Posts Tagged ‘Apple’:

The Future Of The High Street

Amazon has killed book stores.  In fact amazon has killed the high street as we knew it.  Why buy from a shop on the high street any more – you can find things cheaper online, often with better customer service and returns policies.  And without having to pay for parking, or spanding even a second away from your desk, or television (depending upon your preference).

What is left for the high street:

Shops which sell things you want straight away – the convenience store (and I count huge supermarkets such as any out of town Tesco barn as a convenience store – what is more convenient than a 24/7 shop that sells everything and has good parking?), the DIY barn (because you never know when your toilet is going to start leaking, or which tool you find you don’t own -or in my case have lost – just when you’re ready to put up that shelf, and things like card shops, places that sell last minute presents etc.

Shops which sell things you really want to touch and feel:  Clothes shops are the obvious choice here – while you can buy clothes online (and many people will), if you don’t know exactly what you want before you start shopping, and there is going to be a tactile element, then there will be a place for a shop.  Sports shops (where you want to get a feel for the running shoes or tennis racquet) and Cosmetics shops (be they Boots, Lush or Body Shop). Toy shops probably fall into a similar category – I remember the Argos catalogue always offering me too much choice as a kid, but the experience of the inside of a toy shop makes it easier to settle on the ideal toy.  In many ways, these lead onto my next category

Shops where shopping is part of the experience – people shop for leisure, and sometimes the shop is as important as the things which get bought.  Clothes and toy shopping are both examples – and back in the days of Borders, I found book shopping as my own leisure shopping equivalent (though these days a combination of Kindle and previews let me do that fromt he comfort of wherever I happen to be).  We must also consider Starbucks here – you can drink coffee at home, but you choose to spend a small fortune to do it in a Starbucks for added fun.

And then there is the Apple Store.

The Apple store is something different.  The commonality of all the things you might buy in an Apple store are that they are made by a particular company – not that they all do a particular type of thing.  Moreover, all the things you can buy in an Apple store are available elsewhere.  The Apple store works not because it is a place to sell Apple equipment, but because it is part of the value you get when you buy Apple equipment.  It provides all the services you might get from other shops:

The Apple store is convenient – if your computer dies, you can take it to a store and get a genius to look into it

The Apple store sells Apple products which are alla bout design, all about toch and feel – its in Apple’s interest to get you to touch and caress them,, as this is part of what differentiates an Apple product from the competition

The Apple store is an experience – Apple stores offer speaking events, they let you spend time playing, and they offer personalised advice.

So how can other companies replicate the Apple Store?

Well, firstly, any companystore can only sell goods made by that company (and goods which enhance that company’s goods) – this is because the company needs to profit wherever you buy the goods – be it online or instore.

Also a companystore will only work if the company brand is strong enough that people will know what they might find in the shop.

I’m also thinking the companystore wil do best if the brand has a premium perception – and if there are additional things such as advice or upselling – or indeed crossselling that the company can benefit from

So what would this work for?

It has already worked for the Disney store (which has similar characteristics to Apple in many ways… including prominent board members).  We could pick other brands – Sony have stores, but they are – I believe – often franchise operations, and they don’t seem to offer the level of advice, or corporate branding you might expect.  But out of the tech world, Black and Decker could probably do good DIY equipment shops, and I would expect there could be good cookware shops under the Le Creuset tag.

But beyond this, I’m thinking of my beloved bookstores – the first shops amazon targeted on the high street.  Bookshops selling just books – outside of airports (where they get the convenience tag) are dead – or at least dying. But publishers are going to remain – and right now must be looking around for reasons to exist given that self publishing is getting easier.  In Cambridge right now we have a Cambridge University Press bookshop – but why not a Harper Collins?  Why not a Random House?  For the more metaphysically inclined why not a Hay House?

These stores could promote their hot books, sell their best authors, hold the promotional events they way – and set up bookgroups that specialise in their books.  they could raise their own brand’s (or imprint’s) profiles while providing a leisure shopping environment… and not care where you eventually buy the book from.

