Apple and the Choice Problem


In 1997 Steve Jobs returned to Apple. His second stint was more successful than anyone would ever have expected, and his legacy is so strong that his shadow still looms large. The list of his achievements is long and well documented, but possibly the most important choice was one of his first; to reduce the product line by 70%. 

Under Jobs' predecessor, there were at one point about 350 different products bearing the Apple moniker.

When Jobs re-joined Apple his strategic aim was to reduce the entire Apple product line down to four products. For the consumer there would be a single desktop and a portable device. The same for the professional.

Jobs understood that the brand had lost focus, that like Bilbo Baggins said in The Fellowship of the Ring; "I feel thin.. stretched. Like butter scraped over too much bread". 

I bring this up because last week Tim Cook and co announced their new range of Apple products for 2018, including the much vaunted iPhone X. I'm an Apple fan, haven't always been by any means, but certainly count myself among those with whom the connection to the brand is both based on quality and emotion.

Last week they announced the new iPhone 8, the iPhone 8+, and the X. This to go with the new watch and the new Apple TV. At the time of writing there are now 5 different models of iPhone available to purchase (that jumps to about 8 if you include the larger Plus versions), about 4 or 5 watches, 3 or 4 iPads and half a dozen Macs. Wow.


Why is this a problem? 

There are two reasons. The first is the dilution of the brand, and the overwhelming feeling that that there is no longer a single vision. That products are being released to try and cover every inch of the market. It all feels very Samsung.

The second reason surrounds choice. People hate choice; that is well documented. This paragraph from an article on the Guardian illustrates that wonderfully:

Increased choice, then, can make us miserable because of regret, self-blame and opportunity costs. Worse, increased choice has created a new problem: the escalation in expectations.

Choice brings with it both a certain degree of FoMO and an increase in confusion. A decade ago there was only one iPhone, and it was the iPhone. You knew what you wanted, and everyone else wanted it too. It had a quality reminiscent of the One Ring from Lord of the Rings (two LotR references in one blog post. Nice). The same was true of the iPods, the first generation of iPads and those beautiful bubble gum iMac G3s of the late 90's.

Not to say that they won't continue to be phenomenally successful, but more and more we're seeing a company release products in a manner no different to Samsung, Xiaomi or LG. 

Meanwhile, in Santa Clara County, Google are about to launch their rival to the iPhone X. The 2nd generation Pixel. And by the way, do you know how many phones they have in their roster? One.

Tom Wood