Part 2: Where Should Apple’s Innovation Be Focused?

on May 30, 2016


This is part 2 of 7 in a series of articles that explores Innovation at Apple.

1. Who is Apple innovating for?
2. Where should Apple’s innovation be focused?
3. How does Apple innovate?
4. When should Apple introduce its innovations?
5. What does innovation inside of Apple look like to someone outside of Apple?
6. Why does Apple do what it does?
7. Why not be Apple?


Where should Apple’s innovation be focused?


Critics seem to think that Apple needs to do more, to try more, to risk more, to say ‘yes’ to more, to fail more, to take more ‘moon shots.’…

The history of success is one of great leaps of faith, big risks. … And we haven’t seen any risk from Apple in a long time. ~ Bob Lefsetz, Apple’s Numbers, 2016/04/27

I will offer a suggestion. To thrive in the next era of tech, Apple needs to take a series of bigger, bolder risks. … It should be more nimble and slightly more public with its experiments, and push more of them out sooner. When it releases stuff, it should move faster to fix and improve what is wrong. Above all, it should take more risks; it should say yes more often. … What it doesn’t have quite yet is enough of an appetite for the speed and risks that come with creating and maintaining new services. ~ Farhad Manjoo, Apple, Set to Move to Its Spaceship, Should Try More Moonshots, May 4, 2016

…but that’s not how Apple rolls.


First, no company is good at everything. If you’re good at everything, you’re good for nothing.

The abilities of man must fall short on one side or other, like too scanty a blanket. ~ Sir William Temple

Demanding a company do everything well is asking them to be the best at nothing. ~ Ben Thompson (@benthompson) 9/7/14

A company does best that which it does most.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. ~ Aristotle

Apple — and every other company — should focus on doing those things that they do best and — just as importantly — those things that others do poorly or not at all.

If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete. ~ Jack Welch

Never do things others can do and will do if there are things others cannot do or will not do. ~ Dawson Trottman

What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. … Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself — and thus make yourself indispensable. ~ André Gide


Second, what Apple is famous for — and what Apple is infamous for — is focusing on just a handful of projects.

Focusing is powerful. A start-up’s focus is very clear. Focus is not saying yes. It is saying no to really great ideas. ~ Steve Jobs

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things. ~ Steve Jobs, WWDC 1997

What did I learn from (Steve Jobs)? We could be here all night, probably all week, maybe even a month. I learned focus is key, not just in running a company but in your personal life as well. That you should do only a certain number of things great, and you should cast aside the rest. ~ Tim Cook

We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. ~ Tim Cook, Acting Apple CEO, January 2009 FQ1 2009 Earnings Call

We don’t believe we can do things at the level of quality and link things as we want to between hardware, software and services so seamlessly if we do a lot of stuff. So we’re going to stick with our knitting with only doing a few things and doing them great. ~ Tim Cook

Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff. ~ Steve Jobs [Advice given to Nike CEO Mark Parker]

What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. ~ Steve Jobs

If you really want to know what focus means to Apple, watch the first 1:45 of this 3-minute Jony Ive video from November 11, 2014. At the 1:00 minute mark, pay particular attention to what Jony Ive says about “saying no.”

Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true. ~ Honore de Balzac

STOP! I know and you know and we both know you skipped the video. Go back and watch it RIGHT NOW. Skip ahead to the one-minute mark if you’re so pressed for time. But watch it. You’ll thank me later. Who knows, you may even thank me now.


Third, not only does Apple prefer to focus on just a few things, it prefers to focus on just a few BIG things.

We are inventing the future. Think about surfing on the front edge of a wave. It’s really exhilarating. Now think about dog-paddling at the tail end of that wave. It wouldn’t be anywhere near as much fun. Come down here and make a dent in the universe. [said to a job applicant] ~ Steve Jobs

We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise, why else even be here? ~ Steve Jobs

At Apple, we were always asking, What else can we revolutionize? ~ Tony Fadell, now CEO of Nest Labs

I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I’ve done that sort of thing in my life, but I’ve always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don’t know why. Because they’re harder. They’re much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you’ve completely failed. ~ Steve Jobs

Every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything. It’s very fortunate if you can work on just one of these in your career. Apple’s been very fortunate in that it’s introduced a few of these. ~ Steve Jobs

As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big. ~ Donald Trump

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir man’s blood. ~ Daniel Burnham


The critics want Apple to take more moon shots. I don’t know why. It certainly hasn’t done Google any good.

