Apple's End-To-End Model Leads to Innovation and User Experience

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By: switchtoamac at: 6:49 AM on June 5, 2006 | Comments (0)

When comparing a Mac against a PC, cost is the most often cited metric used to make the comparison.  In my view, cost is only one variable of the computing equation.  Failure to analyze other variables will lead one down an incomplete analysis.  At a minimum, the comparison should also look at the following:

  • Features, security, and stability of the operating systems
  • Included and/or bundled software
  • Maintenance and repair histories
  • Realibility and performance of customer service

These critical aspects of the overall computing experience should not be overlooked.  We all know that computers are critical to our daily activities.  We use them to communicate (e-mail, video-conferencing), and as enablers of today's digital lifestyle.  We use them to listen to music, watch movies and videos (DVDs, movies, TV shows), to share photographs, and to surf the Internet.  Computers and technology are penetrating more parts of our lives and we are increasingly using computers to meet these new and expanding activities.  An often overlooked attribute is the associated user experience.  Apple addresses the total user experience thanks to an integrated end-to-end model.  Apple is the source for both the hardware and key software shipped on Macs.

A comparison of how PC vendors and Apple design systems

PC vendors such as Dell have historically designed and built computers by aggregating various parts from multiple component manufacturers.  Once these components are merged, you get your Dell, HP, Compaq, or Gateway.  Apple on the other hand, employs a wholeistic approach to system design with the total user experience as the central goal.  Of course, Apple relies on component manufacturers to supply parts but it does not do so entirely.  Apple's hardware engineers are involved in the design of several key components that are found in a Mac and it's quite obvious by looking at one.  For example, the most recent revisions to the iMac, MacBook, and MacBook Pro computers have brought forth integrated iSight cameras and Infrared remotes to leverage key features of OS X and new Apple software.

Apart from their elegant appearance, Macs function elegantly thanks to top-tier quality engineering and the OS X operating system.  Apple software such as iLife integrates seamlessly with OS X and other Apple software such as .Mac.  What does Apple provide to its customers that clearly separates it from other computer vendors?  In my view, it's the "total user experience".  Just take a look at the designs of the iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, PowerMac, and the Apple Displays.  All are elegantly designed, are easy to use, and are designed with a focus on the total user experience.

Apple hardware and component engineers are able to leverage in-house software development teams.  This applies to both the OS X operating system and the Apple software that runs on OS X.  Engineers from these various teams provide Apple with the unique ability to innovate by the simple fact of being able to build systems that can integrate with existing and future features in OS X and Apple software.  Case in point, when new iMacs were introduced in September 2005, Apple introduced a built-in integrated iSight camera into the display.  Not only was this hardware added to the iMac (prior to this update, the iSight was a stand-alone product) but new software Photo Booth was also added.  The same can be said for Front Row and the Infrared Apple Remote.  Macs now have an integrated infrared sensor located on the front to communicate with the remote.  A clear demonstration of how the end-to-end model brings forth innovation.

Apple does not have to rely on an OS vendor or third-party software vendors to write software to allow Apple to innovate.  Apple has free will to design and innovate as they see fit and most importantly, how to impact the daily computing experience for its customers.  Hardware engineers within Apple can work in conjunction with software engineers to bring forth new technologies and computing features.  This provides Apple the ability to build products and technologies that once they reach the shelf, demand a technology premium but more importantly, a user experience premium.

Can a PC vendor such as Dell bring to market such innovations?  Quite simply, no.  PC vendors have to wait for a Windows Service Pack update, a new version of the Windows operating system, and/or third-parties to bring more functionality to their PCs whether its software or a new hardware feature.  The differences could not be any clearer.  Apple has the unique advantage of offering its customers an end-to-end solution that brings forth innovation and value.

You won't find this paradigm in the Windows-PC world because PC vendors cannot tell Microsoft what to build into the Windows operating system.  PC vendors are essentially at the mercy of Microsoft and can only utilize what the Windows operating sytem provides.  Of course, third-party software can be bundled to add functionality.  For example, PC vendors often bundle an Anti-Virus/Security Suite to protect the Windows operating system from attackers, viruses, spyware, and malware.  It wouldn't be in the interest of such vendors to sell computers that are inherently vulnerable out-of-the-box.  Why do vendors offer anti-virus and security software on newly shipped PC's?  They do it to protect themselves from potential angry customers who, without the software bundle, would threaten to return their new but compromised computers.  The point here is that from a PC vendor perspective, the opportunity to freely innovate does not exist.  Vendors are at the mercy of the components used to build the systems and the software that will run on those systems.  Apple does not suffer from this limitation and constraint.

The end result is beneficial to both Apple and most importantly, the consumer.  Apple can continue to build innovative products and technologies, the consumer is provided with an overall great user experience.

Windows users, what do you have to loose?  You can free your computing from the limitations and drawbacks of the Windows operating system.  There is no need to use an OS that behind the technology curve, one that copies features from Mac OS X, and one that does not freely support standards based technologies.  You can free your computer from viruses, spyware, malware and the other problems that plague Windows.  With a Mac, you have a safe, secure, and integrated collection of hardware and software engineering.  For those who need to run Windows programs, you will be able to do so thanks to Boot Camp.

The success of the iPod proves that an integrated end-to-end model can be viable, profitable, and most importantly successful.  Apple has successfully applied the Mac business model to the iPod.  Apple has demonstrated that integrated hardware (iPod) and software (iTunes) will not be shunned by consumers.  In fact, it demonstrates that such an approach can be embraced as long as it offers a compelling user experience.  Those who have criticized Apple's approach can not argue against the success of the iPod.  In my view, Apple is applying the lessons learned from the iPod to the new Macintosh's.  This revitalization and re-application of the end-to-end model will ultimately lead to a level of Mac success that has not been seen to date.  In my view, the Mac is about to grow by leaps and bounds.  I've even voiced my expectations of Apple's market share by the end of the OS X Leopard lifecycle.  Integration and ease-of-use is what today's consumer demands.  Apple's approach is able to meet this demand by offering a compelling, complete, and refined total user experience.

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