Amazon may have changed the face of the high street – and are certainly killing the bookstore… but with a bit of inspiration, apple might have just saved them both.

Windows 8 Explorer Ribbon

While it seems safe to say that the images of Windows 8 Explorer’s new ribbon toolbar are not the final version, and there will no doubt be a lot of prettification yet to come, I think what has been said about it shows a lot about the thought process of Microsoft, and why we can never expect Microsoft to be like Apple.

The explorer ribbon is justified by the following statements

  • This is all based in statistics – 80% of clicks are on just 10 features
  • We’ve kept all 200-odd features, and made them available in the ribbon
  • We’ve made it easy to find things we think you want

None of these are particularly bad goals, but together they manage to be contradictory:

  • If 80% of clicks are on 10 features, do people really care if all 200 remain around?
  • If very few clicks are on some of the features we think you want, are we right in thinking you want them?
  • If we want to make it easy to find the good hidden secrets of explorer, should we really be keeping all 200 features as buttons?

The answer to all three questions, in my view, is probably no. The reason why the questions remain is that the way decisions seem to have been made in designing the new explorer UI is not one of coming up with the best tool, but rather coming up with the tool that it is easiest to justify to senior management, or to big customers. So they end up thinking:

“We can’t remove any features, because one of our big customers will depend on the feature we choose to remove, and go off and sulk if its missing. Anything we do change, we have to be able to justify – and number make it easy to justify things.”

At Apple they do the opposite – when they came to revamp Final Cut, they changed it – and there were howls of indignation. But Apple knew what they wanted and they stuck with it. Because Apple’s argument was “We have a guy who knows what he likes, and we’re going to make this so that it looks and feels nicer to him”

This isn’t to say that Apple are right, and Microsoft are wrong – just that Apple look to make each device as lovely as they can, while Microsoft care more about making each device work with the myriad other devices they have sold, and making sure that their customers have no excuse but to keep buying them. So with apple you get lust and technojoy, and with Microsoft you get better the devil we know.

You might think was going to say that Apple’s decisions are those of an artist, and Microsofts are those of engineers, but that would be wrong. How microsoft approached this looks, at first glance, like engineering – lots of statistics and justifications – but if they are engineering anyone, they are engineering management and customers. Because their statistics don’t hold out:

If 80% of operations are on 10 buttons, then why are there other buttons on the front page? What is their justification for being there? The answer we are given is that these are hidden features which MS engineers think users would like to know about. Its a reasonable sounding answer. But they stats don’t hold up. Because of the 10 buttons used 80% of the time, we are told in existing UIs only 2 appear in the toolbar. Customers know about the other buttons they use – why are we so sure they haven’t simply found these features not particularly attractive? Once the stats break down, you know its just an exercise in convincing people you’re right, not an exercise is design.

The Apple approach to engineering managers is simple – its to find the decision maker – the person who has to love the software, and to show him the software and ensure he loves it. Meanwhile the engineering is the process of making sure those features work as well – and as transparently as possible.

Microsoft have had a change to throw away explorer with the introduction of Metro. Maybe they will – maybe for everything we use in Metro we won’t have to interact with a filer at all… but knowing the insides of MS operating systems, that seems unlikely to me. So why couldn’t we have had a Metro file manager which tries to make file management different, simple, clean and easy, without the need for anything like explorer? Can’t we try to deprecate the existing desktop features of windows as much as possible, and just leave them for power users and people who can’t cope with change?

What we actually have is not a conflict between engineers and artists, but a conflict between two political systems – Apple are more like a monarchy, and all the while they have a Good King, they will be making Good Things. Microsoft is a democracy, and not the good sort of democracy we all imagine, Microsoft is the just about functional democracy we all live in where spin and satisfying special interest groups wins over making the best choices every time. The strangeness of this is, I would bet on Microsoft’s style lasting longer, because Good Kings eventually go away, and the world hasn’t been short of Bad Kings.