Some Thoughts On Apple

I read the biography of Steve Jobs during my long flights and lay overs to the US and back last week. It was quite an interesting read and gave me a much better understanding of why Apple is what it is: a control freak company that wants to have end-to-end control over each and every piece of the user experience.

I also realized something else. It’s not enough to come up with a great idea or invent something fantastic. Invention is just half the job done. The other half is implementation. The way an invention is packaged and handed to a customer is equally important. This can be see from numerous examples of how how others invented something and struggled with making it usable. Then Apple came in, took the idea and made it a roaring success.

The key takeaway for me was the fact that user experience is everything. In the past I have been critical of the “dumbness” of Apple devices. They still are pretty dumb to me. But then dumbness is a relative thing. For example, I get frustrated when I cannot mark all emails as read in one operation on my iPhone and iPad. I need to open each email and close it to mark it as read. But then for someone who doesn’t get a large number of emails every day and is not using different devices to access email that is not going to be a big issue. However, if Apple was to solve my problem it would need to add an extra UI element in the iOS mail app to mark all email as read. That would ending up making the app more “powerful” but would start ruining its elegant simplicity.

Android solves this particular problem and others like it by having three buttons (Home, Menu and Back) on the device instead of just one like iOS. Some Android devices even have a fourth button for Search. The Menu button is where developers put stuff like “Mark all as read“. While this may make perfect sense, I don’t think Apple will ever do this. It just goes against their design philosophy that things need to look and be brain dead simple.

This reminds me of an incident I read in the biography where someone was giving Jobs a presentation on a CD burning software that was being created at Apple. The UI mockups had all these panels, buttons and what not. Steve listened for a while and then asked the guy to shut up. He walked up to a white  board and drew a big rectangle. Then he drew a square towards one corner, wrote the word “Burn” in it and said, “People will drag their files and drop them in this big rectangle and hit the “Burn” button. That’s it. That is what we are going to create.

George Santyana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Everybody knows that Google is doing to Apple in the phone business what Microsoft did to it in the desktop business years ago. I think its inevitable. Actually its a no-brainer if you compare the activations of Android and iOS devices, whichever way you dissect the numbers.

As was the case the last time, its about the control freak nature of Apple which came straight from Steve Jobs. Apple doesn’t want to license iOS to hardware manufacturers fearing that they will put it on inferior hardware and ruin the user experience. But then Apple already allows half a million apps to run on iOS devices after approving them. So I don’t see a reason why they cannot do something similar to hardware manufacturers as well. I mean license iOS to them and let them ship only after verifying that the user experience is not compromised.

IMHO, it’s certainly doable. But I highly doubt Apple will do it. And that is why I believe history will repeat itself. Unfortunately.

  • http://www.derrekcooper.com/ derrekcooper

    Personally, I think apple software is ok. What makes apple, apple is the overall experience and specifically the hardware. Id argue that the software coming out if Linux/Ubuntu is superior to iOS. Still needs polishing, but why most will roll their eyes at this post is hardware from almost everyone else is not up to apple’s stds

  • ralphg

    “It just goes against their design philosophy that things need to look and be brain dead simple.”

    But it’s not simple. Instead of Android’s single (and finger position memorized) Back button, iOS software has to use software Back buttons, which end up in various locations on the screen, or sometimes uses a swipe to go back, or other UI element. Less predictable = more complex.

    Call me biased, but I think Android strikes the right balance between Apple’s simple-as-a-toaster mentality and Microsoft’s 747-mentality.

  • Kevin Quigley

    Deelip as a long time Apple user (as in 1982 pre Mac) I have seen the rise, fall, and rise again. Apple is a different company now from that in the 90s. Why? They don’t depend on the Mac alone.

    This is the reason I don’t see they ever licensing OSX or iOS. Whilst they can set up an approval system they cannot control the sales. All the iOS products go via the App store. Easy with software. Impossible with hardware. They could demand a licensing system that demands sales only through the Apple Store perhaps but I don’t see many doing that.

    None over the years I’ve seen and heard all the Apple haters moan and groan. It doesn’t have features. It doesn’t let you upgrade or configure it to the nth degree. So what! What all these people just don’t get is that most users out there are not IT pros who spend time salivating over CPU speeds or RAM.

