Great design doesn’t differentiate Apple

Didn’t know what to write today, and then @nilanp came to save the day:

My answer to that is great design is everywhere. Lots of tech companies have great design. The problem is not everyone cares.

Take HTC. It has awesome hardware. Even its Sense skin is great – I actually prefer its look and feel to stock Android (Holo). Whatever your assessment of HTC’s design capabilities relative to Apple’s, certainly you’d agree that it’s at least superior to Samsung’s.

Yet, Samsung routinely kicks HTC’s butt in sales. Design wasn’t enough to profitably differentiate HTC.

Design is a big part of Apple’s success, but it’s not the biggest. To start with, not everything Apple is well designed. For example, for quite some time, iTunes and iCloud were (are?) terrible products. iOS 8 is arguably behind Android 5.0, yet the general perception remains that Apple’s software experience is superior.

Apple’s success owes more to brand than design — which it justifiably earned for having invented industry-defining, new product categories like the iPod, iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air. But innovation is not the same thing as good design; the former, you could argue, needed Steve Jobs. Apple has yet to prove it can invent the next great thing without him.

Good design leads to a better brand of course, but brand is a lot more than function – it’s about emotion, awareness, trust, advocacy. On those fronts Apple is without peer. People feel good owning Apple products, and proudly preach it to friends.

Yet, Apple’s greatest strength – why it’s the most valuable company in the world – is not its ability to get people to buy their products, which is great, but in its ability to extract profit out of revenue, which is unprecedented. I wrote a whole post dedicated to that subject, see here.

I’m not implying that Apple is ripping people off; the market is too efficient for that. Apple is just smarter than other companies in making what people want and not wasting resources on what they don’t. For example, Apple traded off a horrible display in the MacBook Air for best-in-class battery life. The market appreciates this trade off and Apple is handsomely rewarded because of it.

The other aspect to Apple’s ability to make money is its superior supply chain. Outsiders learn only to value what they can see and touch – design, and thus Steve Jobs and Jony Ive – but it is Tim Cook’s leadership on operations that make Apple one of the most valuable companies in the world.

I’m not saying Apple could have succeeded without good design, but it’s not what differentiates Apple.

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