Brands, like Apple, Are the Masters of the Universe!

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Recently, there has been a lot of buzz on the Internet about two similar events. What happened was basically this; The Masters of the Universe had proclaimed their decrees like dictators and the only thing the rest of the world could do was, for a lack of a better phrase, gnash their teeth in frustration.

The current king of micro blogging, Twitter, recently acquired Tweetie one of the best iPhone Apps on the iTunes store:

“We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve entered into an agreement with Atebits (aka Loren Brichter) to acquire Tweetie, a leading iPhone Twitter client. Tweetie will be renamed Twitter for iPhone and made free (currently $2.99) in the iTunes AppStore in the coming weeks. Loren will become a key member of our mobile team that is already having huge impact with device makers and service providers around the world.”
Source: Mashable

The key point of this discussion is highlighted in bold. Twitter decided that they needed an iPhone App, so not only did they purchase one and made it official, they made if free for all. This pretty much put many developers, who slaved over their own paid Twitter clients or applications, out of a job.

The next story should sit much closer to home for industrial designers.

Computing giant Apple, who topped Bloomberg’s 50 Most Innovative Companies in 2010, decided to ban Adobe flash on their iPhone and iPad platforms. Yep, this is the same Adobe who makes our beloved Photoshop and Illustrator tools. I won’t go into the merits of this decision, but suffice to say we are not going to see any cool websites with animations on our iPads.

But what I’m going to say is this: have we all gone collectively mad? Sorry guys, I’ve got a big rant coming.

If businesses are going to bet on creating solutions on platforms they do not own, they have to realize that this a huge business risk. When the platform owners change the rules of the game, everything pretty much goes down the drain and we will have likely no control or say over this decision. Oh, I can just see this story played out again with Facebook developers in the near future.

While software developers are only feeling the heat now, many product developers have been beaten black and blue for a long time now. I would say pretty much since the launch of the iPod. The multi-million dollar iPod/iPhone/iPad accessory market, suffers this same fate every 6 months when a new “i-something” gets launch. I though they get special privileges as official “i-something” developers with sneak peeks or development line charts. No way, they are just like everyone else! The moment Apple launches something new; they run like mad to be the first to get the next “i-condom” out.

Imagine living your life like this every 6 months? It sucks, but at least from what I hear the money is good.

Image: Freedomofcreation.

Making Apple accessories with simple molds and processes is one thing, but when you build entire product propositions around platforms you don’t own or control is risky indeed! Imagine dropping a $500,000 on an investment in manufacturing and part costs, and you can begin to see how risky it is in riding the Apple platform wave.

Despite these huge risks, companies are still jumping on the Apple bandwagon. It is almost as if Apple has defined the boundaries of the entire industry, and it is impossible to break out of it. For some examples, check out these recent Apple centric products making the rounds on the Internet. While they are nice designs, they do suffer from some of the risks I have highlighted above.

This iPhone desk phone dock by Kee Utility, looks great, and I’m sure fulfills a need, but the moment Apple decides to change their connectors or connection protocols it becomes a beautiful lump of recyclable plastic and metal. Especially when the product is completely useless without the iPhone in the dock.

This Parrot (Zikmu) speakers designed by Philippe Starck is jam packed with speakers, wireless electronics and Starck’s royalties. I’m pretty sure you can’t fit an iPad on it. I know that last comment is silly, but I think you get my drift.

This $300 Bowers and Wilkins P5 headphones produces great sound are just wonderfully retro styled. However it has an elaborate removable magnetic cover that allows access to a jack for interchangeable cables, one for an iPhone mic and the other without. While this product is not as high risk as some, the elaborately designed removable cover must have cost a bit of effort. This feature is really only necessary if you need to change the cables for the headphone’s use with an iPhone.

At the end of the day, product development is still risky business. Many businesses still see that if you have to put down a big investment in product development, you might as well bring in the Apple equation so that the risks can be better mitigated for a better chance of success. Finally as Apple’s track record has been impeccable of late, the lure of apparently easy money is really too strong to resist sometimes.

The question is what should strategic designers do? Encourage businesses to have faith in their own propositions, or ride the Apple wave? Whatever it is, it cannot be denied the reach and impact Apple has in consumer electronics today. Almost every product in the market has an “i-something” support of some kind.

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