The Real Threat to Apple: The Invisible Device

The Amazon Echo: what happens if this is all there is to a device? CC-licensed photo by Cryptik Merlin on Flickr

For years, Apple has made a name for itself through the design of its products – their combination of appearance, materials, and software functionality (which is part of the “design”, aka “how it works”). It has been able to command premium prices for desktops, laptops, phones, tablets, even routers by making things that not only work well, but look good.

What happens to that advantage and ability to command a premium, though, when there isn’t a product to hold? What happens if you don’t have a phone to pull out, a tablet to press, or a router to put in the corner of your room?

This thought struck me while listening to John Gruber and Ben Thompson discussing Amazon’s Echo, which we could roughly call a home automation device, and considering Google Home, which is going to be approximately the same thing. Both de-emphasise the physical product (there isn’t even a screen) in favour of an unobtrusive always-listening device which doesn’t need to be pressed or waved at; it just responds when spoken to.

It’s not hard to imagine future versions of Google Home or the Amazon Echo would have less and less physical hardware; essentially, they only need to power a microphone, a speaker and an internet connection. In which case, what would Apple’s version look like? It might look – might even be – the Apple TV. It’s nice, but many people would struggle to pick it out of a lineup. And once it’s underneath or behind your TV, you could forget it’s there.

Razing the playing field

But when you reach that point, the ground on which Apple used to fight – appearance, materials, “look and feel” – has suddenly vanished. The shift to systems which don’t need us to look at them directly and which feed information back to us by means other than an integrated item with a screen, doesn’t so much move the goalposts as set fire to them and terraform the field where they were standing.

In the same vein, I was asked a few years ago – when Siri had newly been announced, but Samsung was already making inroads to the premium market with the Galaxy Note – what I thought the phone of the future would look like. I suggested you wouldn’t actually look at it much. It would probably be Galaxy Note-sized but it would sit in your pocket and feed information to your headphones in response to questions you asked into the mic on the headset. Less need for the screen, less need for typing on the physical object.

Our obsession with photographs and cameras has forestalled that shift; Instagram and Snapchat demonstrate that, when it comes to social interaction, we love the visual. That suggests screens and devices – in other words, things we actually hold and carry around – remain important.

Even so, the invisible device does seem to me the biggest risk Apple faces. The advantage it has is Amazon’s Echo and Google Home are devices for, well, the home and, although we might talk a lot about it, the extent of our desire to have computing interaction with our home is surprisingly limited. Jan Dawson made this point well recently. The current “smart home” market is composed of early adopters because your fridge can’t ever be that smart and you’ll still have to load and unload your washing and put coffee into the coffee machine.

What’s more, most of us spend most of our time outside the home. And that’s where we need our devices. So far, we haven’t quite taken up the idea of chatting away to our headsets in the manner of Joaquin Phoenix in Her. But, bear in mind, social norms can shift; our parents’ generation would have been (and still are) appalled by the way teenagers today will ignore each other while across a table, or their elders, in favor of the glowing screen. And 30 years ago, walking along the street talking aloud to nobody was a sign of insanity. Now it just means you’re on a call. (Spot the difference: if you’re wearing earphones, nobody will turn a hair.) If intelligent assistants really take off, devices might shrink away too. Though every time I follow that reasoning, I arrive back at the need to digest visual information. We’ll still need screens, and hence housings for screens, and hence design.

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That this potentially poses a threat to Apple doesn’t mean that everyone’s safe. Amazon’s pretty safe; if people order things via the Echo, it benefits. But Google relies on people looking at ads for 90% of its revenues and rather more of its profits. If we don’t look at a screen, how do we get the ads? Perhaps it will adopt the solution chosen in the UK by the “Speaking Clock”, a phone service you called to get the precise time read out to you. In 1986, the newly privatised British Telecom put it out to sponsorship, which was eagerly snapped up by Accurist – and so for 22 years, you would be told, “the time sponsored by Accurist is…”

Maybe that’s how Google will adapt if voice is the new interface. Equally, maybe that will open the door for companies like Apple to charge extra so we don’t hear the ads. The invisible device might still yield a premium. It’s just a question of what you’re paying for.

Apple’s Design: The Gift That Keeps Giving (2 of 2)

This is part 2 of a 2-part article. Part 1 can be found here.


