The iPhone 5 has finally been released, almost a year after Steve Jobs’ untimely passing. The fervor is enormous . . . I don’t usually get excited about these things, but am definitely feeling a bit of techie lust for the bigger screen and lightening fast processing It seems a good bit more unique than some of the past iterations of iPhone. Both of my kids are clamoring for one, and my older son has even put his existing iPhone 4s up for sale on eBay (he is one of the Apple die-hards who listened to the keynote speech during his lunch break at school). But all of the clamoring has led me to ponder again why Apple is really so successful, and why other companies are not?
Companies that have a ‘cult like following’ are rare. The Apple customer base is more like a fan base for a rock star . . . Apple is bigger than the Beatles! All you need is love, nah: these days, all you need is an iPhone, an iPad and of course, a Mac computer. Apple is, I dare say, one of the most loved companies in the world these days.
I mean think about it — how many companies can launch a product and have so many people pre-order it — sight unseen? Wouldn’t you love to launch your products that way — just announce that it’s going to be along in a little while and start taking pre-orders? Wouldn’t you love for people to line up at your door for your products and write about how much they loved you ad nauseum, letting your customer base do your marketing for you? What is it about Apple that is so special, really?
The first thing that comes to mind is that Apple takes their time. They seldom, if EVER, launch a crappy product. Now granted, the 4s was not spectacular – but they didn’t even give this phone its own number, and the ‘s’ was small, — as Siri wasn’t all that great. But Siri did ok. And then they took almost 12 more months to come up with the next iteration, so essentially they took more than 2 YEARS before the 5 came out (the original 4 launched in June 2010). This is a reallllly long time for a product development cycle.
But Apple didn’t sweat it, because Apple doesn’t release half-baked products. They let them cook fully — and everyone knows how good they are — so they line up ready to taste that pie. Now Facebook, on the other hand, has a very different product philosophy. Facebook releases stuff as they finish it — they don’t try to make things perfect or great, really. They make incremental changes (‘improvements’) and often release them before they are baked at all. I wouldn’t line up at the door for a Facebook upgrade. Usually when there is a big Facebook change coming — you see the lines of protest starting before it’s even gone out. People start hating it before they’ve even experienced it.
See the difference? I had to wonder if this had something to do with the price of Facebook’s stock versus Apple’s . . . having customers head over heels versus hating your stuff. Hmm.
Microsoft had a similar problem with their releases — people never rhapsodized about new versions of Office or new Windows operating systems the way they hail Apple. Microsoft never really made products that people loved, and in fact, they often released products that seemed like a downgrade to the previous version, or made their users feel stupid (hello clippy.)
So the question is — how do you make products that set people on fire? How do you create a business that people flock to? How, how, how? Obviously, if everyone could do it — there would be a lot of Apples in the world.
Steve Jobs had a commitment to design excellence and efficiency. He was also very curious about how things worked, and how you could take a simple, everyday object or process — and turn it into something extraordinary. (I just read an article that confirmed that Apple’s genius lies in the ‘turn‘ aspect of a magic trick, which is doing this very thing of turning an ordinary object into something amazing.) I think this is true of many great products — there is that kind of thinking involved. Like Twitter, for instance — they took the art of texting — abbreviated communication — and blogging — and fused these elements to create something extraordinarily useful, that has far-reaching implications. That is brilliance.
I think that Apple’s brilliance is a very broad topic for the purpose of a blog — but that if you start asking yourself the question — what can you do that contributes to people? What do people really want when they come to your business? What can you produce in your business that delights and inspires people? The answers to these questions are within you and it seems, this secret is known by every cult-like brand on the planet, whether it’s Apple, Disney, or Gucci, even. The very simple answer is always to put the customer first — just ALWAYS. Because every business exists to serve people. And never COMPROMISE what you know will delight your customers for any reason. Find a way to make it work. It’s not always easy — but that seems to me, the simple and most basic secret of creating a great business, and a happy life, too.