This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2011 issue of InfoTECH
Let’s face it, any company trying to compete with Apple (News - Alert) in its core markets has been beheaded and frankly, in the case of HP, embarrassed. For so many years, there were two ways of doing things: The established way like Microsoft did and the different way that Apple did things. It turns out in market after market, the established way was wrong. Here are some of the observations I have made as to why Apple has been such a phenomenal success and thoughts on how your company can be the next Apple and you can be the next Steve Jobs.
1) Does your hardware say wow? If there is one thing I have learned from Jobs and company it’s that if hardware doesn’t way “WOW” you may as well not bring it out onto the market. In other words, when Microsoft released the Zune and HP released its tablet, both companies should have known they were doomed for failure. Perhaps my favorite headline pertaining to this issue was written by me: “Intel Touts Durability While Apple Uses Glass.”
Speaking of laptops, I am personally getting embarrassed pulling out a Dell (News - Alert) laptop, which makes other CEOs snicker as they pull out lighter-than-air Apple laptops. By the way, it isn’t because I am a self-conscious person – these CEOs actually tease me in meetings. Just how many more years does the ugly Microsoft-based laptop have left?
2) Integrated hardware/software is key. A number of years back, I visited Microsoft’s Redmond campus and was impressed with their next-gen solutions – much of them had very cool interfaces which consisted of swiping documents here and there to get them to the right place. They also had some innovative hardware ideas which allowed a mouse to jump from PC to phone in a seamless fashion – as if all your computers were connected. But when I asked why these solutions weren’t on the market the answer was – we are a software company – the hardware companies have to make these things.
The problem is it seems the vision to try new things and create new markets doesn’t exist in traditional PC markets where manufacturers are more focused on keeping razor-thin margins high than they are on innovating and taking risk.
3) Be too cool for school (mild profanity in this Zoolander link). Just before Hurricane Irene came to town in late August, we got a visit from the people at simplyCT, a virtual contact center solutions provider and their branding screamed “cool.” If this relatively new company can design a cool look which is consistent from their website to business cards to physical bookmarks they hand out, why can’t Lenovo do the same? Of course they can.
4) Put faith in the visionary. If you want to destroy your company’s future – second-guess your visionaries. Obviously you need as good visionary for this to be a sound strategy but if you let accounting and legal nitpick every decision trading off long-term branding and strategy for quarterly profits, you and your shareholders will regret it. An example of what I am talking about here is companies looking to imitate Apple’s design successes with cheap plastic inserts.
5) The 3-year-old test. My 3-year-old was able to navigate and understand the photo interface on an iPhone (News - Alert) without training. This is the goal for all software – make it easy enough for a toddler to use and understand. Imagine trying to accomplish this goal on a PC-based laptop – you’d lose an hour just explaining how GIF files don’t work with all apps but if you bring them into the photo conversion utility and save them as JPEG (be sure to pick the right one, deciding between JPG and JPEG) to the right directory (no, you can’t use punctuation in a filename because of legacy DOSD – what’s DOS? … Nevermind.)
6) Rethink. This last idea is perhaps the simplest and most complex at once. Lots of companies tried to sell computers directly through stores – Gateway (News - Alert) comes to mind as a flaming failure. But Apple, a late entrant, rewrote the rules and was successful. In fact their clean look is being imitated widely. What rules are left to be rewritten? Probably a great many.