Apple’s Secret Asset – The User Community

I’m an avid user of technology in both my professional and personal life. Like most of you, I’ve experienced first hand the transformative impact of evolving technologies, not wrought simply by Apple, but by other hardware and software companies, too. That includes the explosion of offerings from the infotainment and social media sectors, spanning the impact gamut of beneficial, empowering or liberating to uninteresting, unhelpful, annoying or outright harmful and destructive.

That Apple has intersected, if not fundamentally interacted with each of these, is a testament not simply to its own transformative nature, but to its being a keystone species in this dynamic intersection between technology, industry, education, society and the cultures that define the company’s rules of engagement. This is a fast evolving ecosystem that is not simply a rich medium of innovation and change, but a veritable feedback system that, as each innovation is added, necessitates change in every other component of that system in near real-time.

In the span of a mere two decades, we have gone from the wonder of having a beige box on the desk that could both do and store a great deal of personal and professional good to porting orders of magnitude more of that power around in our pockets. We’ve seen ever-more accessible and convenient point-of-use applications, from stationary to wearable tech, from silos of productivity on our desks to dialup modems that transported us into a new frontier called the world-wide web, to now having realtime access and conversations, in text, voice and video, simultaneously with an infinite number people scattered across the planet.

All of this has swept aside many of yesterday’s most advanced visions of a future few of us ever expected to see, let alone live, work, play and thrive in. So fast has been this pace that few of us have even had time to appreciate its dizzying impact on our own equilibrium and just how breathtaking it has all been. And, it is still accelerating as novel technologies interact with each other in ways that not even the keenest minds of the most far-sighted visionaries could have predicted even that short span of two decades past.

In martial arts, there is the principle that action is better than reaction, or, as a sign read in one dojo, “He who hesitates, meditates in a horizontal position.” No one can see, understand and accurately synthesise all of the complex workings around us. Nonetheless as a species we can proactively identify important trends that are shaping our world, and anticipate how these affect us now and might come to affect us in even stranger ways in the future, and proactively adapt to those anticipated changes in ways that not only maintain our balance, but which we might be able to use to our advantage.

This universal principle was perhaps best captured by Louis Pasteur, who said, “Chance favors prepared mind.” The converse of that is simply to passively let things happen to us with no sense of anticipation or understanding; a recipe for fear and reactionary behaviour that are themselves adverse to adaptation, growth and benefit; in a word, survival.

Importantly, as Apple products have shown us time and again, the creative process is not simply the idea or product conceived by Apple, but how that product or service is used by the community, not only at its release but over time. The creative process is thus interactive and progressive. That essential contribution by the user community depends upon the user looking beyond the obvious to unanticipated and potential use cases, and perhaps even pushing the boundaries of the hardware, software and supportive services. While not necessarily unique, this has been the defining characteristic of the relationship between the company and the user community, giving birth to a customer loyalty unsurpassed in the industry. 

In coming articles we will explore both that company-community relationship, how and why it is essential to platform development, and the possibilities that dynamic might hold for current and future tech. 

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