Apple - Evolutionary or just reinventing the wheel?

Apple - Evolutionary or just reinventing the wheel?

Summary: John Gruber posts a gushing piece on the genius of Apple's manufacturing and marketing strategy. It got me wondering as to how evolutionary Apple actually is, and if there's any other company in the consumer electronics sector that could take so long to bring basic features to a product and not get massacred by the competition.


John Gruber posts a gushing piece on the genius of Apple's manufacturing and marketing strategy. It got me wondering as to how evolutionary Apple actually is, and if there's any other company in the consumer electronics sector that could take so long to bring basic features to a product and not get massacred by the competition.

If there’s a formula to Apple’s success over the past 10 years, that’s it. Start with something simple and build it, grow it, improve it, steadily over time. Evolve it.

The iPhone exemplifies this strategy. There’s a long list of features many experts and pundits claimed the original 1.0 iPhone needed but lacked. Ends up it didn’t need any of them. Nice to have is not the same thing as necessary. But things the iPhone did have, which other phones lacked, truly were necessary in terms of providing the sort of great leap forward in the overall experience that Apple was shooting for.

The iPhone is considered by many to be the apotheosis of smartphones. However, users will still have to wait until the summer and the release of iPhone OS 3.0 before being able to do things that every other smartphone can do - simple everyday things such as cut/copy/paste and MMS support. Anyone who considers the late addition of such basic features evolutionary needs to get out more. Sure, OS 3.0 update will bring with it some features that are evolutionary, but it still leaves me puzzled as to how it could have taken Apple so long to come up with a way to support such basic features. It seems to me that all Apple is doing is taking their time over reinventing the wheel. Also, Apple's design strategy for some features (for example, the modal notification boxes) is so last millennium that it seems to me more like regression than evolution. But again, the masses are happy.

The point of my post here isn't to bash Apple for this. Instead it's to wonder if there are any other consumer electronics companies out there which could get away with releasing a product that was missing some basic features. My take is that Apple is in an unique and enviable position of having a user base that's cool enough to do without certain features for as long as it takes.

I'm pretty sure there are dozens of companies out there who wished they had the kind of freedom that Apple enjoys. Unfortunately (for those companies), Apple's relationship with it's customer base (or fan base) is unique.

Topics: Smartphones, Apple, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

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  • Modal Boxes

    You seem stuck on this concept.

    I don't own an iPhone, but I have actually taken some GUI design classes.

    The iPhone, as Apple has insisted rightly or wrongly from day one, is a task-at-a-time device.

    What is a modal message box? A task-at-a-time means to deliver a message to the user.

    It fits perfectly with Apple's concept of simplicity.

    Maybe what bothers you is actually that modal boxes remind you that in 2009 a device as computationally powerful as an iPhone *could* be more of a multi-tasking device.
  • The answer is yes

    Companies release products all the time without basic
    features. Not all cars have anti-lock brakes. Some would
    consider this a basic feature. Not all stereos have optical
    audio out. Some would consider this a basic feature.

    Your problem is, you think the iPhone started as a smart
    phone. It didn't. It started as a media phone and has been
    gradually evolving into a smart phone in response to
    market pressures.

    Apple's genius hasn't been inventing new features so much
    as it has been taking existing features and making their
    use intuitive.
    • Don't forget...

      ...that at the original unveiling of iPhone, Jobs compared it heavily to existing SMARTPHONES. He also introduced the original pricing structure in terms of the current smartphones of the time. He even showed off iPhone and the underlying OS in terms of 'desktop class' apps - this was to show how iPhone was superior to smartphones...

      So it [i]did[/i] start life as a smartphone. It was set up against them, compared to them, priced against them, all by Apple.
  • Yes, evolutionary, but not revolutionary.

    You've got to give Apple credit where credit is due, but I'm not one of those caught in the glow of Apple. There are a few reasons that Apple is in the position it's in. Firstly, Apple has always been the underdog when compared to companies like IBM and Microsoft, and we do like the underdog. Secondly, Steve Jobs has an eye for beauty and understand that it eminates from simplicity and elegance. Coincidentally those are the exact same things that we're all looking for.

    As a Windows Mobile user, I've got to admit that I'm envious of the iPhone. Even though I know that WM is a far more capable OS, it seems that it's stifled by the fact that all of those features aren't elegantly tied together.

    In the end we are vain beings, and Apple knows how to quench our vanity more than most. Why wouldn't I buy an Apple product? I will not buy anything from a company that tells me what I can and cannot do with it. Frankly, Apple's ridiculous control of their platform is perhaps the only reason keeping me away. Say what you will about Microsoft, but they're a far more open company and I value that more than anything else.
    General C#
    • But "THAT" control is what keeps it simple and elegant.

      The problem you see is you can NOT have it both ways. If you "OPEN" it
      up you open it up too chaos that would in effect destroy (what even you
      recognize) Apples greatest strength.

      However the first part of your post I could not agree with more.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
  • people want a good implementation, not a feature per se

    "if there are any other consumer electronics companies out there
    which could get away with releasing a product that was missing
    some basic features..."

    well adrian, the answer is simple (and if you would have read
    gruber's article carefully you woudn't ask): because they had a lot of
    features and foremost much better implematation of features that a
    lot of people found more important and useful than mms and copy
    and paste. how about the real internet and multitouch for a start.

    it will be a bleak time for cnet/zdnet coming july, when apple has
    the"must have" feature-list almost complete (oh wait you still have
    battery draining, forground app slowing multitasking available).

    the point is that apple understands that consumers are not so much
    interested in a feature-list but in the way a feature is implemented.
    somthing the pundits don't seem to understand.
    • Pretty much. [nt]

    • Exactly!

