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Putting Apple Product Development into Perspective

Rick Tetzeli, co-author of Becoming Steve Jobs, interviewed Tim Cook, Eddy Cue, and Craig Federighi for an article about Apple’s approach to product development that was published by Fast Company yesterday. Tetzeli does an excellent job exploring critics’ ‘Apple is doomed’ refrain, putting it into historical context, and exploring what Apple’s long-term approach to product development might mean for the company’s future.

Apple often seems to be criticized for simultaneously doing too much and too little. The ‘Apple is doing too much’ criticism typically points to recent product misses as evidence that Apple has lost its focus under Tim Cook’s leadership and needs to return to its core products. But as Tetzeli points out, product failures at Apple are not a new phenomenon:

Indeed, the iPod, iPhone, and iPad—and the financial success they engendered—obscured the fact that Jobs oversaw almost as many flops as hits during Apple’s resurgence: the circular, nearly unusable mouse that came with the first iMac in 1997; 2001’s beautiful PowerMac G4 “Cube,” which was discontinued after one year; Rokr, a music phone Apple released with Motorola in 2005; the iTunes social recommendation network Ping, and many more.

The complaint that ’Apple is doing too little’ seems to come from fear that Apple is missing out on technologies announced by companies like, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. But as Tim Cook explains:

“What tends to happen with Apple, not just today but in the 18 years I’ve been here,… is that invariably some people compare what we’re doing now to a vision or a product that somebody says they will create in the future.”

Apple’s approach is different. It doesn’t announce technologies; it announces products. As Tim Cook puts it:

“People like things they can do now, not just think about…. I’ve been thinking about The Jetsons since I was a kid. But occasionally you want The Jetsons to come to reality. That’s what Apple is so great at: Productizing things and bringing them to you, so you can be a part of it.”

Tetzeli concludes by looking at what the future may hold for Apple. Acknowledging that the iPhone may have been a once-in-a-lifetime product, Tetzeli makes the case that there are other large markets for Apple to conquer with this closing remark from Tim Cook about the health care industry:

“When you look at most of the solutions, whether it’s devices, or things coming up out of Big Pharma, first and foremost, they are done to get the reimbursement [from an insurance provider]. Not thinking about what helps the patient. So if you don’t care about reimbursement, which we have the privilege of doing, that may even make the smartphone market look small.”

Tim Cook’s perspective on health care is classic Apple. The company developed the Mac by building computers for people, not corporate IT departments. It’s not hard to see how Apple’s approach to PCs could play out similarly in the health care industry if it builds products that are patient-focused.