This post will piss a lot of Apple Fans off. I’m going to say that now.
Steve Jobs was a great designer. He built a company up twice based on maximizing control over the hardware, design and the software. He was able to do this an incredibly well. He was able to use this skill to dominate the early computer industry. However, under more competition Apple faltered as it relied heavily on a single creative driver. The designs that Apple created were radical design, these designs in a way constituted a type of radical innovation. The components within the computers themselves weren’t radically improved over the competitors, the design was what made it special.
This is the same for the iPod. By the time the iPod came out there were already many MP3 players and many of them were doing very well. What Apple was able to do was make it simpler to move music onto the device and interface with the device itself. This is the radical portion of the iPod. I feel that this is exactly what happened with the iPhone as well. They created a radical design for the interface, but in many cases didn’t even have legacy features.
Apple does a great job in marketing what any other phone maker would have expected as a normal feature. Even some of the biggest changes, like the fantastic screen it’s an incremental innovation. As a consumer I fully expected some of the newest phones to have amazing screens.
One of the things Jobs did best was to get people to buy the newest version of Apple’s phones. The iPad was also a very similar type of innovation. It’s a gigantic iPhone. However, the reason it worked so well was the fact that iOS was able to scale up and work well on it. In the end I feel that Jobs was able to use cases of Radical Design innovation with incremental technological innovation a loyal consumer base to turn products into massive success.
However, Jobs has also turned Apple into one of the largest patent trolls in the world. With the level of control that Jobs had over Apple, it seems unlikely that he would not have initiated the litigation. Jobs did remember how they lost the PC war in the 80’s and 90’s. I think that Jobs is attempting to use patent law to control the market. There were no software patents during the initial PC battle, however there are software patents now and Apple has been patenting a great deal in order to control how devices are marketed and developed.
Finally, I think that Jobs was what Jim Collins called a level 4 leader. Similar to Lee Iacocca (of Chrysler), Jobs was able to control Apple through sheer personality and create a great company. However, he doesn’t like dissent and would probably pull a George Lucas and change the original Star Wars trilogy.
Jobs did have a vision of what devices should look like and how they should work. He was excellent at creating great designs. He will be remembered for saving a trouble company, bringing design back into mobile devices and forcing a huge number of companies to compete in the mobile market space.