Market Research gives the customer what they ask for. It’s like giving a gift from a list. Great design is like great gift giving. Rather than giving the recipient what they ask for, great Design gives them an un-asked for gift that both surprises and delights.

The Up Side Of Design

Market research is great at iteration.
Design is great at creation.

Market Research gives us the products and services that we ask for.
Design gives us products and services that surprise and delight.

Market Research meets our expectations.
Design exceeds our expectations.

Market Research listens to us.
Design understands us.

Market Research gives us what we want.
Design gives us what we love.

The Hard Side Of Design

If Design is so great, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Everyone doesn’t do Design for the same reason that everyone doesn’t give unasked for gifts:

1) It’s a lot harder; and
2) It’s a lot riskier.

Giving a gift from a list is easy.

Giving a gift that it truly meaningful requires intimate knowledge of the gift-receiver and often requires not only a great deal of thought, but a great deal of effort, as well. Further, it requires a degree of empathy that, frankly, many of us simply do not have. If we oft-times don’t understand what we want for ourselves, how ever are we going to get it right when we try to understand the unstated wants of others?

Think how hard it is for you to anticipate the needs of your family and loved ones. Now think how much harder it must be for Apple to anticipate the needs of their customers.

(O)bserving the way people really live, developing a deep understanding of the real problems they have, and gaining an appreciation of the “hacks” they devise to overcome them can deliver an understanding of prospective customers’ needs that is more accurate than what any of those prospective customers could ever articulate on their own. ~ Ben Thompson, Stretechery

And the reward for taking all that extra time, giving all that extra thought, and making all that extra effort is often abject failure. Great Design — like great gift giving — surprises us in all the right ways, but great Design, like all un-asked for gifts, also risks surprising us in all the wrong ways too.

Once we leave the safety of the gift giver’s list, we risk greatness…but we also court disaster. Gifts don’t go “good, better, best.” They go “good, dreadful, best.” The same is true of Design. We can’t risk giving or designing the best without the risk of the giving the truly dreadful. The moment you move from Market Research to Design is the moment you untether yourself from the wishes of your customers and move into the oh-so-nebulous realm of fulfilling the unforeseen desires of your customers.

Source: “Christmas Gifts And The Meaning Of Design” by Ben Thompson of Stratechery.

Du sublime au ridicule il n’y a qu’un pas. (From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but a step.) ~ Napoleon

Think about it. How many times have you received unasked for gifts that were just AWFUL. They were in poor taste. Or they tasted poor (the infamous Christmas fruitcake comes to mind). They were a waste. Or they didn’t fit your waist. They made no sense. Or they cost only cents. The white elephant that was soon hidden away in a trunk.

When the unasked for Design is done right, it resonates and touches us emotionally. When the unasked for Design is done wrong, it also touches us emotionally — but with all the wrong emotions. Poor attempts at Design evoke emotions such as revulsion, disgust, scorn, condescension and contempt. Good Design is loved. Bad design is derided and mocked.

To create good Design, you need more than an ability to anticipate the unstated needs of your customers. You need the courage of your convictions too. (See video interview of Steve Jobs, below, from the 11:50 to the 13:10 mark.)

Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not that one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on one’s ideas, to take a calculated risk — and to act. ~ Andre Malraux

The Risky Side Of Design

Bad decisions make good stories. ~ Unknown

The Microsoft Kin

Microsoft invested two years and about US$1 billion developing the Kin platform. The Kin ONE and TWO went on the market in May 2010. Within two months, Verizon stopped selling the phones because of poor sales. Microsoft scrapped its planned European release, stopped promoting the devices, ceased production, and reassigned the Kin development team to other projects. ~ Wikipedia

Bad design — like a bad gift — often just makes no sense whatsoever. You’re left shaking your head and wondering what the Designer could possibly have been thinking. Most of the time, they were thinking about themselves.

The HP TouchPad

The HP TouchPad is a tablet computer was developed and designed by Hewlett-Packard. The HP TouchPad was launched on July 1, 2011. On August 18, 2011, 49 days after the TouchPad was launched in the United States, Hewlett-Packard announced that it would discontinue all current hardware devices running webOS. Remaining TouchPad stock received substantial price reductions. ~ Wikipedia

I included the HP TouchPad in this list so I could trot out this quote from then HP CEO, Leo Apotheker:

I hope one day people will say ‘this is as cool as HP’, not ‘as cool as Apple’. ~ Leo Apotheker, Hewlett Packard, 27 January 2011

First, doesn’t Leo’s quote remind you of the weird Uncle who tries, but fails, to be cool and gives you those bizarrely off-pitch gifts that you’ll never be able to use or wear?