      When the iPhone first came out, the competition tried to counter with a
      checklist of features. The problem was that using all those extra features
      was such a pain that they went un-used, The iPhone didn't have that
      checklist of features, what it did have was a much easier way of
      accessing and using the features that it did provide. The result: people
      flocked to the iPhone.

      As the competition struggles to match the iPhones ease of use, the
      iPhone is adding a checklist of features.
    • Let's take MMS's as an example

      Spot on, elllroy.

      I believe the iPhone was slated for not having MMS capabilities when
      first launched.
      Let's look at it from a needs assessment point of view: an MMS is a
      vehicle for sending a photo, audioclip or videoclip and text to
      someone. Hence, it satisfies the need to send multimedia. 99% of
      MMS's I send are photo MMS's and I think this is true for the majority
      of people, although i could be wrong and I'm sure I will be flamed for
      the assumption whether it's wrong or right anyways.

      The iPhone DOES provide always-on functionality to send photos! It's
      easy: choose a photo, click the use menu and click "Email this photo"
      and add whatever text you would like to. Wham bam thank you
      • If the receiving phone has e-mail access...

        ...otherwise it's no good.
        Sleeper Service
        • If the receiving phone has MMS access...

          ....otherwise it's no good.

          Only VERY VERY bottom of the range phones do not have MMS capability,
          Internet (eg. gmail) and email capability in the current market.
          • Incorrect...

            ...most of Vadofone UK's PAYG range, for example, do not have e-mail clients.

            This was even more the case two years ago.
            Sleeper Service
        • Excessively poor analysis.

          But I would not expect much more. If the receiver does not do email,
          they can not be sent an email and can't be a receiver. In other words, the
          receiver of email ALWAYS does email. By definition. But since most email
          is not targeted toward a phone but a desktop the lack of MMS, while unfortunate, does not cripple the device as many WM worshiper here
    • yeah! - nt

  • To tell the truth

    "The point of my post here isn?t to bash Apple"

    Statements like this are contradictory given the context.

    iPhone bashers typically ignore a mountain of credible, positive, unique and significant values of the iPhone and instead focus on 1 or 2
    or 3 "missing" bullet points on a spec sheet and call it a complete
    failure regardless of the fact that these "missing" features are of little-
    to-no negative consequence to their users.

    "Email > MMS" for example.

    And when these "missing" features are added over time, pundits will
    hold the past "discrepancy" against Apple for all eternity.

    We will inevitably hear "Sure you have cut and paste now but you
    didn't last year, therefore Apple sucks forever and ever and ever no
    matter what else happens".

    In the year 2010 when the iphone releases interstellar teleportation
    apps, the haters will say "yeah but you didn't have cut and paste in 08'
    so you suck"!

    Human nature I guess. Also, sour grapes.

  • Some of Apple's products are revolutionary...

    ...some are not.

    Actually, change that to "Some of the features on Apple's products are revolutionary, some are not" and it's an even more accurate statement.

    But, yes, Apple's masterful marketing machine ensures that the things they do create or repackage are brought to our attention.
    Sleeper Service
  • removing an idea whose time has gone

    Most consumer electronic products are not designed to be
    mucked around with...why would you? You buy it, you use is good. For some reason the idea that we need to
    fiddle around with our computers is a necessary feature,
    even if we never do. Some go as far as to say it is a right.

    We can't seem to pull the PC from it's hobbyist beginnings.
    The PC is now a consumer electronic product whether the
    old school excepts it or not. Apple understands this more
    than anyone. When your TV doesn't do PIP do you rip it
    apart and upgrade it? No! live with it or buy a TV that
    does what we want. Why should a computer be any

    Apple is changing the way we look at computers and
    phones and is making really great technology right out of
    the box that anyone can have and use without mucking

    Innovation is just a better mousetrap.
  • You missed his point, Adrian

    As a phone, yes, Apple is reinventing the wheel. It's catching up to features Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, et. al. have had for years.

    But it's not a phone. To Apple, it never was.

    The iPhone is a handheld computing platform with a touchscreen interface, that just so happens to have GSM and EDGE or 3G for voice, SMS, and data capabilities. They're catching up on "phone" features because they've been building all the other things the *platform* is capable of.
    • You have just contradicted yourself

      If the iPhone is a handheld computing device, then there is absolutely no reason it should not have had cut and paste on it from the very begining.
      • Apple said iPhone OS is complex and they wanted to do it right.

        Looking at the complaints of the Blackberry Storm that features are
        buggy and rumors of high return rates maybe Apple is correct in being

        Apple's aim is to build a solid computing platform more advanced
        than any out there. Maybe cut and paste is harder on the iPhone than
        other platforms because of the complexity of the iPhone OS?

        Apple's strategy of platform building is succeeding, that's why it's got
        25,000 apps (some say now over 30,000) in the App Store after just
        10 months or so.

        That's more commercial apps (according to some reports like Ars
        Technica) than Win Mobile has accumulated after years and years.

        Beating win mobile the app leader means that Apple after less than 1
        year of the app store is now the mobile phone app leader.

        Win Mobile is also finicky and doesn't work well, this year both
        Samsung and Sony two of Microsofts largest customers dropped Win
        Mo from their flagship phones.

        I think this justifies Apples 'method' of cautious progress.