Apple Runs On “Wow”

In the last Exponent episode, Ben Thompson has an interesting take on “service development” vs “product development” and why Apple might not be setup for the former.


Building cloud services requires a mindset of constant iterations and self-healing. It’s about creating a good process. And it’s not a finished one by definition. It’s so fundamentally different than building a product like a phone. There has to be a self contained package at some point. You’re either building towards an end point, or towards a process.

I don’t know if I agree: you could argue that going from iPhone 1st generation to iPhone 6S is also a “process”. Similarly, whatever you do in software/service development, there are step points as well. From a company standpoint, each “push to production” is one of them — even if they are much more frequent.

But it’s not my point here. There is another explanation altogether.

Deep in Apple’s veins runs the need to “wow”. It drives everything.

It might be making a computer talk to you. Designing a computer that looks like nothing else. Flicking your fingers on a screen to scroll. Or building glass stairs in a retail shop.

Apple is at its best when it can show you something and your jaws drop.

It’s not marketing. The whole company works like that. You’re either on the cool project, or you’re not. Anything that’s not cool quickly fades away within the organisation.

Will an internet service make your jaws drop?

A voice recognition engine rocks if it understands what you are saying. It’s an impressive technical achievement. Is it “cool”? You decide.

The best search engine will show you instantly what you are searching for. It is an amazing technical feat. Does it give you goose bumps?

I am not judging here. “Cool” is not better. It just appeals to a different part of the human psyche.

Internet services are seldom “sexy”. As a consequence, they are hard to do within Apple.

On the other hand, there’s touch and feel

You can touch, you can feel products with an interface, be it software or hardware. When Mac OS X launched, people wanted to lick the buttons on the screen. When the Power Mac G5 was introduced, I saw people stare at it in awe for several minutes.

Making software or hardware that look and feel great is neither easier nor more difficult than making great internet services. And I am not sure it boils down to a question of process. But it’s hard to connect services to emotions and feelings. And these run in Apple’s veins.

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