    I worked out I currently own 12 Apple products but not an iPad. I’m writing this on my iPhone. Am I mad? No. I just appreciate products that help me get the work done.

    Buying an Apple product is a complete experience. From the moment the box arrives you hit the Apple message. Apple do packaging and the opening of the pack better than anyone. The whole unblocking and set up is simple. This is the big difference between Apple and the rest. I buy PCs as well and HP are the closest I have seen to Apple for this experience. HP don’t make PCs anymore….

  • Kevin Quigley

    And having said all that iOS’s text substitutions are a bit odd :-)

  • chad

    I use Ubuntu but only because I’m poor and can’t afford the apple hardware/software.   When I first installed it was because it’s all I could do to make a free OS run on my laptop but now I’ve grown to actually like it.  Apple has a lot to worry about and I think Android/Linux/Ubuntu combo will eventually overtake them.  What is apple going to do when the Android OS runs on a PC (this might already be a reality).  The Linux kernel will run on anything and that’s really all it takes to ruin Apple and Microsoft.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    “Whilst they can set up an approval system they cannot control the sales.
    All the iOS products go via the App store. Easy with software.
    Impossible with hardware.”

    Why would Apple possibly want to controls sales of other people’s hardware? They will already be controlling which of their devices runs iOS. Are you saying they will want to control which end users are able to buy these devices as well? How is this so different from the apps in their AppStore? They approve the apps but really don’t control which people buy them.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    I agree with you on this one. I don’t think hell would break loose if iOS had an extra button. In fact, the iPad looks a bit funny with its large size and just the one button.

    As a software developer myself I found Android’s menu button the most interesting because it relieves me from breaking my head trying to make the UI of my app brain dead simple and yet make it do lots of things.

  • Nainar

    For the first time I played around with an Android phone I bought for my wife and I instantly liked the back button. Where ever I am stuck, could always navigate myself backwards. There are software back buttons in Apple apps, but they each behave differently and confusing.

    For all its simplicity the apps in Apple are not that simple. Try using iFiles. Swiping right opens up a context menu having some 8-9 items. Fortunately that is where it stops and no more context menus. So, in trying to be ultra simple somethings have to be compromised. Apple did their part but whether the Apps could follow it is a question.

    So, yeah, Android does sound interesting.

  • Pete Yodis

    For all those interested in the Android Phones, I tend to think the newer Microsoft Phone 7 is thought out much better than Apple or Android.  I find the interface much nicer and less busy.  I am probably biased now since I have been a user for a year.  There are also a required set of buttons no matter the manufacturer… home, back, and search.  Andorid may show to suffer from too much of the 747 mentioned.  Apple is the toaster, but I think the newer approach from Microsoft is splitting the difference between Apple and Google Andorid.  Apple is impressive in pushing softare updates because it is one manufacturer with one device or set of devices that works with one and now just a few carriers.  Google seems way too complicated with all the carriers, manufacturers, devices, versions of the software.  The have shown that updates are a mess, with lot of users that are stuck with a product that doesn get upddated.  Microsoft again seems to split this difference.  With Windows 8 being opened up to ARM deivces as well as X86 architecture I think the playing field is going to get a lot more interesting in the coming year or two.  Microsoft is attempting to make it easier for developers to develop software that can run across the gambit of devices with the least amount of code change possible.  This is not the case right now with MacOS vs iOS.  Google Andorid does not yet have support for X86 architecture.

  • Tony

    Why have any buttons?  My BlackBerry Playbook doesn’t have any.  Instead, you use swipes.  For example, swipe from bezel to bezel to wake it up.  Swipe from right or left bezel onto the screen to switch to the next app.  Swipe down from top bezel to bring up the menu.  Etc.  It’s an interesting approach; I like it better than my Android phone.

    There is more than one possible good approach; I’ve heard good things about WebOS and Windows Phone 7, so I hope there will continue to be innovative alternatives to Apple and Android.

  • Kevin Quigley

    It is different simply because Apple take a 30% margin on App sales. All non Apple hardware would do is dilute the offer and reduce Apples overall margins. Apple would only offer licenses for iOS if they could make more money. To make more money they either need to take a cut of the cost of the device and rely on the sales of the device to increase overall volume.