Second, cool people never say that their goal is to be cool. They just are cool. Clue #1: If you’re trying to be cool…you’re not.

Third, and finally, cool people don’t try to be cool people. They try to be themselves. Good design shops don’t try to imitate or emulate other design shops. They’re opinionated and they try to be themselves. Clue #2: If you’re trying to be Apple, give it up. It’s a sure sign that you don’t have what it takes.

One should want to learn from Apple. But no company should be striving to learn how to be like Apple. That’s a recipe for disaster.

The Google Nexus Q

The Nexus Q was given away at no cost to attendees of Google I/O 2012, but the product’s launch was postponed after user feedback indicated that the device had too few features for its price. Google eventually shelved the product and gave the Nexus Q away at no cost to customers who had preordered it. ~ Wikipedia

I remember when the Nexus Q was introduced — with great fanfare — at Google I/O 2012. Critics weren’t so much critical of it as stunned by it. It had really cool technology, but what it did was so limited and the way it did what it did was so weird that it was hard to see a market for the device. It was a complete head-scratcher. I don’t remember anyone thinking it was a good idea, although the criticism seemed muted because no one could quite figure it out.

In gift giving terms, the Google Nexus Q reminded me of something someone would buy for another if they had way too much money, and way too much time, and way too little common sense and no feedback at all. I can only guess that the Nexus Q was some higher-up’s pet project, and that there was no one at Google who was powerful enough — or brave enough — to say “no” and pull the plug.

There is no doubt that the Google Nexus Q was innovative, but it wasn’t Design. Design looks to meet the unanticipated needs of the customer. The Google Nexus Q was all about the cool technology.

The Amazon Fire Phone

The disaster that is the Amazon Fire Phone is still unfolding. There are reports that Amazon ordered a million of these dogs and have only been able to pawn 35,000 of them off on their unsuspecting customers.

According to a recent CIRP survey of 500 Amazon Prime customers, literally none of them owned a Fire Phone. ~ Charles Arthur (@charlesarthur) 10/23/14

Jeff Bezos is one of the smartest men on the planet, but this appears to be an example of unbridled hubris. Amazon thought they could substitute a gimmick in lieu of substantive features. If you want to see how truly gimmicky these devices are, take a gander at the following short Amazon pre-release promotional video.

I’ve included a longer promotional video showing more supposed features (which are really still more gimmicks), here.

In gift giving terms, this is an example of the gift giver thinking that some cool gimmick made the gift fabulous, when, if fact, all it did was make the gift gimmicky. It’s an especially sad gift because other than the gimmick, the gift had few other redeeming virtues to speak of.


Here’s a bonus design gaffe. What’s wrong with this picture?


Action with without vision is a nightmare. ~ Japanese proverb

A learning experience is one of those things that say, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.” ~ Douglas Adams

The Focus Of Design

The common thread in all of the above Design disasters is that the Designer — the gift-giver — was thinking of something or someone other than the customer. Microsoft thought of their product. HP thought of themselves. Google thought of the technology. Amazon thought they could pull one over on their customers.

[pullquote]The most fundamental part of design is truly understanding your customers at a deeper level than they even understand themselves.[/pullquote]

It is this lack of understanding and appreciation for the very hard work and deep thinking required to surprise and delight that leads to countless companies and Steve-Jobs-wannabes crashing-and-burning, even as they declare their fealty to design. … The most fundamental part of design is truly understanding your customers at a deeper level than they even understand themselves. ~ Ben Thompson, Stratechery

When it comes to Design, technology alone is not enough. In fact, it’s not even the place where Design begins.

You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around. ~ Steve Jobs

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough. We believe that it’s technology married with the humanities that yields us the results that makes our heart sing. ~ Steve Jobs

The technology isn’t the hard part. The hard part is, what’s the product? Or, who’s the customer? ~ Steve Jobs

The be all and end all in Design is understanding the unmet — and unasked for — needs of the customer.

