iPod Father Tony Fadell Offers Up Secret to Apple Designs

The difference between designing at a company like Apple and a company like Philips is that Apple ships most of its products whereas Philips ships few of them. According to the father of the iPod, Tony Fadell, this has the result of designers giving more of themselves at Apple than they might anywhere else.

Former Apple Executive Tony Fadell

Former Apple Executive Tony Fadell

Mr. Fadell made the comments at Bloomberg Businessweek Design 2013, which GigaOM attended. Mr. Fadell worked at Philips before joining Apple where he went on to shepherd the iPod into a shipping product. He left Apple in March of 2010 and today is CEO of Nest Inc. Nest released the Learning Thermostat in 2011, a device that Apple sells in its Apple Stores.

With that backdrop, Mr. Fadell has a solid reputation as a tech innovator, and at the Bloomberg conference he was asked about the differences between designing at Apple and designing elsewhere. In answer, he described companies like Philips that are financially driven as places where frequent management turnover results in the cancellation of most of the products that are in development.

“Nine times out of ten," he said, "or 99 times out of 100, they would kill the project, either at the beginning, the middle or right before the product was supposed to be shipped.”

Contrast that to Apple. According to Mr. Fadell, Apple ships 99 percent of the products that reach a certain milestone. Because of that, he argued, everyone involved with those products put forth more effort into making them be as good as they can.

“When you’re in a culture that has a point of view, and drives to launch everything it does, you know you’re on the hook and you better bring your best game every time,” Mr. Fadell said.

Note, however, that there is a vast difference between shipping 99 percent of the products in development and shipping 99 percent of products that reach "a certain milestone." The late Steve Jobs and current Apple CEO Tim Cook have both spoken about being as proud of the products they said no to as those that end up seeing the light of day.

Note, for instance, that if you add up every single device that Apple sells—every Mac model, every iPad model, its AirPort base stations, Time Capsules, iPhones, iPods, etc.—it's still less than the total number of smartphones that a company like Samsung makes.

That doesn't even count the tablets, computers, TVs, washing machines, refrigerators, microwaves, printers, monitors, cameras, "Chrome devices," Blu-ray players, and home entertainment speakers and components.

Oh, and camcorders, SD cards, processors for other companies, RAM, Flash memory, vacuums, LES lighting, washers and dryers, and various and sundry accessories.

A company like Philips also has untold numbers of products. There's home entertainment products, lighting, grooming tools, breast feeding products, "app-enabled accessories," PC accessories, and much more.

If Philips cancels 90-99 percent of the products in development, the numbers boggle the mind. In that context, Mr. Fadell's outlook makes a ton of sense.