I enjoyed this breakdown of Apple’s audio strategy from Aakash Gupta. The level of long-term product strategy and execution at Apple is hard to match. What struck me was the amount of added value Apple drove for consumers by combining products. Any of the products in its music ecosystem (Beats, AirPods, iPhone, Apple Music) would have been successful on their own. But Apple’s ability to see a bigger vision is what makes their product experience unparalleled.
A few things that I have been turning on since reading this:
Don’t force product paradigms
- Not mentioned in the article was Beats Music. When Apple acquired the Beats headphones business, they also got the Beats music service . This would play a crucial role in their music strategy. At the time streaming was becoming mainstream, but it was not yet the standard. Apple had a successful music service, iTunes. Most companies in Apple’s shoes would have seen the changing tide in music and tried to shift iTunes to a streaming service. A paradigm shift like this is difficult to execute. You risk upsetting or losing customers who are not yet ready to move onto the new thing. And with any new advance in technology, it will take you time to grow the base of customers who want that thing. So making changes to iTunes could have been damaging for Apple. Instead they left iTunes as it was and used Beats Music to launch a new streaming service. This allowed Apple customers to continue to manage their music through iTunes. And at the same time they could start to make the shift to the new paradigm of streaming music. Today, Beats Music is Apple Music. Another product that is good on its own but even better as part of the broader Apple ecosystem.
See the future for customers
- When Apple removed the headphone jack it seemed like consumers were going to riot in the streets. But they came to realize that a life with wireless headphones was ideal. I was thinking about this at the gym the other day. I used to go through such pains to listen to my music at the gym. I remember worrying about my cord getting snagged on something or a that a weight would fall on my phone. Trying to listen to music was almost more of a distraction than a help. Now I can put on my Power Beats and not worry at all. In fact I usually forget I am wearing them and my phone can stay safe in my bag. This all feels natural now, but when Apple first pushed everyone to bluetooth it was definitely a foreign feeling. To build great products and experiences, you need to be able to see the future on behalf of your customers. You need to have the courage to push and guide them there, even when there is initial resistance. The move was definitely a benefit to customers. And looking at AirPods sales charts, it was the right move for Apple as well.
Do the unsexy stuff
- Apple is known for sleek, innovative consumer products. But lately a lot of their product success has come from their willingness to build things that consumers can’t see. Apple has gone hard into the chip game. At this point, most of their products are powered by chips they designed. This is true for devices like AirPods which use bluetooth. When moving customers off the headphone jack and onto Bluetooth, Apple knew they had to make the Bluetooth experience better. They created their own chips that make connecting seamless and deliver better audio quality. Designing chips and improving connection standards isn’t sexy and goes unseen to customers. But the quality of experience it creates is something they feel every time they use the product.
The Apple music environment has certainly evolved from “1000 songs in your pocket”. But the feeling remains the same being able to listen to my music where I want, when I want, in a seamless experience. Many companies play in this space, and there are a few who have mastered pieces of it (Spotify in streaming, Bose in headphones). But only Apple has created an ecosystem and experience in music.
Product people should study how Apple created a vision for music and then executed over decades using multiple products. Our products look different but we can strive for similar levels of execution and success.