Art Doesn't Commoditize

Just a quick post on whether Apple is becoming a more "art-like" company, based on the following evidence:

  • Jony Ive is promoted to Chief Design Officer;
  • Marc Newson, whose furniture and watch designs closely resemble functional art, is hired by Apple;
  • Trent Reznor, Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre, and Zane Lowe are hired to help curate the artistic content of Apple Music.

As noted by Horace Dediu in John Gruber's Talk Show #125 podcast, Apple seems to be moving away from algorithmic solutions toward more curated, artistic solutions that require taste and human judgment. Some people say Apple is moving into the realm of luxury or fashion. I think Apple is aiming higher than this, and wants its products and services to be so functionally and aesthetically pleasing that they rise to the level of functional art -- much like the Braun record player shown below, which was designed by Dieter Rams (whom Jony Ive repeatedly cites as a major influence) and is now shown in New York's Museum of Modern Art:

More and more it seems like Apple is being led by gifted artists who can help Apple create not just great products, but artistic products. And Apple communicates that effort to consumers by focusing on and releasing just a few products at any given time. Great artists focus on just a few things, and release/display those few things very carefully (in appropriate galleries and exhibits), to let the public know the artist's work is special. Apple does the same thing with its products. 

And from a business perspective, the beauty of this strategy is that art doesn't commoditize: because art is the nuanced outcome of thousands of intuitive judgments about what's beautiful and tasteful -- with countless decisions about brushstrokes, composition, materials, colors, and so on -- it's not fungible. While art can be closely, mechanically, and fraudulently copied, the copy is never valued as highly as the original. There's only one "Starry Night," one Dieter Rams record player (like the one above), and one Apple Watch. From a disruption theory standpoint, art is never "good enough" and really isn't judged on that basis. People don't buy an artistic object based on whether the object is good enough, they buy it because it's a source of pleasure and they want it.

Another fascinating aspect of Apple's more artistic approach is that Apple can deliver the iPhone, the iPad, and the Apple Watch to an enormous mobile device market, a global market much bigger than the one Braun catered to. Apple can deliver functional art at a mass scale. 

The author owns stock shares of Apple.