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Macworld Industry Forum: Jason Snell on how Apple does it

David Winograd

News from Macworld Expo, all week at TUAW.

At the Macworld 2011 industry forum this morning, Jason Snell, the editorial director of Macworld magazine, talked about "how Apple does it." His first point was that Apple is not just Steve Jobs. Steve created a great management team that just doesn't get enough press. Regardless of what happens with Steve, Snell says, Apple will do fine.

Apple has an uncanny sense of timing. It doesn't get everything first but, when it does, it does it right. The Rio was one of the first MP3 players, but it wasn't until the introduction of the iPod that the market took off.

Apple knows to get rid of things when their time is past, like floppy drives, FireWire in some devices and optical discs (now on the way out, see the MacBook Air). A lot of people don't like these decisions when they happen, but Apple really doesn't care; the leadership of the company feels so strongly about it that it continues to make those moves anyway.

Apple controls its own destiny. Snell's example was that Internet Explorer for Mac -- slow, and behind the leading edge -- put the sense in everyone's head that a Mac was not a great computer for the Internet. But everything was being tested on Internet Explorer. Instead of ceding the market to Microsoft, Apple created Safari, so that the customer's Internet experience could be better. Likewise, Apple was hostage to the PowerPC processor's development cycle, which started out fast but lagged. Moving to Intel meant that Apple could change the conversation around performance and regain market parity.

At Apple, design is not driven by engineering -- although often it seems that it is. Instead, Apple products are based on engineering and the design comes later. Since you can't change a first impression, people fall in love with the look, but really get sold with the amazing functionality of the device. That is what gives Apple products legs and many companies just don't get it.

The showmanship of Apple is amazing. Creating products is hard and technical, but part of the Apple magic (and this can be done without Steve Jobs) is turning secret product introductions into a stage show. People really enjoy the drama and the surprise. Apple does this better than anyone. Apple will never just "put out" a product. It turns it into theater.

Apple gets it right the first time. It knows that it's better to dump features that it can't do well and grind away until it's right. So why aren't there more companies doing what Apple does? Avoidance of a herd mentality lessens innovation, and getting things past a board room can slice innovation and features off a product. The American corporate culture is opposed to running a company as Apple does. Most lack courage and the "me-too" paradigm in American business culture has given Apple a great advantage.

More Macworld Expo coverage all week here on TUAW.

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