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What mistakes do you think Apple made?

It’s rare to see Apple make a mistake, and while the press is having a field day with the current iPhone 4 issues, it’s unlikely this will be any more than a tiny little bump in the road for Mr. Jobs and company.

But for the rest of us, the most interesting part could be identifying what mistakes Apple made and what their experience can teach us about managing innovation and the development of new products.

As a recent WSJ article details, there’s still some he-said she-said around what really happened, but it’s clear that the problem could have been avoided. Here are a few of the mistakes they made:

Mistake #1 – Falling in love with our own solutions

Also referred to as drinking your own Kool-aid. Reportedly, Mr. Jobs liked the new design so much that the message around reception problems was either not received or was ignored as much as a year earlier.

Mistake #2 – Not getting into the customers’ environment

Evidently, for secrecy reasons, Apple kept the iPhone 4 out of the hands of its network partners (AT&T etc.) until late in the development cycle. They kept it secret until pretty late in the process, but at what cost.

Mistake #3 – Taking bad risks

If you never fail, you’re not taking enough risks. True on the surface, but in Apple’s case this was a problem that could have been tested early on and in that way avoided with some design changes vs. the after the fact solution they are now offering. Why take the risks that you can predict will fail? Here’s another article on avoiding predictable risks.

Mistake #4 – That’s up to you

Let us know how you view it and what other lessons you think we can learn from Apple’s experience.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Syb Leijenaar July 17, 2010, 2:15 am

    As a developer of technical products you have to be a bit humble. People around you may think you have excellent ideas, but in the end there are always the laws of physics and a market that determine if your ideas really work. So it is crucial for successful product development to have a strong and critical team. I am sure at Apple they have the people and the tools to predict and signal all the design risks, but in Apple's case I expect that not many people in the development team are daring to stand up against Mr. Jobs. Mr. Jobs almost single handedly lead Apple to a number 1 position in the world. You need to be brilliant, stubborn and very lucky to get there. To stay there you need even more luck or you have to organize a good team around you and become a humble level 5 leader that listens to his organization. Looking at Mr. Jobs' reaction on the antenna issues then level 5 seems far away.

  • Maria Rosa Serra July 24, 2010, 3:17 am

    The only Apple product I own is the Ipod, therefore I am not one of those unconditional fans of the brand. I found Mr. Jobs conference about the Iphone4 problems by chance and my opinion is that the guy is brilliant, he acknowledged the problems, showed facts, accepted the blame for whatever mistake they made, provided a solution (regardless of whose idea it was) and had the courage to go public with the whole thing. I have had several phone brands other than Apple and let me tell you that they are far worse than the little antenna problem and I do not see any news or articles critizicing them. “Envy” might be the clue to much of the big fuss some people are making about it. It is a good thing that Mr. Jobs is so in love with his products, regardless of how nice or easy to handle he is, the guy has taken music, computers, reading and phones to a new level. Instead of critizicing him or his company, we should be glad that he has the guts to achieve what he has achieved. Good for you Mr. Jobs!

  • Rudi Burkhard August 10, 2010, 9:14 am

    The antenna thing masks a much bigger error on Apples part! They have produced way to few iPhone 4s (and iPads) to satisfy market demand. (Even if they want o play the scarcity card).

    Image the lost revenue because they cannot deliver enough of these gadgets. Its bad enough to delay sales (many customers will buy later), but many will also move to an Android or other smart phone.

    Limiting availability or getting availability wrong is extremely costly. Every added sale would cost just the materials (variable cost) in the iPhone – all the rest would have been profit! That number must be huge!

    Interesting t see everyone jump on the antenna issue and also interesting to not Apple celebrating the huge number they sold and not lamenting over the sales they missed!

    BTW – Apple is not alone – all sorts of companies make the same mistake.


    • Michael A. Dalton August 10, 2010, 11:41 am

      Great point Rudi – and exactly what Goldratt talks about in "The Choice" where he shares the example of an apparel manufacturer/retailer where reducing clearances on obsolete stock was the focus when the real cost was the opportunity cost of running out of hot selling items. In a high margin business like apparel the hidden cost of stock outs is stunning. Would imagine the same thing is true for Apple – especially when you include the lost service and App revenue that they share in.

  • Derrick Roberts June 22, 2011, 1:09 am

    I India may be culturally small defects in phones do not get undue complaints. tell me even in advances phones there are many improvement an elderly person wants. Most time my glasses are not around. I just want to magnify the message to read the numbers without my specs . I cant do it D roberts

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