October 5, 2014

SCHULMAN | Innovation Still Starts with an “I”

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My biggest question for Bill Gates when he visited last Wednesday to dedicate Bill and Melinda Gates Hall would be: When he ran Microsoft, why he charged $120 for Office? He isn’t in desperate need for cash; Gates burned 25 million building the Fortress of Solitude, i.e. Superman’s homebase on the North Pole, next to Hoy Field — the metaphor works because Gates Hall is also glass castle located in an arctic climate. 120 dollars is highway robbery for Office considering so many products do exactly what Office does, only better and cheaper. Apple’s competing product, iWork, recently grabbed my attention.

Don’t worry, you haven’t lost your Apple cred if you don’t know iWork. Nobody really talks about iWork because there is nothing special about it. People are going to start talking about iWork though. Apple completely overhauled it with the new iPhone launch. None of the technology is new per se but it is way better than anything on the market because Apple’s genius is making technology accessible.

iWork is pretty much Google Drive, but people who don’t use Google Drive will use iWork because it’s more accessible. I love Google Drive, but storing documents on a server in Council Bluffs, Iowa is foreign to most people. They’re more comfortable with having an application and saving files on their computer.  I started posting minutes on Google Drive in one of the organizations I’m part of and have gotten a lot of polite, and not so polite, requests to go to hell. Apple knows this so they designed a product that lets people edit documents on their desktop in the traditional way, but also edit them on the go like Google Drive.

People don’t understand that Apple’s biggest strength isn’t inventing new technology. Rather, its strength lies in integrating existing technology into people’s lives. The iPod, the device that made Apple a household name, is a prime example. The iPod was definitely not the first MP3 player, it was just the first MP3 player that people wanted because it was easy to use. Think about it: If you took Joe off the street and tried selling him an MP3 player circa 2000, he’d politely tell you to go to hell because it was too complicated for him. Yet, after Apple released the iPod in 2001, our friend Joe could not imagine his life without an MP3 Player because of how seamlessly it integrated into his routine.

A lot have people are questioning Apple because the new iPhone wasn’t the first phone with near-field-connectivity, an oversized screen or buttons on side instead of the top (yes, people actually complain about that). However, Apple’s genius isn’t inventing new technology; it is integrating existing technology into people’s lives. The fact that 42 percent of smartphone users didn’t want big screens until Apple released one speaks for itself. Critics also forget how little consumers talked about NFC, until Apple started partnering with Citi, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and every other bank you’ve heard of so you can use your phone like a credit card with NFC. Apple doesn’t make new technology; it makes technology accessible.

Of course there’s a price. In order to use Apple services, you need to buy Apple’s software and products. For example, unlike any old MP3 player, you have to buy your songs through the iTunes store to use an iPod (you are highly encouraged too anyway). Unlike Google Drive — which works on everything, even Linux (if you don’t know what Linux is don’t sweat it; you would’ve already heard of it if it was useful to you) — in order to sync the documents stored on your Desktop to the iCloud website, you must be running OS X Yosemite which doesn’t exist yet. Apple still has to release it, and, when they do, upgrading will surely cost $20 or $30 (But going back to the Office thing, Apple’s entire operating system costs a third of Microsoft Office). As long as you’re willing to pay, Apple takes existing technologies and makes them accessible.