Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Another brick falls from the Apple facade

At one time, Apple prided itself on not having focus groups, of not listening to what customers said they wanted.

That was the Steve Jobs way.

Steve was not driven by market data. Steve just designed the things he thought the world needed, and that he would love to use, then made an organization that he drove very hard to create and ship them. Those of us who happened to also like those same qualities of fine workmanship and ease-of-use, also bought the products and were very grateful for having tangible things in our lives of that quality. Unlike most CEOs, you could sense that Steve used almost every feature of every product that Apple made. When its design fell short, that's when the difference between Apple and every other tech company became crystal clear:

If Steve didn't personally love his experience of using an Apple product, he made sure it didn't ship until it did. 

No other computer company had the unified vision to drive to a integrated and seamless user experience. There are, and have been, designers with as good taste as Steve, with the ability to articulate and lead a team to create that kind of user experience. But few of them succeed at bringing the entire product to market with that design integrity, and the reason is that the organizational structures prevents the kind of cross-organization head-bashing required to drive the compromises out of the product, and to drive the unity of the user experience forward as a corporate goal. (As I write this, after hearing from my friends who drive the electric coupe, it looks like Tesla CEO Elon Musk might be another exception - the driving experience of the Tesla is often exclaimed to be in that same manner, someone with the taste to know and articulate the quality they seek, and the power to demand the organization work together to achieve it).

Ironically, few CEOs care about their products enough to fight their own organization to achieve as uniformly great products as Apple did. Bill Gates may not have had Steve Jobs' taste, but from watching the many times he demo'd Windows it was very clear that every BSOD event was not the way he wanted it to work. It takes a maniac to drive an entire organization to attend to every excruciating detail that makes a great product. And the larger the organization the more personal energy it takes to keep the compromises from creeping in. It's tiring, as Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki remarked "Don't let the bozos grind you down."

In a few years, when the history books look back at the post-Jobs era at Apple with the benefit of more obvious hind-sight, they might begin with the new Apple TV - the first introduction of a new Apple product (not service, as many of those half fallen flat - remember MobileMe?) that sucks, and sucks in the exact manner that Steve worked tirelessly for many years to prevent.

JasonSnell reviews the new Apple TV and outlines the exact kinds of details that drive him crazy - the same kind of details that would have made Steve throw the thing across the room at the design meeting. and yell at the team about falling so short of the expectations of an Apple product. The examples Jason talks about are the exact kind of issues many of us in the user experience role face when we are the expected to be the lone voice of the customer in a large organization. A good example - having to enter a password multiple times, probably because the Apple TV software group, and the iTunes software group have competing requirements, and their VPs trying to meet their quarterly objectives don’t have someone demanding they overcome their small-minded group objectives to ensure the overall user experience doesn’t suck. The new Apple TV doesn't link to the iCloud keychain, so you have to enter passwords again. The iOS Remote App that made it so much easier to enter alphanumerics and used the touch screen as a remote - doesn't work with the new Apple TV. The iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad screen is the perfect remote for a new Apple TV, while the physical remote could have been just a stand-in for those folks who didn't have an iOS device in the house. Whether Steve thought the killer feature for moving Apple TV from a "hobby" to a product was Siri control, cross-channel search, or physical gestures, none of these is done as well from the new remote. To abandon the iOS Remote app is a tragic lack of vision - the one thing we had come to count on from Apple.

Steve used to do that for us. He was our user experience advocate, and used his influence and deep commitment to ease-of-use to force the organization into aligning itself to the user experience. Tim doesn’t seem to be as driven by it. Jony could - if he starts spending more time using the products than on how they look and how they are packaged.

Because in the end, that’s what makes a product so beloved. That someone cared as much about saving my time and frustration as much as Steve did, and overcame structure, titles, and organizational entropy to demand it. As someone who had the privilege to create a few small products that people told me they loved to use, I know that is the great gift Steve Jobs gave to us all.