Are you really competing or just wasting my time?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: foxtwo

Earlier this week, I was watching the Apple keynotes from Macworld 2009 and the iPhone 3.0 SDK announcement, mostly to prepare for the keynote from the Apple WWDC (their developer conference).

These keynotes are where Apple traditionally reveals their Next Big Thing as well as their accomplishments over the last year. It isn’t Wall Street conference call yawner sort of stuff. Instead, they do it at their customers’ level of interest.

A few things stuck out of these conversations:

In 2008, 3.4MM customers visited Apple stores every week (on average).

2008 was the biggest year in the history of Apple, as far as sales of Macintosh computers are concerned: they sold 9.7MM macs.

Apple currently dominates the smartphone app market.

For example, the number of applications available for the leading smartphones:

  • iPhone 50000+
  • Android 4900
  • Nokia 1088
  • BlackBerry 1030
  • Palm 18.

No, I’m not sure why Windows Mobile apps were not in that count, but I think it’s safe to say that the Windows Mobile platform can’t claim 1 billion app downloads between April 2008 and June 2009.

Apple sold 13.7 MM (million) iPhones in the first year.  When you include the iPod Touch in that number, it leaps to over 40MM.

62% of programmers in the iPhone application developer program are NEW to Apple platform. Having been in the technology biz for 25+ years, I can tell you that this is an insanely successful number.

By now, you might think that I’m an Apple fanboy. Nope. Maybe a fan, but I try to remain pragmatic. I don’t yet own a mac or an iPhone, but I find Apple’s ability to compete pretty impressive – particularly HOW they compete.

It’s 100% cultural.

We’ve talked previously before being able to do something right in your competition’s face, having them observe your success and then do nothing about it – particularly nothing similar.

The Apple way

Apple has long talked about making things easy (and yeah, I know that not everything is), but it really is the focus of everything they do.

Let’s compare how an iTouch deals with wireless connectivity vs that of a Windows laptop.

Windows will ask if you want to diagnose or repair and tell you about the DNS it can’t find and so on. Seems to me that if your wireless is on and there is a network in reach, it’s a little silly to ask if you want to try again to connect after the first failure. My laptop drives me bonkers with this sort of stuff as I travel and deal with disparate networks across the country.

Meanwhile, an iTouch either connects or it doesn’t. On the same network that will provoke a laptop to ask about repair and diagnosis, the iTouch just does whatever needs to be done to try and heal the connection.

But it’s far deeper than that.

When Apple Marketing Chief Phil Schiller introduced a new version of the Apple spreadsheet software, he simply said “It works the Apple way.”

Everyone with a mac knows what that means, especially if they have MS Office for the mac.

At the core of all of this is a clear desire to stand out by doing things for the customer that they shouldn’t have to do themselves. Former Clarion Software CEO Bruce Barrington is said to have uttered a similar comment. It goes something along the lines of: “Anything the user has to do every time shouldn’t have to be done at all.”

I try to do these things in the software I write. It’s a profound approach, despite being so common sense. It makes you rethink design, which (surprise) is what Apple is so identified with: great design.

Self-cleaning ovens

Now…think about your products, services and customer interactions.

What are your customers forced to do every time and how can you eliminate those tasks?

That’s the kind of competitive strategy that gets customers to gobble up your products, but there’s more to it than that. If your products do more, automatically, then your staff and your customers will spend less time on customer support – because they won’t need it.

Your products will stand out even more, and the competition will simply stand there and watch as you eat their lunch.

Here’s a simple example to close things out today: Most self-cleaning ovens aren’t self-cleaning.

They still have to be told to clean themselves.

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