market and Blackberry was the default choice for business users.
iPhone with its high premium value was categorized as a phone for the early adopters and that too from the affluent class despite its path breaking unique smartphone positioning. Although, from the usage perspective, it was a perfectly designed product that was catering to the needs of enterprise as well as generic consumers – with its email, instant messaging, games, apps and web browsing features – still it was perceived as a product innovation and not with this positioning.
As rightly termed, it wasn’t a phone it was “The Mac in a phone”. Apple literally extended the user experience on a Mac to a handheld device… as rightly said in the recent biopic “Jobs” (not verbatim), “Technology should be in the form of an extension of the human behavior rather than the other way around.” Apple has always designed its innovative products taking cues from the user behavior as well as around the needs of the user, not the demands of the technology.
Since its first launch till the recently introduced 5S and 5C, features and treatment, every single feature be it iTunes, Camera, Messaging, Apps, Security etc. have been continuously added and improved in line with the user behavior. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that to understand how a consumer uses and what they prefers for music or messaging or photography, just refer to iPhone features for the insight.
Interestingly, Apple has a better score when it comes to integrating features or choosing the best features from the competition that are closest to user behavior. Samsung definitely comes on the second position followed by HTC and Nokia.
3. Differentiate between “WOW” features and “The Big Idea”
What most or say every other mobile company lacks today is the guts to come with something totally out of the box. Why every single phone has to look like what we have already seen? None of them have literally taken one step back from the mad rush, think totally new and come up with a new utility based model – instead of just small additions in features or functionalities, blatantly replicated from Apple.
With every new handset launch across the world, lot of cool features are being added. HTC, LG, Lenovo and Sony etc. are only augmenting their new models with available features. Where is the new product? A disruptive product? A unique concept? We have seen that these features have a limited shelf value, consumers start using them, gets bored and looks for something new.
Every company is not Samsung that they can invest a lot of money and flood the market with a different model with every $100 price increase. Blackberry was the first one to face the brunt. Nokia, no doubt, has been on a revival path with its Lumia range – the biggest differentiating factor being its different as an overall package. Similar is the case with Sony Xperia, with its new and bold design it has been able to make a mark in spite of being any other android phone.
How long will these companies survive by introducing new models every quarter that are nothing but with some new features. They have to realize that – “Long term shelf value is for a “Big Idea” in hardware design or in the OS and not in ‘wow’ features alone” From the OS perspective, success of Android and dominance of Blackberry for almost a decade has prove this.
4. Get a poster boy
Apple at one time or rather even today is known for Steve Jobs but Tim Cook has risen above his stature, and with every passing day is strengthening a position for himself as a brand. It is not about the entrepreneur’s face always. For every Mark Zuckerberg there is a Marissa Mayer, for every Larry Page there is a Eric Schmidt and for every Bill Gates there is a Steve Ballmer. There are numerous examples across industries where the successors of popular entrepreneurs have created their own mark.
These examples are clearly missing in the mobile handset manufacturing sector. Who are the faces for Samsung, Blackberry or Nokia? How popular are they? Do they have a leader who is their “Brand Poster Boy” for its consumers with whom they can connect or co-relate?
5. Create a premium aspirational value
There is no denying the fact that Samsung is way ahead of Apple in terms of features, but Apple has selectively chosen the best ones in its phones and has been successful in creating a premium positioning not only with its iOS7 or ‘wow’ features, but with its state of art hardware. I was impressed to know from their website that:
– It compressed first-of-their-kind technologies inside a space that’s a mere 7.6 millimeters thin and 112 grams light.
– The A7 chip is designed around 64-bit architecture — a first for any smartphone. And Apple did it because they wanted to put desktop-class processing power in the palm of people’s hands. And it supports OpenGL ES 3.0, enabling visual effects previously possible only on computers and gaming consoles.
– (And this being my favorite) Take the glass inlays on the back of iPhone 5. During manufacturing, each aluminum housing is photographed by two high-powered 29MP cameras. A machine then examines the images and compares them against 725 unique inlays to find the most precise match for every single iPhone. A crystalline diamond cuts this bevelled edge.
Which other mobile company actually literally creates its hardware with this finesse? Every second model available in the market today is at least 85% pure plastic, exception being some models from HTC.
This along with a premier packaging and clean design has made iPhone an aspirational phone.
Apple as well as all other companies are targeting the same consumers who can afford expensive phones. The only difference is in their communication and positioning – Apple has positioned its iPhone as a premium product which the consumers crave to have and eventually end up spending more to buy it. On the other hand, all other mobile companies are positioning their models as a phone that you can afford – no premium or aspirational value attached. Their entire communication/positioning being it’s for gaming, it’s for photography, it’s for business users.
When was the last time we saw an ad or communication stating this iPhone model is for photography or gamers? They just say it’s not a phone – it’s an iPhone. And it’s for everyone. Period!