Tag Archives: Apple Computer

Mar 10

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

How Apple’s Focus on UX Created the Post-PC Paradigm

We recently blogged about how Apple’s commitment to amazing user experiences is ushering in a new Post-PC paradigm in computing.

Determining the best tech products was easy in the old PC era. The best devices were the ones with the best hardware. A 5 megapixel camera was better than a 2 megapixel camera. Specs settled all debates. End of discussion.

But in this new, post-PC world, usability dictates which device “wins.” ZDNet picked up on this theme in a post that claims “user experience is everything, hardware not so much.” Quoting from their article:

Apple has proven time and again that the user experience is the primary thing on any product that will get millions of mainstream consumers to purchase and enjoy using the gadget . . . The user experience is everything, from the way a device handles users’ common tasks to how pleasant that experience is perceived by the device owner.

The best device is no longer the one with the biggest chip inside. The best device – in this post-PC world – is the one that users enjoy interacting with the most. And with that definition of success, Apple products (including the iPad 2) will continue to outsell their competitors.

Engadget smartly highlights how specs are diminished in the new post-PC era of usability.

In a post-PC world, the experience of the product is central and significant above all else. It’s not the RAM or CPU speed, screen resolution or number of ports which dictate whether a product is valuable; it becomes purely about the experience of using the device. What that means is that while Motorola and Verizon will spend millions of dollars advertising the Xoom’s 4G upgrade options, CPU speed, and high-resolution cameras, Apple need only delight consumers and tell them that specs and and speed are the domain of a dinosaur called the PC.

Apple’s iPad defined the tablet space just as the iPhone changed the very nature of the telephone. But it wasn’t the hardware that made Apple the second largest publicly traded company on the planet. Their dedication to usability and creating simple, stable products that people love to use drove their growth.

Mar 02

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Events, Gadgets, Products, Stage Two

Apple Announces iPad 2

White iPad 2

Apple's iPad 2

Engadget had a great live blog from Apple’s media event this morning, where Steve Jobs and others introduced the iPad 2. As expected, the iPad 2 has a slimmer form factor and more processing power than the original tablet from Apple. It also has front and rear facing cameras and a gyroscope. The iPad 2, which comes in both white and black, will ship March 11th along with iOS 4.3, the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system. Other features touted during today’s announcement include a 10 hour battery life and updated Garage Band and iMovie Apps.

Jobs took this opportunity to highlight Apple’s first mover advantage in the tablet space. He remarked, “many have said this is the most successful consumer product ever launched. Over 90% market share . . . our competitors were flummoxed.” In fact, the iPad has sold more units than every other tablet PC ever sold.

But jobs went further to differentiate Apple from other consumer electronics manufacturers. First, he defined the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad as post-PC devices. He then stressed Apple’s commitment to delivering technology to the arts and humanities.

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology is not enough. It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it’s the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive (emphasis added).

Apple has dominated the tablet space in past year. As we blogged earlier, other companies need to innovate – rather than imitate – if they want to compete with the iPad 2.

Feb 18

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two

HBR: How Apple Broke All The PR Rules and Got Away With It

Joshua Gans has a smart article at the Harvard Business Review that looks at how Apple broke major PR rules during “antennagate” and lived to tell the tale.

To recap, after the iPhone 4 launched, there were reports that holding the phone a certain way would reduce the signal strength. Quoting from the article:

For several weeks, Apple looked like a laughing stock. But by mid-July, the issue was gone. And not just negated, but pretty well forgotten.

How did Apple achieve this seemingly impossible public relations feat? By breaking 5 key “rules” ingrained in the public relations playbook. Jobs & co. did none of these — and that is why he succeeded in capturing the higher ground.

The PR laws that Apple broke were:

1. Apologize and take full responsibility.

2. Don’t create expectations with a media event.

3. Announce the give away first.

4. Avoid specific comparisons with competitors.

5. Don’t air your industry’s dark secrets.

The article is informative (as are the comments) and well worth a read, but the summary is that Apple played its own game, stuck to its guns, smashed two decades of PR dogma and came off smelling like roses.

Jan 06

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Gadgets, Stage Two, UI/UX

5 Technologies That Have Impeccable Taste

As we wrote in an earlier blog post, consumers care less about the technological muscle “under the hood” of new gadgets than they do about functionality and simplicity of those products. Added bells and whistles do not make the difference between winning and losing technologies. Rich feature sets are not the deciding factor between amazing products that consumers love to use and sub-par products that users abandon quickly.

Taste is the difference between great products and disposable, disappointing tech.

Anyone can grab a bunch of parts from an overseas warehouse and deliver a functional product. Given enough resources, they can even deliver cutting edge technology to the masses. Lifestyle technology is easily made: a new phone, a cool gadget, a computing device.

