Serving the Future, Not the Marketing Department

Looking through various forums I see the, now common, complaint about current Apple products which distills down to some version of, “Steve Jobs wouldn’t have allowed it.” Most of the time this sort of criticism is just griping and has little use or validity.

However, I think in the following case they may have a point. Last week I purchased a book on Apple’s iBook service not fully realizing the implication of not being able to read the book on my laptop. Not the greatest disaster in the world but I found it indicative of what happens when marketing is becomes the name of the game rather than bringing the future to life.

Currently books purchased through iBooks are only capable of being read on iOS devices. It is a transparently cynical marketing decision to encourage people to purchase iOS devices to avail themselves of services, like the Kindle, so they can read their books or in a mobile format. (Kindle has an app that works on all the Mac and iOS platforms – ahem.)

Years ago, back in the late nineties, when the world was young, Apple decided to rid its devices of floppy discs. They could see, (maybe only Steve could, maybe he had to persuaded,) that as a form of data storage they would be succeeded by other technologies in the near future.

From the user standpoint – as in the normal user who just wants things to work and doesn’t much care about the technical details – it was if Steve had personally snatched Linus’s security blanket from his chubby-fingered grasp. Not only was the move disruptive it was cruel. A whole generation across the globe had ridden the first widespread wave of PC adoption using floppy discs and now they were suddenly deemed irrelevant.

It seemed a crazy decision. Observers (those who actually knew something about technology) were skeptical that such a daring move wouldn’t be counter-productive. As for the marketing department. Well, at that point there was no market for personal computers without floppy discs.

Nobody cared that devices could be redesigned once the space for the drive had gone. Customers just wanted what they knew. Apple naysayers accused the company of scoring a massive own goal. But the customers and the critics were wrong on two counts.

Firstly, the timing was right. Floppy discs had had their day. The customers didn’t know it but working better and more efficiently would mean moving on to better, bigger, more efficient storage solutions at the next purchasing cycle. 

Secondly, the motivation was right. Apple was putting itself at the service of technological progress. It could see that the overwhelming benefits to the customer would outweigh short-term resistance and inconvenience.

The primary goal of the switch away from floppy discs was not some crass marketing exercise to isolate the customer base as is the case with the iBooks iOS scenario only provision but to serve the future.

That is really what having a vision is about. It is not about initiatives to grab market share with no obvious benefit to the consumer. It is about seeing the future and placing all your resources at making it a reality. All else comes after.

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