It's been formally requested in our office that we institute a moratorium on #beatstweets, but I've had a note to blog this post relating Apple's redesign of iOS 7 to the structure of the fashion industry since last July. The author, Shahrzad Samadzadeh, knows her stuff and her comments are more relevant now than when the post was new.
The entire post is worth reading, and please do, but I will excerpt two points here:
To paint a simplified picture of the industry, as I know it: relatively low-priced accessories like sunglasses and wallets are often the point of entry for new relationships between customers and brands. Higher priced accessories like shoes and bags become a manifestation of a tentative commitment, and the clothes themselves are an indication of a more permanent alignment between the person and the stories and products generated by the company. To put this in technology terms: UI is sunglasses, the most accessible piece of technology is shoes and bags, and the ecosystem is clothes.
Lower-priced accessories are important to the fashion industry, and they change style constantly. With every release cycle, the new model has to be so compelling that customers volunteer to adopt it. It has to make the old style look old, and it has to get people talking. Designers, especially designers of digital products, often work towards a Platonic ideal of classic design that can stand the test of time. In fashion, there is no ideal. There are ideas of what is timeless and classic, and those ideas (think “little black dress”) are reinvented constantly.
(Seriously, please, read her entire post, even if it means you're not going to finish this one! Samadzadeh worked at a fashion company, interned at Adaptive Path and is wrapping up her Masters in interaction design from Carnegie Mellon.)
During a recent Samsung/Apple trial (I am honestly not sure which one, I don't follow this stuff as closely as I used to!), several of Apple's internal memos and presentations were revealed. One included this slide, which was obviously not meant to see the light of day:
What Apple has right now is a line-up of high end laptops, iPads and iPhones all of which exhibit what Samadzadeh references above - "classic design that can stand the test of time." It's a relatively pleasant problem, but it's a real one. The meme of "Apple is becoming a fashion company" has been percolating through tech blogs, and while (as Samadzadeh notes) "A UI is not a wallet," Apple is positioning themselves as a high growth company by taking cues from the fashion industry, so we can expect Apple's product matrix to look more like that of a fashion company than a computer company.
Beats headphones make people feel cool, Apple wants people to feel good when using their products. Making people feel cool is Apple's strongest competitive advantage, and I think it's a significant one. This is most of what the Beats deal is about, and we should expect more like it over the next few years.
Maybe the Beats deal doesn't close at all, but it's not hard to extrapolate what will happen next: Improved software and services that compliment hardware acquisitions and offer multiple points of entry for new users (especially young people) to experience Apple products. Maybe Beats will be the label on a cheaper iPhone, a wearable "iPod mini" that connects to Apple's rumored Healthbook service, or an iPad that comes with streaming media services that leave Amazon and Google in the dust.
And one more thing...
Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will hopefully be coming to Apple, but I'm actually much more curious about the next step for Ian Rogers. He's worked at Grand Royal, which was the first record label to offer streaming media on their own web site (if memory serves, they were using an exotic format: Xing's streaming mp3 servers). He was at Nullsoft where they took the desktop mp3 player mainstream, Yahoo! where they grew the subscription streaming music market several times over, Topspin where they brought to market the first end-to-end toolkit for artists to sell music direct to their fans, and now Beats.
Have you used iTunes recently? If I want to download and play a podcast, it takes at least seven clicks. Apple has been slowing peeling away the mess of features built into what was once their flagship software (Photos to photo stream, books to iBooks, etc.) but it needs a complete reimagination. Even my biggest Apple-fan friends use rdio or Spotify; I've been roundly mocked for subscribing to iTunes Match. If Apple doesn't reboot iTunes, someone else will. And the best person in the world to do so is Ian Rogers.
Why stop at music? Earlier this year, Manton Reece wrote that Apple should acquire Beats and put the team to work on the App store as well. Each of Amazon, Google and Apple's stores betray the companies' relative priorities. Amazon has an app store where they control the pricing and cheap (or free) apps and media do well, this drives Kindle sales. Google has an app store where free ad-supported apps and media do well, and paid apps do not, and this drives ad revenue and market share. Apple sells great products, and they need to shore up their flank. As an app publisher and software developer, I love this idea too.