Google’s moon shots look more like a disease than a cure. It’s hard not to look at Google’s extravagant expenditures without being reminded of Microsoft’s meandering, and ultimately pointless, research efforts in the late 90s and early 2000s. Microsoft suffered, and Google suffers, from having too much money and too little direction. The ‘moon shots’ that pundits so admire don’t strike me as admirable attempts at exploration. They look more like a desperate attempt by Google to hit a target they cannot see.

The odds of hitting your target go up dramatically when you aim at it. ~ Mal Pancoast

Begin with the End in Mind ~ Stephen Covey, author of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”

Apple has their own version of moon shots, but they do them the Neil Armstrong way.

You only have to solve two problems when going to the moon: first, how to get there; and second, how to get back. The key is don’t leave until you have solved both problems. ~ Neil Armstrong

The difference between Apple’s moonshots and Google’s, is that Google knows how to launch a product. Apple knows how to stick the landing.

It is not the going out of port, but the coming in, that determines the success of a voyage. ~ Henry Ward Beecher


More advice from Farhad Manjoo:

Apple’s last decade and a half, mostly under Mr. Jobs, has been defined by perfectionist focus. As its executives and marketing videos repeatedly boast, Apple says no to a thousand ideas before it says yes to one. That attitude was perfectly suited to a particular era in tech — the rise of mobile devices, which were the ultimate expression of Apple’s expertise in creating jewel-like hardware.
But the next moment in tech is likely to be dominated by data-driven online services — more products like Siri and Apple Pay, fewer stand-alone hardware innovations like the iPhone.
In that environment, the slow search for precision and perfection might no longer be in Apple’s best interest. ~ Farhad Manjoo, Apple, Set to Move to Its Spaceship, Should Try More Moonshots, May 4, 2016

In other words, times have changed and what worked for Apple in the past won’t work for Apple today or in the future.

I like Farhad Manjoo’s work and I have a lot of respect for his opinion. However, in this instance, I think he’s got the wrong end of the stick. There will always be a place for products and services created by “the slow search for precision and perfection.” Just because that place isn’t every product and every service in every instance, does not mean that “precision and perfection” aren’t appropriate for some products and some services in some instances. Apple will cede the fast and the furious to their competitors and focus their efforts on the slow and the sublime.

There never has been, and there never will be, a time when well thought through, quality products and services weren’t, and aren’t, appreciated by a segment of the buying public.


Let’s step into the wayback machine and explore a cautionary tale from Oct. 21, 1879.

It is well known that Thomas Edison — who may well have been viewed of as the Steve Jobs of his day — was the inventor of the electric lightbulb. It is well known — but it is also completely untrue. Thomas Edison did not invent the lightbulb. Electric lights — as an alternative to gaslight — were being used on a street-wide scale long before Edison entered the field.

[pullquote]I have not failed. I’ve just found 6,000 ways that won’t work. ~ Thomas Alva Edison[/pullquote]

Edison’s great insight into — and his great contribution to — the lightbulb was realizing that the tricky part would be choosing a filament that would be durable but inexpensive. Rather than enter the market half-cocked, Edison retreated to his laboratory where he and his team in Menlo Park, New Jersey, meticulously tested more than 6,000 possible materials before finding one to fit the bill: carbonized bamboo.

[As an aside, I feel confident that had today’s tech analysts been reporting on Edison and his team during the time when the they was conducting their experiments, the pundits would have confidently interpreted Edison’s seeming lack of activity as proof positive that “Innovation at Menlo Park is dead.”]

Edison didn’t invent the first lightbulb. Edison invented the first lightbulb that was practical, and affordable for home illumination. Edison wasn’t first, he was first to get it right. So it is Edison who got all the credit, got all the glory, got most all the profits, and it is Edison who is remembered as having invented the lightbulb on Oct. 21, 1879.

Apple didn’t invent the first computer, the first MP3 player, the first mobile phone, the first tablet. They weren’t first. They were first to get it right. And they did it, not by exploring 6,000 products, but by exploring 6,000 ways to perfect one product.

If you think there isn’t a place in today’s time — as there was in Edison’s time — for goods and services that are lovingly designed and meticulously crafted, then you are a very dim bulb indeed.

We believe that customers are smart, and want objects, which are well thought through. ~ Steve Jobs


Tomorrow, part 3 of 7.

1. Who is Apple innovating for?
2. Where should Apple’s innovation be focused?
3. How does Apple innovate?
4. When should Apple introduce its innovations?
5. What does innovation inside of Apple look like to someone outside of Apple?
6. Why does Apple do what it does?
7. Why not be Apple?