This month Apple took another step towards embodying the Orwellian dystopia they mocked in the award winning 1984 Super Bowl commercial that launched the Macintosh. On Monday 20th August, Apple became the most valuable company ever by market capitalisation. They are watching you, know where you live, and they have your credit card details.
The jewel in the crown is the iPhone. Its revenues generate more than Microsoft itself. It has dragged mobile from the days of Crazy Frog topping the charts to ultra-sophistication in the space of just five years.
Although Android still has the greater market share, there is no disputing that Apple are the agenda setters, and everyone else is playing catch-up. Apple have created mobile engagement as we know it and have done so by applying their core values to a previously fragmented and over complicated category.
What can we learn from Apple?
Engagement starts and ends with the user interface. When Apple launched the iPhone they leveled a direct attack on the way we engage with smartphones – by reimagining both the hardware and software interface design.
After years of devices littered with buttons for every function, Apple made it simple and clean. One button. Suddenly the software (apps) that ran on the iPhone could create their own buttons, specific to their own needs and not rely on complex and unnecessary keyboards supplied by the manufacturers. The one-button approach sent a clear message to the world – a mobile phone can be a simple and understandable device for everyone.
It is easy to forget that apps existed before Apple came along. Mobile manufacturers and operators alike invested heavily in platforms like OrangeWorld and T-Zones. Their Achilles’ heel was the myriad options that faced their users. Networks competed directly with manufacturers on individual devices to sell ringtones, games and wallpapers – vying for the users’ attention and loyalty. In addition, there was little continuity from one network to the next and upgrading meant starting again – familiarising yourself with your new mobile device and its content portal layout. As Ken Segall, author of ‘Insanely Simple’ puts it, ‘People fell in love with the iPhone because of its simplicity’. It brought everything together and made it easy to use. The subsequent winners in all categories of mobile have been those best at understanding and implementing Apple’s ‘rules of engagement’.
Angry Birds is practically a case study in gaming simplicity. Employing the physics of a simple catapult and one finger control, it continues to dominate the mobile gaming category. Users know how to play intuitively with barely any need for instructions.
Flipboard is another great company that has embraced Apple’s principles to maximum effect with its intuitive page turning, crisp text and image layout. Even technology giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter have built mobile interfaces that emulate Apple’s design principles. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, in this instance it also makes perfect business sense.
It may be something that Mad Men would not want to admit to themselves, but the best question you can ask when preparing a mobile engagement strategy for a client is ‘how would Apple do it?’ In the same way that we talk about ‘SEO’ (‘how do we get higher up Google?’) or ‘social strategy’ (‘how do we best integrate Facebook?’), we use terms that imply a complex web of options and approaches to make us feel empowered and blind others with science. The paradox is that the pursuit of Apple’s simplicity is a harder road. It is hard to persuade clients that less is more – removing options and focusing on fewer items. Furthermore, even if you win those battles, with the time and skill required by developers and designers to make things ‘look and feel’ simple, costs can mount up. So it’s a constant juggling act – every aspect of development from conception to implementation and launch must adhere to these principles or the whole house of cards will tumble down.
But if you can beat the odds and master these principles then surely you have a potent formula that can be applied to any form of mobile engagement, from fashion retail to online dating?
In theory, perhaps, but in reality there is another catch. It takes an element of creative genius to do it. Miles Davis, the trumpeter who revolutionised the world of jazz several times over, once advised a young trumpeter: “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” Such creativity is hard to replicate and, by definition, impossible to imitate. In order to get rewards, companies must invest in talent to create amazing experiences. They must try not to meddle with the process or involve too many stakeholders, all of whom are likely to want to see a particular message or function included. The investment can be great but the rewards are potentially limitless as Apple proves.
Clarity of thought, with a single simple message, guides the world’s greatest philosophies, religions, theories and products. It is at the heart of successful mobile engagement and it is why Apple is the biggest company the world has ever seen.
Head of Innovation
Browse the sections to read articles prepared by thought leaders in all the key marketing disciplines. If you would like to deposit a Knowledge Bank report contact firstname.lastname@example.org