I read the biography of Steve Jobs during my long flights and lay overs to the US and back last week. It was quite an interesting read and gave me a much better understanding of why Apple is what it is: a control freak company that wants to have end-to-end control over each and every piece of the user experience.
I also realized something else. It’s not enough to come up with a great idea or invent something fantastic. Invention is just half the job done. The other half is implementation. The way an invention is packaged and handed to a customer is equally important. This can be see from numerous examples of how how others invented something and struggled with making it usable. Then Apple came in, took the idea and made it a roaring success.
The key takeaway for me was the fact that user experience is everything. In the past I have been critical of the “dumbness” of Apple devices. They still are pretty dumb to me. But then dumbness is a relative thing. For example, I get frustrated when I cannot mark all emails as read in one operation on my iPhone and iPad. I need to open each email and close it to mark it as read. But then for someone who doesn’t get a large number of emails every day and is not using different devices to access email that is not going to be a big issue. However, if Apple was to solve my problem it would need to add an extra UI element in the iOS mail app to mark all email as read. That would ending up making the app more “powerful” but would start ruining its elegant simplicity.
Android solves this particular problem and others like it by having three buttons (Home, Menu and Back) on the device instead of just one like iOS. Some Android devices even have a fourth button for Search. The Menu button is where developers put stuff like “Mark all as read“. While this may make perfect sense, I don’t think Apple will ever do this. It just goes against their design philosophy that things need to look and be brain dead simple.
This reminds me of an incident I read in the biography where someone was giving Jobs a presentation on a CD burning software that was being created at Apple. The UI mockups had all these panels, buttons and what not. Steve listened for a while and then asked the guy to shut up. He walked up to a white board and drew a big rectangle. Then he drew a square towards one corner, wrote the word “Burn” in it and said, “People will drag their files and drop them in this big rectangle and hit the “Burn” button. That’s it. That is what we are going to create.”
George Santyana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Everybody knows that Google is doing to Apple in the phone business what Microsoft did to it in the desktop business years ago. I think its inevitable. Actually its a no-brainer if you compare the activations of Android and iOS devices, whichever way you dissect the numbers.
As was the case the last time, its about the control freak nature of Apple which came straight from Steve Jobs. Apple doesn’t want to license iOS to hardware manufacturers fearing that they will put it on inferior hardware and ruin the user experience. But then Apple already allows half a million apps to run on iOS devices after approving them. So I don’t see a reason why they cannot do something similar to hardware manufacturers as well. I mean license iOS to them and let them ship only after verifying that the user experience is not compromised.
IMHO, it’s certainly doable. But I highly doubt Apple will do it. And that is why I believe history will repeat itself. Unfortunately.