If you want to be a bad product manager, don’t get caught up in all of the hype around the iPhone. Apple is a completely different company than yours and what works for them wouldn’t ever work for you. It’s a neat gadget, but nothing more.
If you want to be a good product manager, see what lessons you can learn from the iPhone. Look past the hype and see it for what it is — a number of great case studies wrapped up in a well-designed and potentially revolutionary product.
Only time will tell as to whether the iPhone is as important a product as the iPod or as trivial as the Mac Mini, though either way there are lessons to be learned. The iPhone is one of the biggest product launches in recent memory, and the product development aspects involved and marketing strategy is certain to provide fodder for case studies for years to come.
Good product managers use everything as an opportunity to learn. Rather than dismissing the iPhone launch as irrelevant since it doesn’t relate to their industry or product, product managers can take away valuable lessons around what to do and what not to do. Less than a week after its launch, there are already hundreds if not thousands of articles on the product design process, reviews from experts, and commentary from actual customers. These are all data points that can serve as valuable input and perspective on all products.
There are many angles to the iPhone story, most of which have already been told comprehensively by numerous news outlets and are not worth rehashing here in less detail. One is worth highlighting as it touches on what is the essence of Apple — the ability to Think Different.
Dozens of different cell phone manufacturers have been offering incremental improvements for years, touting each new model for some distinctive new feature or capability. While there have been some useful improvements, for the most part they are just technological improvements that provide little to no extra value to customers.
Apple, on the other hand, has consistently shown the ability to take a step back and rethink the entire idea around a product. Once you got past the candy colored shell, the iMac was a simple but effective “how did we not think of this?” challenge to the standard desktop computer. Rather than loading more features on the MP3 players of the day, the iPod was groundbreaking in that it recognized the value in simplifying the entire music experience — from CD to computer to portable player to online music store.
Whether a success or failure in the long run, the iPhone shows Apple’s ability to think differently about what a cell phone is and how a person interacts with it. Think about your own product — would your customers call it groundbreaking or innovative or see it as drastically different from the competition? Or would it be marginally better (or worse) than what the competitors have to offer, easily substitutable on features and functionality and capabilities? Does it matter to your product and your company?
Ignore the hype around the iPhone and look for the many real stories that exist about how Apple has designed, developed, and marketed it. See what you can learn that can translate to your business. Analyze what they did well and see how you can adapt based on it; understand what they did not do well and plan for how you can avoid it. Use one of the most publicized product launches of the past several years as an opportunity to improve your product.
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