What it is: One key to Apple’s success isn’t doing what everyone else is doing, but in focusing less on technical specifications and more on user experience.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, one of his first goals was to simplify Apple’s product line. At the time, Apple sold several different types of Macintosh computers with confusing names like the Performa 5200 or the Quadra 800. When Steve Jobs asked how people could tell the difference between all of these confusing computer names to determine which one might be right for them, nobody could give him an answer. That’s when Steve Jobs cut the Macintosh product line into four quadrants labeled Professional and Consumer, and Desktop and Laptop. That meant four different types of computers.
Where other companies pile on a laundry list of features, Apple focuses more on the customer experience to make products as simple as possible to use. A study by Elke den Ouden at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands found that nearly half of all products returned for refunds were in perfect working condition, but the customer couldn’t figure out how to use it.
When you look at most ads for PCs or Android smartphones, you’ll often see a list of technical specifications. However this means you have to both understand what these technical specifications mean and how they’ll translate into making you happier using that particular product. Having 4GB of DDR RAM means nothing if it doesn’t do anything for you. In the absence of actual results, most companies prefer to overwhelm users with technical specifications in the mistaken belief that more must be better.
That’s why Apple’s laptop product line is due for a realignment. Right now Apple sells the MacBook Air, the MacBook Pro, and the MacBook. Originally the MacBook Air was meant to be a lightweight computer and the MacBook Pro was meant to be a laptop for professional users. However the MacBook doesn’t fit neatly in its own category. The MacBook is actually lighter than the MacBook Air, but sports a Force Touch trackpad and a 12-inch screen while the MacBook Air offers a 11 and 13-inchs screen and the MacBook Pro offers a 13 and 15-inch screen.
Most likely the MacBook is the future along with the MacBook Pro. That means the MacBook Air will likely disappear. After all, why get a MacBook Air when you can get a lighter MacBook instead?
Getting rid of the MacBook Air would simplify Apple’s laptop offerings once more. If you’re a consumer, you’ll get the MacBook. If you’re a professional, you’ll get the MacBook Pro. Notice how even the names are simpler and descriptive. Eliminate the MacBook Air and you just get rid of an unnecessary product that simply confuses people.
If you’re in the market for a Macintosh laptop, go with a modern laptop, which means getting a MacBook or MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air lacks a Force Touch trackpad and the MacBook’s new keyboard. You can be sure the MacBook will be updated in the future and the MacBook Pro was recently updated to add the Force Touch trackpad. On the other hand, the MacBook Air has not been updated lately.
Given a choice between complexity or simplicity, most companies choose complexity to mask their own cluttered thinking. The real answer is to embrace simplicity because that allows the customer to see exactly what he or she is getting, and that’s what most companies don’t want because that exposes their own lack of clarity.
As you watch Apple, you can see that they still need to embrace simplicity over complexity (think Apple Music and their growing and confusing line of laptops). However, Apple still makes better designed products than most other companies that bombard you with features to imply superiority without having to explicitly explain how that translates into superiority. Until another company focuses on the consumer more than Apple, it’s likely that in the near future, Apple will still be the leader.
Now let’s just hope that they’ll straighten out their confusing laptop product line soon.