Archives for: May 2012

The Genius behind Steve Jobs’ ability to Innovate

Why was Steve Jobs such a Good Innovator?

Image courtesy of aaipodpics via Creative Commons

Like I said in my last post, I am not a fan of Apple products. I have a Windows Phone, I love my Zune, and a month after I joined Rackspace I retuned my MacBook Pro to the IT department to get a Dell Windows 7 laptop. I have worked with Apple products for many years, I sold many Macs when I was in the digital imaging business in the early 90s and here are iPods, an iPhone and an iPad in our household.

Yet, as a marketer and a business man it would be foolish not to recognize the unique ability in Steve Jobs to transform industries:  personal computers, music, cell phones, animated movies and publishing. Steve also had his share of failures : The Apple Lisa, hiring John Sculley, NeXT, Apple TV (so far), Ping FM, and others.

You have probable read a dozen ‘Leadership lessons from Steve Jobs’ articles, but I have a slightly different perspective that I want to share. These are the three reasons Steve had an incredible ability innovate, according to the Adaptive Marketer:

1.  Steve clearly understood customer needs

Apple is famous for not doing traditional customer research . A few days ago Guy Kawasaki came to Rackspace and told a group of us at Rackspace “the day you see Apple doing a focus group is the day you must short your stock”. It is easy to come to the conclusion that Steve ignored customers creating customers on his own.

It is true Apple does not do customer focus groups, there is no feedback section on the website and after 5 years there is only one iPhone form factor despite customers who have asked for a physical keyboard, larger screens or a smaller, lower-cost version.

But there is a difference between not accepting direct customer feedback and not understanding customer needs. Steve was frustrated with the user experience in the first iTunes-enabled phone, the ROKR. Steve understood customer’s frustration with smart phones in general. He understood customer needs, and used his technology and user experience genius to create products that served those needs.

In fact, Steve Jobs’ first press quote, published in the July 1976 issue of Interface magazine read “If we can rap about their needs, feelings and motivations, we can respond appropriately by giving them what they want.” referring to his customers for the Apple I, hobbyists.

2. He understood it success is not a result of having the best technology, but in offering the best user experience.  

This ability is especially important in the technology industry where most product managers, marketers and executives are fixated on the virtues of the latest technologies that we often miss or misunderstand customer needs. Steve was a geek at heart, but he also deeply understood the importance of customer experience.

Probably as important, he understood the power of simplicity. If you look at his product launch keynotes (and if you are a marketer you must), the message was concrete and simple to understand.

In 2005 when he launched the iPhone, he did not have slides with a hundred features, technologies and capabilities. Instead, the iPhone was presented as a phone, a music player and a browser: three concepts that everyone understood. He did not talk about how many megapixels in the camera, how many megahertz in the processor, or the details behind multi touch technology. It was simply a phone, a music player and a browser.

In terms of technology, there was nothing revolutionary in the iPhone. The Windows Mobile phones available in 2005 could do everything an iPhone could do. But Windows Mobile was not simple. The best technology does not always win. Otherwise we would all be using Amiga computers.

3.  Steve was relentless in making his dreams a reality.

In a previous post, I summarized Marcus Buckingham’s perspective on leadership: Great leaders are restless for change, impatient for progress and deeply dissatisfied with the status quo. The possibility of a better future burns them and propels them. Great leaders see the future so vividly they have no choice but to do everything in their power to make this future real.

Steve really was an example of this.  When the iPhone was announced, there was no market for $599 phones. There were only a handful of phones that were so expensive. If you worked at Motorola, for example, and proposed launching a $599 phone, the response would be that market research showed there were not enough buyers willing to pay so much for a phone, especially a phone that did nothing new. 

Apple iPhone will fail….The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, the iPhone is less relevant.said Mathew Lynn, from Blomberg in2007

Yet, Steve said Apple would sell 10 million phones in the first 18 months. And he did.

There was no market for iPads, either. Tablets had been available for years. Microsoft issued me a Toshiba tablet when I joined in 2004, which was interesting but I used mostly as a normal PC. When the iPad was launched people were confused about the use case. Why would anyone need one? Seemed like a cool toy for people with a couple hundred bucks laying around.

