What is the purpose of Apple, Inc.?
That’s the question most people gloss over when spewing out torrents of opinions over the latest Apple issue of the day. However, you can’t criticize (or praise) a company unless you fully understand the larger picture – their very purpose. Most corporations are simply money making enterprises and their purpose can be summed up with the phrase, “maximize shareholder value.” Apple, on the other hand, is an outlier. Money is obviously very important to Apple, and they work very hard to make money. Yet, it is not the ultimate reason for their existence. Steve Jobs didn’t create and devote most of his life to Apple for the sole purpose of making money – he had higher ideals for the company that have been carried on after his passing. I’ve distilled those ideals into three main concepts which feed off each other.
When I first started thinking about this issue, I assumed the core mission of Apple was to simply ‘make great products.’ However, I realized that is only one piece of the puzzle. For Jobs and Apple, the revolution had to occur first, and that would lead to the great products. If Apple only wanted to make great products, but not revolutionary great products, they would have simply continued making Apple IIes for decades, slavishly refining the product so that it was a perfect version of that computer. They would still have been making great products, yet Jobs wanted more, he wanted something radically different and wanted to expand into new areas. The original Mac was a revolution, the iPod was a revolution… the iPhone… the iPad. These revolutionary products fueled both Jobs and Apple as a company.
Jobs, at his core, was a revolutionary – someone who wanted to “change the world” and “put a dent in the universe.” He carried that utopian optimism of the 60s with him his entire life, and Apple was his vehicle of revolution. Money was a bonus in being part of the revolution, but never the main purpose. The purpose was to change what was wrong, and invent superior products that no one had ever seen before. This philosophy was distilled to its poetic essence in Jobs’ famous “Crazy Ones” commercial.
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Of course simply creating revolutionary products is not enough for Apple. Many companies have created revolutionary products, yet many of them have been terrible. Think about Web TV, or the original Windows tablets, or even something like Nintendo’s Power Glove. Apple not only wants to make their products be revolutionary, they want their products to be great. Usually it is the revolutionary idea or feature that leads to the product being great. Think about the iPhone’s touch screen. No smart phone had such a large touchscreen and so few physical buttons before the iPhone – it was truly revolutionary. Yet, Apple didn’t give the iPhone a touch screen simply to be revolutionary, they created it because it made for a far superior user experience. Thus, the revolutionary feature made the product great, the ideal combination.
This striving for greatness in their products is almost a sacred value to Apple, to the point they feel the need to publicly acknowledge any time they don’t feel they’ve lived up to their own high standards. Think about Tim Cook sending out an apology for the Maps app, or Steve Jobs calling a special event to acknowledge the antenna issue on the iPhone 4. Most companies churn out so many products that it is almost expected a fair number will be terrible. Imagine Samsung or Google holding a press conference every time they created something that wasn’t great – they’d be holding press conferences every other week.
This singular focus on making revolutionary great products leads to the ultimate question, what is the point of all this if not to simply make money? The answer is delight. Apple has continual stated, and recently reaffirmed in this beautifully animated video, that their ultimate end goal in making products is to delight the customer. To me delight encompasses more than simply amusing the customer. Delight means making one’s life better, more convenient, more organized, more worthwhile. When a father uses Facetime to see a son who lives on the other side of the world, he experiences delight. When an author can edit a novel on his iPhone while sitting on a bus, he experiences delight. When a mother uses an iPad to help her autistic son communicate, she experiences delight.
I realize I’m getting a little cheesy here, but I truly think that Apple thinks about those things when making products, and it’s not simply feel good stories they put into their commercials. They are completely and utterly dedicated to having their products enrich others lives. All the top people at Apple are so wealthy at this point that they all could retire and live on private islands. Yet, they continue to work at Apple because they truly believe this philosophy and feel fulfilled when they create products that delight customers. This really shows during Apple’s keynotes, although afterwards things get so overanalyzed that this fundamental message becomes lost.
When you start to think about Apple in terms of this core philosophy, things become much clearer. Viewed through this lens, one can have a more rational and measured conversation. It eliminates all the hidden motivations, conspiracy theories, and malevolent undertones that many people read into anything Apple does. The fact is they are simply not that complex. All you need to look at is whether the product is revolutionary, great, and delights the customer. After that you can dive into the details, but I think seeing the larger picture first puts things into context and illuminates Apple’s ultimate vision.