Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A Grand Unified Theory of Apple Products (aboveavalon.com)
46 points by kawera on Dec 4, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 44 comments

Jobs was brilliant at selling concrete benefits, not technologies.

I'm not seeing so much of that here.

What's the concrete benefit of something that's smaller but not quite as useful as the next product in the range?

What does "challenges what a computer can do" really mean? (In what sense is it true of any recent iMac?)

It's not that the concrete benefits aren't there. The iPad Pro has obvious practical appeal for certain kinds of users. So does the iPhone. Etc.

But this seems worryingly like a muddle where everything is seen from the viewpoint of a rather contrived Grand Strategy, and not from clear specific user benefits for each item in the line.

So Schiller's explanation was really just making explicit the problem described: he more or less states that the goal of each product is to bring into question the necessity of the next. If every product you make, is by design, meant to obsolete another product, then it's going to be a lot of hard choices for the customer: every single thing you want to buy comes with the "but maybe this thing can do this too..." question. This doesnt really justify or bring insight into anything, but rather accurately predicts the confusion such a product line will create.

Once upon a time apple wanted you to walk into an Apple Store and walk out with something useful, now they want you to consider where you side in the "personal vs power" debate.

I inferred this a little differently

In his quote about the iMac* I think the strategy is essentially laid bare that they expect the top end to continue to drive appeal by being powerful and cutting edge - letting consumers continue to drive new experiences and productivity with that form factor

And the waterfall model will, as such, continue as innovation / component miniturization collapses features downward.

Look to the soon arrival of full ar/VR for a "desktop best" example.

Eg VR is best via Oculus rift on a high power PC.

There are translated experiences via Samsungvr and goog glass but nothing like the experience of say assetto corsa racing or elite dangerous on a 2x980gtx system.

Naturally and over time this quality / set will roll downwards to mobile.

* iMac: "It's job is to challenge what we think a computer can do and do things that no computer has ever done before, be more and more powerful and capable so that we need a desktop because of its capabilities. Because if all it's doing is competing with the notebook and being thinner and lighter, then it doesn't need to be."

Sure, but that necessarily means that the "middle" will always be muddled. Only the edges can ever clearly offer unique value. This wouldn't be that big a concern if it wasn't for the fact that apples most valuable products are in this middle.

the proof is in the pudding, regardless of what the theory is, from iPhone plus to iPad mini 2 to iPad mini 4 to iPad Air to iPad Air 2 to iPad Pro to the new MacBook to the MacBook Air to the MacBook Pro (all distinct products), I get some vague sense that I want two, but I'm not really sure which two. And my decision feels like I'm always going to leave something on the table, and unfortunate trade off (like lacking a pen device vs a natural trade off like performance)

Apple's products are expensive. They're not impulse buys, you don't just walk into an Apple Store and -- on a whim -- decide to buy a $2000 computer or a $900 phone.

Instead you go there, try out a few options, go home, think about it, make a decision, then order.

So I actually think it was the original approach that was muddled. If customers are coming to your store with research under their belt, you'd better have a product right for them.

that really depends on your income level, for some of us, something like an apple watch /is/ an impulse buy.

That would certainly be great if true.

But when I look at things like iTunes or the Music app on iOS app, it sure feels like they have tacked feature upon feature overloading things in a big way.

With the latest redesign of the iOS Music app, I can't figure how to just shuffle the tunes I have installed on my phone. ARGH.

I agree. I think the music app has gotten too crowded. I wish they would have separate apps for my music and Apple Music/radio

Pull down from the main menu. Took me some fiddling to figure out too.

That... is a terrible UX

Oh god. I agree that is really bad UX.

I've got an even worse Ux experience for you. The podcast app. The sleep timer, forward 15 sec and back 15 sec buttons are completely invisible. You have to know where on the screen to press to get to them.

I've resorted to only enabling/disabling shuffle via Siri.

There's a button on the bottom of now playing. Same icon as it always has been.

I agree with Schiller's functional breakdown. Based on my own experience: if I can, I just use my Note 4 phone. If that is insufficient I grab my iPad. If that is insufficient, I grab a laptop.

The older I get, and the more writing I do rather than software development, the more I gravitate to smaller devices. It amazes me how easy it is to edit and write manuscripts on small devices. Same as for doing research by web browsing, taking notes, etc.

