When Apple’s executives took the stage in Cupertino yesterday, they weren’t just listing off the new features and products. They were giving a master class in how to design and market world-class products. Here are a few of the lessons we took home:
Watch what’s working in one product line, and adapt it to your other product lines …
Companies with multiple product lines often run them as separate fiefdoms, rarely interacting, other than occasional hobnobbing among their executives. Few share their lessons well. Apple showed yesterday that it’s one of them. “We invented some new things [for the iPhone and iPad operating system, iOS], and we’ve perfected it over the last several years,” Jobs said. “We’re inspired by some of those innovations in the iPad and the iPhone [and] we’d like to bring them back to the Mac.”
Smart companies make a habit of harvesting business lines for practices and features that work well, and then spreading those insights to other business lines, to improve products and processes there.
… but don’t copy indiscriminately
Apple could have said, “Multitouch is working so well in mobile devices, let’s start making the screens of our laptops and desktop monitors as well.” The company soon realized, however, that it was the principle of multi-touch that worked, but the implementation didn’t have to be the same for both sets of devices.
“We’ve tons of user testing on this, and it turns out … touch surfaces don’t want to be vertical,” Jobs said yesterday. “After a short period of time, you start to fatigue … . Touch surfaces want to be horizontal.” So Apple simply implemented new multitouch capability on the trackpad for OS X Lion.
Know where to hold your ground
Apple made many changes to the MacBook Air to make it smaller and more lightweight. It pulled out optical drives and replaced them with a solid-state drive. The laptop now has a unibody. It reengineered internal components so they fit together more compactly. But there were two features that didn’t shrink: the keyboard and the trackpad. Customers wanted smaller, lighter-weight devices. But Apple also knew–as anyone who’s spent time using one of the new mini-netbook computers knows–that you can’t use a smaller keyboard for the kind of extended use MacBook users need before your hands start cramping up.
The folks at Apple didn’t make decisions based on a single criterion. They understood all the variables their customers valued, and made their design decisions based on those.
Know what you’re really selling–and sell that
Sure, the new features in iLife ’11 were impressive. The ability to make more exciting trailers for your home movies, for example, or to learn the piano by following along with a professional chamber orchestra. But what was Apple really selling?
In the era of reality TV, we all secretly hanker for the glamour of instant fame. As Randy Ubillious, Apple’s chief architect for video applications, demonstrated the new features in iMovie ’11, he wasn’t just offering us the ability to make home movies faster and more easily. He was selling us stardom.
Toss in a little bling
Apple hired the London Symphony Orchestra to score a soundtrack you can use on your iMovie-made movie trailers. Who can say that’s not exciting? The trailer to your home movie about rafting down the Grand Canyon, or traipsing about Paris, or seeing the Penguins in Patagonia, set to music performed by the same people that did the score to Star Wars? It’s the kind of retro cool that Apple’s hipster fans go crazy for. Know what your customers value, and toss a little bling in your products that speaks to those values.