wisdom to win

 Wisdom to Win
search bar left
search bar right

Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction




Key people


Steve Jobs Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

Co-founder and chief executive (pictured right) from 1997 until six weeks before his death from cancer in 2011.

He was fired by Apple in 1985 and then set up

  • Next (the computer company).
  • Pixar (the animated film maker, sold to Disney in 2006).


Tim Cook 

Chief executive since 2011


Jonathan Ive 

Head of design.

The British designer  responsible for making Apple’s products beautiful as well as functional.


Steve Wozniak 

Co-founder and computer engineer who created two early personal computers at the Californian home of Jobs’ parents:Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

  • Apple I (in 1976)
  • Apple II (1977).

 Wozniak and Jobs are pictured right together in 1976.


Key competitors

All Apple’s products have tough competition:

iPhone - Blackberry, HTC One, Samsung Galaxy, Sony Xperia and Nokia E72.

iPod - other MP3 Player manufacturers like Sony and Samsung.

iTunes - Amazon MP3, Spotify and 7digital.

iMac - all the leading PC makers e.g. Dell and Hewlett-Packard (also owner of Compaq).

iPad - Amazon Kindle Fire, Samsung Galaxy Note, Microsoft Surface and Toshiba Encore.


Key quotes on innovation (by Steve Jobs)

Don’t be trapped by dogma which is the result of other people’s thinking.

Out of curiosity comes everything.

The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the thinker and doer in one person.

Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have...It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.

We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.

A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.

The only way to do great work is to love what you do.


Introduction – Apple and innovation

Founded on April 1st 1976 by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne (who left 11 days later), Apple was voted the world’s best company in 2014 by Fortune magazine.

In 2015 Apple had the biggest quarterly profits in history ($18 billion).

Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

This phenomenal success has resulted from its incredible innovation:

Apple I (1976) and Apple II (1977, pictured right) – early pioneering personal computers.

Macintosh personal computer (1984) – commonly called a Mac (renowned for being virus free and user friendly).

PowerBook (1991) – a portable PC and forerunner of today’s laptop computer.

iMac (1998) – a PC famous for its translucent coloured plastic exterior.

iTunes (9th January 2001) – music software (initially only available on Mac computers).

Apple Stores (19th May 2001) – first two stores open.

iPod (10th November 2001) – the portable digital music player linked to iTunes.

iPhone (2007) – an instant hit.

MacBook Air (2008) – the world’s thinnest notebook computer.

iPad (2010) – the hugely successful tablet (mobile) computer.


Why Apple is so good at innovation

 Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

1. Leadership - Jobs and Cook

Even after his death, Steve Jobs still has a big effect on Apple’s success.

He had a vision (based on technically brilliant, beautiful products to change the world) and put it into action through his:

  • fanatical attention to detail.
  • demanding standards - he was a perfectionist and ruthless tyrant .
  • communication skills - his product launch presentations were legendary in his trademark neck black shirt and blue jeans, pictured right).
  • charisma and brilliance - he was feared but greatly respected

He is responsible for one of Apple’s greatest strengths

  • focusing on a few key projects. Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction
  • rejecting the duff ones.

The new boss, Tim Cook (pictured right), is:

  • also focused (waking at 3.45 every morning) and demanding.
  • more sensitive towards employees (listening to their views).
  • keen to maintain the sense of urgency that is so vital to change and innovation.

His strength is operational efficiency, and he has done well to continue Apple's fantastic innovation record with new products like the:

  • iPhone 5, introduced in 2012.
  • Apple Watch (2015) .


2. Corporate culture

The legacy of Jobs’ toughness is reflected in Apple’s shared values and beliefs (or corporate culture):


a) accountability for performance

(particularly achieving customer delight through constant innovation).

 Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

b) quick (anti-bureaucratic) decision making

  • changing direction immediately, when required.
  • assigning only teams to do a particular job (no committees).


c) long-term planning

Tim Cook has a weekly strategy meeting with his top executives

Every year the ‘Top 100’ (Apple’s 100 most influential people, irrespective of position, chosen by Cook) meet to discuss strategy at a secret location.


Apple is brilliant at putting these values into action. 

Constant innovation is a way of life. 



3. SimplicityApple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

Apple always chooses the simplest way of doing something.

So its structure is simple, based on functions, not divisions, making it easier to create multi-functional teams to develop new products.

Communications are always clear and straightforward

Everyone reports to Cook via his top executives, each responsible for a key activity like:

  • marketing.
  • design.
  • manufacturing.
  • software development.


