Category Archives: Apple

The secret to Apple’s success?

If there’s one company that is the envy of the high-tech community these days, it’s Apple.  Steve Jobs is hailed as a genius CEO and lauded for a string of hit products. Apple’s market capitalization is over $200 BILLION dollars currently, easily ranking it in the top 10 companies in the world by market cap, and just shy of Microsoft for biggest technology company.

Everyone wants to understand the secrets of Apple’s success and hopefully emulate them. The reasons given by people for Apple’s success are many. The following are a few of the arguments made:

1. Vertical integration – Apple owns most of, if not the entire, technology stack for its key products,  and thus gives it advantages over other less vertically integrated products.

NOTE: “Vertical integration” used to be called “being proprietary” and was given as the reason for Apple’s relative lack of success against Microsoft in the OS/PC battles of the 80s and 9os. But phenomenal success has a way of changing people’s minds.

2. Making markets vs.  addressing markets – Some claim that Apple doesn’t ask people what they need but gives them products they decide they want.

Does anyone NEED an iPhone or iPad? Not really, but a lot of people seem to want them.

3. The Cool Factor – Let’s face it, Apple does make “cool” products. Attention to design and detail – fit and finish as they say – really distinguishes Apple’s products from competitors.

4. Entering markets after they’ve developed — Contrary to #2 above, some people claim that Apple doesn’t make markets but enters existing markets once they’re growing and takes  advantage of latent demand.

The iPod was not the first digital music player and the iPhone was not the first smart phone, and the iPad is not the first portable computing device. In the case of the iPad, products like the Kindle and Netbooks actually paved the way for the market to accept  small computing devices, and Apple’s iPad is riding that wave.

5. Differentiated business models – whether it was iPod+iTunes or the iPhone+App Store, Apple innovates not just on technology, but on the business model. This makes it difficult for competitors to play catch up, let alone overtake Apple once it establishes itself in a dominant position.

6. People care about the experience not technology — Apple has always been about the user experience, but for a long time, the majority of the market didn’t care about that.

The majority of desktop computer users cared about “techs and specs”.  Now the tables have turned, and the majority don’t care about the specs, they care about the experience. The iPod, with it’s “1000 songs in your pocket” motto and iTunes which radically simplified purchasing music latched onto the experience wave, and Apple has been riding it ever since.

7. Simple product offerings – Apple has a very clear and simple set of products. It’s easy to understand the differences between their products, product families and the various configurations. This makes it easy to buy an Apple product if you want to.

A lot of companies complicate things unnecessarily. How many iPhone models are there? How many Blackberry models are there? How many Nokia smart phone models are there? See the difference between Apple, RIM and Nokia?

The same is true for the iMAc, the iPod and the iPad. Granted, there are actually a number of iPod models (Nano, Shuffle, Touch etc.) but they are very distinct amongst themselves. This can’t be said for digital music players from other companies.

I’m sure there are other reasons for Apple’s success, but it’s interesting to see how much debate is happening today on this topic. What it says to me is that there is no single reason for their success. And keep in mind that Apple has had failures as well.  Notice Apple doesn’t talk much about Apple TV. And remember the G4 Cube? The 20th Anniversary Mac?  Even the ultracool MacBook Air has had far from stellar success.

So, what do you think are the reasons for Apple’s incredible success over the last 10 years?


There is no such thing as bad press

OR: Misery loves company, especially company that can go onto your Twitter stream.

So assuming you’ve read the Interwebs lately you’ve hard the tale of how an Apple employee lost a next-generation iPhone test unit at a bar where it was found and sold to a gadget blog. Sordid stuff.

Many commenters immediately assumed that the person who lost the phone would be fired, but that has not yet been reported to happen. So perhaps he merely has to spend a few weeks in the penalty box at work.

(Note to the CrankyPM: Yes, your CEO can drop his laptop off his yacht without penalty, but if you lose a hotel receipt there’s hell to pay, right?)

At any rate, of all the things that might come out of such an incident, this is an unlikely one: Lufthansa has offered to fly the person-who-lost-something (I hate to pile on by calling the poor guy a “loser”) to Munich.

You see, he lost the phone at a German-style bar, tenuous connection, etc.

Now, it takes a lot of nerve to offer this poor Apple employee a reward for making one of the biggest mistakes in recent company history (with the exception of MobileMe, zing!) but, the real question is: how much nerve does it take to accept the offer?

