09/09/09 & Apple's Formula for Rock 'N Roll

There's a wealth of quality reporting and analysis surrounding today's announcements from Apple, so I won't waste time writing an inferior summary.  However, there is one aspect of Apple's announcements that struck me and I haven't seen it discussed elsewhere.

Think back to Apple before Steve Jobs returned to the company.  The company had lost its innovative spirit.  The Mac suffered from an OS strategy that was lost in the wilderness and hardware that did little to advance the differences between Macs and other PCs.  Apple was coasting on the amazing innovations it pioneered in the early 80s.  Certainly, Apple tried to break the mold with break through projects like the Newton, but the implementation of those concepts weren't viable in the marketplace.  Apple was either ahead of the curve, or botched the implementation.

Then Steve came back.

Apple followers found themselves on a wild ride.  Apple found a tight focus in its OS strategy and began to make major strides quickly.  Simultaneously, we watched as the hardware became candy colored, then grey and white, then all white and finally aluminum.  In all those transitions, radical changes in the appearance of Mac models and lines were a regular occurrence.  Think about the evolution of the iMac from a friendly bubble, to a sunflower, to a picture frame on a stand and finally an aluminum frame on a stand.  The pace of change was dizzying.

All this iteration created products that increasingly resonated in the marketplace.  Apple capitalized on the major ground shift to OS X and Intel, and wrapped it in an industrial design that continues to stand above its competition.  Sales continue to rise, as does the quality of Apple's hardware.  Each years product is more enjoyable to use than the last's.

This comes with a price.  Mac hardware announcements are not as exciting as they were 5 or 10 years ago.  That's not to say the products are bad: I'm absolutely in love with the MacBook Air I'm typing on now--but this MacBook Air is an awful lot like the last MacBook Air I had.  Mac Industrial Design has become largely iterative and evolutionary.

It's clear the iPod, iPod Touch and iPhone are reaching a similar place.  The form factor of these products is so successful, and the process of manufacturing these products so effective that iteration is all Apple needs to stay in front of competitors.

Apple is still in the revolution business.  The iPhone didn't exist 5 years ago.  The iPod didn't exist 10 years ago, and nether did the iTunes Store.  Apple is in a place where they have the ability to invent category disrupting products, which they follow with a series of rapid, massive revision followed by a mature cycle of refinement and iteration.  It's an amazing business model, and certainly benefits me as a customer.

The nerd in me always hungers for that category buster though.  I love to watch the rules of the game change.


PS - Home Sharing is awesome.