March 7, 2011

∴ Steve Jobs' Washing Machine Explains Apple Philosophy (Really)

I've been thinking about how to write about this subject for a few days, since Steve Jobs took the stage to announce the iPad 2. Describing the new device, he ended his presentation with these words:

It’s tech married with the liberal arts and the humanities. Nowhere is that more true than in the post-PC products. Our competitors are looking at this like it’s the next PC market. That is not the right approach to this. These are post-PC devices that need to be easier to use than a PC, more intuitive. And the software, hardware, and applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than on a PC.

How do you bring the liberal arts and humanities into a technology product? You think long and hard about how the customer will make it part of her lifestyle. I'm so glad I found this next piece (from Wired via 9To5Mac), which describes how Jobs did that when his family needed a new washing machine.

“We didn’t have a very good one so we spent a little time looking at them,” he told contributing editor Gary Isaac Wolf. “It turns out that the Americans make washers and dryers all wrong. The Europeans make them much better – but they take twice as long to do clothes! It turns out that they wash them with about a quarter as much water and your clothes end up with a lot less detergent on them. Most important, they don’t trash your clothes. They use a lot less soap, a lot less water, but they come out much cleaner, much softer, and they last a lot longer.
“We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table. We’d get around to that old washer-dryer discussion. And the talk was about design.”
Two weeks of discussions to choose a washing machine? That’s life in the Jobs household. (He opted for Miele in the end, adding, “I got more thrill out of them than I have out of any piece of high tech in years.”)
So how does he justify deliberating for so long? Well interestingly he compared it to a phone – an essential item, but something people don’t have time to spend figuring out. “You just don’t have time to learn this stuff, and everything’s getting more complicated.” So he simplified it all with the original iPhone, and the mobile landscape changed forever. If Apple made washing machines, you can bet they’d be the easiest to use in the world.

Today's products are complex, and customers can't or don't take the time to understand their details. An unsatisfied customer, who doesn't get what she expects from a product, is often the result.

Making the complex simple is difficult. It takes a lot of thought by smart people, and trial and error with candidate products. It takes an engaging way to explain and sell it to the customer. Apple manages this by considering design alongside engineering. The result is a product that does, in a simple and easy-to-use manner, what the customer expects. It leaves her feeling good about her purchase, even when the product lays the occasional egg.

Any company that manages all of that can charge a premium for its wares. The customer will thank them for making her feel smart and happy, all-in-one.

Re-read the excerpt. Makes you want to buy a Miele washer, doesn't it? If so, Steve Jobs just sold you someone else's terrific product.