3 Lessons You Can Learn From Apple About Product Iteration

Apple are the kings of slow, product design iteration. They watch a make evolve, then strike. What can you learn from them?

Earlier this month, Apple held its annual September special event at its headquarters in Cupertino, California to unveil its latest range of upcoming releases. While, as expected, the event dazzled consumers from around the globe, the showcase was yet another example of how the tech giant leads the way in regards to digital products. Frankly, every product designer can learn a lot from the consumer electronics company.

Here’s everything that the September 10 event can teach us in regards to product design.

Lesson 1: You Don’t Need To Reinvent The Wheel

The Apple event saw the unveiling of six main products, which will form the focus of the globe’s biggest consumer electronics manufacturer. They are:

  • The brand new iPhone 11,
  • The iPhone 11 Pro,
  • The Apple Watch Series 5
  • The new Apple iPad,
  • The Apple Arcade gaming service,
  • The Apple TV+ service.

Of those products, only the bottom two are considered new products while even they are used as additions for existing products - AppleTV+ is designed to be watched through AppleTV while Apple Arcade is designed for iOs, macOS, tvOS, and iPadOS.

From a product designer’s perspective, this underlines the benefits of valuing iterative design over the idea of creating something from scratch. If customers are satisfied with the general concept of a product, refinement through new incarnations can be the best solution for long-term success and growth – especially in industries where technology plays a huge role.

Apple’s approach to iterative design is shown across their tablets, smartphones, laptops, and other devices. Analysing the timeline of the Apple Watch is a great example.

  • Apple Watch Series 0 (2015): Offered no obvious value and was harmed by slow App loading and poor battery life.
  • Apple Watch Series 1& 2 (2016): Both App speed and battery life were improved while Series 2 included GPS without the need for a phone. References to the Sport model being “cheap” were removed.
  • Apple Watch Series 3 (2017): Faster and incorporate the iconic cellular red dot, although complaints about screen size were commonplace.
  • Apple Watch Series 4 (2018): Fitness became the clear focal point with ECG monitoring. Bigger, brighter designs and new size options were supported by fall detection implementation.
  • Apple Watch Series 5 (2019): Uses a new App Store, is always on display, and incorporates a compass alongside other minor tweaks.

Using iterations of products can be far smarter than starting over (as Samsung has done on their competing product) as it allows product designers to use customer feedback and focus on the aesthetic and functional upgrades that clients want.

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Lesson 2: Choice Matters

As a product designer, creating a product that appeals to a universal market is almost impossible. Even Apple’s tech products struggle to satisfy all audiences, which is why they offer a range of options. This way, consumer’s feel as though the product is personalised to their preferences and requirements, which promotes a far greater sense of value.

This year’s announcement regarding the iPhone 11 perfectly highlights the need for versatility and flexibility within the realm of product design. As has been the case for several years, Apple will offer its latest smartphone in a number of colours. The revamped palette will include Yellow, Purple, Green, White Black, and Red.

Another example of choice that allows consumers to find an iPhone that’s suited to their requirements revolves around the storage capacity with 64gb, 128gb, and 256gb variants available. This gives Apple the opportunity to market its products to men and women as well as customers of different financial statuses. The latter idea is highlighted further this year with the inclusion of the iPhone 11 Pro model, which adds a third camera and is available in two options too.

While millions share a love of the Apple brand, the audience can be split into several subcategories. As a product designer, learning to embrace this can have a significant impact as you aim to reach the largest possible audience without alienating anybody. Give them the opportunity to configure a product to their tastes, and you won’t go far wrong.

Lesson 3: Simplistic, Customer-Centric Products Are Best

Apple is at the forefront of tech innovations, and its events are synonymous with awe-inspiring visuals. Ultimately, though, simplicity is at the heart of their brand, which is shown by their iconic logo as well as the clear, clean designs used on all products. Apple uses the smartest technology but keeps its product open to the masses with simplistic customer-centric designs. Essentially, they build products for consumers, not designers.

The Apple brand continues to make life easy even for customers that aren’t tech-savvy. The Apple Arcade is another example that will make downloading and playing games accessible to new audiences in much the same way that the iPod and iTunes revolutionised the idea of music downloads and management. Frankly, products designed exclusively for tech nerds will instantly alienate the vast majority of the potential audience, which is something many other tech firms have been guilty of in the past.

Catering to the demands of the customer rather than the demands of technology needn’t be restricted to product designers working with electronics. Another lesson gained from Apple’s latest unveiling is that the concept of building a family of products is still a priority. The Apple devices and software all collaborate with each other to improve the overall UX, which is one of the many reasons people become loyal to the tech brand. Trying to implement a similar sentiment should be on the agenda for every product designer.

While it isn’t explicitly evident at the product unveiling events, the idea of using collaboration to provide customer-centric products is further promoted by the fact that Apple designers spend around 90% of their time speaking to engineers, marketers, and other teams to ensure that the design is built with the consumer’s (and the brand’s) best interests in mind. This leads to a better product for the end-user, which can only support success in terms of initial sales and the future purchases of related products. In Apple’s case, this could mean buying an Apple Watch after buying an iPhone or using the Apple TV+ with the Apple TV device.

Essentially, product designers need to think beyond the individual product and think about the brand story as a whole. When this is achieved, the hopes of success are dramatically increased.

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