Thursday, September 15, 2011

2011 Without Steve Jobs?

Can you imagine the world without the iPod? The iPhone? iPad? Pretty weird, huh?

Most people under the age of 30 probably won’t believe this, but... Apple did not invent the portable music player. That would have been Sony, in 1979, with something called the “walkman." Nor did Apple invent the laptop, the tablet, or the cell phone. In the last 10 years, under CEO Steve Jobs’ leadership, it only seemed as though it did.

Last month, Steve Jobs announced his resignation from Apple, leaving a legacy of breathtaking design innovation and juggernaut market dominance. Instead of invention, Apple focuses on transformation, impacting our expectations as much as, if not more than, our capabilities. Apple didn't invent those consumer products, it's true — what it did do was redefine them.

Believe it or not, it was only 10 years ago, in 2001, that Steve Jobs introduced the very first iPod. Which, with an LCD screen, a click wheel and a whopping 5Gb of storage, retailed for $399. (FYI, the current iPod Classic comes with a full color screen and 160Mb of storage — and retails for $249.) While Sony brought us a miniature version of our same music experience, Apple gave us an entirely new music experience.

The iPod was simple, slick and — with the iTunes 99¢/song music store — so easy, my grandmother could use it. As Steve Jobs put it, “design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but here are what a few analysts and reporters had to say about the device (from at the time:

“An analyst at NPD Intelect said that the iPod… may have trouble digging out a niche in the market.”

“An IDC analyst said Apple may take some heat for entering the consumer electronics market, which typically has lower profit margins than Apple gets from its computers… but… It's another incentive for them that can convince people to buy a Mac.”

Let’s see. Dig out a market niche? Check. Lower profit margins? Hmm… not so much; it’s estimated that Apple makes close to 60 percent profit on each iPhone. As for convincing people to buy a Mac? That may be so, but as of 2010, the iPod and iPhone accounted for twice as much of Apple’s revenues than the entire Mac product line.

And so the iRevolution began.

Author and consultant Simon Sinek, in his presentation at the TED conference, talks about what makes Apple stand out. Apple, he says, doesn’t tell you they make computers and music players and cell phone — all of which look cool and work great. No, what Apple tells you is this: “Everything we do – we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user-friendly. We just happen to make great computers (music players, cell phones). Wanna buy one?”

Apple may not be responsible for inventing the laptop, the tablet, or the cell phone, but Steve Jobs is responsible for changing our perspective and raising our expectations of how those things should work — for us.

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