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iPod Engineer Tony Fadell On the Unique Nature of Apple's Design Process 193

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-am-so-great dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Often referred to as the godfather of the iPod, former Apple executive and current Nest CEO Tony Fadell played an instrumental part in Apple's resurgence. Recently, Fadell opined on what makes Apple's design process different from the rest of the pack. Fadell explained that a key and yet often overlooked, difference between Apple and other tech companies is that Apple ships 99% of the products that pass certain internal milestones. By way of contrast, during Fadell's tenure at Philips — where he was charged with overseeing the company's audio strategy — the iPod guru noted that Philips would axe 9 projects out of 10, even if a particular product was about to ship."
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iPod Engineer Tony Fadell On the Unique Nature of Apple's Design Process

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  • by joeflies (529536) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:13PM (#42622145)
    Sounds like that internal milestone is a special bar. How many projects reach that milestone? Is it more than 1 out of 10?
  • by mosb1000 (710161) <mosb1000@mac.com> on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:26PM (#42622227)

    The point is that it's better for worker morale if they know the products they're working will actually be produced, as opposed to getting axed down the road. If you kill it when it's still in the conceptualization stage, it doesn't matter.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:34PM (#42622293)

    Modern business have degenerated from organizations to make and sell products/services to support systems for management employees, CEOs, and the financial/banking sector to whom they all report to. They are in the business of business for the sake of business. Modern companies honestly see making and selling products as a nuisance that gets in the way of their real goal, which is making sure management gets paid and the stock price stays inflated.

    OP's remark about 9/10 products being axed on a whim smells of the terrifying bureaucracy and labyrinthine organization that company must be. Microsoft has been rumored to be organized like a medieval kingdom with lords defending their territory with force, politics, and guile.

    Personally, I expect to see an enron-like collapse of any number of large companies in the near future. The cause? Routing loops. Eventually every last function and service will be subcontracted and outsourced. Nobody will be able to tell who makes what, and where anything comes from. Eventually someone will realize that they've attempted to subcontract a product to themselves.. Many times over, the trail going dead after too many iterative loops.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:39PM (#42622329)

    What he's saying is that Apple has an actual functional interal milestone systems.
    Other companies say they have a milestone system, but it's really bullshit lip service. What ships is up to the whim of whoever in charge, and failures are scraped under the rug because whoever in charge met the "milestone" and thus gets his bonus.

  • by stenvar (2789879) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:42PM (#42622347)

    Well, the morale of Apple workers is clearly generally great. And their products are pretty good, but you also pay for it. But that's no different from most other manufacturers of expensive luxury products, and that's what Apple effectively is.

  • by Smauler (915644) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:43PM (#42622359)

    Judging how a company performs by how few projects it axes is laughable. Every company when growing heavily invests internally in everything. Every company when not growing heavily does not, and axes a lot of stuff.

    This is simple stuff.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @10:25PM (#42622565)

    Sounds like that internal milestone is a special bar. How many projects reach that milestone? Is it more than 1 out of 10?

    At Apple, the milestone was "Steve approved it." Everywhere else, it's decided by committee. That's why 9 out of 10 are yanked... just like anything else decided by committee.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2013 @11:35PM (#42622835)

    The MS Kin was a special case.

    It wasn't so much that it was a loser that should have been culled; rather, it was destroyed by poor decisions from Microsoft middle-management.

    Basically, MS bought a successful company, Danger. Danger's "Sidekick" was a feature-phone with a well-chosen feature mix. Kin was to be the next Sidekick, and it should have been the same success the Sidekick was. The most interesting feature: it was supposed to have a special low-cost data plan. Instead of being a full smartphone, it was going to be a "social media" phone; SMS, Twitter, and Facebook wouldn't put too much load on the data network, so Verizon agreed to offer a special low-cost data plan.

    Well, a Microsoft middle manager forced the guys working on the Kin to scrap the old Danger code base, and rewrite everything to Windows CE. After all, Microsoft didn't want to have to support two code bases, right?

