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Why Don't More Companies Emulate Apple?

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Why Don't More Companies Emulate Apple?
March 17, 2011
By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor


Everybody knows Apple has been a fabulously successful company because of its obsession with customer experience. But because the obsession with ease of use and quality of experience is no secret, why don't more companies act as Apple (News - Alert) does? You can probably come up a long list of reasons. Some might say that most companies really are not obsessive about customer experience, no matter what they say. One might argue that even where such intentions exist, someplace within the company, internal squabbles and disputes prevent the entire organization from insisting on ease of use and user experience. One might argue that few firms are lead by somebody with the authority, respect and power to pursue that vision completely and fully. 

In the vernacular, Apple is lead by a true visionary and artist, while most firms are lead by people whose training and habits of mind are those of an attorney, accountant, marketing specialist, sales hero or feature-obsessed engineer. None of that is wrong if it leads to company success at a high level. But those disciplines apparently do not translate into repeated ability to produce products that create whole new markets. 

One might argue that most firms are content to take reasonable share in a market that already exists. But taking share, though laudable, is not the same thing as creating whole new markets. Granted, Apple takes more risks than most firms of its size and influence. Where most companies try to use market research when they can, to scope out what people might want, Apple has a tendency to decide for itself what people need. That's hugely risky. 

Market research does not help you much where it comes to entirely new products. Consumers can't reliably provide evidence of real demand when they are confronted with unfamiliar concepts. So it is reasonable to suggest that few executives want to risk creating major new products without some semblance of "market research" to back them up. But that by definition does not lead to breakthrough products that create whole new industries.

By all accounts, Google's (News - Alert) founders didn't have any market research to indicate that "search" could create a huge business either. In fact, by all accounts, they had no idea what the business model might be. But one can glimpse something of that same sense in Craigslist or Wikipedia as well. So while it might generally be true that rational executives will rarely make huge and risky bets on products that create markets, rather than fulfill existing or known demand, there seems to be growing numbers of cases where it does happen. 

Here and there one can point to firms that actually are pretty fastidious about both ease of use and customer experience. It's a tough job, at least in part because it takes courage to resist feature bloat, and to design around ease of use and simplicity, when there always are pressures to add more features. Far more companies are good about being fastidious in support of customers, or listening to customers. 

The other problem is that technology companies often are lead by "technologists" who think products "need" lots of complicated things.

Technologists invariably point to hardware features that they are certain the product "needs to have." In the past, that might have been more correct. In the past, people that could use technology saw technology as inherently cool, and technology enthusiasts often wanted the ability to play with and change features and capabilities. These days that arguably is less true for most people, since most people now use "technology" products.

Still, one wonders why more firms do not actually behave like Apple. With all due respect, one would be hard pressed to point to a single company in the entire business phone system industry (hosted or premises) that actually has tried to create a whole new industry, based on some breakthrough new product, process or device. Most of the innovation has been around better ways of doing things within the broad confines of the existing market for business communications. 

But that isn't Apple's approach. To be fair, there are lots of successful approaches to making products that can be highly successful without trying to create whole new industries. On the other hand, most products arguably could benefit from a fastidious approach to simplicity and better end user experience. 

To hear the story, though, Televate, a new cloud-based (hosted) business phone service aimed at organizations up to about 20 people, launched by Inphonex, was created with something of an obsessive attention to simplicity and end user experience, even to the extent of refusal to add some features that some users might want, to keep the service really easy to use. That isn't to say software has to be "dumbed down" to support a more-elegant, pleasing, even "fun" user experience. In fact, it takes a lot of work to simplify an end user experience.

There have to be an awful lot of reasons more companies do not really act like Apple does. In many cases, perhaps they cannot, in a large sense. But few companies cannot emulate Apple's fastidious, almost maniacal attention to the details of end user experience and simplicity, in some important parts of its products. 

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee

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