Our DNA is as a consumer company — for that individual customer who’s voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That’s who we think about. ~ Steve Jobs

There are a lot of people innovating, and that’s not the main distinction of my career. The reason Apple resonates with people is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our innovation. ~ Steve Jobs

It’s really great when you show somebody something and you don’t have to convince them they have a problem this solves. They know they have a problem, you can show them something, they go, “oh, my God, I need this.” ~ Steve Jobs

Apple has always been, and I hope it will always be, one of the premiere bridges between mere mortals and this very difficult technology. ~ Steve Jobs

Listen to how Steve Jobs described the Macintosh, below, paying particular attention to the text that I’ve bolded:

…In 1979, when I saw an Alto [that had been developed] at Xerox PARC [Palo Alto Research Center]. It was as if, all of a sudden, the veil had been lifted from my eyes. It had the mouse and the multiple-font text on the screen, and you realized in an instant that this would appeal to exponentially more people than the Apple II. I’m talking about people who didn’t want to learn how to use a computer — they just wanted to use one. You could eliminate a whole layer of what someone had to know in order to take advantage of this tool. ~ Steve Jobs

The whole idea of the Macintosh was a computer for people who want to use a computer rather than learn how to use a computer. ~ Steve Jobs

Most people have no concept of how an automatic transmission works, yet they know how to drive a car. You don’t have to study physics to understand the laws of motion to drive a car. You don’t have to understand any of this stuff to use Macintosh. ~ Steve Jobs

[pullquote] The only way to make a product that your customer understands from the start is to understand your customer before you start to make the product.[/pullquote]

The only way to make a product that your customer understands from the start is to understand your customer before you start to make the product.

The Distrust Of Design

All business success rests on something labeled a sale, which at least momentarily weds company and customer. ~ Tom Peters

Design seeks to wed the company to the customer by making a commitment to understanding the customer first. However, most companies treat a sale less like a wedding and more like a one-night stand. They don’t care about what they make, they care about what they sell.

Design, in their eyes, is just an extremely clever marketing trick and Apple, in their eyes, is just an extremely successful Lothario who uses Design to seduce their naive and gullible customers. These companies believe that the secret of Apple’s success is sincerity…

……and if you can fake that, you’ve got it made. ((“In the early days of television, a young producer told news correspondent Daniel Schorr that the secret of making the transition from print to TV reporting was sincerity. “If you can fake that,” said the producer, “you’ve got it made.” This gag floats around show business (the word “honesty” sometimes substituting for “sincerity”), attributed to a wide range of prominent personalities: Mark Twain, Groucho Marx, George Burns, French dramatist Jean Giradoux, and rocker David Lee Roth.” Excerpt From: Ralph Keyes. “The Quote Verifier.” iBooks.

With lies you may go ahead in the world, but you can never go back. ~ Russian proverb

Since they believe that design is a gimmick, they spend their time trying to learn more about Apple when they should be spending their time trying to learn more about their customers. Good Design looks to meet the unanticipated needs of the customer. Bad Design looks like marketing. Which reminds me of a joke:

BOYFRIEND: Why do you never scream my name when you climax?

GIRLFRIEND: Because you are never there.

Many of Apple’s competitor’s share the same fate as the boyfriend, above. Their customers aren’t excited by the presence of their products because their products aren’t presents that surprise and delight.

The Rewards Of Design

Design — like the un-asked for gift — is hard and it’s risky. But the rewards are great.


Apple is a company that provides easy solutions wrapped in a desirable experience. People pay extra for that. ~ Lou Miranda (@TheNewLou)

Good Design is profitable. In the second quarter of 2014, Apple made 68% of all the profits in mobile devices. ((In Q2, Apple made 68% of mobile device OEMs’ profits (65% in q1, 53% in Q2 13). Samsung – 40% (41% q1, 49% q2 13) Source: Canaccord Genuity ~ Daisuke Wakabayashi (@daiwaka) 8/5/14)) In the third quarter of 2014, Apple made 86% of all the profits in handsets.

