Here's How Apple's New Approach to Consumer Tech Can Help Your Business
Apple’s recent acquisition of the Beats by Dr. Dre brand is just the tip of the iceberg that is a raft of fundamental changes happening at the Cupertino, CA tech giant. On the surface, it would seem that Apple is trying to bolster its position as a tech giant in both the hardware and software niches but underneath these changes is a paradigm shift that could see Apple position itself better as a broad base consumer tech company. This new Apple would be better equipped to tackle other areas such as television, content, home accessories and other areas that have not been traditional Apple strongholds.
What Apple is moving towards is understanding better how its consumers are using its products and figuring out how to better enable these users within these contexts. This is a departure from the feature-centric approach that Apple founder, the late Steve Jobs, had where Apple focused more on features than on usability. This a tremendous shift and follows the likes of Amazon that have had a user-centric product development approach over the years. So what is there to learn from this new shift happening at Apple?
First, it’s not about features, it’s about usability. Many businesses make the mistake of getting caught up in a features race with competitors that has no input from customers. You’ll often find that you are always trying to one-up your competition with a new/ better feature that makes your product better, faster, and cheaper, etc. This is a wrong approach and one that Apple has realized it has been doing in its marketing war with Samsung. Users don’t care about features, especially if they cannot use them or they do not lend themselves to making the user’s life easier or better.
A feature is very different from a benefit, a distinction that can often mean the difference between winning customers vs. “beating the competition”. Here’s an example: supposing you sell a certain widget that helps a user complete a one hour task in 30 minutes. The speed is a feature while the less time spent at the task is a benefit. If your competitor comes and says theirs can do the task in 15 minutes, this is a feature vs. feature scenario.
This faster speed may not necessarily be what the end user really needs in an improved widget. So instead of trying to beat the 15 minute feature, you should instead find out from the end user how the widget would serve them better. You might find they would prefer a scheduling feature above an increased speed feature. This translates into an added benefit. This scenario demonstrates that as a business, you need to clearly define what benefits your product or service offers vs. what features it has.
The next lesson to be learnt from Apple’s makeover is that everything thrives in a support system or an ecosystem. Nothing can exist in a vacuum, not even the best products and services. Find out how and where your customers use your products and services and then see if you can add support features or add-ons to add value within these contexts.
This is what is called a platform approach. If people plug into your business and find there is much more they can achieve over and above the basic value preposition, this becomes a business that has more value in their eyes. Plus you don’t need to be a tech business to utilize the platform model. If you run a coffee shop, for instance, your core product/ service is selling coffee and other snacks to patrons. A platform approach may mean having a website to automate ordering, adding delivery services through a third party, partnering with a local library to offer loyalty points that can be redeemed for books, and so on. This expands the benefits your business has to the user/ customer to help them achieve more at one place.
More changes are expected at Apple as they venture into the enterprise market and roll out deeper developer tools to enhance integration with the platform and there will be more lessons to learn from this going forward. For now, focus on usability (how your customers actually use your products and services) and turning your business into a platform business.