One of the more interesting things about Apple is how, over the years, they’ve successfully predicted some technology shifts.
- The iMac that came with no floppy disk
- The Macbook Air with no optical drive
There are people claiming that they don’t use focus groups, and that they don’t ask their customers what they want; they just tell them what they’re getting. And when you’re being given examples such as Nintendo and Apple, it’s hard to argue against this as a great idea. The best bit about this approach, is that it allows dramatic leaps in innovation, rather than incremental improvements.
They could do this because they had a vision of what they wanted to achieve – a crystal clear vision that they stood behind. However they also had credibility and a track record of providing winners.
When people say “we don’t ask our customers”, I think this isn’t entirely true. They don’t ask their customers because they understand their customers better than their customers understand themselves. And you don’t get there without talking to them at some point – which is part of establishing the track record.
It’s awesome to watch companies announce a new product that is radically different to what customers are used to (and especially, different to what they would have asked for), but there’s a lot at stake. If it doesn’t work out, you’ll be back to having to talk to your customers.
The Harvard Business Review has an article which talks about this, but doesn’t spend much time on the vision aspect – non-user-centered design might be the visible result, but it belies the efforts the companies have made to reach that position.