Estimated share of Q3 handset industry profits: Microsoft: -4%, Motorola: -2%, HTC, BB: 0%, LG: 2%, Samsung: 18%, Apple: 86%. ~ Kontra (@counternotions) 11/4/14

The iPhone 6 and 6 plus went on sale in late September and the new iPads went on sale in mid-October. One can confidently predict that Apple’s take of the mobile profit pie is likely to grow even larger in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Apple now generates almost 15x more profit per iPhone sold compared to what Samsung makes selling per Galaxy. ~ Neil Shah (@neiltwitz) 10/29/14


Good Design differentiates. There just isn’t enough good Design in the world. Master it and you immunize yourself from commoditization.

It’s not about doing what you can, it’s about doing what others can’t. ((Excerpt From: C. Michel. “Life Quotes.” C. Michel, 2012. iBooks.


Profitability and sustainability are only the beginning of the rewards garnered from Design. The true reward is the emotional response one receives from one’s customers. Good Design — like the unasked for gift — touches the heart. You don’t just have a business relationship with your clients, you have an emotional relationship, as well. You took the time and effort to understand what they wanted, and they, in turn, respond with gratitude and loyalty.

I get asked a lot why Apple’s customers are so loyal. It’s not because they belong to the Church of Mac! That’s ridiculous. It’s because when you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, “Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!” And then three months later you try to do something you hadn’t tried before, and it works, and you think, “Hey, they thought of that, too.” And then six months later it happens again. There’s almost no product in the world that you have that experience with, but you have it with a Mac. ~ Steve Jobs

The average Apple customer loves Apple’s Designs. But even more, they appreciate the love behind the designs, which is why they, in turn, love to get behind Apple and support them.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. ~ Simon Sinkek ((via Abdel Ibrahim (@abdophoto))


Design is not for everyone. There are other ways — honorable ways, profitable ways — to compete. But for those who are gifted at Design, Design is the gift that keeps on giving.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This series of articles were inspired by an analogy used by Ben Thompson in his great Stratechery article entitled “Christmas Gifts And The Meaning Of Design.” His article can be found here.

Apple’s Design: The Gift That Keeps Giving (1 of 2)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was inspired by an analogy used by Ben Thompson in his wonderful article entitled “Christmas Gifts And The Meaning Of Design.” His article can be found here.

Part 2 of this article can be found, here.


Imagine you’re about to celebrate your birthday or a gift giving holiday, like Christmas. You greedily make up a list of the things you’d like to receive and distribute it to family and friends alike. The big day arrives and, of course, you are happy to receive some of the gifts that you had asked for.

Then, a very strange thing happens. Someone — someone who knows you very well — gives you a gift that you HAD NOT asked for. (For example, in Ben Thompson’s article, his wife gave him a hat that perfectly fit his history and personality.) You’re not just happy to receive this gift, you’re surprised. You’re delighted. You’re touched. This one gift — the one you hadn’t expected — the one you hadn’t asked for — may mean more to you than all the other gifts put together. Why?

Because it was personal. It was intimate. It was meaningful. Because it surprised you. Because it delighted you. Because you knew it required more thought from, and more time of, the gift-giver than merely picking an item from your list.

The things we truly love to receive are often the things we never thought to ask for. Perhaps we never thought to ask for them because we didn’t even know that we wanted them ourselves — until we received them. The gift giver understood us better than we understood ourselves and filled a need we didn’t know we had. What better gift is there than that?

Giving from a list — and giving from the heart — is a good metaphor for the difference between Market Research and Design. Good Market Research offers something of value that was on our wish list. Good Design gives us something of inestimable value we never knew we wanted but now can’t live without.

Market Research

The Up Side Market Research

Market Research consists of surveys, customer interviews, focus groups, etc. It works on the very natural assumption that the best way to give the customer what they want is to — ‘duh’ — ask them what they want.

Who decides what’s in Windows? The customers who buy it. ~ Bill Gates

Market Research is safe. It is sound. When it is done well, it gives us what we want and — like receiving a gift from our wish list — we are both pleased and satisfied.

Market research is great for existing products. It is great for incremental changes and for upgrades. It is great for smoothing over a product’s rough edges and polishing it until it shines.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning. ~ Bill Gates

Absolutely right. When it comes to an existing product, Market Research — asking your customer what they like and dislike — is exactly the way to go.

Apple And Market Research

We do no market research. ~ Steve Jobs

This quote has been much misunderstood. Of course Apple does market research. They’ve admitted as much of several occasions. They would be fools not to do so.