    But the main issue I think is this. We are talking about iOS products. Apple already dominate the tablet market. They are a leading smart phone provider. It would be easier for them to sell a lower cost phone than license the technology to another low cost maker.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    Apple would still take 30% of all app sales on devices running iOS, whether it be theirs or other manufacturers. So yes, Apple would make a lot more money because when someone buys an Android app for an Android phone today, they make nothing.

    Apple is not just the the hardware business. They are very much in the software business as well. So licensing iOS to other manufacturers at a fee and then making 30% of every app that their customers spend makes perfect  business sense to me.

  • guest

    My experience with Apple in the late nineties was seeing them not stand behind the iMac (it had some hardware flaws) then seeing them abandon the original mac OS users.
    Monitizing your customers is one thing, but trying to bleed them over and over and over is not acceptable behavior to me.

  • Kevin Quigley

    I think we are just talking phones here Deelip as the iPad has wiped the floor in the tablet market. I get the business reasoning but it is not the Apple way. They tried clones before and it was a dismal failure. The Apple experience is a combination of hardware and software. You are a software guy. I am a hardware guy. Software is critical to ongoing success and desire. Hardware is critical for the initial purchase.

    In terms of desire for the product if you buy Apple you want the whole Apple experience.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    True, this is not the Apple way.

    As regards hardware appeal, there is really not much of a difference between an iPhone and other touchscreen phones running Android. In fact, some of the Samsungs look and feel pretty much like iPhones.

    The folks who want to complete Apple experience will continue to buy Apple, end to end. The others who are looking to move away from their Nokias, Blackberrys, etc. could become Apple customers, even if it means only on the software side.

    BTW, Nokia sold more smartphones than Apple this quarter and its market share is dropping. Guess where all these people are headed.

  • Anonymous

    I must respectfully disagree on the market share issue and Google.  Firstly, it’s not a sure thing that Google will be able to skate away from their IP problems with Apple.  I suspect, Google will have to revise their UI substantially in order to avoid infringments with Apple.  Witness the latest issue over the “Slide to open” patent.

    Secondly, Google, in a race toward the bottom is sacrificing profits for market share.  This is not a replay of Apple vs MSFT.  Apple has 5% of the smartphone market and more than 50% of the profits.  Think about that for awhile.

    Lastly, the fragmented Android marketplace is becoming even more fragmented as time goes on.  There are issues of apps not working, viruses, and a confused marketplace.  Look at the Android return rates compared to Apple’s.

    And then, don’t forget the iPad.  The iPad has the tablet market locked up for the foreseeable future.  None of the so-called iPad-killers have gained any traction.  The iPad is making strong inroads into the CAD world too.

    Business sales are just starting to boom for Apple (e.g. the recent NYT article) as well.

    Make no mistake, Google isn’t in the phone or tablet business, they are in the ad business.  Contrast this to Apple, which is in the “build the very best phone and tablet” business.

  • Pete Yodis

    figurative,

       I see Android problems the same way.  Relative to Apple, I think Windows 8 tablets will give iPads some stiff competition – especially since there will be more choice with hardware (ARM and x86 tablets) and existing business software will just run on it.  I think businesses will wait for Windows 8, rather than jump to iPads in large part.  Time will tell…

  • murray

    They can only be the best at the skill set they’ll let them perform.  It’s not an absolute measure.

  • Pete Yodis

    Yes,  I see some companies incorporating iPads into their companies.  I don’t know how much that is happening though.  My gut is that it isn’t all that common yet.  Their are alot of legacy software applications that are used everyday in business that are not going to be moved to run natively on iPads.  I see people remote desktop to a windows box using an iPad to use a piece of software.  Why would people use an iPad and a windows box when with a Windows 8 tablet they could do both?  Makes for fun watching to see how this is going to play out.

  • Anonymous

    Sure, nothing is absolute.  My point was that Apple and Google have entirely different motivations with their respective products.

  • http://showamerica.com/ Online contest

    Deelip, that does sound really informative and helpful though. I really impressed to know these thoughts. Actually I really interested to know about Apple. It’s my favorite brand though. Keep up the insights. 




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