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Think like Steve - Think Different!

November 14, 2012

- Illustration by Bilal Brohi/Spider Magazine

‘Think Different’ was the advertising slogan created for Apple in 1997 by TBWA when Steve Jobs returned to the helm. Crafted closely in conjunction with Jobs, the slogan was said to reflect the corporate philosophy which would be the strategy for Apple’s renaissance. The slogan, it seems, was prophetic.

Fast forward 15 years; Apple is now the most valuable company in the world primarily because it followed that philosophy and had consecutive successes with iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPad, all products which were revolutionary in their implementation, even if their underlying technology was not conceptually pioneering.

Steve Jobs had a vision which led him to do things decidedly even if some of his decisions were not popular initially.

Apple was the first company to eschew the floppy drive, the optical disk drive, and more recently Adobe’s Flash technology on it’s mobile devices. The reasons were simple; beauty borne of a minimal aesthetic on the hardware side, and a better user experience on the software side.

From the iPod to removing optical drives in computers; in almost all of those instances, the competition has followed suit.

There have been dozens of pretenders which are no longer in existence ranging from Microsoft’s abandoned Zune music player to HP’s defunct Touchpad. Even Apple’s all-in-one design for the iMac has become mainstream now with HP and Vizio mimicking it in their latest desktop iterations.

Two of Apple’s most profitable revenue streams today are unquestionably the iPhone and the iPod. The late Steven P. Jobs personally played a large role in every aspect of their development. In 2007 Jobs unveiled the iPhone and it’s 3.5” screen, vividly illustrating how it’s optimal screen size made it perfect for single-handed operation.

Later in 2010 Jobs launched the iPad and touted it’s 9.7 inch display as being the right size for a tablet even famously calling 7 inch tablets “DOA” (dead-on-arrival). Those two products became runaway successes not giving anyone a reason to question those design decisions.

After Steve’s passing last year, Apple has stuck to it’s yearly refresh cycle for both those products. Even though the new versions have continued to break sales records, I find them troubling and indicative of a symbolic change in Apple’s corporate philosophy.

The iPhone 5 increased the screen size to 4 inches and the latest variant of the iPad, the iPad Mini, reduced the screen size to 7.9 inches. Yes, the number of square inches is 35% more in the iPad mini when compared to it’s 7 inch competitors, but it doesn’t matter; Holistically the decision is a reason to fret as i fear it might symbolize reaching a ceiling in innovation.

Apple, for the first time in 15 years it seems, is not thinking differently.

Both these moves are in response to what the competition is coming up with. What seems to be lost on the management is that the competition is changing parameters to try to differentiate their product offerings because they can’t compete with Apple in the same space.

Symbolically this signals a reversal of roles. Apple should forge ahead with it’s innovative DNA leaving other companies scrambling to catch up.

Companies tend to innovate via acquisition once they reach a certain size, want to diversify their product offerings, or become too cemented in their ways. Apple has been fairly adept in implementing the technology gained from it’s acquisitions in unique and useful ways.

The Lala acquisition became the backbone of iTunes Match. P.A Semi designed silicon now powers the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad. Siri, the virtual assistant in iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, made voice-based search on mobile phones mainstream. Samsung quickly copied and launched S Voice, and now Google has come into the picture with their own voice-based app.

Apple recently ditched Google Maps and launched their own in-house mapping service in the latest version of iOS. Even though the quality is not on par with Google’s offering, it was probably the right thing to do given all that has been happening between Apple and Google recently.

One constant criticism laid on iOS is that it hasn’t changed much since it’s introduction in 2007.

Scott Forstall, Apple’s senior vice-president of iPhone software has recently left the company amidst reported tensions. A veteran from the days of NeXt, his departure can potentially be viewed as another sign of trouble. The silver lining here is that one half of his responsibilities, as the Human Interface team, will now be under Jony Ive, Apple’s current SVP of Industrial Design.

The build quality of Apple’s devices is second to none. From material selection to the techniques deployed in sculpting the devices, the design team is unparalleled in the entire industry.

However, there is a limit to how thin and fast a product can be designed. Whether Ive can infuse some of his brilliance into the software components of iOS and whether their next acquisition will help differentiate their next product offering remains to be seen.

A company of Apple’s size, talent and position doesn’t come around every day. For innovation to stifle at such an entity would be ironic and a gross injustice to it’s potential, and DNA.

I hope time will prove me wrong.

Apple’s inspirational ‘Think Different’ commercial