“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense." -- Gertrude Stein
Technology and software services are developing faster than most people can absorb them. As a result, there's a human tendency to focus on tried and true products and take only minor excursions when they're sufficiently mature and useful. That's what Apple keeps in mind but the competition often cannot afford to do.
There's a mad rush going on right now. Millions of entrepreneurs driven by the pace of technology, web technologies, mobile apps, and even Kickstarter are scrambling for customer attention and dollars. My email inbox proves that even the small part of the tech universe that pays attention to me is bursting out of control with business enthusiasm that far exceeds the user community's ability absorb and exploit.
Of course, one can argue that not everyone is interested in everything and that there's always something of interest to someone. I counter that if a startup were ready to be satisfied to have only the small percentage of the market that would eventually show long-term interest, they'd never have started up in the first place. Irrational technical hope springs eternal with sufficient startup funds.
Worse, there's a tendency by many customers, seduced by developer promises or their own fantasies about something new to dabble with enthusiasm. Later they find, to their dismay, the product or service isn't as useful as they'd hoped. Phillip Swann at TV Predictions, who's in a position to know, summed it up nicely in a tweet recently.
Early statistics on a new product or service are not always a barometer of future events. People like to try new things and then dump them.
Often the grand vision of startups are dashed when they discover that they haven't developed something of enduring value. That's because the kickoff idea was to throw what seemed like a clever idea against the wall, see if it sticks, get some traction and use the income to develop the product and grow the company. We as customers end up paying the price when it flops.
In addition, there are limits to how fast even technically oriented customers can diagnose new technologies, assess their security, and effectively include them in a daily workflow. Every new service, especially free ones, have to be evaluated for their impacts on security and privacy, and the typical consumer, immersed in life, work and family, doesn't have much time to do that.
Apple takes a different approach. We've all heard about the mantra of Steve Jobs, his tendency to say "No" to proposed product features. We've always viewed that in terms of specific product simplicity, approachability, and reliability.
People like things they can get their heads around and which provide substantive value. In contrast, if you've ever looked at a 500 page manual in tiny type for a point-and-shoot camera from the 1990s, describing features never to be used, you've experienced failure to achieve that.
As a giant consumer electronics company, Apple has to do more than keep its products simple and intuitive. It also has to size up an emergent technology and decide how it's going to be integrated into our lives. While Apple is always aggressive about the adoption of advanced technology, it is also mindful how to use it for good purposes and in a way that augments us as humans rather than stresses us. It's a paradox and a nuance lost on some.
One example is USB 3. For a long time, Apple felt that Thunderbolt was the way to go and steadfastly ignored USB 3. Then, finally, it was apparent that USB 3, despite its limits, was a fast, cheap, friendly interface with a boatload of supported peripherals. To its credit, Apple caved and now has USB 3 on every Macintosh.
Another example is Bluetooth LE versus NFC. Apple engineers, as we know, spend a lot of time testing various technologies. For radio technologies, they measure range, bandwidth, power consumption and the overall impact on Apple's existing product line in order to decide if it can be leveraged. NFC did not appear to be a solution to any realistic consumer problem. Bluetooth LE and the iBeacon technology looks more favorable.
Because Apple shows some of that discipline, instilled in the corporate DNA by Steve Jobs, the company tends not to overwhelm us with raw technology at a pace we can't absorb. Instead, the technology is used, below the surface, to serve us in an aggressive, positive way. For example, if there's a better display technology at equivalent cost, it can be introduced quickly with direct benefit to the customer. However, if there's an emerging mobile payment system that's rough around the edges, it's better not to inflict that on customers too early for sake trying to be cool. Leave that to Google.
The result is that Apple's customers tend to wear blinders. They adopt the company's products and technologies that help them in a positive way at a reasonable pace. That they ignore other efforts is infuriating. For example, they appreciate not having to be technical wizards to set up home Wi-Fi or back up with Time Machine. That creates loyalty on one hand, but derision by others who have time on their hands to mess around with technology and become self-proclaimed anti-Apple experts.
The upshot is that if Apple were to inundate us with every cool, half-baked, new technical thing, it would lose a proper sense of what the company is all about.
Competitors use Apple's strategy against them. Competitors know that Apple makes conscious decisions about what their customers can absorb. As a result, it's often possible to point to Apple as being a laggard. The ads from competitors gladly point out that they have something new and cool that Apple doesn't. After all, when you're competing with a giant with hundreds of millions of happy customers, you have to use creative weaponry.
In addition, Apple's major competitors, just like the smaller startups, are apprehensive about Apple's ability to delight the customer, so they also throw things, lots of things, against the wall, hoping that one or two will stick, take off, and give them a giant (patent) edge against Apple. Samsung does this.
Some technical journalists fall for that and accuse Apple of not being innovative. For them, every new gadget, technology or feature on some competitor's tablet or smartphone is a sure sign that Apple has lost its edge and is doomed.
That's a good thing to keep in mind when some piece of emerging technology or service that Apple has failed to rush into production is used as evidence that Apple can no longer innovate and compete.