Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs - a legacy of quality ...

Steve Jobs has died today at the age of 56 …

He leaves behind him a successful legacy, with Apple computers now the most lucritive IT company in the world, having ridden out the financial recession where other companies have stumbled.

But is the financial ledger at Apple his only legacy?

I first heard about Apple with a passion back in 2003.  Lots of people in my C&C project were getting Macs.  It was explained to me by one of our developers “you know how on Windows, you try and install software, need to put an update on, has to reboot, won't work, then the update fails and trashes your installation?  On a Mac it just works”.

That seems to be part of the Steve Jobs alchemy – in a world where we're used to software not working first time, where we know we're going to get some quirks until there are a few updates, Apple seemed capable of making products that seemed virtually faultless.  In fact, it would become big news if any issues were found.

Here are what I think are several traits which have made Apple unique,

  • They don't work to release deadlines.  They release a product when they're satisfied with it.  Only this week we had complaints that the iPhone 4 was 18 months old, and wasn't it time for a new one to be released?  Apple work to their own timetimes, releasing products when they're ready.
  • Diversity.  Or maybe lack of it.  Nokia makes many brands of phone, a new one each month.  Apple only make one phone – the one you want.
  • Simplicity.  Apple products are designed to be accessable by everyone.  Hence the uptake of their products includes people outside the normal “gadget freak” band.  So called “silver surfers” (older computer users) find Apple intuitive where Windows leaves them baffled.
  • Quality.  As my developer so rightly put it, Apple products “just seem to work”  [It looks easy, but incredibly difficult to achieve]

It's ironic but many companies are obviously trying to chip away at Apple's lead.  They are envious of it's strong position, and hungry to take some of the market, so

  • They rush out a product to be first to market.
  • They cram their product with as many features as possible, hoping to beat Apple on specification.

But it never works out for them, because in their gold rush to feature add, their product suffers in the quality realm, and word gets out it's a stinker.

We all want a piece of the Apple pie.  I sit now on meetings which talk endlessly about the important of “customer experience”, the Steve Jobs buzz-word.  But when marketing types are talking up the planned “customer experience” they're not trying hard enough to bake quality into their products.  That's not taking on Apple, that's setting yourself up to lose your customers to Apple.

Today Steve Jobs was described as a contemporary Leonardo da Vinci.  I don't think that's right – as his genius wasn't so much in technology as in business.  I described him at work at a modern Henry Ford of computing – who also made products only in black.

But tonight, I think weighing things up, he was perhaps a William Denning of the modern computer age, a champion of quality, although of course, quality with a price tag.


  1. I should add, this is ironic coming from me ... I don't own a single Apple device. Although for me the turn off is the way Apple charges what it can get away with over what their products are worth, and the awful way Apple products are seen as status symbols ...


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