09/16/2013 03:43 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2013

Apple Strikes Gold

Apple's champagne gold 5S iPhone will be an international phenomenon. How do I know? I walked into my local store and asked a 21-year-old in blue what colors will be hot.

"Everyone who works here is ordering the gold iPhone," he told me. Not 60 percent or 80 percent -- but 100 percent.


"Because there's never been one (a gold phone before)," he said. "The gold ring around the Touch ID button is beautiful."

No, it's not science, and it's not guaranteed that the phone -- and Apple -- will be a hit. But the simple point that the media has missed is one critical for you. Apple has taken ownership of gold -- and it's future.

That's not a little thing. History buffs may recall how the bloody battle for gold drove mankind to explore and discover new worlds, including America.

Now every other erstwhile mobile competitor -- Samsung, Google, Motorola, and HTC-- are stuck looking like copycats if they try to douse themselves in gold.

Apple continues to teach us about owning markets. This past week critics carped about the upcoming iPhones, shouting that the colorful 5C is too expensive for developing markets, beefing that Apple shouldn't have retired the color black and bemoaning the lack of a more potent battery.

Apple is brilliant at ignoring Wall Street analysts, tech bloggers, and all manner of experts who don't have a clue about their business.

Yes, the new iPhones are expensive -- but Steve Jobs smartly saw the danger of "race to the bottom" pricing. Seven hundred million people are working and living in the Apple iOS, a number that will likely soon surpass a billion. That's a lot of customers -- a big chunk of the world.

Mobile phone customers may clamor for longer battery life, just as car owners may itch for more legroom, but Apple is smartly ignoring routine demands to deliver remarkable new capabilities like Touch ID fingerprint access, and the M7 chip, dedicated to measuring motion through an accelerometer, compass and gyroscope.

These are bets on the future.

Leadership is about experimenting and taking worthwhile chances, and saying no to incremental advancements, like longer battery life.

This summer I was invited to Google to see a different approach to innovation. The Motorola VP at Google spent half his time telling us how the company meticulously studied tons of customer usage data and then developed capabilities for the Moto X in response to those perceived needs.

The approach sounds customer friendly -- and weak. Sure the Moto X has a potent battery, and supports a geek friendly wrist snap that will ready the phone for instant photos like a gunslinger's hot Colt 45. Nor would I contest that the phone's playful rainbow of colors and accents and materials promise a myriad of choices.

But deep down, people don't want lots of choices. We crave quality, authenticity and vision. Gimmicks and basics seldom inspire.

I've held the Moto X in my palm. Next to an iPhone it feels and looks only slightly better than an imitation Rolex in comparison to the real McCoy.

It's true that high attention to detail and design won't matter to all customers and all markets. But study the world's elite luxury brands and services -- from cars to clothes, watches, furniture and hotels -- and you will see that they define their vision.

Focus groups or big data is not where Apple seeks inspiration. It doesn't poll customers or design for the average. It doesn't cater to Wall Street analysts or bloggers.

It takes ownership.

I'd be the last to suggest that a business ignore customers, but owners are in business for themselves first, and just as Steve Jobs proved in spades, your first customer is you.

Google, in contrast, embraces the engineering heavy, design indifferent, mass prototyping course with products that sometimes sport vision and promise like Google Glass and other times flop like Google Wave, Google Buzz and the walking dead Google+.

Apple instead plays it close to the vest, taking pride in fewer, bolder choices, along the way abandoning the average and old.

Lately, Google's rainbow seems to be winning most of Wall Street's attention, but investors can be fickle and this week, at least, Apple will strike gold.

Jonathan Littman is the co-author of The Ten Faces of Innovation and founder of Snowball Narrative.