    But the delay caused by the rewrite was fatal. The special low-cost data plan evaporated (Verizon was pissed at the delays), and instead of being a low-cost phone with a low-cost data plan, it became a phone that cost about the same as other phones, and had a data plan exactly as expensive as other phones, but wasn't a smartphone so the built-in apps couldn't be added to. That last was really stupid: since the Kin guys were forced to rewrite to Windows CE, it should have been possible to put a Windows Phone app store on the device, and the Kin team wanted to do it. They were denied, again a stupid decision by MS management (and I guess internal MS politics).

    Had the Kin shipped 18 months earlier, even 12 months earlier, with the less-expensive data plan? It should have been a big hit like the Sidekick. Had it shipped as a smartphone with an app store, it might have had some sort of a chance. But as a featurephone that cost like a smartphone, it was instantly doomed.

    So yeah I guess MS should have culled it rather than endured the embarrassment around the Kin disaster. But better still they should have had less broken decision-making by their own middle management.

    http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2010/07/a-post-mortem-of-kins-tragic-demise/ [arstechnica.com]

    http://www.engadget.com/2010/07/02/life-and-death-of-microsoft-kin-the-inside-story/ [engadget.com]

  • by magarity (164372) on Friday January 18, 2013 @12:42AM (#42623045)

    Well, while you're thinking of the numbers, let's look at the product lineups. Philips has bajillions of products from light bulbs to shavers to stereos to all kinds of miscellany whatnot. So how many products were killed in development if this anecdote is anywhere near correct? Apple has the iPx mobile things, a handful of laptops and desktops, a server or two, and accessories for all the aforementioned. Do they have even 1,000 current products?
    Whatever the exact number, the real point is that It sounds like everything at Apple is really tightly driven with a focus on only even bothering to start products that have a place in the lineup whereas Philips has a shotgun approach.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @01:15AM (#42623133)

    Apple's superpower = Making the most money. Isn't that why companies are in business?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @01:44AM (#42623243)

    The big difference between Philips and Apple isn't whether projects are killed earlier or later.

    The difference is how the projects come to be and reach these milestones.

    Philips uses a "technology platform" system, or at least did during the time Tony was there. I don't know what they use now. That means someone in a technology division at the company develops a technology. Then they develop some platforms that use the technology. They then produce reference platforms or designs that use the technology. Then they take those reference designs around the company and try to find a product group in the company that wishes to ship a product like that.

    The problem with this is that it is pushing a rope. You frequently will make up products that show off a technology but that few people would want to use let alone buy. This system was commonplace with companies at the time. You can still see this system if you look at something like dealextreme or meritline. You will see many companies (barely more than entrepreneurs in these cases) who make products simply because the technology lends itself to them, regardless of whether anyone would want to use it.

    The big difference in how Apple did it, and still does it, is that Apple identifies a product people would want to use and doesn't currently exist or at least doesn't broadly exist in an easily usable form. Then Apple goes out and buys, develops or partners with a company to develop technologies that make that product work or work better. The company then evaluates the product before shipping it, deciding if the product is really something people would use. Rarely does the company have a change of heart about the basic product, but sometimes products get killed because the result doesn't really work in a way the customer would like it. For example, if a product doesn't work smoothly, it may be delayed until faster processors come along. The G5 MacBook Pro was fully developed and then killed because (among some other issues) the battery life was so short no one would find it useful.

    And that's why Apple products usually ship, because they were designed to ship from day 0. Philips products started out being made simply because they could be, and so many of them died on the vine when it was realized no one wanted them or even if they just can't convince any product division they would like to ship that product.

    Sources: I know people who worked at Philips. I have worked at Apple. And I've talked to these Philips people and Tony Fadell specifically about these particular differences between Philips and Apple.

  • by peragrin (659227) on Friday January 18, 2013 @07:45AM (#42624461)

    just about every other company takes the monkey approach to design. They throw shit on a wall and see what sticks.

    Takes smart TV's how many companies producing smart TV will provide software support for those TV's until the end of life of said TV's?

    There are days when i believe most businesses succeed not by being good at what they do but just by not being shitty at it.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 18, 2013 @12:19PM (#42626083)

    You have an iPhone, don't you?

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