As Apple sees its stock price rising again on rumors of yet another earth-shattering product, the talk of an Apple Tablet computer looms on the horizon. This device is poised to be the next "heir to the throne" in Apples product lineage.
Of interest is how Apple, a relative underdog in the world of computers who thrives on its consumer electronics offerings, has the ability to drive the direction of not technology itself, but of "how end users interact with technology."
IBM has its Lenovo laptops, but the Macbook air is lighter and thinner. Microsoft has its Windows, but OS X allows grandma to check email without breaking a sweat. Company X has its MP3 player, but the iPod series have always been cooler, sleeker, smaller, and lighter.
The point is that while there are a lot of consumer technologies out there, the companies that produce devices with these technologies all try to present their products to consumers the way that Apple does. This is the Apple magic; the effect of good product design, which bridges the gap between high technology and common man. The magic is nothing more than pure effort and forethought into making a device as intuitive as possible -- a mind-set that many companies just don't seem to get.
What is so amazing about the magic is that it has slowly forced other device companies to rethink their product strategy. The behemoth that was "high technology" in the 80's and 90's, is slowly becoming softer, gentler, and friendlier. High technology today is now easier to use, easier on the eyes, and easier to carry around.
Now I will admit that I'm personally not a Mac-head. I don't own a Mac, or an iPod, or an iPhone. My kids do however, and in fact I do recognize great product design when I see and use it.
It is known here in Silicon Valley that Apple has a treasure-trove of product designers and human-interface engineers; it's the biggest reason why Apple products have such a positive effect on end-users; they make "non-user-friendly technology" more, well "user-friendly". It can be said that much of Apples technology is not ground-breaking in the truest sense, but that the way in which their technology presents itself to users is ground-breaking. They function with the same methodology of 1960's Japan; take something that already exists, make it easier to use and easier to adopt, then re-brand it. Apple is an expert at this business model.
One would argue that in many ways, Apple is more "evolutionary" than "revolutionary." They take big, heavy, bulky, ugly, rough, complex and frustrating technology that works, and turn that same technology into something that is smaller, lighter, prettier, smoother, simpler and friendlier. It is akin to a bulldozer which looks and feels like a Ferrari.
As a product designer, I have seen many comparisons of competitive products with Apple products. In almost every instance, the technology features were not that far apart. But what was obviously different was the manner in which the Apple products made the technology easier to swallow, where the competitive products were more or less a "take it or leave it" proposition.
The epitome of product design is the seamless melding of the applicable technology with user interaction. Apple shows us, time and time again, that the ability to do so must also appear seamless.
Apple, in effect, makes things easy, and makes making easy things look easy...now there's a mouthful.
So as the world looks forward to the next Apple "product presentation," take a minute and look around at all of the technology devices we take for granted. Then ask yourself how much of your daily tech use requires you to adapt, versus how much your tech device adapts to you.