And is this a legitimate use of social media marketing or is it, as a Lufthansa employee would succinctly put it, just Schadenfreude?

7 things you’ll never hear Steve Jobs say during a presentation

Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 4)

This is part 4 of the series. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

In this part, I’ll take a look at whether the industry can get out of the mess it’s in.

Looking back

Before looking forward, let’s take a look back at some ads from a couple of decades ago.

Click each image to enlarge.

Notice something about these ads? They all look rather similar. Pictures of (similar looking) computers and lots of text! Check out those headlines. “A new way of personal-professional computation”???? What’s that all about? Is it a personal computer or a professional compute? Well it’s both (and neither)! Ouch.

And that’s one fine looking set of muttonchops on Issac Asimov in the Radio Shack ad!

Even Apple was not immune to kind of advertising.  Here’s the original Macintosh print ad. A double-page spread! Click images to enlarge.

Cool. Did you catch the specs on the Mac? 64K ROM, 128K RAM, 32bit MC68000 processor, and even a clock/calendar chip!

Comparing these ads to advertising today, it’s  clear that things have changed for the better in 25 years. Apple certainly leads most other technology companies in their sophistication, but then, they’ve been at it much longer than most other technology companies!

As every industry matures, so does the audience for it’s products. Forty or fifty years ago, a lot of advertising for cars talked about engine horsepower, size (in cubic inches), acceleration, top speed etc. The only metrics that are frequently mentioned today are mileage or fuel consumption (and sometimes number of cup holders!). But that’s because those are important to us.

In personal technology, few consumers, truly care about the processor in their device. Quick, what kind of of CPU does you iPod have? What about a Blackberry? What about an iPhone? The Palm Pre? The Motorola Razr? The MacBook Air?

If you know any or (even worse) all of the CPUs in those device, you’re a serious geek. 🙂

But for the vast, vast majority of people, it doesn’t really matter one bit. Those days are behind us. We have matured and so has the industry. Of course, there are still many companies that talk in “speeds and feeds” or mumbo-jumbo, but in a maturing industry, they pay a price. The segment of the market that listens to the “tech-speak” is shrinking steadily.

Looking forward

If we try and look 25 years into the future, how will things have changed? Technology will have become much more embedded and ubiquitous in our environment.

The days of the big desktop computer will be gone. We will carry, wear and perhaps even embed devices within our bodies.

A second full generation of people will have reached adulthood living in an Web-enabled world. The word “offline” will be an anachronism. Augmented reality will be our reality.

In a world like that, how will people relate to technology? How will companies need to communicate with the market about their products?

The current “craze” known as social-media will be old news, and will just be part of the communication process vendors have with their customers. Consumers, particularly younger ones, will likely give up a lot of what is now considered “personal” information to companies, in exchange for individualized products and services.

In the context of the digital world, “Give me what I want, when I want and how I want” will simply be a common state of affairs.

Remember the phrase “personal computer”? That of course was shortened to PC, which is still used today, but few people think about the “personal” part explicitly anymore. Messaging and advertising will become “personal” in the future as well.

And of course there will be those that do it well, and those that do not.

So getting back to the original question – Can we get out of this mess? – the answer is yes, but it will take time. But for those of us who are at the forefront of this change, let’s see if we can’t make that change happen just a little bit faster and easier and ensure we don’t get emails that promise to help do things like  “Design a Monetization Strategy to Enhance Strategic Goals while Protecting Core Assets” any more.



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Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 3)

Continuing this series (click the links for part 1 and part 2), let’s look at the following question:

  • How can we get out of this mess?

Given the problems cited in part 2 – laziness, review committees, truthiness – it’s not easy. There are many other reasons of course, and the combination of them makes it difficult to change the behaviour of an entire industry.

Differentiate yourself

It takes effort, skill and planning to create great messaging. Like many other things, it’s difficult to describe what makes great messaging, but you know it when you see it (or read it, or hear it)!

Messaging should be a weapon of differentiation for companies. Tied very closely to positioning, messaging can impact audiences in ways that no technical achievement can. The now famous 1000 songs in your pocket message for the original iPod was simply brilliant.

Why? It was completely focused on the value to the customer. It spoke directly to them, was conscise, appealing and spoke about the iPod in a way completely different from any of it’s competitors.

Watch the video, and observe the story it tells.

