There has been much discussion in recent years of the chief reason for Apple’s phenomenal success. Apple’s design skills, for example, are often cited as the primary discriminator between Apple and its competition.
In some ways, though, I think that long-time Apple users and fans are sometimes misled in this regard by their traditional loyalties: there is a certain tendency among us to seek vindication, and to assume that Apple is now succeeding because others are finally learning to appreciate the virtues that we had recognized long ago.
It occurred to me recently, however, that an explanation for Apple’s ability to dominate its chosen market segments may rest more on its ability to satisfy a long checklist for each of its products, rather than to simply succeed in one key area.
This product checklist might look something like the following.
A physical design that is small, simple, streamlined, sexy and sturdy.
Mobility that allows the product to be easily carried and used on the go, for at least 8 hours without external power.
Early and imaginative adoption of the latest technology, as soon as it is available in sufficient volumes, with the necessary reliability and at reasonable cost.
A simple product line with few options, offering customers a small set of easy choices.
Easy setup that allows a new user to be up and running and enjoying their Apple product in a matter of minutes, with little or no prior knowledge needed.
A responsive system interface with no noticeable lags or delays.
The highest level of overall system reliability, minimizing hardware and software failures.
A user interface that is simple and intuitive on its surface, but with hidden depths available when needed for more advanced needs.
Hardware and software designs that are distinctive, innovative, appealing and useful.
Strong system security that reliably protects consumers from the bad guys with little or no effort on the part of customers.
Evolving hardware and software designs that bring significant additional features and functionality to customers on a regular and reliable basis.
Regular and easily applied software upgrades that are available for at least three to five years after the original hardware purchase.
An application ecosystem that makes a wide variety of high-quality, inexpensive applications available to customers.
A content ecosystem that allows customers to purchase or rent the widest range of available content (music, e-books, movies, magazines, etc.) easily and inexpensively.
An overall system architecture and development environment that makes it easy for third parties to deliver high-quality products and services, and makes it difficult or impossible for them to corrupt the intended user experience in any significant way.
Seamless integration with other Apple products, and with other products and services that bring additional value to customers.
A wide and efficient retail distribution network that makes it easy and even enjoyable for customers to learn more about and then purchase the product.
A strong network of knowledgeable, friendly and easily accessible product support specialists that can help customers with the product when needed, including quick repair or replacement of defective units.
Prices that are at or below those of their competitors, and inexpensive enough to make impulse purchases possible.
I would argue that, while we might individually have our favorite items on this list, it is the ability of Apple to succeed simultaneously in all these areas that enables the sort of market domination that we have seen for the iPod, the iPhone and now the iPad. So long as Apple can offer all of the above for its products, it leaves consumers with little reason to consider other options, and maximizes the challenges for its competitors.
September 7, 2012