OPINION

Apple’s Story: Passion, Patience and Pressure

True, market-changing, life-changing innovation comesfrom three key elements: passion, patience and pressure.

Apple is the poster child for this view of innovation.Especially now. Especially when Apple is simply selling millions ofprofitable iPhones and MacBooks and iPads, quarter after quarter(after quarter) with few truly “new” products to show off.

To create something groundbreaking and new — like a touchscreen-onlysmartphone — you need passion. Not just creativity, but passion –because passion brings heartfelt focus, and focus is critical forturning a creation into a product.

Apple’s Passion

No one doubted Steve Jobs’ passion. You could see itin his eyes, in his posture, in his word choice and cadence. Nevermind the behind-closed-doors raging tyrant of passion, Jobs had anintensity most anyone could recognize. And his dirty little secret?Jobs could take other people’s creativity, their creations, theirpassion, and add it to his own.

He seemed to be a super-human sciencefiction blob who grew more powerful by squeezing, shaping, andultimately molding the narrative of a product into something he fully,seamlessly seemed to own. Effective? Heck yeah. Repeatable by anintensely ethical man of conscience? Probably not.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is a little tougher to read than Steve Jobs, but Ibelieve there are many passionate creators working for TimCook at Apple. As near as I can tell, though, his personality is such thatit might be impossible for him to take credit for someone else’spassionate creation. If the CEO is such a different animal, how canApple innovate?

That’s the question, really.

Enter Patience

Patience, of course, is needed to help you get the product right — totake your creation, which might be pretty or useful but notnecessarily both, and turn it into a product that people not only want,but also are willing to buy. Innovation takes time. Sure, you can release”beta” products for years as a design strategy, but is that inspiringinnovation? Not really. Palm-to-forehead innovation requires a heartydose of patience.

The original iPhone took more than two years of effort inside Apple beforeit was revealed to the world. If you’re going to change the world bygetting rid of tactile keyboards by turning smartphones into slabs oftouchscreen glass, you need patience to get that right.

So what’s going on right now at Apple? Is the company exhibitingpatience in its new product design and creation process? Or not? Ibelieve it is. First, consider the Apple TV. If Apple were not patientwith this product, it easily could have built its ownfull-size HDTV with a pretty frame, slapped an Apple TV puck inside toact as its brain, and called it “new and innovative.”

Then Apple could have painted it each year with a new kind oftranslucent plastic or coating… or made the glass curved for nogood reason… and Jony Ive could have created sexy, lusciouscurves to make it feel like a sculpture for your living room.

Boom. Sales.

Consider an “iWatch.” Same story. Apple could create a prettywristband that does little more than count steps and show off textmessages. It would sell.

However, Apple hasn’t done either of those things. Why? I believe thatApple hasn’t released a crappy new TV or smartwatch product becauseCook has patience. It’s built into the company’s culture, because it’svery important to Apple that it get it right the first time –not get it out first. In fact, Tim Cook has beenpatiently saying this to analysts at every quarterly financial report for years.

Apple seems to know that unimportant new product iterations aren’treally needed in the world — that they don’t serve any new specialpurpose, even though Apple has enough loyal customers to buy anythingthe company produces. To not build and release a so-called “new”product requires a powerful sense of patience.

The Flip Side of Patience

More recently, in the era of Tim Cook, two key lessons mayhave been learned. First, Apple’s Maps app was a product thatApple released before it was ready. A lack of patience? It seems so.

Without knowing the exact nature of the agreement with Google toprovide Google Maps on Apple’s iPhone, the release of an important –and broken — feature had to remind Cook something about getting theproduct right the first time.

That’s just a special app, though — a service, a component.

The iPhone 5c, on the other hand, was a new product, born out ofanalyst and Wall Street pressure to create some sort of lower-pricediPhone. So Apple did that. It messed around with aninnovative new plastic build process that created a solid iPhone, but itdid not create a groundbreaking new addition to its lineup.

In fact, I believe that Apple did not need the iPhone 5c at all. Thecompany could have continued to sell its iPhone 5 at a lower pricepoint about as easily as it could have created the iPhone 5c. Heck,the iPhone 4s is still selling in surprising numbers and it’s arelatively old, slow and small smartphone.

So, a lack of patience produced a lackluster product — a good productbut hardly impressive compared to the previous iPhone 5.

