Apple’s innovation strategy is one of the reasons behind its unparalleled success. It gives the company a competitive edge over its competitors and makes it the most sought-after brand by customers today. Apple’s market cap of more than $2 trillion valuation and billions of revenues manifest the power of this world’s most innovative company.
The company has the most loyal customers base of people of every demographic. Everything that Apple does becomes an instant phenomenon, a trend-setter. From iconic Macintosh to iPods to iPhones to iWatch— all have set new trends in the technology industry.
Apple creates a wholesome experience for its customers. It provides customers with innovative software wrapped in even more innovative hardware, which comes in beautiful packaging. As, in the words of Micheal Lopp, senior engineering manager at Apple —
Apple provides really good ideas wrapped up in other really good ideas.
So, if you want to learn about Apple’s innovation strategy that has been steering the company to its matchless success, keep reading!
Apple’s innovation strategy: The secret tool that has been driving the company to its unmatched success
The need for innovation runs in the culture of Apple, which was inherited from its founder Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs’s commitment to radical innovation navigated the company to success amidst the intense competition.
Apple has set trends with its innovations and attention to detail. With Macintosh, computers became sleek and user-friendly. Similarly, with the iPod and iTunes — Apple taught people the right way to listen to music. Likewise, iPhone gave consumers everything they never knew they wanted. Apple has not stopped there with just hardware and software. It continues to reach new milestones by offering a whole range of innovative ecosystems to enhance the overall user experience.
Apple is organized in such a way that fosters a culture of innovation
According to an article in Harvard Business Review, “How Apple is organized for Innovation”, the organizational design and leadership model plays a vital role in Apple’s innovation strategy.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he changed the conventional organizational structure to collaboratively functional. Steve Jobs laid off all the General Managers of every business unit and divided the company into various teams. Each domain was led by an expert leader and is responsible for the decision taken by that team.
This organizational structure now is the cornerstone of Apple’s innovation strategy.
According to Steve Jobs, ideas run the company, not the hierarchy. Check out the following video where he puts the organizational culture and in retrospect; Apple’s innovation strategy in better words.
The technical experts bring more to the table than a manager with no technical expertise. Here, let’s take an example of the decision to introduce a Dual-lens camera with portrait mode in the iPhone 7 plus by Paul Hubel and his team. Such a decision was a risky decision, as, before iPhone 7 plus, the camera was not the defining feature of any phone. So, the idea that consumers would be ready to pay an extra amount for a better quality camera on a phone might not have been a sound decision to take at that time.
A manager who does not possess technical expertise would deny the idea simply on its viability and profitability. Hubel and his team still took the decision. Now, cameras are one of the defining features of an iPhone.
It hires and empowers smart people to harness creativity and innovation
Do you know Andy Rubin, who co-created Apple’s biggest rival Android, is a former Apple employee?
Similarly, the creators of Nest Labs, Tony Fadell, and Matt Rogers also once worked at Apple. Besides, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith creators of Hotmail, Reid Hoffman creator of LinkedIn, and Evan Doll of Flipboard also once were Apple’s employees.
Likewise, many more Apple alums went on to excel in their fields. Perhaps, you can say Steve Jobs had a true knack to find the best of minds.
Apple does not hire anyone. For innovation, the company needs innovative minds who are always coming up with ideas and designs that can give the company its competitive edge. Therefore, it is a part of Apple’s innovation strategy to empower each worker to keep them motivated to think beyond. As in the words of Steve Jobs;
It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.
The company spends aggressively on R&D to create innovative products
The company is known for its massive expenditure on research and development. In the year 2021, the company had spent a whopping US$ 21.91 billion on R&D.
The company believes via its commitment to R&D, it can only better serve its customers. The investment in R&D constitutes the major portion of Apple’s innovation strategy, and the company believes it will enable the company, in the long run, to offer new innovative products to its customers.
Currently, the company has all its attention to wearables, health, and its secret self-driving car (Project Titan). Despite, the delays I like other enthusiasts, am looking right at the doors of the Willy Wonka Factory of the modern world — Apple — for its electric Apple Car.
Better late than sorry: Apple takes its time and never launches a half-baked product
Apple has been the trendsetter company for more than 40 years now, we all know that! Apple has been the pioneer of many unheard products and features, which Google and Samsung even followed. For example, nobody even heard of FaceID in smartphones not until Apple did it. Similarly, the portrait lighting feature in iPhone X shook the entire market because of its novelty. The feature allowed every user to get their images with professional photography lighting effects.
There are also times when Apple does not take the lead, while others like Samsung do it first. Those delays also have a good rationale behind them.
Since Apple is fully committed to innovation and does not want to dump less than perfect products in the market. Whatever Apple does, it does it right! As Tim Cook said in an interview with Fast Company:
We don’t believe in using our customers as a laboratory. What we have that I think is unique is patience. We have the patience to wait until something is great before we ship it.
The company deliberately keeps its product portfolio limited and focuses on making them head-turners mainly
There’s a very interesting piece of information I found in an article by Carmine Gallo, where he discussed the advice Steve Jobs gave to Nike CEO, Mark Parker:
Nike makes some of the best products in the world. Products that you lust after. But you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.
Despite being the world’s most valuable company and an epiphany of innovation and technology, Apple has a surprisingly small product portfolio compared to its competitors. This is also an interesting part of Apple’s innovation strategy. Apple always concentrates on fewer numbers of products with unique features that provide maximum value to customers. The company focuses on enhancing product features with more disruptive technology rather than producing hundred mediocre products to saturate the market.
Apple Ecosystem has become an important component of Apple’s innovation strategy
The Apple ecosystem plays an integral part in the whole Apple experience, hence in Apple’s innovation strategy. Apple has one of the world’s best ecosystems, even better than Microsoft and Google. The company is building, innovating, and curating its ecosystem for enhanced user experience.
For example, if you have iPhone, then all your data will get into other Apple devices too, like Macbook, iWatch, and iPad via iCloud syncing. Same applications run on each Apple device and you can continue where you left in one device. You can attend calls on your Apple watch instead of taking out your iPhones. Your pictures, videos, and other data can automatically transfer to your Macbook. iPods need iTunes to get, play and transfer music.
The company is innovating via its radical ecosystem innovation, which plays a major role in Apple’s innovation strategy, as Tim Cook stated:
We don’t want people to have to go to multiple [systems] or live with a device that’s not integrated. We do the hardware and the software, and some of the key services as well, to provide a whole system.
Apple’s innovation strategy: The final words
I will not deny the fact that I am a huge fan of Apple’s products (yes! I am one of those people who buy every new model of iPhone despite its ridiculous prices). Not only products, but I am also a fan of the company itself. From its history and its founder to its strategies, there is so much to learn from this world’s most valuable company.
Apple is innovating, it’s growing. From developing its ecosystem to entering the new market segment, the company is working hard to ensure via its disruptive technology it provides more value to its customers. It’s only a matter of time before it launches some breakthrough product like iPhone in 2007, to shut all mouths up (Apple car, we are watching you!)