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Apple’s New Approach to Product Development

I’d like to offer up an observation, just an observation, about how I think Apple’s product roadmap and product development strategy has changed in the post-Steve Jobs Era.

Steve Jobs will go down as one of, if not the most, brilliant product creators in tech industry history. While not everything he created was a hit, he and his team, had the best track record of any product team in history. It is well known that Steve Jobs had a keen sense of blending technology with elegance, simplicity in user experience, and an overwhelming sense of understanding of how the average consumer could benefit most from technology.

Even in the post Jobs era, Apple still has these qualities at a cultural level. But the void Jobs left was the ultimate arbiter, influencer, and final decision maker of what got shipped in a product and what was left out. This is the element that has changed for Apple in the post Jobs era and one that has caused a subtle shift in how I think about Apple’s product roadmap.

To connect the dots for you in my thinking here I’d like to use the Apple Watch as an example of this new product development and roadmap strategy.

Apple Watch and Learn by Shipping

In the post-Steve Jobs era, I believe Apple has entered a learn by shipping strategy. Meaning creates a stable and usable Generation one product that delivers on a few use cases, then learn how the market reacts and adapts, and they continue to plan their roadmap with a much heavier emphasis on customer behavior and feedback than they ever have done before.

While the approach may not seem that different from how Apple launched products in the past given they listen to their customers, the difference is the markets influence over where products go instead of Steve Jobs’ direct influence as the primary arbiter.

What this learn by shipping strategy is what I think is leading to some of the early pushback and early criticism of Apple software both with apps, and platforms. Again looking at Apple Watch as the example, Apple released a solid piece of hardware and a focused set of use cases with the platform. However, in retrospect, I believe even Apple would say they would have done things different with where version 1.0 of the Apple Watch operating system, apps, etc. But hindsight is 20/20 in the learn by shipping philosophy wherein the Steve Jobs era the product may have launched as a version 1.0 closer to the 2.0 version we saw Apple release.

Becoming Fast Learners
The biggest change this causes Apple is they need to remain nimble. The biggest threat to the learn by shipping strategy is if you do not make the needed adjustments quick enough you open the door to your competition to learn from your experience faster than you did and in a sense get to market faster with a solution that is more aligned with what the market wants.

Apple showed us they are fast learners with how quickly the focused the Apple Watch around health and fitness. They also promptly modified the software to be more streamlined and function more in a way that was representative of user behavior of the Apple Watch. In this case, it took only one generation of product for Apple to do what Steve Jobs and team usually got right the first time.

Contrast this with the long-running industry joke that Microsoft always took three times, or longer, or never, to get something right. Apple proved to me with Apple Watch they could launch a brand new product category and learn quickly from the market and deliver a solution promptly that was in line with the market needs.

Now, this observation may primarily apply to brand new categories of products or experiences. So, for example, the learn by shipping strategy may apply to Apple’s augmented reality glasses solution for example.

Of course, the flip side of this argument is just that some technology is so early that consumers themselves don’t know what they want with it, so you have to simply put something solid out there and learn as they do. In reality, Steve Jobs and team may have used this strategy from the beginning.

Whichever the case, there is nothing wrong with this strategy with the only caveat being that the company employing the learn by shipping strategy can stay nimble and learn quickly and adapt even quicker. This is usually very hard for large companies, but Apple has shown that even as they grow, they can still move fast.

Let’s hope this trend continues.

Published by

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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