Ken Segall and I had a long, chatty lunch a week or so ago. Once upon a time Ken and I worked together at LGFE. He’s been around tech advertising as a creative type for years - many of them spent working on Apple at Chiat Day.
Jobs, he says, is passionate about keeping things simple - which dovetails in a way with a long ago lesson I learned from a New Yorker editor who, when I asked him what he did as an editor, replied “It’s very simple.” “I am a surrogate for the reader.” His job, in other words, was be sure that ideas, no matter how complicated, were easily understood. He was a sort of customer advocate who made things simple, as Apple has been striving to make computing simple for as long as I can remember.
Back in the era of green screens and DOS prompts, Apple borrowed the icons that had been developed at Xerox PARC and introduced them on Macintosh in 1984. Suddenly using a personal computer became hugely simpler. Microsoft saw the light and went to work developing Windows.
When IBM, Gateway, Computerland and others had closed their retail stores, Apple foreswore the conventional wisdom and opened stores of their own. People who’d tried it looked at their spreadsheets and laughed up their corporate sleeves. Hah!
I have never been in an Apple store at any time of the day or night that wasn’t packed and you can’t blame the traffic entirely on iPods and iPhones. People come to buy, and equally important to learn how to use the product they’ve bought. They show up with their children, their parents, their friends, to buy more stuff. Recently I’ve learned how to cut a music track and build a website there, with the help of someone Apple has assigned to helping me learn how to use what I bought there. Which brings me to subject of the connection between people and products. The cult of Apple which is often mentioned in news articles, isn't an accident. When Macintosh was introduced as ‘the computer for the rest of us’ Apple stepped directly into customers’ shoes, as that New Yorker editor suggested and have followed that path relentlessly for 25 years. If they didn't realize what they were doing they figured it out pretty quickly, and nobody I can think of has done it so well for so long.
They may be selfish and proprietary about their technology, but Apple has been insanely customer centric. Simplifying products and how to use them is part of their religion - at least as long as Jobs is there. Steve even answers some of his own email, which according to a recent article in the New York Times, make recipients swoon and sets the blogosphere into a tailspin.
It’s smart. It's refreshing. It builds loyalty. And its effect on the price of the stock hasn't been shabby either.