The secret of Apple’s success lies in its embrace of a Zen Buddhist principle that expresses the power of nothingness, according to consumer trend strategist Jeff Yang.
In an article for SFGate today, Yang explores how Steve Jobs “out-Japanned Japan,” but the article really focuses on how Apple beat Sony.
Jobs was obsessed with Sony — he apparently kept a collection of Sony letterhead — and he understood that the company’s success lay in its ability to create iconic products that did one thing really well.
Trinitron — not the first colour TV, but the brightest. Walkman — listen to music anywhere. PlayStation — games with immersive graphics.
Yang notes that the Zen Buddhist concept of ma, loosely translated as “space,” expresses this concept perfectly, and Jobs has been a student of Zen since the 1970s.
But somewhere along the way, Sony lost sight of this concept. It now follows trends like 3D TV as quickly as it can and tries to be everything to everybody — movie company, record company, computer company.
Apple, meanwhile, continues to focus on a making few great products at a time, and makes sure that it LEAVES THINGS OUT. For instance:
- The iPad doesn’t have standard computer hardware like USB port or camera and can’t play Flash animations — things that a lot of PC enthusiasts thought would sink it.
- The original iPhone didn’t have productivity apps and couldn’t connect to Microsoft’s Exchange Server for e-mail — enterprise features that had defined the smartphone market until that point.
- iTunes has never offered streaming, subscriptions, or online music storage.
- The MacBook Air shipped without a lot of standard computer features like a CD/DVD drive and Ethernet port.
- The iMac caused a stir back in 1999 by shipping without a floppy disk drive.
- All Apple products have as few buttons as possible — no right-click mice, no rows of tiny buttons with cryptic icons.
None of these omissions mattered. In fact, the simplicity of these products helped them become category-defining icons — the iPad isn’t a computer, it’s a tablet. The iPhone is the smartphone for people who aren’t obsessively checking their email. iTunes is the place to buy songs for your computer and iPod.
Over time, Apple adds to the original products so they’re competitive with the rest of the field — it’s hard to imagine the iPhone and iPad making inroads into the enterprise without Exchange support. But by then, the icon has already been established, so users aren’t turned off or intimidated by the new complexity.
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