Apple’s Four-Year Product Rollout

Apple has but one product: Their products. Their product lineup is, in a sense, one single product. The “walled garden” is the whole point.

It hasn’t always been like this. Their products used to be silos — they were individual pieces of hardware that ran independently of one another. You could buy a desktop or a laptop and the files you kept on those computers stayed on those computers unless you intentionally and manually did something about it.

In 2001 the iPod was introduced, and with it you could take the music that was on your computer and put it onto a portable device. And that music could still exist on your computer at the same time it was on your iPod. In 2004 your iPod could also hold photos; in 2005, video.

For those with one or more laptops or desktops then there was probably a frustrating attempt to keep them somewhat in sync. Apple offered .Mac as a subscription service which in part allowed users to keep more than one computer in sync, but it was mostly just the smaller details and data of your computer that were synced. Things like passwords, contacts, and email rules. The big items, which comprise the actual work and play we do on our computers, were not synced.

It wasn’t until 2007, with the advent of the iPhone, that it became clear Apple was trying to incorporate everything together and to build a single product.

I think that Apple is just now finishing the first step of what it began in 2007.

Up until recently, they have been selling tangible products: devices with software. Soon, Apple will be selling universal, ubiquitous access. Or: all your stuff on all your devices in any place.

The future of technology is extreme usability coupled with extreme simplicity. Up until now we have only ever known that as product silos. Look how great this divide is or that app. But the GSMA is predicting 7 internet-connected devices per person in the next 15 years. My home already has 10. And so the future of simple and usable technology will require devices that are connected. And the more simple and usable that interconnectedness is, the better.

Through this lens we can see that the past four and half years have been one single, epic product rollout for Apple:

2007: iPhone (noteworthy refresh in 2010)
2007: Apple TV (noteworthy refresh in 2010)
2008: MacBook Air (noteworthy refresh in 2011)
2008: MobileMe (noteworthy refresh (iCloud) coming)
2008: App Store
2010: iPad (noteworthy refresh coming)
2011: Mac App Store
2011: OS X Lion

The iPhone, iCloud, iPad, iTunes, OS X Lion, iOS, Apple TV, the MacBook Air, and the iMac are all Apple products. But they are more than that. In aggregate they are one single product. Apple’s product lineup is, in and of itself, a single product.

These are devices which are built to be connected. They are built to work with one another. They are built for the purpose of having all your digital media accessible on any (Apple) device at any time.

The chapter that was opened with the iPhone in 2007 is coming to a close this fall with the advent of iCloud. Mobile computing, cloud computing, simpler computing… it is all phase one of the future. And it is now upon us.

The hardware are vessels for accessing your music, movies, apps, websites, documents, and more. Pick the device you want to use at the moment. The rest is just details.

Product Development

Each of the above products didn’t start out perfect. There has been significant improvement and iteration upon the original versions, but I think that in the next few months we will see the attainment of the original goals of each of the hardware and software products that have shipped over the past four years.

  • I think the iPhone 4 is the attainment of the goal that was set forth with the original iPhone.
  • The iPad 3 will be the attainment of the goal that was set forth with the original iPad.
  • iCloud is the attainment of the goal that was set forth with MobileMe (yea .Mac; yea iTools).
  • The 2011 MacBook Air is the attainment of the goal that was set forth with the first Air.
  • The current Apple TV and its upcoming software updates are the attainment of the goal that was set forth with the first iTV.

Or, put more simply: this next season of Apple product releases will mean the drying of the cement that is the foundation for where Apple is headed. The first “phase” is now complete.

Of course there will still be growth and innovation in the days to come, but Apple’s original vision for their product lineup is now nearly realized. They began simple, and they have slowly built upon each product to bring them to where they are today.

The Apple Ante

A common argument against Apple and their walled garden is that their products are too expensive. Those of you reading this likely already know the truth that that claim never actually held up. Just because Apple never sold a $250 laptop doesn’t mean their products were not fairly priced for the quality and value of the product.

But now, that argument has even less ground. Consider this excerpt from John Gruber’s review of the iPhone 3G:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.” — ANDY WARHOL

So too with the iPhone. A billionaire can buy homes, cars, clothes that the rest of us cannot afford. But he cannot buy a better phone, at any price, than the iPhone that you can have in your pocket today.

It is not just for the iPhone. It goes for virtually Apple’s entire product lineup (software included).

  • For $29 you can’t buy a better operating system than OS X Lion.
  • For $0.99 there’s not an easier way to buy a song — regardless of where you are — than on iTunes.
  • For $199 you can’t buy a better phone than the iPhone.
  • For $999 you can’t buy a better laptop than the 11-inch MacBook Air.
  • For $499 you can’t buy a better tablet than the iPad.

Suppose you buy the cheaper variants: some $250 Windows netbook, a $99 HP TouchPad (if you can find one), and a free Android phone of the month. Those products are silos. You’ll be able to sync your email and calendars over the air but that’s about it. You’ll have to sync them all independently of one another to have your media, and documents available on each one.

The future of simplicity and usability in technology means connectedness. It means hardware devices that don’t operate as silos independent of our documents and media and communication channels. But that future is now upon us. Apple’s version has always been the most delightful, but now it is one of the more affordable offerings as well.

Apple’s Four-Year Product Rollout