Google could make the iPhone 5 today, and it wouldn’t matter

In the midst of all this patent brouhaha, I think it’s important to note that Apple’s success with the iPhone and iPad wasn’t just the result of innovation in one product area.  It was the result of years of constantly putting the customer first.  Years of saying “hey, as a company, we aren’t going to waste your time.”

That’s why when Apple finally announced the iPhone, it hit big.  Rather than all of the initial skepticism people usually have with a product, customers knew there would be something worth looking at.

The fact is, Apple occupies a psychological space in the market’s mind that is closer to the “buy” decision than other companies.  It’s not much different from a friend recommending movies or games to you.  Once or twice … you have similar tastes, and maybe he got lucky.  5 times … you start paying attention.  You may plan a whole night of entertainment around his recommendation.

It’s not a fair race any more.  In the minds of consumers, Apple is already half way to the finish line at the start of each product cycle.  And that’s because they’ve been running the race correctly for 10 years or more.

And that’s also why, even if Google makes a great phone or tablet, it won’t matter.  At this point, it would have to be an order of magnitude better to get attention.  Google just doesn’t have the trust.  Instead, they stand up in front of you and declare that the Nexus Q is best thing since sliced bread.  And that Google+ is doing amazing numbers … all of which you suspect are carefully selected to hide the truth, which is that none of your friends are using the service and you have no reason to go there.  And which you confirm later by reading any number of reasonably researched articles on the Internet, as well as correlating it with your own experience.

This kind of marketing spin does Google no favors.  It is developing skepticism within its customer base, not a willingness and automatic expectation to buy.  It is a bad direction to head in.

It is worth noting that the two models:

  • Innovating by seeing what sticks
  • Filtering everything so that only the best makes to the customer

are not right or wrong.  Certainly startups tend towards the “what sticks” approach, and many companies (perhaps even most) succeed there as well.

However, the absolute pinnacle of success is only reachable by filtering for your customers.  There is no other way to get that Pavlovian “yes” response to develop.  If your model relies on constant refreshes of products or services to customers, then you will, at some point, be surpassed by a company that filters unless you do it first.

Is this bad?  Not necessarily.  Second or third place products can serve different niches and different needs, but they won’t be an object of desire for the masses.  Just try not to let your ego get in the way if it happens.

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