Focus, Functional Toys, Tradeoffs, and Following the River

I'm finishing up Becoming Steve Jobs and I wanted to summarize a few takeaways from the book, so here goes:

  1. Product focus was key to Apple's successful return in the late 1990's and early 2000's. Apple had way too many products prior to Jobs's return because the company was trying to cover every possible market segment/demographic. Renewed product focus under Jobs gave engineers and designers within Apple clear goals/priorities, allowing them to focus on making just a few great products.
  2. Apple makes functional toys -- its products are designed to produce the delight a toy gives (which is probably the reason Apple's products and marketing have always emphasized fun). The book quotes Woody's line from "Toy Story," when Woody tells Buzz that it's better to be a toy Space Ranger than a real Space Ranger because great toys are loved like nothing else. Beautiful, useful toys have a magical quality and check all the boxes when it comes to jobs-to-be-done. They satisfy functional, emotional, and social needs. See post titled Prioritize Great Products.
  3. Jobs under-designed the original Macintosh (no hard drive), over-designed the Apple III (fan-less, overheating, and too expensive), and over-designed the original NeXT computer (slow to ship, slow functioning,  and too expensive). For a functional toy to produce delight it first has to function well, and this means some pragmatic design/engineering tradeoffs are necessary, especially with early product versions. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 he was better at making these kinds of tradeoffs, focusing on the design of the entire product rather than becoming too focused on any one product element. Jobs's improved sense of appropriate/pragmatic tradeoffs is captured in his line that "real artists ship."
  4. Follow the river, or the natural flow, to determine what products to develop next. The development of iTunes naturally led to the iPod which naturally led to the iPhone. The iPhone naturally led to the Apple Watch and a computer on the wrist. Amazon's e-commerce business naturally led to the development and expansion of AWS. These are natural, inevitable seeming progressions. Basic intuition is all you need.

Becoming Steve Jobs, by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli (Random House, 2015).

The author owns stock shares of Apple.