So Apple had a big week this week. They announced the fall release of IOS 7, OS X 10.9 “Mavericks,” a new high end Mac Pro to be manufactured in the USA, a new MacBook Air with 8 hour battery life available now, and a streaming personalized radio service called iRadio. What has been in the news about Apple the past few months? Mostly comments like “Apple is boring,” “Apple can’t innovate,” “Apple losing control of its brand,” and so on. Apple can’t help but innovate and this was the result. So what was the news today? “Love and Hate for Apple’s New Mobile Software” (NY Times), “Apple designer Jony Ive’s iOS redesign mocked in new Tumblr blog” (LA Times), “Is Apple’s Beautiful iOS 7 Design Primed For Fall Crisis?” (Forbes), etc. There were positive headlines, but a quick search showed about 50 / 50 positive and negative. What is going on here? Does Apple have nowhere to go but down?
This is not just aimed at Apple. Microsoft is also in a challenging position at the moment. Windows 8 has not done well and the news has had quite a bit of negative press for it with articles like “Big hurdle facing Windows 8 tablet adoption” (ZDNet), “Windows 8 Adoption Hits New Low” (InformationWeek), and “How to Prepare for Windows 8 Even Though It’s Not Coming to Enterprises” (CIO). Customers screamed for a touch based operating system from Microsoft, they flocked to the iPad in the meantime, and once Windows 8 became available, they didn’t buy it.
Apple’s IOS competition, Google’s Android, is not immune. Apple pointed out the fragmentation in Android during their keynote and people might have said this was just Apple defending itself, but Business Insider recently published the same graph.
This situation is actually a good example of the uncommon “customer knows best” fallacy. Yes, being responsive to customer and market conditions is critical to business success, but the customer doesn’t always know what the customer doesn’t know (see my post from May 24th). In that post, my suggestion was to ask great questions and really listen to the answers. That is still good advice, but there is always the exception to the rule. When you get to the level of companies like Apple, Microsoft, and Google, hopefully you know the rules so well, you know when they can be broken. Even Steve Jobs said, “Customers don’t know what they want” but as a Forbes article (http://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2011/10/17/five-dangerous-lessons-to-learn-from-steve-jobs/) from 2011 explained “Without Jobs’ talents and the unparalleled creative team and processes that he built around himself, you won’t get away with doing no market research and not listening to your customers.”
Tomorrow we will get back to social media tools, but hopefully this brief digression helped you think about your customer “truisms” in a new light. There can be a place for taking a risky, intuitive chance with a new product, approach, or service outside your customers’ comfort zone, but only if you can stand the risk of failure and potentially the short term negative press. On the positive side, you could be the next “disruptive technology” in your industry.