Hype is the name of the game in the technology industry. Major tech players don’t shy away from flashy media events, extravagant product announcements or elaborate PR antics. From self-driving cars to drone deliveries, the stuff tech companies are hawking tends to dominate news coverage.
But in the last few years, one company has slowly dialed down the hype. It’s a surprising move since that company, Apple, is one that pioneered and perfected the fine art of product publicity.
In the latest issue of Fast Company, Apple CEO Tim Cook, along with other members of his executive team, shed light into the company’s current direction. The article offers a fascinating look into the tech behemoth’s evolving product development and marketing strategy. It also explains why, when it comes to making noise about products, Apple isn’t as loud as it once was. It’s a timely read given that Apple is reportedly ready to reveal the iPhone 7 during an invite-only event on September 7.
Lofty goals for a big company
According to Fast Company, Apple’s quieter go-to-market approach is very much influenced by its grounded CEO. Cook’s personality differs significantly from the late Steve Jobs, who many remember for his legendary keynotes and product presentations. In recent years, Apple’s product launches have been more low key, perhaps even boring—a far cry from the memorable launches of the Jobs era.
Counterintuitively, Apple’s quieter approach is a reflection of the company’s more ambitious goals and evolving approach to innovation.
“Our strategy is to help you in every part of your life that we can whether you’re sitting in the living room, on your desktop, on your phone or in your car,” says Cook. Eddy Cue, the company’s SVP of internet software, agrees, adding, “We want to be there from when you wake up till when you decide to go to sleep.”
“We want to be there from when you wake up till when you decide to go to sleep.”
This strategy explains why the company has focused on health care, launching products like ResearchKit, HealthKit and the Apple Watch. Media and entertainment, an industry worth $550 billion globally, is also targeted by products like the streaming service Apple Music and Beats headphones.
3 product innovation tactics from Apple
To achieve its goal of being omnipresent in people’s day-to-day lives, Apple has embraced three notable tenets of product development, according to the article.
1. Incremental innovation
While Apple is known for groundbreaking products, iterations are, in fact, key to its product strategy. That means adding incremental features to existing products instead of trying to launch new disruptions in the market. Recent product keynotes, for instance, have focused on updates to its operating system iOS10, messaging platform iMessage and voice assistant software Siri.
That doesn’t mean incremental innovation doesn’t lead to groundbreaking innovations. “The world thinks we delivered [a breakthrough] every year while Steve [Jobs] was here," Cue tells Fast Company. "Those products were developed over a long period of time."
2. Continual learning
When Apple suffers from failure, the company learns from its mistakes and takes the opportunity to build new competencies. Continual learning is part of Cook’s leadership style.
For instance, when the company’s misconceived Maps app became a punchline among critics and the public in 2012, the leadership team regrouped to re-examine its strategy. After deciding that Maps is integral to the Apple iOS platform, the leadership team identified deficiencies in the company’s capabilities.
"We needed to develop competencies that we initially didn’t appreciate," says Craig Federighi, SVP of software engineering. To bridge the gap, the company prioritized data integration and data quality in the development process.
3. Open innovation
Jobs wasn’t a fan of public beta testing, so it wasn’t ingrained in the company’s culture. But the very public failure of Maps changed that.
In the past few years, the company has opened up some of its most high profile software for user feedback. Major updates to two operating systems—Yosemite and iOS—both went through beta testing. “The reason you as a customer are going to be able to test iOS,” Cue adds, “is because of Maps.”
Cook himself is known for listening to and personally responding to customer feedback.
Playing the long game
So far, it looks like Apple’s product innovation strategy is working. Since Cook took over, the company’s revenue has tripled and its smartphone market share is stable, thanks to products like the four-inch iPhone SE.
The biggest lesson from Fast Company’s article though is that Apple is playing the long game. Cook knows that its long-term success doesn’t depend solely on iPhone sales. While it’s true that the stakes are high for the company’s iPhone 7 launch, it’s not exactly a make-or-break moment for the company. Apple shows that, when it comes to product innovation, a broader, continuous and more prudent strategy is a highly profitable approach.