Market research can tell you what your customers think of something you show them. Or it can tell you what your customers want as an incremental improvement on what you have, but very rarely can your customers predict something that they don’t even quite know they want yet. ~ Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs’ quote about Market Research has to be kept in context. What he meant was Apple didn’t, and doesn’t, use Market Research to assist them in creating new products or new product categories.

Customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough that’s going to happen next year that’s going to change the whole industry. ~ Steve Jobs

The Down Side Of Market Research

There’s nothing wrong — and there’s a lot right — with Market Research. However, Market Research should be reserved for improving existing products. It should never, ever be used when one is trying to create new products. As good as Market Research is at improving the old, that is how bad it is at creating the new. Here’s why.

We’re Reactionary

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong. ~ Lemony Snicket

Our initial reaction to the new — before we’ve even seen or evaluated it — is to reject it. The new frightens and disturbs us.

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. ~ Isaac Asimov

We not only view the new with suspicion, we view it with outright hostility. That which is not old and familiar is not just wrong — its unnatural.


People’s reaction to ideas: Bad ideas: “That’ll never work.” Good ideas: “That could work.” Great ideas: “That’ll never work.”

We’re Short-Sighted

Customers are not visionaries. Nor should they be expected to be visionaries.

We cannot wish for that we know not. ~ Voltaire

Market research can only extend as far as the customer’s imagination will take it and that’s not very far, because we are notoriously short-sighted. Surveys, polls, etc., are useful for existing products but they are actually counter-productive and often dangerously misleading when it comes to predicting the new.

A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make. ~ unidentified response to Debbi Fields’s plan to start Mrs. Fields Cookies

We Don’t Even Know What We Want

Have you ever wanted something, gotten exactly what you wanted…and then not liked it? We all have.

Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. ~ Proverbial wisdom

The paradoxical truth is, we oft-times do not know what we want.

Protect me from what I want. ~ Jenny Holzer

Market Research can be very misleading because customers often get it wrong — sometimes very wrong — even when they’re very sure they’re very right. They know what they want…right up to the moment when they get it.

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them… That doesn’t mean we don’t listen to customers, but it’s hard for them to tell you what they want when they’ve never seen anything remotely like it. ~ Steve Jobs

Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page. ~ Steve Jobs

The Less We Know, The More Certain We Become

As bad as we are at knowing what we want, we are much, much worse at comparing the known to the unknown. We simply cannot imagine and comprehend the unknown, so it almost always compares unfavorably to the known.

We’re very, very good at explaining why things won’t work. We’re not nearly as good at imagining creative new ways things might work.

      Days before the iPhone debuted, the market research company Universal McCann came out with a blockbuster report proving that practically nobody in the United States would buy the iPhone.


      “The simple truth,” said Tom Smith, the author of the iPhone-damning report, is that “convergence [an all-in-one device] is a compromise driven by financial limitations, not aspiration. In the markets where multiple devices are affordable, the vast majority would prefer that to one device fits all.”


      Solid survey research suggested not only that the iPhone would fail, but also that it would fail particularly hard in the United States because our phones and cameras are good enough, already. ~

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Now compare the above survey on the then-unreleased iPhone, to the following survey on the yet-to-be released Apple Watch:

      Just 11 percent of respondees to a survey about new Apple products plan to buy an Apple Watch, according to 6,000 people quizzed by Canadian investment bank, RBC Capital Markets. A further 24 percent said they were uncertain. ~

Cult Of Mac

I honestly have to ask: Why in the wide, wide world of tech, would we give a hoot about what people in a survey say about a product they have never seen, touched or experienced? How could they possibly have an informed opinion? It’s like asking Nuns to rank sexual positions.

But wait! It gets worse. Since we have no basis of comparison for the new, we create comparisons that simply do not exist.

The best-case scenario for the Apple Watch is that the product we saw announced today will eventually iterate into something really great. Because anybody who’s ever worn a watch will tell you: this thing has serious problems. ~ Felix Salmon

“…anybody who’s worn a watch will tell you…” Say what? Owning a watch no more qualifies one to evaluate an Apple smartwatch than owning a horse would have qualified one to evaluate Henry Ford’s Model T.

It’s generally a bad idea to have a strong opinion of a consumer product you have no experience of. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

You can’t judge what you don’t use. ~ Benedict Evans (@BenedictEvans)

Oh, but we can. And oh, but we do.

