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iPhone Design: It's All About the Music

Added by on Sep 13, 2012
Topic: Product & Service Innovation

Industry observers are poring through documents released during the epic Apple-Samsung trial. Apple won big on its claims about iPhone innovations. But the released documents are also shedding new light on how the iPhone was developed.

For the IT community at midsize firms, the iPhone design experience contains some important lessons about effective innovation. And on a more immediate level, the iPhone saga also shows why mobile devices--smartphones and most tablets--can only have a limited impact on IT.

C scale notation over musical staffProtecting the iPod

In 2005, Apple faced a problem. Its iPod music player had become its best-selling product. But it was a product at risk. At that time, smartphones were still a novelty item. But cellphones were everywhere. And Steve Jobs saw the threat they posed. If the cellphone makers and wireless carriers could figure out an easy-to-use way to deliver music on their phones, Jobs said, "that could render the iPod unnecessary."

As Farhad Manjoo reports at Slate, the Apple-Samsung trial documents have provided an unprecedented glimpse into how Apple responded to this threat to its then-flagship product.

The iPhone design process began with the observation that 2005-era phones were clumsy to use. Hard keys were okay for entering phone numbers and text messages. But they were lousy for onscreen navigation--for example, searching for music or other entertainment.

Making Music Easy

This might mean that the iPod was safe. But Apple executives reasoned that sooner or later, some phone vendor would solve the music-searching problem. Unless Apple solved it first. And solving this problem ultimately led to the iPhone as we know it. This, in turn, led to pretty much all contemporary smartphones and tablet devices.

It is a classic story of business innovation with useful lessons for IT managers at midsize firms. Innovation often begins with a problem not an inspiration. The inspiration comes in looking for creative ways to solve the problem. If a better smartphone could displace the iPod, the inspiration was for Apple to create that better smartphone.

But amid all the talk about the "consumerization of IT," the iPhone development experience may also carry another lesson. The process begin with the goal, as Manjoo puts it, of making "playing music easy and fun." This turned out also to make checking bus schedules easy, if not precisely "fun."

Good consumer technology is all about solving consumer tasks, such as playing music on the go. And smartphones will help in performing simple workplace IT tasks while on the go. But IT requirements are, on the whole, much more sophisticated--and demanding--than consumer requirements. Which is why consumerization can only go so far.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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