The winners of the consumer electronics industry really differentiate themselves from the herd of also-rans in the taste department. Tasteful tech is beautiful. It is functional. It is simple design that delivers an intuitive, meaningful experience to the user.

Taste is not useless innovation (does my phone really need a kickstand? Answer: No!). Taste is, well . . . tasteful.

Here are 5 examples of our favorite tasteful technologies.

5 – XBOX 360

The XBOX represents one of the most successful convergence devices produced to date. Heck, it might be the only successful convergence device produced to date. Microsoft’s second take at home gaming fuses internet, music, TV and movies. The thing plays DVDs and also streams online content. Never mind the red ring of death (although I’m still bitter about spending $99 bucks on that), this machine is gorgeous. It is beautiful to look at and the user interface is clean and simple. I mean, even the box is beautiful. The new Kinect opens new, interactive experiences for living room entertainment. When form and function combine in a simple to use package, there is a clear level of taste present behind the technology.

4 – RED by Virgin America

Virgin America delivers tasteful technology before, during and after the flight.

Even before they board the plane, passengers can check in to their flight and print their boarding passes online- no more waiting in a ticketing line before waiting in a security line before waiting at the gate. Eliminating redundancies is elegant and appreciated.

Once on board, travelers experience RED, a state of the art media environment embedded into the seat. Every passenger has an individual media remote (complete with QWERTY inputs) and a personal viewing screen (that responds to touch). Passengers order in flight meals, watch live satellite television, chat online and purchase media from their seats. Google maps display the position of the flight in real time. Even the safety video is entertaining. The overall experience is personalized, novel and fun.

3 – Bose

Bose has a reputation for delivering great product design with their quality speakers (we know there are those who would pooh pooh Bose and say you need to have X Brand to have good sound. We are not getting into that debate right now). There is no doubt that the company understands consumer audio. But they also understand that taste, not tech, can be the difference maker when consumers decide what to purchase. Just look at their QuietComfort 3 Accoustic Noise Canceling Headphones.

They look more like ICBM launch keys than headphones. From the refined finishes to the museum-like presentation, the taste level that Bose brings to the headphone space is one of the reasons these headphones command a $350 price point in a space where people can purchase ear buds for around ten dollars. You can’t walk through a first class cabin without seeing at least one person wearing these things.

2 – Jawbone

Ever since its launch in 2006, Jawbone has set the standard for design excellence in the Bluetooth headset arena. Their earpieces are gorgeous. Their packaging sparks an emotional reaction in individuals. Even their website is beautiful.

Great tech and tasteful design attract sophisticated customers who don’t want a Plantronics headset for less than the cost of a sandwich.

1 – Sonos

For full disclosure, Sonos has – at multiple times – been a Stage Two client.

Sonos delivers multi-room music wirelessly. Did you catch that? A complete music solution that is scalable, customizable, beautiful and wireless. Sonos delivers ease of use, simple set up and controls – and – oh yeah, no wires harshing your feng shui. You might think this is a small thing, but when I was remodeling my house, I designed it with Sonos in mind. (Sonos is also the only technology in my house that my wife appreciates and uses on a regular basis).

Sonos has garnered many positive write-ups from tech reviewers. That is expected. What is amazing is that the simplicity and functionality also hooked one reviewer’s wife:

I find it very hard to send the Sonos review units back.  Even my wife, who normally doesn’t get sucked in by tech has said she wants to buy a Sonos system…so we’ll be whipping out our credit card soon, I imagine.

And that is probably the best example of why it is important to craft tasteful technologies. Technophiles will appreciate robust technical solutions because they love technology. When gadgets display taste, however, average users and non-users take notice, become believers and adopt these products into their lives.

What are some of your examples of tasteful technology? Let us know in the comments.

Oct 05

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two, UI/UX

What Steve Jobs Meant by Saying Microsoft Has No Taste

There is a great video of Steve Jobs giving an interview to 60 Minutes in which he states – rather boldly – that the problem with Microsoft is that they “simply have no taste.” He goes on to say that the Windows firm has “no originality” and “no culture infused into products.”

Taste is a huge factor in delivering winning consumer technology and is often overlooked or forgotten about on the long and perilous road to market. A sense of beauty and design must accompany flawless technical execution and a robust understanding of user expectations and needs. To look at a concrete example of products with good and bad taste, one need look no further than the latest phones from Apple and Microsoft.

First, there is the recently deceased Kin from Microsoft. Just look at this monstrosity:

  • These phones look like the unholy lovechildren of a calculator and a coaster.
  • From the bizarre shaped “egg phone” to the confusing two phone duality, there is clearly an element of taste that is missing here. The keyboard looks clunky, the screen looks small and that lime green button seems arbitrary, at best.

Even with a multi-million dollar marketing push, the kin failed to connect with users in a meaningful way. It may have had all the functions and technical capabilities that users crave, but because the element of taste was missing, the phone disappointed.  By the way, amazingly on this is that the Kin clearly had a constant aesthetic, but that’s not the same as having taste – hiring the top design firms to do your work is a good idea, but it’s not a get out of jail free card.

