Why Apple needs to ‘think different’

Maintaining the appearance of constant innovation is not an easy task, and regularly changing the way we interact with the digital world is even harder.

Over the years, Apple has released category changing computers, electronic devices and adverts. It has rallied against ‘big brother’ and conformity…

…and encouraged the world to ‘think different’.

Apple has changed the way we buy and listen to music and turned our phones into personal computers.

Yet, on the eve of the launch of the next-gen iPhone 5, investors and industry commentators are worried the company has lost its mojo and its ability to innovate.

While competitors such as Samsung and HTC are undoubtedly challenging for the smartphone crown (some would argue Samsung and Google’s Android OS have already taken it), I think Apple’s problem is perhaps less about the actual product and more one of message. 

Apple have rarely gone for the technology crown, instead they have tried to create the best customer experience and inspire loyalty by creating ecosystems that are too pleasant to want to stray out of.

Personally, I fought for ages to avoid Apple – I shunned the first iPod for a Creative Zen mp3 player (better sound quality, larger HDD, less user friendly). I rallied against the iPhone, preferring to stick to Sony Ericsson mp3 player phones….

And then I entered that walled garden and bought an iPhone 4. Since then I’ve bought an iPod classic, an iPad, an Apple TV and have a MacBook Air as a work laptop. Does this make me an Apple fanboy? perhaps, but I also still love building high-end gaming PCs running Windows (7)…

So what is Apple’s problem? I don’t think it is the technology. I think it comes down to the fact that Apple have lost their position as underdog. In the video below, Simon Sinek discusses his theory of the ‘Golden Circles’ and uses Apple as a great example.

I believe that Apple’s problem stems from their success.  They want to inspire people to ‘think different’, to ‘challenge the status quo‘.

Yet how can buying a product from the world’s largest listed computer company achieve either of these things?

With iPhones, iPods and iPads  everywhere, to ‘think different’ you now need to be wearing Google Glass or use a device that is not the norm.

This makes me believe that Apple’s problem isn’t an innovation problem – its that the company has outgrown its ‘why?’

If there is a moral to this story, then I believe it to be one of messaging. Beware positioning your company as the underdog, as an agent of the counter culture. Because if/when your company becomes successful, your ‘why?’ will no longer resonate authentically.

  1. Interesting piece, and I agree with you up to a point. But I think all that underdog stuff would be forgotten in a heartbeat if Apple came out with another product as market-defining as the iPod or iPad.

    The bigger problem, I think, is that Apple is paralysed by the outsized legacy of Steve Jobs. They know that if their next product isn't as game-changing as, say, iTunes, accusations that Apple is now "just another company" will become deafening.

    Unfortunately for Apple and Tim Cook, that is an impossibly high standard for any company to maintain.

  2. Hi Niels, thanks for your comment. I agree that if Apple creates yet another category changing product its woes will be forgotten – but then it will once again be asking people to 'think different'.

    My premise is that 'think different' referred to both the different take on the product and the fact that Apple was an upstart, challenging the status quo first of the IBM PC, then the Microsoft OS and then the way we purchase, listen to and experience music.

    That legacy remains, yet Apple now has a market cap larger than either of IBM or Microsoft, and without new products that change the way we interact with the digital world they will be the status quo not challenging it.

    I believe that even with a best in class product Apple will still fall short of its core 'why'…

    The challenge of both defining new categories and overcoming the legacy of Steve Jobs is one that I would not want to face, but I fear that the reason for discontent is that the 'why' that attracted so many people to the Apple banner, is now not the 'why' that it lives by…

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