Apple rejects the Big Bang theory

It's a common temptation in many industries: completing a project, change process or innovation in one massive fell swoop, a big bang. Case history and information systems literature tend to argue strongly against big bang approaches. Yet so many decision makers are oblivious to this and continue to insist on big bang completions for their projects.

Many believe that Apple Computer also takes this kind of approach. We hear nothing about a product, we see no development roadmap and then Steve stands up and unleashes something new on the unsuspecting world. That's, if you will, a big bang-ish approach to marketing.

But when it comes to hardware and software nothing could be further than the truth. Let's look at three examples, briefly…

iPods on iBook

The iPod
The first iPod was developed and brought to market in around a year. This built off three previously cancelled MP3 player projects as well as the work Apple's suppliers such as PortalPlayer had already been developing.

Since the first iPod's launch we've seen continual software and hardware revisions driven by continuous small improvements in ease of use, storage capacity, battery life and functionality. Instead of trying to launch a player which did audio, video, radio and photos each of these features was added slowly over time only once the other features were firmly established.

Many early reviewers complained that the iPod should have video or radio but the iPod is stronger and more stable thanks to Apple's incrementalist approach.

Steve Jobs magazine cover

Mac OS X
Microsoft's Vista was originally an attempt to build a complex, rich new operating system with an advanced file system, search, multimedia and much more. Most of the exciting stuff has actually been left out of Vista's launch as they just were never ready for a big bang launch. Stripping down the features means Microsoft will get something out soon.

Steve Jobs OSX demo In contrast Apple started OS X with betas and then regular major and minor releases of the system which have incrementally added modern graphics, an advanced file system, incredible search and so on.

If Apple had tried to launch the first release of OS X with Spotlight searching, Expose, Automator, the new Finder and so on they would never have got it out (and their market would have shrivelled away while waiting).

So while we don't get everything we want straight away, at least we got solid features which can be iteratively built upon.

Mac on Intel
I don't think Apple have been given enough credit for the huge transition they've so successfully set upon. This success can be directly attributed to a sensible iterative process.

Apple Intel Wafer Rather than bursting onto the scene with a new product/platform on a new chipset Apple have very sensibly first got existing products working with Intel chips. The very first system the public got to experience was the developer machine – a PowerMac G5 with an Intel chip in there.

Now we've got iMacs and PowerBooks (aka MacBook Pros) running on Intel. They're faster (by how much, I don't care) than the previous models and by all accounts run beautifully. The incredible Rosetta technology to support PowerPC software gets a solid set of machines to stretch its legs.

With one set of innovation done now I'm sure Apple will use the Intel chip's strengths to create whole new machine designs. But this is only possible thanks to their sensible incrementalist strategy. (A strategy which, incredibly, has taken veteran Apple watcher Jon Gruber by surprise)

Apple don't bite off more than they can chew, they focus on manageable chunks of change and innovation. Too much results in greater risk and quality declining. Apple don't believe in big bang launches and neither should you.

Comments from the previous version of this blog:

Apple will eat away at Microsoft

…..continually and continually. With the advent of Mac OS X on Intel the Mac will now survive Steve Jobs. Also the Mac will be hacked at some point perhaps soon so that it can run on generic boxes. Apple cannot affect this also but they may choose to accept that they will lose some models to hackers. What will be different is that legal entities are in place so that anyone cannot SELL cloned Mac white boxes. You will be able to build one for yourself, and you may, but Apple will still be in the driver’s seat, thus the “hacker” approach will also help fuel Apple’s growth, and there is no downside here, unless you are Bill Gates and are faced with the company you built up go down the tubes eventually as your operating system is so flawed as to be dangerous. Vista already has viruses out there written for it.
23:30:46 GMT 21-01-2006 Christopher J Smith

Hacking OS X for your box

There’s certainly a small community who find it an attractive idea to run multiple operating systems on one box and more power to them. You’re right, they’ll do it themselves and help spread the Mac word. Legally nobody will be able to package and sell their work so Apple is safe.

I think consumers don’t really care that much about which OS they use and this whole talk of Apple breaking through only if they allow dual booting to Windows is just techie journalist rubbish.

Some corporate IS managers probably like the idea of Windows programs running on more reliable Mac boxes but with Windows comes unreliability. The whole Mac proposition and quality differential comes from integration.

Sure Apple are scary to some by providing the whole shebang – hardware & software. But most people buy all BMW or all Ford when they get a car. I’m not worried and I really don’t think the switch to Intel is that big a deal (now I got over the shock). I think the Intel switch is a great innovation case study though and I’m fascinated to see how their Media Centre-type strategy plays out (for want of a better term).
16:18:43 GMT 25-01-2006 Jason Kitcat