Hardest thing about consumer data research is that everyone has an opinion they think is representative, even if they don’t have any data. ~ Carl Howe (@cdhowe)

Further, the less we know, the more certain we become.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. ~ Charles Darwin

When people are least sure, they are often most dogmatic. ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

The Designer’s Job

Designers don’t rely upon Market Research for their designs because they know it’s not the customer’s job to design the next breakthrough product — it’s the designer’s job.

What companies are really doing is rationalizing their refusal to take on the burden of simplifying the product. They’d rather have the customer do the work than themselves. ~ Aaron Levie (@levie)

Asking your clients to create the next big thing is unfair and unwise because customers don’t have the knowledge or the experience to know how to create the new in your field. They’re not in the industry. They don’t know the latest techniques or trends. They have neither the expertise nor the vision.

It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want. ~ Steve Jobs

We don’t do focus groups—that is the job of the designer. ~ Jony Ive

You don’t want a product designed by your customers; you want a product inspired by your customers. ~ Scott Sehlhorst

Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone? [reacting to a reporter’s question about market research for the Macintosh] ~ Steve Jobs

Customers can’t tell you about the next breakthrough that’s going to happen next year that’s going to change the whole industry. ~ Steve Jobs

Customers can’t anticipate what the technology can do. They won’t ask for things that they think are impossible. But the technology may be ahead of them. If you happen to mention something, they’ll say, ‘Of course, I’ll take that. Do you mean I can have that, too?’ It sounds logical to ask customers what they want and then give it to them. But they rarely wind up getting what they really want that way. ~ Steve Jobs

Experts Are Expert At Making Bad Predictions

Perhaps you’re thinking the problem has less to do with Market Research and more to do with the source of said Market Research. “Of course,” you think, “the ordinary person doesn’t have the expertise or the vision to peer into the future. The people we really need to ask are the experts.”

Well, if that’s what you think, then think again.

Professional critics of new things sound smart, but the logical conclusion of their thinking is a poorer world. ~ Benedict Evans

The more expertise we have, the more certain we become. And studies have shown the more certain we are, the less likely we are able to predict the future.

Certitude is not the test of certainty. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

I am certain there is too much certainty in the world. ~ Michael Crichton

Some historical (and hysterical) examples:


  1. What can be more palpably absurd than [the idea] of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches? ~ Quarterly Review, 1825
  2. …that any general systems of conveying passengers would answer, to go at a velocity exceeding 10 miles an hour, or thereabouts, is extremely improbable. ~ Thomas Tredgold, 1835
  3. Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia. ~ Dr. Dionysius Lardner, Irish scientific writer, 1845


  1. Well-informed people know it is impossible to transmit the voice over wires as may be done with dots and dashes and signals of the Morse code, and that were it possible to do so, the thing would be of no practical value. ~ Editorial in the Boston Post, 1865
  2. It’s only a toy. ~ Gardiner Greene Hubbard, future father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell, on seeing Bell’s telephone, 1876
  3. Although it is…an interesting novelty, the telephone has no commercial application. ~ J. P. Morgan, to Alexander Graham Bell


  1. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. ~ Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
  2. Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value. ~ Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre , France , 1911


  1. Radio has no future. ~ Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, 1897
  2. The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular? ~ associates of RCA chairman David Sarnoff, in response to his suggestion that the corporation invest in radio technology, circa 1920


  1. I have determined that there is no market for talking pictures. ~ Thomas A. Edison, 1926
  2. Who the hell wants to hear actors talk? ~ Harry Warner of Warner Brothers movie studio, when asked about sound in films, 1927


  1. While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially, I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming. ~ Lee De Forest, inventor, 1926
  2. TV won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night. ~ Darryl Zanuck, 20th Century Fox movie studio head, 1946


  1. I don’t know what use any one could find for a machine that would make copies of documents. It certainly couldn’t be a feasible business by itself. ~ the head of IBM, refusing to back the idea, forcing the inventor to found Xerox

There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them. ~ George Orwell

Next Week

In part 2 of “Apple’s Design: The Gift That Keeps Giving,” I’ll focus on:

— The Up Side Of Design
— The Down Side Of Design
— The Hard Side Of Design
— The Risky Side Of Design
— The Distrust Of Design; And
— The Rewards Of Good Design.

You can find part 2, here.