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

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 Megahard ( 1053072 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:19PM (#42622185)

    Seems more likely that Philips is the one that's different from the pack.

  • Killing them early (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kergan ( 780543 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:21PM (#42622197)

    Excuse me for asking, but... How is "products that pass certain internal milestones" (aka Steve Job's early scrutiny) in any way related or comparable to "9 products out of 10, even if a product was about to ship"?

  • by harperska ( 1376103 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:28PM (#42622249)

    It would be interesting to know exactly what that internal milestone is. Obviously, the ability to axe projects is core to Apple's business, as evidenced by the tiny number of SKUs they offer at any point in time compared to most electronics companies. And there have been rumors that Jobs could be particularly brutal when it came to shutting down projects that he didn't think were worthy.

    The difference must be that while all companies axe projects, Apple makes cuts earlier than other companies and only lets the few chosen projects make any progress in the lifecycle. Whereas other companies take a 'throw everything at the wall and see what sticks' mentality, and only cut projects later when they aren't good enough. Sometimes they cut too late (e.g. MS Kin).

  • by Lexor ( 724874 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:35PM (#42622307) Homepage Journal
    The Odyssey Command Center (Odyssey 3) video game console was axed by Philips just as it was about to ship. It wasn't the strongest offering at the time but it offered backwards compatibility with Odyssey 2 games and was to be expandable with a modem and BASIC.

    I was saving my dollars and ready to buy but it was axed shortly after they promoted the hell out of it at the CES and Knoxville World's Fair. Jerks.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:52PM (#42622427)

    Number of products that Philips actually produces and ships: ~20,000+
    Number of products that Apple actually produces and ships: ~50

  • Say what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rueger ( 210566 ) * on Thursday January 17, 2013 @09:57PM (#42622449) Homepage
    ...Apple ships 99% of the products that pass certain internal milestones. By way of contrast ... Philips would axe 9 projects out of 10, even if a particular product was about to ship. ... "Nine times out of ten, or 99 times out of 100, they would kill the project, either at the beginning, the middle or right before the product was supposed to be shipped."

    OK, I ready I read TFA - is this incomprehensible? Does it mean anything? Is there any useful data anywhere in this?
  • by harperska ( 1376103 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @10:09PM (#42622497)

    I think it's product category rather than 'form factor' per se. There isn't a single product category that Apple makes that Apple 'invented'. However, they only enter a category if they think they can make significant changes to the status quo of that category. Sometimes that change involves a new form factor (like the iPhone), sometimes it doesn't. It could be argued that the original Mac wasn't a new form factor. The TRS-80 came as an all-in-one several years before the Mac. The Mac's innovation came in turning the GUI (notably also not 'invented' by Apple) from a science experiment into something that people would want to buy.

    The form factor precedent for the 1st gen iMac was all previous all-in-one computers before it. I don't know if the colorful cases constitute a new form factor, or just an iteration on the idea based on Jony Ive's asthetic. The modern iMac is just an iteration on the same idea that came naturally with the state of technology migrating from CRTs to LCDs. The original iPod was a new form factor, but also an existing idea. Portable mp3 players had been around for years, as evidenced by the now famous slashdot post dismissing it as nothing new when it was first introduced.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @10:29PM (#42622583)

    Another way of saying that is, "If your team meets the goals and commitments that you have made, then we (corporate) will commit to funding your project".

    I've worked for a few outfits that did this, and it works well. For those that didn't, it invariably was traced back to someone in management who had some conflicting side deal. Either they were marketing our technology to a competitor, who didn't want us building our own. Or in a few cases, some manager who was just taking stock options from the competition to kill projects.

    Philips (as an example) suffered from the former problem. They make quite a few chip sets and license their technology. I wouldn't be surprised if the VP of semiconductors called the head of an internally developed consumer product and said, "Kill it. The people who we sell chips to don't want our competition."

  • by milkmage ( 795746 ) on Thursday January 17, 2013 @11:42PM (#42622863)

    maybe not reworking but waiting for tech to catch up with the idea.... don't forget the iphone was born of the ipad.
    i guess at the time, given current technology, Apple could't reach that milestone in a 10" formfactor, but they could in 4"

    "I thought, 'My God we can build a phone out of this,"' Jobs said at The Wall Street Journal's "D: All Things Digital" conference in Rancho Palos Verdes.

