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Lessons from Apple's Nano storm

I want this car-thing |


| Inside Apple's design machine

September 30, 2005

Lessons from Apple's Nano storm

Bruce Nussbaum

Astute managers should look closely at this week's storm over Apple's new Nano iPod. Seth Godin issues a cautionary note about the impact of passionate consumers on the process of innovation. Companies are desperately striving to create customers that care passionately about their products but there are times when these wonderful consumers freak out if the product doesn't live up to their standards of perfection. It took just one unhappy Apple consumer with one web site to knock the wind out of the launch of Nano. Viral marketing or viral messaging is an incredibly powerful tool. Especially in the hands of passionate customers. In the end, Apple conceded a small percentage of problems with scratches and screens and promised to make amends.

For me, the larger lesson was Apple's reluctance to quickly respond to the viral tempest. I remember that it was also reluctanct to act when another passionate customer went ballistic over the early iPod batteries, set up a website and lambasted Apple. All the management manuals tell you to quickly embrace criticism, promise quick solutions and follow through with them. Apple appears reluctant to admit anything less than perfection in its products. Is it an Apple cultural thing? I don't know. Better, I think, to embrace the design philosophy of iteration, even in wonderfully crafted products like the Nano, expect possible problems in very complex products and be prepared to work fast to deal with them if your customers point them out. After all, Apple's customers, unlike most others, really do love Apple.

02:55 PM


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A possible reason for Apple's seeming reluctance to address the issue, especially since they've embraced design as a core principle of their corporate strategy, could simply be in acknowledging the problem. Adrian Shaughnessy has an interesting piece on Design Observer today about designers and feedback that might shed some light.

Posted by: Niti Bhan at September 30, 2005 08:12 PM

In today's pressured product development environment Apple's problems are not at all unique. However, one would think Apple's response has to improve if only to ensure customer loyalty and better financial returns on its products.

Why are such failures not surprising? Today's product development cycles are incredibly tight, complex and unforgiving. The parallel development of code, electronics, packaging, global suppliers, regulatory approvals and marketing plans invariably squeeze any allocated testing time at the end. Issues with uncertainty that surface in this environment will usually favour a "good enough to launch" decision.

Given that product innovation can so easily be replicated today in the marketplace, missing deadlines by even weeks can make the difference between market leadership and being relegated to being a follower. Apple is certainly very sensitive to its positioning in this regard.

Also, today's products run on very thin ROI's and margins which means any sort of major hiccup like a recall can completely de-rail a product's financial success. One could expect that the slow response will have been partly due to someone's spreadsheet. However, what is not appreciated often enough is that the customer care and reputation costs can outweigh even production costs in a wink. This holistic view is missing in many organisations across many industries.

When I was at Apple we had two built-in checks to ensure that everyone was well tuned to customer feedback. The first was called "the out-of-box experience" where customers were literally filmed opening and setting up a piece of Apple equipment. Many a red faced engineer went back to the drawing board after viewing those.

The second was to have product managers sit on the customer care phone lines over the first few weeks of a new product's launch. This was also a very effective way to gauge issues and to feed them back quickly and effectively to management.

I am confident Apple will get the balance right again, but it has never been more difficult to do so - nor as necessary.

Posted by: Omar Khalifa at October 1, 2005 06:23 AM

we had buyed up anew apple nano when we connect it 4r charging 2 the computer it is getting stucked up can u give the suggestion

Posted by: vedavyas at October 27, 2006 02:35 AM

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