The Seed of Apple’s Innovation.

Borrows, P. (2004). “The Seed of Apple’s Innovation.” Business Week. Retrieved on 12 October 2004.

This article is an excerpt of an interview with Steve Jobs following his return from work from cancer surgery.  The interview focuses on Apple’s innovation process and how they differ from other technology companies.

Jobs points out how HP’s philosophy of creating great products influenced Apple in its early days. Apple was at the forefront of innovation when it created the first PC and desktop GUI in the 70’s.  But because Apple had achieved a certain monopoly in the PC market, it shifted from an innovation/products company to a sales/marketing company.  This ultimately led to the Apple’s stagnant growth in the years before he returned.

Jobs explains that people are loyal to Mac because Apple hires the right people for the job.  Their employees work tirelessly to ensure the highest quality of their products, often sacrificing sleep and holidays working on hardware and software details.  From a consumer’s point of view, this translates to enjoyable experience throughout the entire usage of the product.  Even when customers become stuck or try something unfamiliar, they can quickly resolve the situation because Apple considered and designed for it.

Another interesting point Jobs makes is the how he always wants to control the primary technology of the product.  No company can completely own all the technology behind a product, but the concept and primary technology is what Apple wants to have a solid grip on.

There are several attributes that make Apple a successful yet innovative company. Their process makes them efficient and disciplined.  Their spontaneous environment fosters innovation, allowing people to discuss new ideas and bounce off of each other.  At the same time, they focus on what is important, so they don’t spread themselves thin across too many markets.

On Concept: The big lesson from Job’s interview is that a concept should always revolve around the product and how people use it.  While it is appealing to highlight new technology and new features, great products are created when you focus on what is important to the users and what they need.

A good example I can think of is the iPod.  The iPod is not a novel concept – portable digital music players had been around for years. Apple’s goal however, was not to create a better digital music player. They wanted to create a better music listening experience.  This led them to create an entire service centered around buying and downloading music (iTunes).  The hardware (iPod) was only one part of the entire service they designed.

On Interaction and interfaces: Jobs attributes customer’s loyalty to Apple to the flow in using their products.  Apple considers and designs for many of the situations a user may encounter when using their products. The important thing is to allow customers to become “unstuck” quickly.

One of example I can think of where Mac does this is by mandating the menu of all software to span the entire top portion of the screen.  This means you can minimize the software as small as you want and still be able to access the full menu.  On a Windows system, as soon as you minimize the software, you get a truncated view of the menu system.