    Apple must have had the ipad idea as early as ~2000.. (phone launched in 2007, assuming 5 years in the oven... the idea came to him in 2002.. so the ipad must have been researched/prototyped at least a year ot two before that before they decided 2002/3/4 technology wasn't going to work for an ipad)... 8-10 years or so before the ipad actually made it to shelves.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <> on Friday January 18, 2013 @02:11AM (#42623349)

    Fanboi should read something other than MacNews... Samsung has been outselling Apple for quite a while, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Your unreferenced claim is, in fact, incorrect - Apple has sold more iPhones (all models) than Samsung GALAXY phones. Not all Samsung smartphones. Samsung has led the smartphone sales for over a year and is predicted to continue to do so for the next 5 years.

    Well, Dell ships more computers than Apple, as well. Samsung ships tons more phones, yes, but not many of them are their flagship ones. Every Samsung smartphone is called a Galaxy something, and they range from the completely free crap phones with crappy screens, to the S-III. Heck, Samsung just introduced their S-II something with a huge screen but... 800x480 screen.

    So yes, Samsung better ship more phones, because they have probably over 50 smartphones in their entire product line, including ones that run Windows Phone, amongst others. Apple only had 3 models, 2 of which are laughable just to have a price point. Of course, Dell has a similar situation - they probably have hundreds of PCs, while Apple has what, 7 different ones?

    These days, Apple's not about marketshare. Just the part of the market they want to make money on. (It helps that that part of the market is willing to spend money as well, because it's why iOS App Store is #2 in developer money (#1 is Blackberry, believe it or not), followed by Amazon App Store at #3 (about 50% of the Apple App Store). Distant last is Google Play - under 50% of what the Amazon app store brings.)

  • The iPhone was released a little bit too early I think, and Apple has been paying for it ever since. For example, due to lack of processing/GPU power and a desire to make apps look slick they decided to go with a fixed resolution and mono-tasking. Now they are stuck with making every new screen a multiple of the original iPhone or iPad resolution, and suffering from black borders when they wanted to go widescreen. They can't easily introduce multitasking either, just a kind of bodge for a few select applications.

    In the medium term it has worked for them, but in the longer term they built a platform with many of the limitations that desktop operating systems suffered from in the 80s. Many never overcame those limits, and when they did it was often with a horror show like Windows 95.

  • what was the form factor precedent for an original Mac?

    It was a smaller version of any number of workstation computers available at the time.

    Or a 1st gen iMac?

    Small televisions, obviously. The shape was largely determined by the shape of the CRT tube. Making the corners more rounded and using bondi blue plastic is not innovation, it's just decoration.

    Or a modern iMac?

    Hardly the first computer to be built into the form factor of an LCD monitor. Plus it looks exactly like an old Braun [] product.

    Or an original iPod?

    It looked like many other music players, only with the wheel which wasn't invented by Apple (it was Synaptics for trackpad fame). They couldn't patent the design because it was functional anyway - how else would you arrange the screen and buttons in a usable way?

    Plus it looks exactly like an old Braun [] radio.

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <> on Friday January 18, 2013 @05:44AM (#42624105) Homepage Journal

    That's not what I've heard. Jobs had to park his car away from where the people working under him did, to avoid it being keyed every day by pissed of employees fed up with his attitude and angry rants at them.

    By all accounts he was not a nice guy to work for. He got results, but not by making is employees like him.

  • by water-and-sewer ( 612923 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @06:01AM (#42624149) Homepage

    This comment is the most interesting/informative thing I've read all week. I'd just add that, as I recall, the marketing campaign that accompanied the Kin was abysmal. Not only was it trying too hard to be 'hip,' but it came across instead as creepy, focusing on a guy stalking his ex-girlfriend or something ridiculous like that. How can an organization stuffed with so many 'professional managers' come up with an advertizing campaign that hits so far off the mark? (yeah, I know, I know).

  • by UnknowingFool ( 672806 ) on Friday January 18, 2013 @10:19AM (#42625155)

    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?

    Not exactly. Danger used Java which would never be allowed for a MS product.

    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).

    I've seen many people blame Verizon for the Kin but in fairness to Verizon, MS was 12 months late in a market where new generations come like every six months or so.

    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.

    Also lost is this was the Kin was unstable and buggy when launched. After MS gave up, Verizon re-launched it. Many of the smartphone features were stripped and the bugs were ironed out.

"Tell the truth and run." -- Yugoslav proverb