4. Empowerment, action and money

Empowerment (taking responsibility for results) is vital to the effectiveness of the multi-functional teams which develop Apple’s new products.


  • knows what they’re responsible for (Apple calls them DRI’s – directly responsible individuals).
  • is obsessed with translating ideas into brilliant products that delight customers.

The team that developed the Macintosh computer is pictured right below in the early 1980's.Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction




a) uses the best suppliers

For example, it hired the London Symphony Orchestra for its iMovie software.


b) has brilliant research and development

Apple spends millions on research and development (R&D) but much more effectively than its competitors

Its R&D expenditure as a percentage of sales revenue is less than half the industry average and a fifth of what Microsoft spends .

 Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

c) focuses on great products

Money is spent wisely on a few new products (like the iPhone pictured right), but no expense is spared to get them absolutely right.


5. Customer delight

Apple is product oriented – in other words, it

  • creates great products (that it thinks customers will love), and then
  • sells them.

“We think about creating new innovative products that will surprise and delight our customers”, Steve Jobs said.

Apple doesn’t use market research to ask what customers want, because they don’t yet know about the new revolutionary products that Apple is developing.

“You can’t ask what they want, if it’s around the next corner”, Jobs commented.

This marketing strategy (supported by its famous logo) has given Apple:

  • the world’s most profitable brand.
  • fantastic customer loyalty.


6. Learning and continuous improvementApple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

Apple is constantly learning from its mistakes and failures:

  • the disastrous Lisa computer led to the successful Macintosh.
  • the PowerBook portable computer replaced the unsuccessful Macintosh Portable which was too bulky.

Jobs was reminded that technical innovation can’t ignore customer requirements by the then chief executive, John Sculley, who forced him to resign in 1985 (pictured right together in that year).

Jobs then created another computer company, Next, which taught him that customers won’t buy computers that are too expensive.

Apple is so successful, because (driven by incredibly high standards) it improves its hardware and software more often than its competitors.

He told the iPod team that the first prototype was too big and dropped it in a fish tank, so that the escaping bubbles would prove him right!

But they enthusiastically came up with a much better alternative.


7. Creative destructionApple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

People at Apple are constantly challenging existing knowledge to find new and better solutions to customers’ problems.

Jobs always encouraged a creative environment that was:

  • rebellious and informal
  • open (with the free exchange of ideas) 
  • non-hierarchical (where performance is more important than position).

In 1983 he told his team of Macintosh computer engineers:

“It’s better to be a pirate than join the navy” 

In other words, a creative rebel is better than a conformist imitator.

This philosophy is still alive today.



8. Brilliant people

Apple is full of people with the attributes of success:

  • talent - highly qualified.
  • team working skills.
  • toughness (expecting high standards from each other, throwing out under performers and relentlessly pursuing excellence).
  • time (long hours and meeting tight deadlines).

Their commitment to Apple and its products is total.

“They have to be really smart. But the real issue for me is, are they going to fall in love with Apple?”, Steve Jobs said about his new recruits.

So he always asked them at interview:

“Why are you here?”

 Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

9. Great design

Jobs has always recognized that beautiful design gives Apple an edge over its competitors.

One of his best decisions was to recruit the Briton, Jonathan Ive (pictured right) as the head of his design team.

Ive has brilliantly combined the two essentials of great design

  • user friendliness (and so simplicity)
  • beauty.

Ive says that the reasons for Apple’s design success are:


a) inventive curiosity

Always looking for new and better designs and materials to work with.

 Apple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction

b) teamwork

Ive’s design team works effectively together in an informal atmosphere with music blaring!.


c) cross-functional co-operation

The design team works closely with:

  • computer engineers. 
  • marketing people. 
  • manufacturers in Asia.


d) fanatical attention to detailApple - Innovation, Design and Customer Satisfaction


e) challenging goals

Apple and Ive have never shied away from aiming for great designs, when it would have been easy to be content with lower (but satisfactory) standards.

Ive has said:

“Some of the bravest things we’ve done are really at that point when you say, That’s good, and it’s competent, but it’s not great”.



A big thank you to...

Adam Lashinsky’s two great Fortune magazine articles on Apple:

  • The Decade of Steve (November 23, 2009)
  • Inside Apple (May 23 2011)

 Walter Isaacson , Steve Jobs (2011) - a wonderful biography.

Free Newsletter
Enter your name and e-mail address to receive our free newsletter with analysis of business issues and new business books