How Apples Solutions Drive Sales

Forget Steve Jobs' reality-distortion field: David Morgenstern says Apple's commitment to selling "solutions" instead of products has helped sell the iPod and other hardware with a storage twist. Should struggling hard drive vendors follow sui

Longtime followers of the technology market often comment about the "reality distortion field" surrounding Apple Computer and especially its high-profile CEO, Steve Jobs. This magic must be the reason for the companys survival, right?

This theory is easy to believe at times—such as the several hours I spent at last weeks Macworld Expo keynote address in San Francisco, watching the parade of new hardware and software products roll by. However, such thinking is rank superstition.

Instead, I suggest that Apple has taken full advantage of product development and marketing well within the reach of every technology company, including the industrys revenue-challenged storage vendors. The basic formula comprises good engineering and design; market vision; and most importantly, an exacting understanding of customer values. Or more simply put, Apple at times provides "solutions" rather than products.

Certainly, most of us business types are used to thinking in terms of product categories or technologies rather than solutions. Its easy to quantify consumer and business software, hardware, peripherals, communication and protocols. And solutions are usually the realm of the consultant.

In my tenure as a technology magazine editor, I supported a policy to forbid the word "solution" from the pages of our publication. The reason: A solution didnt mean anything—or more to the point, it was difficult to quantify.

Take, for example, one of Apples recent successes: the iPod. Now familiar to most of us, the device is a hard disk-based music player. According to Apple, the company sold more than 600,000 of the drives in the past year and a half, gaining more than a 40 percent market share in Japan. A retailer buddy mentioned he sold 50 iPods on one day during the holiday season.

If we think of the iPod as a product, wed be hard-pressed to understand its success. Other players are less expensive—in fact, most cost less. Some hold more data and most use a more common connector, such as USB.

However, when we look through solution-colored glasses, its easier to see the attraction of the iPod. The device is much more than just a piece of hardware. The iPod combines a very elegant software application, a speedy bus connection and compelling industrial design. In addition, it provides little extras such as the ability to store regular files or display other types of data.

For the user, the iPod simply gets the entire job done and done right. Of course, for the developer, theres nothing simple about it. Creating such synergy takes a lot of work.

Most developers and manufacturers are in the product business. And thats to be expected. Still, for all their talk of user values, I wish I could find more examples of real solutions—especially in the storage arena.

Its wishful thinking for executives to believe that Apples magic is the result of Jobs charisma or a fancy marketing gimmick that can fool the public. Or perhaps there really is a reality-distortion field around Apple—one of vision.

David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.