Why Didn’t the Mac Make It as the Standard Engineering PC

March 15, 2011
Concentrating on consumer testing rather than user experience killed the Mac’s chance to reign as the standard engineering PC

Do you have an iPad? Or have you picked one up and experienced its interface? In a way, there is nothing new here. The iPad seems to be an iPhone, or an iPod Touch, only bigger. Yet there is, in fact, something different about the iPad. It comes from focusing on something that is typically poorly defined: user experience.

John Sculley, who Steve Jobs hired to be Apple’s CEO, said in a fascinating CultOfMac.com interview:

“...We both believed in beautiful design and Steve, in particular, felt that you had to begin design from the vantage point of the user’s experience.”

Jobs always looked at design from the perspective of user experience. Many people in product marketing at the time went out and did consumer testing by asking people what they wanted. Jobs never believed in this approach.

“How could I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphics-based computer is,” said Jobs. “No one ever saw one before.”

Jobs had huge vision. But he also believed in following the precise detail of every design step. He was methodical and careful about everything — a perfectionist.

Consider the 1977 Apple II. Jobs was the first to put a computer into a plastic case and build the keyboard into the unit. This seems like a simple idea today, but that beginning of the Jobs methodology forever changed the face of computer-user-interface design.

A similar design persisted in the Macintosh and NeXT computers. And it continued to evolve, ending up on future Macs, iMacs, iPods, and iPhones.

Jobs’ methodology is different from everyone else’s because he believes the most important decisions you make are not the things you do — rather, they are the things you decide not to do. In that way, he’s a minimalist.

Contrast this approach with an experience I had in 1985. I got a call from a senior manager at Apple, asking me to find out if the engineering world was a suitable target market for the Macintosh.

I did the research and came to an interesting conclusion: Despite its limitations, engineers loved the Macintosh. And given the number of engineers, it was pretty clear it would make sense for Apple to target them as a market. I flew to Cupertino, Calif., to present my findings.

But time passed without a word from Apple. I called the man who’d retained me to see what had happened. “We’re not going for the engineering market,” he said. “We held focus groups where none of the engineers, when asked what they wanted in a computer, came up with anything resembling a Mac.”

That made no sense. You asked a roomful of engineers to invent the Mac? Or something like it? All the leading geeks in Silicon Valley had Macs. (They still do.) That should have told Apple something.

My only explanation is that the my client went the focus-group route on his own, not at Jobs’ behest. Today’s dominance of the Windows PC makes it hard for Macs to make their way into existing organizations.

Joel Orr

Joel Orr, Principal of Orr Associates International, and Chief Visionary Emeritus of Cyon Research Corp. Write him: [email protected]

Edited by Leslie Gordon,
[email protected]

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.

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