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Random ramblings of a tech enthusiast

What Apple Does Exceptionally Well At

I’ve been a critic of Apple’s policies and practices at times but I want to take some time and write about what I think Apple does well, because there are a lot of those things. Chief among them are getting people excited about technology through marketing and the ease of use compared to other computing devices.

Please feel free to add your comments about anything I may have missed in this post.

System Integration

If you want to buy products from a single company that will integrate with one another, choose Apple. Apple makes products that just work, at least work with other Apple devices. Want to stream content from your iPhone to your Apple TV? Done, easy! Music management to your iDevice? Done, easy to use without confusing file browsers.

iTunes can sync to your iPod or iPhone and back it up. This can be done over the cloud after iOS 5 is released. AirPlay is a service Apple created that works to stream content to other Apple products and does a better job at it than DLNA does. These technologies are in no ways an easy thing to pull off with such good integration and I think that has to be part of the reason they only release them for their own products. They control the experience and make the tight integration possible.

Industry influence not seen before

Apple as a company has incredible influence over other industry players. This includes the music industry, the wireless carriers, and hardware manufacturers.

Music Industry

Apple presented the music industry a way to capitalize on the digital music craze of the early 2000’s. The music industry welcomed this change from the common practice of illegal file sharing which began with Napster. The music industry was losing a lot of money because people stopped buying their $20 CDs, so when Apple came in and started selling digital copies of music singles the industry did not have a lot of choice. This also gave the common people a lower cost alternative to acquiring music than those expensive CDs, and an avenue away from the RIAA lawsuits for illegal file sharing.

The music industry may not be completely happy that Apple has such a large market share in digital music, but the connections to that industry provide Apple advantages in other ventures. The fact that Apple secured the cloud music licensing when Google and Amazon could not shows that advantage. Google and Amazon are very large companies with plenty of money to through around, but Apple is the one to secure the deals first. Google and Amazon have cloud music storage based on uploading instead of scanning music and storing a single copy for multiple users. This will provide a major advantage in reducing server space and network usage on the server side of these technologies.

Wireless Carriers

The American wireless carriers are notorious for controlling the devices that work on their network. Prior to the iPhone, carriers would add their software offerings on devices such as Verizon’s VCast as well as have handset manufacturers adjust designs to the carrier’s likings. When Apple was looking for a carrier to put the iPhone on, they wanted complete control of their handset. There was no AT&T logo, there was no added bloat-ware on the phone, and it was originally sold only through Apple stores. This shift of control was reported to be the reason Verizon declined having the iPhone originally.

I applaud Apple for their success here. It’s still a place where Google Anroid gives up control to manufacturers and carriers. If you have bought an Android phone with all those fun apps that you cannot remove, such as CityID, purchased an Android phone with Bing as the search engine, or seen the carrier logo on the handset then you know what I mean.

If Apple were to release an unlocked iPhone 5 that supports CDMA for Verizon and Sprint as well as GSM for AT&T and T-Mobile in one device, it will be a monumental achievement for wireless handsets. Purchasing an unlocked phone off contract will provide you a phone you can take with you to any carrier without being locked into a contract or having to buy a new phone when you do switch. This has been a dream of many for years. Even with the current system, an off-contract phone will not allow you to easily transfer to another carrier because of communications limitations. It is something that most of the rest of the world is a bit more familiar with.

Product Usability

Apple has stated that it wants to hide the technical and confusing details of computing from the user. This is great for usability to common users. I studied designing computers in college and some of the stuff is still confusing to me. This is where Apple is hands down better than other developers of operating systems.

Conventional PCs running Windows have increased functionality and utility over a Mac device, but at the cost of complicated menus and command lines to access the options. Mac OSX is much easier to use. Uninstalling a program is simple and does not involve removing files after uninstall. Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad) are simplified as well. Compared to Windows Mobile (prior to Windows Phone 7) and Android phones, Apple far outpaces them on ease of use by simplifying options and even hiding the file systems from the user. This is not good for power users, but I think there are millions of iOS users that are okay with not seeing the file system.

The animations and overall design of Mac OSX and iOS made Microsoft and Google aware of the need to simplify designs for users and make them more eye-pleasing. Windows Vista and subsequently Windows 7 were vast improvements to how Windows looked and felt. These were probably improvements focused on because of the increased popularity in Mac products. Google is also heading improvements to its Android OS to compete with other mobile operating systems. Android is still a power user’s interface and not simple to navigate, and thus Google hired an ex-Palm user experience expert, Matias Duarte.

Marketing

There is nothing else like it. Honestly, Apple has one of the best marketing strategies in the entire world. If you study marketing in college, you will probably study something about Apple. The choice in words they use is remarkable as well as the fact that everyone presenting at their grand product releases stick to the company line and use terminology to extract emotion from everyone watching.

Commercials are designed to make viewers happy and excited. They use light colors for the feeling of “good” as well as the music selection being upbeat. They are usually simple, with iPhone and iPad commercials showing someone’s fingers touching and navigating the screens. Simple, clear, and concise. If you are in a bar with loud music and see an Apple commercial, you can still get the point that navigating on your iPhone you can get the latest app out. It is also no coincidence that the very successful Mac vs PC television spots showed two characters in a white background with the Mac being hip and the PC being old with glasses. They also used humor very well to reach audiences.

Apple has tremendous brand recognition in the market. I previously mentioned something about an iDevice in this post. There is no coincidence that Apple names most of their products using the “i” before it: iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iCloud. These “i” originally meant that the devices were Internet devices, but now they mostly serve as brand recognition.

The closest naming scheme I have seen in the mobile industry is the Verizon branding of Droid. They have branded high-end devices as Droid so as to allow people an easy way to categorize their phones. Apple has a much better brand recognition because the user experience across the different iDevices is more consistent than on Droid phones. A Droid Incredible 2, a Droid 2, and a Droid Charge have completely different user interfaces let alone from factors.

Final Thoughts

For as much as I disagree with some of Apple’s policies, I do realize that their products are top notch in usability and the company can be innovative in both consumer electronics and software as well as marketing and business deals. I am a big fan of their push in separating mobile handsets from carriers as it provides a cleaner user experience to me. I do not think Apple will be going anywhere with these strengths.

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One response to “What Apple Does Exceptionally Well At

  1. Anonymous June 20, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Nice article Dan. I almost can't believe that you wrote it. Your point about apple not letting the phone companies control the iPhone is pretty interesting. I've never thought about it that way. And I completely believe that Verizon would have an issue with that. Verizon loves to have control of the contact on its phones. I've even seen phones that have features that were locked by verizon.

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