June 07, 2010

Steve Jobs' Opportunity: Apple Products are for Humans

At 10 a.m., Apple CEO Steve Jobs will take the stage once again at WWDC, no doubt introducing the next generation iPhone, along with its already previewed iPhone OS 4 software, as part of what will hopefully be many announcements in the day, which point to the future of the company and its application ecosystem. His remarks will come at a time when Apple as a company is tremendously strong, firing on all cylinders, with the launch of the iPad looking like a tremendous success. Yet, in the background, the company's iPhone juggernaut seemingly looks like it is vulnerable, thanks to continued momentum from Google, Android, and Sprint's record-setting sales of the newest device, the HTC EVO (which I've discussed at length the last few weeks).

Steve Jobs is a master visionary for foretelling the future of tech, and also a master salesman, convincing you to think he was the leader, in the occasions when Apple is actually late the game. He and Apple have been among the best in convincing customers that features or products are not needed, or markets are not interesting, right up until the minute they introduce their own version. At this WWDC, Jobs will need to convince those watching and listening not only that the company's present is strong, but that their future is as well, that they can remain atop the charts in the smartphone race, in the face of the onslaught from Mountain View. One way he can turn this tide is to turn Android's marketing around against them - taking on the harsh, metallic, robotic, messaging directly, and say that in contrast, Apple's products are designed with soul, by humans, for humans - connecting with one's emotional side in a way that Google hasn't traditionally been able to do.

As far as robots go, the Android robot is cute - friendly and appealing even. So too are the code names for the Android releases themselves, each sounding like a calorie-rich dessert one would lust for. But, at the end of the day, it's still a robot, and Google, so far, hasn't been known for a soft, creative, approach. The stories about the company being data-driven and letting the numbers tell the story have reigned supreme, often being pointed to as one contributing reason behind the company's false starts in social, and, amusingly, the lack of a Google Sports to go alongside Google News. In contrast, Apple is all about emotion, and creativity, and how one feels about an experience - be it on the desktop, on a tablet or from a mobile phone.

Apple once said its operating system was so divine that "you would want to lick it". Licking and loving? Human emotions, not something robots desire to do. I don't see Google wanting you to lick your Nexus One or your Droid Incredible any time soon. They just "do". And even though I am enjoying my Android experience still, I am working around some of the lameness when it comes to non-humane error messages, non-intuitive software design and things that take more steps than they should, which Apple already tackled in the simplicity department long ago.

Do you know the primary use for the pair of iPads we got the first day they hit stores? Playing YouTube. Now, before you say that's a Google product (which it is)... what I left out is that the primary users are my nearly two-year-old kids. The two of them are constantly on the iPad, browsing videos or playing simple arcade games. That we have two iPads for the two kids is a must, for when one is in the room, they are fighting over it. The simplicity and human approach Apple took to the iPad is so well executed that the twins don't hesitate in learning how to approach new apps and to swipe between screens. But when they look at my EVO, they're pretty much lost.

Jobs may not try and present iPhone as the alternative to Android at WWDC, in the same way Google presented itself as the alternative to iPhone at Google I/O. Maybe he doesn't want to give them that much credit. It's just as likely that he will tell us how much better iAds are to AdMob, or tell us how many more cool apps there are for iPhone and iPad than there are for Android. Maybe talking about one's human nature and personality is too much of a throwback to Jobs' hippy days, but it's certainly an opportunity, one that would resonate with many people considering their computing choices going forward. We're not robots, and Apple is a touchy-feely company who understands touch and feel better than anybody else in tech. Therein lies the opportunity to remind customers.