As my friend John Smolucha points out in a recent blog post“Even more impressive, nearly 75% of Apple’s revenues come from just two products: the iPhone (53%) and the iPad (20%). The first iPhones began shipping in June 2007 and the iPad only became available a year ago, on April 3, 2010. I don’t know about you, but I’m not aware of any other company that generates nearly 75% of its revenue from products that didn’t exist five years ago, while doing it during a global economic downturn.”

Steve believed in his dreams beyond what rationality, beyond market research, beyond corporate practices and policies. He had a vision and worked tirelessly to make it a reality. Yes, he was a micromanager, but only because he was a perfectionist and did not accept any deviations from his dreams.

If you want to learn more about Steve, I recommend the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.

Why was Steve Jobs such a Good Innovator? Like I said in my last post, I am not a fan of Apple products. I have a Window...

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The Unknown Story Behind the iPhone

Today most people would regard Steve Jobs as the inventor of the iPhone. I want to share the story of the iPhone that I believe is true, even though I don’t have any proof. It is based on storied I heard and observations. None of this is confidential information I gained while I worked at Motorola in 2004.

How Motorola invented the iPhone

Back in 2004 the RAZR was the best selling phone in history. Apple was starting to dominate the music industry with the iPod and was getting ready to launch the iPod nano. Apple was happy, things were looking good.

Motorola had a team in Libertyville working on customer trends, lifestyle, and technology trends. At the time, a few Motorola phones had music capabilities, and the company saw an opportunity to converge the iPod and the RAZR.

The story is that Ed Zander, Motorola’s president at the time, had a meeting with Steve Jobs to share this idea. Apparently, Steve was not very interested in the idea. Then Ed said something that changed Steve’s point of view (and probably the world):  

“When you leave the house, you always bring the three things: keys, wallet and your cell phone. That’s it. Your iPod is not in this list.”

At that point, Steve understood Motorola’s idea and agreed to build a product.  The Motorola ROKR E1 was launched on September 7th, 2005. It was the first phone to work with Apple’s iTunes, a truly revolutionary concept. Yet it was fatally flawed.

There were a few key problems with the ROKR: it could only store 100 downloaded songs at any given time, probably a limitation imposed by Apple to avoid direct competition with the iPod. There was no USB interface, which made the process of getting music into the phone incredibly slow. Apple did not seem to be particularly excited about the ROKR, Ed Zander complained to Apple about lack of support and undercutting it with the Nano.

However, the biggest flaw was usability. Like most cell phones in 2005, the user interface was not intuitive. Here is where you can see the genius of Steve Jobs at work: Steve understood without great user experience the idea of a music phone was going to fail.

Most likely, Steve became frustrated about the lack of UX focus at Motorola, and thought he would execute on the same idea on how own. Development on the iPhone started that same year, in 2005. . It was a monumental task. Building a cell phone operating system from scratch is not an easy task, even for Apple. The iPhone shipped June 2007. The rest, is history.

The iPhone was not perfect when it launched. At the time, it was a closed system that did not allow any third party apps. Apple asked developers who wanted to innovate to basically create a browser app optimized for the Safari mobile browser. After a few months, Steve saw the opportunity in an ecosystem and opened the iPhone to 3rd party apps. Today, the breadth of iPhone apps is one of the strongest selling points, and the focus of the “There is an App for that” ads.

Before Apple fanatics show outside my home with pitch forks and torches, I am not trying to take credit away from Steve. People who know me know I am not a fan of Apple products (I love my Windows Phone and yes, I have a Zune and it is great), but it would be foolish not to recognize Steve as an incredible innovator.

My next post, in fact, covers the three reasons why Steve was a genius at innovating, from the perspective of the Adaptive Marketer. read it here http://theadaptivemarketer.com/2012/05/20/the-genius-behind-steve-jobs-ability-to-innovate/

Today most people would regard Steve Jobs as the inventor of the iPhone. I want to share the story of the iPhone that I...

Read More »