What Would Apple Do?

Here is a snippet from What Would Google Do?
about Apple as the grand exception to every rule I put forth there:

How does Apple do it? How does it get away with operating this way even as every other company and industry is forced to redefine itself? It’s just that good. Its vision is that strong and its products even better. I left Apple once, in the 1990s, before Steve Jobs returned to the company, when I suffered through a string of bad laptops. But when I’d had it with Dell, I returned to Apple and now everyone in my family has a Mac (plus one new Dell); we have three iPhones; we have lots of iPods; I lobbied successfully to make Macs the standard in the journalism school where I teach. I’m a believer, a glassy-eyed cultist. But I didn’t write this book about Apple because I believe it is the grand exception. Frank Sinatra was allowed to violate every rule about phrasing because he was Sinatra. Apple can violate the rules of business in the next millennium because it is Apple (and more important, because Jobs is Jobs).

So then Apple is the ultimate unGoogle. Right?

Not so fast. When I put that notion to Rishad Tobaccowala, he disagreed and said that Apple and Google, at their cores, are quite alike.

“They have a very good idea of what people want,” he said. Jobs’ “taste engine” makes sure of that. Both companies create platforms that others can build upon—whether they are start-ups making iPod cases and iPhone apps or entertainment companies finding new strategies and networks for distribution in iTunes.
Apple, like Google, also knows how to attract, retain, and energize talent. “Apple people believe they are even better than Google people,” he said. “They’re cooler.”

Apple’s products, like Google’s, are designed simply, but Tobaccowala said Apple does Google one better: “They define beauty as sex,” he said.

Apple understands the power of networks. Its successful products are all about connecting. Apple, like Google, keeps its focus unrelentingly on the user, the customer—us—and not on itself and its industry. And I’ll add that, of course, both companies make the best products. They are fanatical about quality.

But Tobaccowala said that what makes these two companies most alike is that—like any great brand—they answer one strong desire: “People want to be like God.” Google search grants omniscience and Google Earth, with its heavenly perch, gives us God’s worldview. Apple packages the world inside objects of Zen beauty. Both, Tobaccowala said, “give me Godlike power.” WWGD? indeed.

  • I became an Apple convert in 2010, after 15 years or so of battling with various Windoze systems. The guy in the shop told me, as I was leaving, “You’ll never go back to a PC.” He was so right. I’ve recently added Apple TV and not only does it work ‘out of the box’, it works stylishly.

  • Chris B

    I have just come across your blog after having bought a copy of WWGDD in a discount book store here in England. I found your book very interesting and quite inspirational so I thought I would just call in and say hi!

  • Here’s the quote about Jobs that I’ve been spreading around, from John Sculley, because it strikes me as capturing his design philosophy so incredibly well. Apple is about giving consumers what they want, but unlike so many advocates of user testing and participatory design, it holds that consumers don’t always know what they want:

    He always looked at things from the perspective of what was the user’s experience going to be? But unlike a lot of people in product marketing in those days, who would go out and do consumer testing, asking people, “What did they want?” Steve didn’t believe in that.

    He said, “How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before.” He believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap.

  • As I’ve always said – the follow up to WWGD should be WWAD – What would Apple DESIGN!

    Jobs and Apple had the rare ability to present us products that still feel like they were from the future. I still remember that feeling the first time I saw an iPod, an iPhone and an iPad. Now it feels run of the mill. But each time I thought to myself “there is a time machine and it’s in Steve Job’s basement.”

    The design was so good they could do anything they wanted on top of it. It was, as you say, just that good.

  • In Poland Apple is like Roys Roys – really. Its quite expensive and “jazzy”.

  • I am reading (and enjoying) your recent book ”Public Parts”. Your writing about companies on page 49 and 53 led me to revisit your website, where I stumbled upon this post.
    That companies need to be open and not strive for perfection (but rather strive for constant improvement) seems so evident in the age of networked business models, but then Apple completely crushes that notion by doing the totally opposite.
    I have been writing a lot about this issue in Danish media and I am regularly interviewed for different media, where this question always comes up: “If transparent business models are so great why is Apple so successful?”
    I think part of the explanation is that Apple offers an element of order in a chaotic world. The world of the internet and radical transparency is (as you also address in Public Parts) scary, unknown and creepy. But Apple’s world is a beautiful garden which is always working, always easy to understand and nicely fenced like a gated community.
    Of course Apple’s world is also a world of limitations. They decide what applications you are allowed to use and they completely control their OS so that no one can mess with their beautiful garden. But I think that most users (and definitely most of my friends and colleagues in the creative class of Copenhagen) are willing to give up a little freedom for a little more order.
    Personally I don’t like the limitations. I didn’t rebox my iPad, but I sold it after 3 weeks, after I realized that I couldn’t use Grooveshark, I couldn’t watch Flash websites and I couldn’t buy apps, because the app store was not yet open in Denmark…
    I would like to hear your opinion about the Apple vs. openness conundrum…