For some people, they can skip device size levels. For example, some people might only need a phone, a phone + laptop, or perhaps just a tablet with 4g.

I think Apple is making the right decision spreading their product lines to more device types and sizes inside types.

to me the GUT of Apple products is the page 6 of the Macintosh business plan from 1981 - http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/2009/10271... (and similar Jobs' documents from that time, couldn't find right now the one where the stuff was put in some order on some kind of timeline). Back then Jobs was able to implement only Macintosh. The "VLC", "VIC", handhelds, etc. came much later as iPhone/iPad/...

Wow - amazing - is that a Dos Equis guy reference in the last page?

It's also amusing because that business plan (and it's last page) was published before Osborne Computing suffered from the Osborne effect...

Orson Welles: "We will sell no wine before its time."


I'm definitely worried about Apple's product line sprawl. They have let their belt out a lot in the last few years and I hope they're planning a sweep to cut down the product line. 25 different computing devices is a lot for the consumer to think about and I think it would help boost sales. I talked more about this in a blog post recently: http://www.jasonshen.com/2015/the-rise-and-fall-of-product-l...

The Ultimate comic series weren't a reboot, they were in addition to the other books. They've mostly wrapped up, while the main books continue on.

The goals as I understand it were several fold, to tell stories in a universe with no baggage, and to have less age restrictions (the Ultimate Hulk likes to eat people, there's lots of other darker stuff).

Maybe someone should remind the American comics industry that they sold hundreds and thousands times more comics when they were about funny dogs, and not the Hulk eating people.

There is plenty of content aimed at the warm and fuzzy audience. The golden age of comics happened to come right before TV took off, so I would sort of not expect the content to be the only issue.

I actually didn't think that content was particularly useful to the story, it was more in the vein of we-are-so-edgy-it's-awesome, a sort of stunt that is common in popular media these days.

Well, by popular media I think you mean one specific subculture which calls itself pop-culture media. It's not literally popular, but for some reason they think they are.

DC and Marvel in particular seem stuck to their existing aging fan market and universes, but independent graphic novels and Japanese comics with no shared universes outsell them constantly. Their reaction was to get themselves a separate category in the bestseller lists so they could go back to just ignoring them.

ref. http://otakuusamagazine.com/Anime/News1/As-Geek-Culture-Assi...

Since an 'eating people' scene was the one thing most responsible for the collapse of the entire Ultimate Universe product line, I don't think Marvel needs a reminder. The writer of that one still won't do interviews about it seven years later.

The old 4 quadrants of products was for an early 2000s Apple that staved off bankruptcy, not 2015 Apple that uses its supply chain mastery as a competitive advantage.

Are you saying they should make a huge breadth of products because supply chain?

The problem with the old Apple was it was in every single product category, as well as every single product class within the category.

Apple at one point made (developed or rebranded), PDA's, printers, CTI Hardware (computer telephony integration), networking hardware, Modems, Microphones, Speakers, Monitors, a Confusing array of computers, and other stuff. The problem with this strategy, is in very few cases they were market leaders - many of their non-computer products (and arguably even in their computer products) they were an also-ran.

Instead Apple is targeting a much narrower breadth of products and going instead after deep category penetration:

Need an Phone? we've got three sizes and price points.

Need an Tablet? we've got 3 sizes, and four price points.

Need a Laptop? we've got 3 sizes, and four price points.

Need a Desktop? we've got 3 form factors, and eight price points.

Each of these things is just a computer however, not a whole new category like CTI and printers. Apple still sells mostly computers (counted by SKU).

So while they sell networking hardware, and infotainment hardware, IMO, they exist because specifically they offer compelling features not available elsewhere to work with their computers, not like the days of yore where an Apple Printer was often just a rebranded HP or Cannon Inkjet with a Mac serial port on it.

Too many options for me. Analysis paralysis. When it was one new phone model, plus the discounted previous version, it was easy. Go to store, hand VISA to guy in red shirt, walk out with new phone.

Now, I stare at the internet for hours, worry about which one will work best for me. Go to store, worry more, walk out without buying.

And with the 5S being fast enough for most things, the main reason to upgrade is camera (but I have a Canon S100). And with carriers going to up-front retail pricing, what used to look and feel like a $99 purchase (pocket-change, even if it wasn't) is now a $700 purchase (def. not pocket-change - I can take a short vacation for that).

