Designers and creative types are notoriously bad at joining in, they don’t like to play with the ‘normal’ kids. Take it from me, I have first hand experience... I am one.
During my early days in the creative industry, the Mac was a piece of kit in a designer’s armoury that lined up alongside a drawing board, layout pad and Rotring pen. Anyone else remember these quaint objects? Actually I hope all good designers are still intimate with a pen and paper, the drawing board and Rotring probably less so.
The Mac was viewed as the rank outsider in a world dominated by the PC. We took it to heart, not because of its quirkily different beige box and solid construction but the ease-of-use and familiarity of the operating system. To compliment the built-in software, we embraced all things from Adobe, and at the time Quark and Freehand provided options as the support act.
That seems a long time ago (it was) and a lot has changed. The return of Steve Jobs and his creative partnership with Jony Ive delivered the vindication we had all hoped for (and secretly doubted) as Apple began to ship hardware that matched the software for innovation and creative flair, genuinely reflecting our industry whilst also appealing to ‘regular’ consumers outside the design industry.
One of the main differentiators in the Apple vs PC war of words has always been our relationship with the kit. As designers and innovators, we felt our Apple hardware represented so much more than a work tool and we developed a personal connection with the Mac that extended to the right tool in the right environment and became part of the creative process, rather than something to merely deliver it.
So, how have Apple’s products helped to shape the current digital marketplace? There are two key contributors – the design and innovation community and the consumer base.
As I’ve established, the creative industries have grown up around Apple’s software and hardware and key talent has naturally migrated towards Cupertino’s products. This loyalty filtered down from desktops to laptops to iPods to iPhones to iPads. Each device encourages us to create, to push boundaries and innovate wherever we are. We’re also a very forgiving bunch so poor iPhone battery life and signal strength don’t stop us from buying Jony Ive’s beautifully crafted objects.
Apple’s innovation shouldn’t be overlooked. They didn’t introduce the first smartphone or tablet but they cleverly shaped the landscape and introduced the iPhone and iPad to meaningful markets at key times where developers could lead the way with content production.
Apple already had the portable music market sewn up with the iPod, it was an easy step to embrace the familiar iPhone, then another no-brainer when Apple launched a big iPhone – the iPad. The audience was educated in the ways of the multitouch gesture by Apple so tablets became established on Apple’s own terms, not the market’s.
The App Store, iBook Store and iTunes delivery mechanism are so well established that entrepreneurs looking for the best platform to cover all bases naturally start with the most accessible for their customers. Speaking of which, consumers are the other key contributor to Apple’s relevance.
Apart from the stunning product design and ease-of-use, the quality of materials and overall reliability have allowed Apple to charge a premium and set a healthier profit margin than any other manufacturer.
This defines the audience. If Apple consumers are willing to pay up to $900 for an iPad, the first thing they want to do is fill it with stunning visual content (apps, iBooks, etc) to justify their purchase – and they’re willing to pay for it, unlike consumers on rival platforms.
So will Apple’s brand, it’s products and platforms remain THE hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurial focus? It’ll take a lot to sway the creative industry but there are still plenty of rival projects set to divert attention. Google’s Glass, Leap’s Motion and Thalmic Lab’s MYO are all ready to be unleashed over the next 12 months as gestural and wearable tech grabs all the headlines.
Let’s see what Apple has up it’s sleeve... so to speak.
Edited and updated from an article originally published in iCreate magazine, with my next column focusing on Apple's iPhone launch strategy.