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The mocking began almost three years ago today. Apple Fan boys & girls chorused in smug, urbane disdain of my Apple hate. How I dared question the gospel according to Jobs.
Well, I did.
In March 2010 I wrote, “Increasingly, fashion’s undesirables are adopting the iPhone as their key to cool, just as the true cool are heard to say “it’s just a phone, I’ll change it soon”. iPhone has some runway yet, there are a few hundred million people still to buy one meaning Apple have at least a couple of years of stellar revenues to look forward to from their phone division; but when the fickle face of fashion is looking the other way, what damage will have been done to the broader Apple brand?”
Right now, the Kids are buying Samsung’s range of Android powered devices, they are unmistakably cool. Parents of those same Kids are “doing Facebook” on iPhones, and there’s nothing cool about that!
The challenge for Cupertino is in the awesome strength of the Apple eco-system, the all of nothing iTunes lock-in they so clearly hoped would bind Appleites to polished metal and white doesn’t work when they have found religion elsewhere.
Losing Mobile Phone share and therefore command of the users’ Media collection undermines the entire Apple product range as well as the economic model – meaning the whole business is on very shaky ground if can’t reverse its fortunes, and fast.
I foresee a very rapid demise ahead for the once mighty Apple, truly a victim of their own incredible success.
It’s rare that a great product would win without the support of great service, so why then are the two so quick to grow apart?
The problem, I think, is success.
Scale and its associated economies support the development of a product but rarely do they support the development of the accompanying services. There are exceptions, of course, but not many; McDonalds is one, Apple another, Sadly I’m at a loss to think of a third.
It’s worth noting of course that Apple and McDonalds are are notable exceptions to the rule, albeit for vastly different reasons. McDonalds is a very, very large franchisor, and the “product” being sold does not come in a bun, the product is the Franchise. The Franchisee buys a proven recipe for fast food and efficient service. If McDonalds didn’t have control of the entire McD’s ecosystem through a tightly wound Franchise Agreement it would be impossible to maintain its brand of high-margin consistency that allows it to continue selling to franchisees at a premium.
Apple, on the other hand, is all about brand, and that brand extends through the product supply chain to the lifestyle, which includes the process of purchasing and ownership. Prior to Apple seizing control of its supply chain the service part was delivered by 3rd parties, now it is a powerful pillar in the house of Apple.
When a typical business grows, investment is poured into improvements in the production process, reducing the cost of goods and improving margins. The same can’t be said for service, great service at scale is costly, and returns to scale are minimal. In addition, training great service to new staff takes time, so the gap between product uptake and service delivery can grow rapidly if the growth was sudden and unforseen.
Improved margins are seductive, investments in service are not, and so the conflict begins.
As a business owner, you can get ahead. At a minimum there should be a record kept of a consistent service KPI such as Net Promoter that can serve as an early indicator of customer sentiment taking a turn for the worst. Where growth is happening at the expense of service the growth should be arrested until the issue is identified and resolved, hard as it may be to do so.
Positioning your entire business as a product is smart, have a McDonalds-like operating manual with detailed descriptions of service procedures and quality standards, or emulate Apple by asserting service as a key part of your brand, then live it with every touch-point!
To favour growth at the expense of service is a short term win, the positive sentiment that propelled growth in the first place is already evaporating, allow that to continue and chances are your brand will never recover.
As a design study the Courier was a tremendous success back in 2010, but as a PR exercise it was something far more sinister.
I heard when I was visiting Microsoft HQ in Redmond that Microsoft had made the Courier concept public to demonstrate what could be built on the Windows platform and had provided the build specs to at least one OEM, however the Courier quickly turned from an innovative design exercise into an unfortunate metaphor for their inability to compete with Apple.
It made no real sense to me at the time that Microsoft was actually going to build the Courier, however with the announcement of their Surface Tablet, I clearly don’t know shit.
Regardless that Microsoft obsesses about competing with Apple (And Google for that matter) the fact is Microsoft doesn’t compete head to head with Apple, their OEM partners do, such as DELL, Sony and HP. Those same OEMs are are on the Android bandwaggon as a fashonable and low cost alternative to Windows. Faced with flagging consumer relevance and an uncomfortable 3-way with Google, Microsoft clearly had two options, try to woo the channel and win them back from Google, or go head to head, Google style!
Google led the way in Partner-shafting when they formed the Open Handset Alliance to build Andriod powered phones whilst building its own Nexus device to compete with it! But then, Google always seem to struggle with the notion of boundaries. Microsoft, on the other hand, seemed to take a Partner-first approach.
Microsoft is in a sticky spot for sure. I mentioned before that Microsoft could hold its breath for a long time, meaning that it could afford to make short term sacrifices for the long term good, but those old lungs are not what they used to be, which, combined with an astonishing run for Apple, has clearly led to new thinking in Redmond. I can’t see how this is winning.