Same with the iPads. It doesn't help that my iPad Mini Retina still works fine for it's primary use (reading), so no compelling reason to upgrade.

How do you make decisions at the grocery store, or for that matter, car shopping?

I'm being serious, because of apples return policy, there is no great loss in choosing wrong.

I was only being slightly hyperbolic.

Buying cars is awful. I will literally spend a year researching. And if a new model is released in that period, it really screw up the process. And regardless of what I buy, I second guess myself for months afterwards. No joke.

I'm currently shopping for a compact system camera (micro 4/3 or similar). Same thing. Hours upon hours of research, can't decide.

Grocery store, not a big deal. Cost is low and I'm not stuck with the items for years.

Admittedly, this is a personal problem, and not one of Apple's creation.

(Slightly off-topic...)

Buying computers used to be awful, back when hard drives cost $1/MB, sound cards were a thing (Gravis UltraSound or SoundBlaster?), and Moore's Law was going full speed (even CD-ROM drives regularly became twice as fast). I spent months agonizing over when to pull the trigger and buy that Pentium 133. Nowadays almost any computer is fast enough to make you happy: buy an SSD, max out the RAM, and you'll be set for years. Unless you're doing high-end gaming or HPC, performance mostly doesn't matter.

I'd argue that cameras are at that point now, too. Even a high-end smartphone takes pretty good pictures, and the compact system cameras are well into the realm of diminishing returns unless you're making your living off of wall-sized prints. Seriously, just flip a coin whether you want to go APS-C or micro 4/3 (lenses still matter), and buy whatever's on sale.

With the compact system camera, the decision-making process is somewhat complicated by the fact that (assuming you're not just interested in a camera and its kit lens), you are buying into a system. And, in some cases, you're potentially betting on players who aren't the traditional (surviving) big DSLR companies. I like the Fujifilm X Series BTW if you don't want a full-blown DSLR. (I have both.)

Especially assuming you're already in the Apple ecosystem, whether you buy a given model of X to last for the next few or even five years is less of a big deal.

Lenses are too big a concern. Whichever way I go, I'll probably stick to the kit zoom, plus a wied-ish pancake prime for carry-around.

The pancake primes are nice on smaller cameras. They're also high quality. The only downside is that they aren't quite as wide angle as I'd like. (Typically 40mm equivalent whereas I'd prefer something closer to 35mm.)

On the Fujifilm X series I mostly use the 18-55mm (~28-90mm equivalent) plus the pancake. I also have a wider angle lens. You go much more telephoto and you start to lose the benefit of the smaller camera.

I'll spend hours researching, discussing the choice with friends, etc, usually at the end of that process, one of the two things stands out as better, easier to use, etc - in the end if they don't I just pick one and move on. Life is short.

25 different computing devices also places huge amounts of demand on their stores and Genius Bars, and it's really starting to show.

Yep. The Apple Store near me sells the iPhone 5S, but there's only one single device in the entire store.

There is more to running and operating a store than just selling products. This is especially true in Apple stores where they not only sell devices, but they are also service centers, and hold regular training events on Apple products. These additional functions coupled with offering 5x the number of products from a few years ago, plus the fact that Apple now has an order of magnitude more devices out in customers hands, whom are now coming back to the store to regularly get serviced, and Apple stores are really being stretched to their limits. Employees now need to know how to sell, and service all of these devices. Training staff needs to be able to teach people how to use each device. The logistics teams (each Apple store has it's own logistics team), has 25 SKUs to keep track of. Apple retail stores are not the same as your typical Walmart or Best Buy, and they can't try to operate like they are. Try visiting your local Apple Store, and let me know what the experience was like.

Oh absolutely, the issue is not solely store space. That's just the aspect that's most visible to me personally, since the Apple Store near me is quite small, and I'm not an employee.

I apologize, I misread your statement as to say that the Apple store near you ONLY sells the iPhone 5S, intended as sarcasm or snark. I thought you were implying that the retail side of Apple's operation was simple. Obviously you understand it isn't :-)

Apple, Inc. used to be Apple Computer, Inc. but Jobs changed the name because people don't think of their iPhones as being "computers".

Apple makes personal computers, and that's just about it.

Personal computers, operating systems, software, "cloud" services, a music distribution system, a programming language, now a streaming service, a line of headphones. (and possibly a car at some point)

All infrastructure and peripherals for PCs.

I just want to be able to select default apps to open files.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact