Thursday, March 8, 2012

Only one shoe has dropped

Techcrunch has a smart post on how the new iPad announcement was only half the story; the other half will likely come during WWDC in June, when iOS 6 is unveiled.

There's a mistake that tech journalists continue to make with respect to Apple products: they compare them to their competitors on the basis of features. Whether it's screen resolution, the number of processors, the speed of those processors, how much RAM the device has, or whatever it is, they operate on the assumption that Apple's customers are looking for the product that has the best features. And so they triumphantly announce that competitors have equivalent or superior features, and predict that this foretells Apple's imminent downfall. It never happens that way, but the journalists don't learn the lesson.

The lesson is simple: Apple's formula is to combine hardware with software. Neither exists in isolation from the other; they are a seamless unit, and that seamless experience is the whole point of Apple's famous walled garden. Steve Jobs' philosophy was to achieve differentiation in the marketplace by doing the best job in the world of unifying the two, and under his guidance that's been Apple's approach to the market for most of its history.

This is the way forward for the industry as a whole. Obsessive focus on technical features is a characteristic of an industry in its infancy, when most customers are early adopters and hobbyists. As an industry matures, its products become relevant and attractive to a broader segment of users, and the demands of the market shift. There will always be an enthusiast tech market that obsesses about features, but increasingly the average tech consumer doesn't care about any of that, s/he just wants her stuff to work and to empower her to do something she couldn't do before. Apple is an industry behemoth today because they understood that fact far earlier than their competitors. Eventually other companies will learn the same lesson; the ones that don't will cease to exist.

Hardware matters, but hardware + software is exponentially more significant.