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Andy Ihnatko deconstructs the Apple ethos after its annual conference
“If everyone is busy making everything, how can anyone perfect anything?
We start to confuse convenience with joy.
Abundance with choice.
Designing something requires focus.
The first thing we ask is “What do we want people to feel?”
Delight, surprise, love, connection.
Then we begin to craft around our intention.
It takes time…there are a thousand no’s for every yes.
We simplify. We perfect. We start over. Until every thing we touch enhances each life it touches.
Only then do we sign our work: ‘Designed by Apple in California.’”
These were the words with which Apple opened the keynote that kicked off their annual Worldwide Developers Conference on Monday. This statement is key to understanding the company in general and the direction of their products — as revealed over the two-hour presentation that followed. And they’re pretty enough to merit reproducing in full. You would want to support a company that believes such things. Which, of course, is precisely why Apple said them.
But could any other company make a statement like that without the audience (and the speaker) breaking out into giggles? Even if it were a company I generally respect, I would imagine that a really expensive image consultant screened “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” for the company’s directors and told them that they need to come up with some sort of statement about joy and focus and quality, because boy, that stuff will go over big.
When Apple says it? Yeah, you know they really do think this way. Apple doesn’t care about being the very first to ship a product or a feature. They’re about making a modification, and then taking nine steps back from their work and taking a look at how that change affects the thing as a whole, and then repeating that until they have a beautiful product. Or they decide that the market isn’t ready for a nasally-fitted music player just yet.
Which isn’t to say that all Apple products are necessarily unique, or the best in their class. But I respect the fact that Apple — backed by a customer base that says “we wholly approve of what you’re doing” through satisfaction surveys and consumer dollars — is broadly driven by what they believe in.
Their opening statement is also a roadmap to things that all observers need to understood about the Apple product line.
Apple doesn’t believe that a product needs a long list of features. Apple has a picture in their heads of how people are going to interact with and respond to this thing; the product only needs to have those features that complete the canvas.
And it’s okay if they’re not the first ones to release a product, service, or feature. Let their next door neighbor be the first family on the street with a pool. Apple will only put a pool in after they’ve considered how that pool will be used, imagined how it will best harmonize with the rest of the property and enhance the family’s appreciation of the swingset and the grill, and set up proper landscaping and plumbing to ensure that it runs trouble-free and make it look as though it was a natural feature of the property.
(Meanwhile, while Apple continues to probe and plan and reflect on the meaning of chlorine, Apple’s kids spend eleven heatwaves over the next three years cooling off and playing in the neighbor’s less-than-elegant but still perfectly-good swimming pool. So it’s not like this is a perfect attitude. Sometimes, it’s better to have a Toyota sedan today than a BMW M5 seven years from now.)
The point is that many of today’s announcements of new Apple products and technologies are things we’ve seen before on other platforms, or are developments that seem long-overdue. But it doesn’t matter. If we (a) were avid fans of horse racing or (b) had free access to Wikipedia, we might look at the news from San Francisco today and think “How sad that jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr. is still driving Sham towards the finish line while Secretariat is nibbling his way through the remainders of the flowers in the Winner’s Circle.”
That kind of complaint is utterly misplaced. Re-read Apple’s mission statement for your first clue. For your second, repeat after me:
It isn’t a race.
The competition isn’t between iOS and Android, or Apple and Lenovo, or iTunes and Spotify. It’s between each tech company and the overall forces of the market. A company wins by being profitable, and the only prize is the right to keep doing what they do for another few quarters, at least.
As such, there’s room for plenty of “winners.” When commentators suggest that Apple has “fallen behind” or, even sillier, “lost the ability to innovate,” well, that’s a clumsy observation. And when Apple spends part of their keynote trotting out charts and figures about the Mac outselling other brands of laptop and desktop, and oddly-empty figures about Android usage trends, it seems like a needless distraction, at best.
I’m not calling “Shenanigans,” mind you. I’m just wishing that Apple wouldn’t use those kinds of statistics. That kind of statistic, while true, demands a “yes, but…” followup. More than anything, I don’t know what it achieves. I was a Mac user back when Apple was doomed. I even own a tee shirt certifying that fact. I didn’t care that certain numbers “proved” that Windows was a better operating system. I used the Mac because it was the best fit for the way I use a computer.
So it has no effect on me, and probably won’t have much effect on someone who’s happy with their Windows notebook. And analysts are more impressed with the fact that Apple could turn the middle of their new donut-shaped campus facility into a money pool with all of their cash on hand.
The overall point is that between Apple, Microsoft, Google, and another major player there is no winning or losing: only “forward” and “standing still.”
Apple revealed new editions of their desktop and mobile operating systems, new Mac hardware, and improvements to their cloud and movement services that indicate that 2013 represents a serious leap forward indeed.
There was so much news of such great importance, in fact, that I’m doing the humane thing for my readers and my editors and breaking my comments up into shorter chunks.
(Oh, there’s also an upside for me: by moving to a different public WiFi for every section today, I get to justify the consumption of a series of burritos, bagels, and national-brand carbonated beverages.)
Above: Apple’s Craig Federighi, Vice President of Software Engineering, introduces iOS7. Photo by Kim White/Getty.