Worse, did the 5c divert attention from moreworthy products? I’ve got to wonder. I’m betting that Apple has learned something fromMaps and the 5c.

Pressure, Pressure, Pressure

Meanwhile, passion is cool and patience is good, but neither canproduce innovative products again and again. Creative people needpressure to get things done — pressure to pry their hands from theircreation and let it loose in the world. When? When it’s perfectenough.

Almost no creative person feels they ever got their book,movie, sculpture, app or iPhone perfect. They can get it right, butrarely perfect. Again, Steve Jobs had the ability to leverage intensepressure. Does Cook?

That’s the question right now, immediately followingthe aftermath of another brilliantly executed financial quarter fromApple.

Is Cook pushing his teams to innovate with the right balance ofpassion, patience and pressure?Plenty of laptop jockeys seem willing to second guess him.

However there’s more to pressure, too — outside market pressure. Waittoo long to deliver a new product, and the market need will evaporateor evolve. Lightning might strike somewhere else, and Apple’s loyalconsumers might turn to the new light. It happens. Is it happening? Not yet. Not in any meaningful numbers –but it will. Until Apple delivers — which it will, this year.

Why am I so certain? First, I have faith in the innovation machinethat Steve Jobs created. Second, Apple’s history of excellent productsgives me patience. Third, competitors are starting to produceinteresting products, too. That provides the pressure.

This is why — as I pound the keys on my own MacBook — I seeinnovative products on Apple’s horizon: It’s the lousy products thatApple hasn’t created that give me hope.

Chris Maxcer

TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.

5 Comments

  • Everyone spoke of how adeptly he ran Apple while Steve Jobs was away on medical leave. And that may well be the case. But even while Jobs was away, JOBS was steering the company’s creativity and driving its creatives to excel. Apple needs someone who has the strength to run a highly creative company. He may be a great logistics guy with incredible work ethic, but Apple needs someone to put on their big BOY pants. It’s become all too obvious that Cook just isn’t the man to run Apple.

      • Hi ViewRoyal!

        Thanks for extending the conversation. Excellent points. I sure didn’t mean for this column to come off as a lamentation on the loss of Steve Jobs — in case that is what is coming off most strongly. The key to me is more about this:

        Sometimes it’s the voids in production that are most telling: Sometimes what you CAN produce — but choose NOT to — shows real willpower that leads to fantastic products.

        But to do that successfully, a company has to have passion, patience, and pressure. All of which will come to a head to bring us a great set of products from Apple in 2014 — despite the so-called lack of mind-blowing new products lately.

        –CM

  • You are quite wrong about Apple not needing the 5c. This is a meme repeated by the financial press until everyone believed it. Apple didn’t want to explain why they couldn’t just sell the 5 and 5s like before when they introduced the 5 and left the 4s around as a backstop. Apple simply did not have enough of the expensive aluminum cutting machines that they used to make the iPhone 5 and 5s to make half again as many phones when the 5s went on sale. The 5c was a 5 with color added and a much less expensive and easier to produce plastic frame. The lower cost was necessary because the iPhone 5 introduction coincided with Apple’s dropping margins on their marque product. The 5s launch could not happen without freeing up the machines used to make the 5 by making the 5c on different machines.

  • So many articles lamenting the loss of Steve Jobs and it’s (supposed) affect on Apple.

    The reality is that Apple has been doing well both financially and in producing innovative products (a few examples: new Mac Pro, CarPlay, the 64-bit A7, etc.) since Steve Jobs’ death.

    Can anyone at Apple be the "new Steve Jobs"? Of course not. He, like everyone else on the planet was unique.

    But the reality (again) is that Steve Jobs was not the entire company. He was a great presenter, and a tough manager, but he DID NOT design, engineer, market, or optimize production of Apple’s products. ALL of those things were done by other people in the company, and those people have continued doing great things in Mr. Jobs’ absence.

    Is Tim Cook another Steve Jobs? Of course not! But the reverse is also true!

    Tim Cook, like other top managers at Apple, have their areas of expertise. What makes Tim Cook an excellent CEO is that he knows, and has eloquently stated on many occasions, what Apple’s directives have been and continue to be. He also fully trusts his managers (like Jon Ive) to do the best work possible with minimal interference.

    It is foolish for people to ask, as some have been doing, if Apple can survive without Steve Jobs when the facts of the company’s financial and innovative successes unequivalently show that not only has Apple been surviving, but also flourishing.

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