The “dude” is sitting behind his Macintosh, listening to his music and clearly enjoying it. He then transfers it to his iPod, puts on the earphones, selects a song on the iPod with the thumbwheel, and within seconds is enjoying the song again. He then tucks the iPod in his pocket and dances out the door. The voiceover comes on and in only 6 brief words, speaks volumes to the audience:

iPod. 1000 songs in your pocket.

In 1 minute, Apple demonstrated how easy it was to enjoy music on their portable player, and focused the audience on the 1 thing they wanted the audience to remember. It worked amazingly.

Now, someone else — not as savvy as Apple and their advertising agency — would probably have promoted the iPod as follows:

  • Comes in 2 models with 5 GB and 10 GB hard drives
  • Capable of holding 1000 or 2000 songs respectively (in 160Kbps MP3 format)
  • Patented thumbwheel interface
  • 2-in backlit LCD display
  • 60-mW high output amplifier
  • Battery life of 10 hours (your mileage may vary)
  • Firewire port with 400 Mbs transfer speed
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack

In fact, if you looked at how other competing music players were advertised, they actually were marketing technical specs. Instead of benefits, they actually spoke about things like the amount of RAM they provided or the audio formats they supported.

It amazes me that in the 25 years (yes it’s been about that long) since the original commercial that introduced the Macintosh to the world, very few technology companies have been able to match the simplicity, clarity and effectiveness of Apple’s messaging.

And the obvious question is, yet again, why?

Rules for getting it right

It takes culture, commitment and command in the craft of communication for a company to create consistently compelling commuiques like those of Apple.  For the rest of us mere mortals, we can try something a little more mundane to mend our messages. 🙂

For whatever reason, people seem to think that in business writing, all the rules they learned in school are no longer needed. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Follow these rules (created by none other than George Orwell himself) and see what a difference they make:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If you want more detail on any of these, check out this article.

And here’s the original essay where he first wrote these rules (way back in 1946).

For business writing, one other rule is needed.

Apply the “So what?” test to everything you write. If what you’ve written doesn’t provide a good answer the question “So what?”, rewrite it, and ask the question again.

I’ll stop there. 🙂

In the next part, I’ll discuss whether the industry can ever fix the messaging problem for good.



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Apple’s unsolved usability problem: Deliberate choice or Mistaken persona? (UPDATED)

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When you stare at this picture, is the design problem as obvious to you as it is to me?

MacBook Pro 13" on Desktop

MacBook Pro 13" on Desktop

This is a picture of my shiny new MacBook Pro (13″), upgraded from my slightly older shiny MacBook Pro (17″). Actually both are brushed, not shiny, but you get my point. (Poor image shot with iPhone 3G with bad camera.)

Isn’t the design problem obvious? My laptop is a portable office, and it often needs to dock at the stationary office. I go on and off the road, then come back. Or, I just want to go to a meeting, then return. Besides, as a Mac user, I like the clutter-free sleek look.

The MacBook needs a port for a docking station. I’m not saying that Apple should manufacture docking stations. But they should make a single port that would allow Belkin to do so.

I’ve had a PC laptop for 15 years, and always had a docking station. It was assumed. There was a handy little port on the bottom of the computer that provided high-speed access to all the busses (USB, Video, Power, etc.).

There is at least one vendor (Bookendz) out there who has tried, but honestly I don’t think this cleans up the desktop. It’s a workaround based on the fact that there is no single port to enable docking. Some of the youtube videos on the product make it appear awkward and unstable.


So the problem is there: Apple has not provided a single port that will enable docking.




Mobile (ok, thats not me)

(OK, that’s not me in the mobile office.)

There has to be a good reason for this, doesn’t there?

So I wonder: Why hasn’t Apple provided a single port for a clean, sleek docking station?

  • Would it drive prices?
  • Is this a niche usecase? What % of people dock?
  • Does Apple think its users spend all their time in airports?

This has to be a deliberate decision for Apple. If so, they are saving costs for her:

Mobile (ok, thats not me)

and frustrating people like me


Good PM requires trade-offs, and requires you to say no to some users. But docking feels mainstream for mobile professional users, and MacBook Pro is for the mobile professional. Or is it?

Which of my assumptions is off? Is this a case of Misunderstood Persona, or Difficult But Important Tradeoff?

