It was reported today that Microsoft will be releasing 6 versions of Windows 7, and while the majority of consumers will realistically only be choosing between two of them, it helps highlight the difference between Apple’s approach to business, and that of other tech companies. Contrary to what they teach in business school, Apple has succeeded by limiting consumer choice, and Apple’s small product line-up has been a key factor in that success.
While other companies release an inordinate number of products in an attempt to satisfy every potential customer, Apple has kept its product line-up relatively streamlined in comparison. Not only does this make things less confusing for consumers, but it also helps consumers understand what they’re actually paying for. Everyone knew what the iPhone had to offer almost immediately upon its release. Now, imagine if Apple had released an iPhone, an iPhone Nano, an iPhone Mini, and an iPhone Pro. Consumers would have no idea where to even start, and they’d actually have to study up on all the different models before they made their purchase. Most people don’t have the time to do that, and to be honest, most probably don’t care to either.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he himself found Apple’s product lineup to be convoluted and ultimately too confusing. He even quipped that if he couldn’t figure out the difference between a multitude of hardware models, how could Apple expect consumers to do so? Naturally, one of his first orders of business was putting the squeeze on Apple’s product lineup and focusing instead on only a few products that were to be marketed at either consumers or professionals. A large number of products were axed in the process, including the Newton. As a result, Apple’s product lineup shrunk down to just four offerings – laptops for either consumers or professionals, and desktops for either consumers or professionals.
Even today, Apple’s product lineup is relatively sparse compared to the product offerings of other companies. For example, if you want an Apple laptop, you can choose between a MacBook, a MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. Three models to choose from, and that’s it. Even the names Apple chooses lend themselves to making it easier for consumers to differentiate between the different models available. By way of comparison, there are a multitude of Sony Vaio laptops out on market, and if you want to figure out how they differ, you have to study the specs. How else can you figure out the difference between a Sony Vaio VGN-Z550N and a Sony Vaio VGN-CS215J/R. In contrast, the use of the words “Air” and “Pro” helps provide users, right from the get-go, with an idea of what the machine is, and who it’s geared for.
Apple’s simplified approach to selling computers helped re-energize the company as it forced Apple to focus on doing a few things extremely well, while not letting its talent and resources drift off in a number of different directions and projects. That narrow focus eventually led to the development of the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone – three products that together have helped Apple achieve record breaking financial and critical success. Apple understands that consumer choice is great, but too much choice can easily lead to customer confusion and frustration. It’s also worth pointing out that its easier for companies to provide quality technical support when there aren’t 15 models of a product that technicians need to be familiar with.
When it comes to product offerings, Apple’s approach to business is a lot like that of a Basketball coach. Would you rather have a smaller team comprised of only 7 All-Stars, or a full 12 man roster with 1 All-Star, 2 above average players, 3 mediocre players, and 6 benchwarmers. The Dream Team wins every time, baby.