Now look at the iPhone. Any iPhone. Even the one with the broken antenna. It has a level of design and tastefulness embedded into its core.

We want to repeat that last bit one more time: a product whose core function is inherently flawed is still considered most satisfying by its users.  Why?  Taste.  Taste is letting those users overlook basic problems, because the problems themselves are not inherently related to the overall design of the product – we know this might sound contradictory or counterintuitive to some, but its actually quite consistent.  Why?  People aren’t buying the iPhone just as a phone, its style, its form, its usability, its social status, etc.  Plus the phone does actually seem to work from time to time…

Stage Two believes that a great product needs not only great technology but great taste, as well. In order to deliver an amazing experience with consumer electronics, a high level understanding of user habits and expectations should inform a functional, beautiful design.

Where does taste start?  When the user first interacts with the product, from on-box branding in stores to websites to company blog posts.  Taste continues through the out-of-box experience into set up and first-time-use.  Every single step needs to be elegant and clean and consistent (could you imagine an iPhone coming in anything but a tightly designed package?).

Taste inspires repeat customers and brand evangelists.  Taste brings love.  Taste trumps glitches (and yeah, we think dropping calls is more than a glitch, but apparently most consumers don’t!).  Taste brings your customers’ emotions into play, and those are powerful things.

The heart of a gadget has to be technical – that is a truism. But a great product will also have an artistic soul. To forget that is to create mediocrity again and again and again.

ps – we know we’ve been a little gushy to Apple recently, it’s not intentional, so coming soon we’ll focus on some other companies who we think have great taste!

Sep 21

Posted by Jeremy Toeman and Greg Franzese

Posted in Stage Two, UI/UX

The Real Secret of Apple’s Product Philosophy

CNET has a great article up that details the secrets of Apple’s customer service. Erica Ogg highlights the recent findings of the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index, a sort of Michelin guide for customer service and appreciation. Apple not only earned its highest score to date in this survey, it established a monster lead over other PC makers.

The real story is how much further ahead of its peers Apple is in this [survey].The Mac maker’s nine-point lead is now the largest lead any company has over its competition in any of the 45 categories that the ACSI study surveys–including home appliances, gas stations, autos, e-commerce, airlines, and more.

The real secret to Apple’s success is that there are no secrets.

Apple is dominating its competition in customer service because the company cares about creating a quality customer experience at every brand touchpoint. And they do this for a reason – it’s called “profit”.  Apple has built an immensely successful business model around the depth of caring about product experience, and it’s translating all the way from customer sentiment to Wall Street.  From corporate leadership and the vision of Steve Jobs to customized retail environments showcasing flawless product design, Apple is invested in delivering amazing experiences to their customers.

We often hear that Apple “plays the game” better than Sony, HP, Dell, etc – that’s not quite right. Apple is playing an entirely different game. What’s most amazing about this?  Nobody else seems to want to play with them, they just keep playing the “other” game, and poorly.

Apple is committed to creating fun, functional products that perform flawlessly for consumers. The iPhone changed the way people engaged telephony and internet everyday. iPad introduced tablet computing to the masses. From their take on music to a rock solid operating system, every product design choice Apple makes is governed by simplicity, ease of use and functionality. Apple deliberately kept the user experience in mind at every stage of product development and has benefited greatly from it.

The other guys?  They either license existing devices from miscellaneous unnamed overseas manufacturers, or “innovate” through tiny incremental feature design – aka copy others.  They certainly talk a good game about product experience, but it’s not even in the picture at anywhere near the same level.  And we don’t understand why.  It’s easy to see how they all got here, but surprising to see them not trying to change, especially if you bring the dollars into it.

The Cupertino company’s market cap is through the roof. They make boatloads of money on hardware, software, apps, services, content, etc.  The company has built a following of brand evangelists and is attracting consumer goodwill by the truckload. People love the Apple experience so much that they are willing to forgive recent mis-steps by the Mac maker. From antenna-gate to a camera-free iPad, to a little bit of Chinese child labor, consumers are choosing to remain with Apple (or wait around hoping for them to come their way).

The investment that Apple made several years ago in superlative product design and user experience has resulted in not only brand loyalty but brand growth. At Stage Two, we help companies of all sizes create exceptional user experiences and polished products, because we believe this is an investment utterly worth making.  It’s a tough thing for any internal product or engineering team to face – the thought of an external group nitpicking apart their gem, but it’s worth it.  While there’s certainly religion at Apple, the religion is about the product being exceptional, and that’s the right kind of focus any consumer-facing product company should have as well.

UPDATE: We want to thank everyone for contributing to the discussion here. Special props go out to Cult of Mac for publishing our post to their audience!