– Alan

Guest Post: Awareness, Persuasion and Shelf Life

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NOTE: The following is a guest post by Gopal Shenoy, author of the blog Product Management Tips.  If you feel inspired to write a guest post of your own, click here to find out how to submit it to us.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Products (or services) succeed when they solve a relevant, widely prevalent problem in the market. The three hurdles every product faces before it hits or misses are what I call:

  1. Awareness
  2. Persuasion
  3. Shelf Life

It is very simple. First of all, you’ve got to create awareness of your product amongst your target audience.

Second, once they become aware and come to you (online or offline) you need to persuade them that your product is the best in solving their pain point(s).

Third, you need to make sure that your product has a long shelf life – not from a perishable sense – but from a market defensibility perspective.  How long can your product maintain its uniqueness or its differentiation before it is subject to attack from competition? Success breeds wannabes – the question is how long do you have before the wannabes arrive?

So how do you figure all of this out? In my opinion, product managers have a big role in helping figure this out for the following reasons:


Product managers typically best understand the pain points of the target audience that are worth solving. They are chartered to do the deep dive to understand the pain points, to understand the terminology used by the target audience, to understand where the target audience hangs out to gather information etc.  Given this, product managers need to be heavily involved in determining how to create awareness of the product among the target audience.

This is where many marketing departments in companies fail – they take all the upfront market research that has been done and believe that they know better and end up putting the marketing lipstick on it. The end result is what customers have learned to hate – marketing literature that is full of fluff that does not resonate with the audience – the “scalable”, “reliable”, “revolutionary”, market leading”, “customer centric”, “new generation” kind.

They then spend a ton of money spreading the word around in places where the target audience is not present. Would you buy a full page Wall Street Journal ad if you sell “malpractice” insurance to doctors or spend time sponsoring a session at the next Medical Convention in town? If your company rents private jets to corporations (oops, a touchy subject these days!) would you be better off buying a banner at the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert or a full page ad on the Wall Street Journal? Sounds silly, but it still amazes me as to how marketing departments squander money by targeting wrong marketing channels.


Once you have created awareness, the best way to persuade an audience is focusing on the business benefits of using your product as opposed to engaging in discussing features. You need to persuade your target customers on how they can improve their bottom line using your product.

For example, 3D CAD modeling software helped Boeing create the first airplane that was 100-percent digitally designed and preassembled on computer – the Boeing 777. The discussion likely did not revolve around individual features in the CAD software. Instead, the shared vision to take airplane design to a new level that reduced manufacturing costs by eliminating physical prototypes, likely sealed the deal.

While trying to persuade your audience, feature wars are a futile exercise – your product will have features that competitors don’t have and they will have features that you don’t have. Instead companies that focus the customer’s attention and time on how they can provide the greatest value for the customer that will result in tangible business benefits will end up being the winners.

Shelf Life

You could create all the awareness of your compelling product among the target audience, but you still need to figure out how you will defend your position and for how long. If the barrier to entry for your product is low, then your success could be short lived.

There are many ways companies lock up shelf life:

Solving a known, widely prevalent problem in a very disruptive way – for example, Apple’s iPod succeeded because it was the first product that did three things in a very superior way

  • Extremely simple user interface
  • Outstanding integration between the player, computer and the software that connects the two
  • Focus on doing just one thing right – listening to music.

Though Apple was not the first company to launch an MP3 player, it quickly established a leadership position in a very competitive and overly crowded market. As you all know, its leadership position is untouched to this day.

Locking a service delivery model – If you are able to lock in a service delivery model via exclusivity, you have bought yourselves shelf life for the duration of exclusivity. For example, AT&T was able to buy a long shelf life via its exclusive agreement with Apple. Apple’s iPhone success left AT&T’s competitors scrambling to find other ways to defend their positions.

Protecting the intellectual property via patents – for example, Nutrasweet had a monopoly for decades in the aspartame market until its patents ran out. I am all for patents, but not many small companies have the wherewithal to bet their businesses on their ability to successfully defend their patents.

I believe that companies need to do all of these three things – awareness, persuasion and shelf life – extremely well to have a successful and sustainable business. And believe it or not, a lot of this will stem from the information gathered by product managers. Don’t stop using that information just for building that product. Use it for creating awareness and persuasion.

Gopal Shenoy is a product manager with over 13 years of experience in the software industry at companies such as SolidWorks, RSA Security, and OnForce. Currently, he is a Senior Product Manager at OnForce, Inc ( He is a passionate blogger on product management topics at