Apple’s latest update to their operating system is a great lesson to product managers. It’s a great mix of evolutionary updates, reaction to users and a vision on what their product should do.
There are many debates in the world of strategy concerning the extent to which companies should listen to customers. Steve Jobs famously does no market research, and other companies famously base all their product evolution on customer feedback. The guru of innovation strategy, Clayton Christensen, suggests that companies who listen to their customers will end up losing their business due to disruption.
Henry Ford famously said that if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have asked for a bigger horse.
On that note, what’s really fantastic about iOS4 is that it addresses: vision, customer feedback, improvements and execution.
Look at features such as the new iMovie application. There was no clamour for this, but Apple had looked at how it felt people should be using their iPhone and felt that this was a great way they could improve the content. If you look at the new iPhone 4 as a whole, the construction is completely visionary, with its external antennas and glass construction, it’s way ahead of what anyone was asking for. That’s true vision.
Customers have been asking for multi-tasking for a long time, and Apple have delivered it. Customers asked for the ability to attach a physical keyboard, and Apple have delivered. Customers asked for a way to have a wallpaper on the home screen, Apple has delivered. And the list goes on. So Apple does listen to customer feedback and will deliver requested features, but…
… only if they feel the features will enhance the product in their vision of how it can perform, and if they feel they can execute on that. So take the example of mult-tasking. Apple only released it when it was an appropriate moment on their roadmap and when they had a solid enough solution.
Apple has brought an incredible number of improvements to iOS4, a lot of which were not asked for, but have made the platform even better and have put more clear blue water between it and its nearest competitor, Android. A great example are the improvements to boost the OS’ speed. iOS4 is much faster than iPhone OS3.
Although platform improvements don’t always clearly lead to direct benefits, they can lead to an overall better product or be a foundation for building a better product down the line.
Apple only release new features that they feel they can execute well on. Multi-tasking, copy & paste and now video-calling with Face-time. They could have put flash on the platform to please the pundits but didn’t, because they felt that with Adobe they couldn’t execute on a runtime with acceptable performance.
To summarize, the learnings are clear here. To be the best on your market, you need to have a vision. You need to show your customers that you understand the market and have a vision to provide the best solution. In addition to that, you need to listen to customers and prospects to include features they need, so long as they are aligned to your vision. Thirdly, include some platform improvements. Fourthly, execute your ideas well – consider avoiding those things that you are not yet capable of providing correctly.