Apple DNA is spreading wide and far, as other PC makers realize they can perk up their beige boredom with Cupertino-style design artistry.
After years of suggesting the big PC companies learn critical skills from Apple, it is finally happening. Both HP and Dell have been bringing on board ex-Apple employees and implementing policies that set Apple as the benchmark (rather than each other) and the end result will be a better experience from both firms.
But, what I find fascinating is that Dell and HP are going about this completely differently, with little overlap in terms of the groups making the changes. Whats kind of weird is that if you took the Apple practices from Dell and combined them with the Apple practices from HP youd have, with the exception of Steve Jobs, Apple.
Given the public Steve Jobs, whos basically a character created by Apples advertising agency (in effect, Steve Jobs plays a role in public much like Ronald McDonald, that bears little relationship to his actual personality), you wonder how long it will be before one of these firms creates their own iconic spokesperson.
Lets take a look at the wonder of the growing Apple corps in Dell and HP.
HP: Marketing, Service, and Cell Phones
I cant number the times Ive suggested that PC companies look at how consumer products are marketed and then emulate those practices when selling Personal Computers. Apple is the only company that has done this for years and is known for having some of the most memorable and successful campaigns in the technology segment. Granted theyve had long dry periods when their products werent competitive, but when you combine great products and great marketing you get amazing results.
HPs PC division has been taken over by ex-Apple superstars and it shows in their recent execution. While historically if you combined the words HP and Marketing youd walk away with the concept of boring, currently HPs programs are anything but, and the dividends (clearly also the result of some very attractive and aggressively-priced products) have been significant. Their Personal Campaign, using celebrities associated with a wide variety of demographics, has been very successful. And if you look at Apples new iPhone campaign it is a rough copy of what HP is doing with PCs.
On Service, HP has stopped measuring themselves against Dell and started to focus on Apple instead. The result has been an increase in the satisfaction customers buying HP products have seen. Since this move was an effort started relatively recently you should see very strong improvement in the customer experiences associated with HP. And, when you do, you can look to Apple for the motivation for this. Apple set the bar with regard to eliminating crapware and in providing one of the best out-of-box experiences to their customers and HP is measuring itself now against that.
While the changes arent apparent, my last meeting with the HP cell phone unit found it largely driven by ex-Apple employees. So the DNA that created the iPhone is now percolating inside of HP. While the existing line is very similar to what RIM offers, the future will increasingly be a blend of RIM, HP, and Apple, representing the best in enterprise platforms, centralized control, and phone design.
While still more focused on enterprise than consumer products, this Apple DNA promises a future phone that approaches the sexiness of the iPhone with the practicality of a RIM and security and management from HP. Done right this could be a perfect storm product for those of us who have to work from our phones. Well see the earliest well likely see such a device around this time next year.
Next page: Dell: Design and Retail
That doesnt mean that HP isnt doing some great designs, but they are largely still coming out of their own design group. It is interesting to note, however, that Im typing this on a new HP Tablet that looks like its lid was carved out of a block of Titanium and has the coolest motorized WAN antenna and pop out keyboard light Ive ever seen (yes, Im such a geek). It reminds me a lot of what an updated Apple Titanium notebook might have looked like had it been made smaller and into a tablet. But, strangely enough, it is Dell and not HP that is solidly focused on Apple designs.
Dell: Design and Retail
For Dell, Apple designs play a huge role, and Dells design team has been tripled over the last few months. Its been given the guidance that they are expected to build products that not only look better than Apples but make the Apple products look ugly. This last part is really difficult in that, were this a goal for a beauty contest, to reach this goal youd not only have to win but get the other contestants kicked out for being terminally ugly.
The first product out of the Dell design labs based on this new policy was the Dell XPS 1330. If you place it on a table next to a MacBook and blink youll see the Apple product transform into something that is comparatively dull and boring. Damned if they didnt hit their design goal.
And the upcoming Dell One, which Ill cover at a later date, does the same thing to the iMac in person (granted both are aging designs but you get the point). In some ways this has been an easier target than Id anticipated as Apple has clearly shifted design resources over to the iPod Touch and iPhone, where they have done some solid work recently. With those out youd expect they will move the bar themselves a bit. But Dell, which once had some of the homeliest PCs in the segment, now has some of the most attractive and part of this is due to this Apple focused goal.
Ive had a chance to see some of the things that are coming from Dell and they are going to continue to push the design bar. Going forward, it should be nearly impossible to connect the word boring to a Dell design. This goes beyond consumer lines and we should begin seeing some exciting new corporate hardware from them shortly.
Dells big problem last year was retail and the lack of a presence in stores. More recently Dell has been popping up in some of the largest retailers in the U.S. and Asia but you havent seen anything yet. Dells retail strategy is now largely being led by the guy who is the ex-CEO of CompUSA and worked with Apple to build out the Store in a Store concept. He represents one of, if not the, strongest executives with Apple retail knowledge in the segment. While it is too early to go into details you can imagine where he is planning to take Dell. And if you remember that Dell is the number 2 online retailer behind Amazon, a little Apple retail DNA could be a huge benefit.
Next page: Winners learn from winners
Winners Learn from Winners (Losers Stop Learning)
One of the measures of success is when folks mine your company for good people; one of the measures of continued success is how well you keep those people.
Apple has clearly achieved the first but is known to bleed people, and right now good Apple people can often write their own ticket at another firm. It is amazing that it is often the need for credit for what they have done, rather than money, are the key motivations for why they leave (though they tend to get both).
In the end the dance of learning from a competitor while retaining the things youre already good at is fascinating to watch. Apple DNA is spreading wide and far now and we are just beginning to see the improvements in number of areas. So, if you think about it, the things folks have admired about Apple are starting to migrate into hardware from other vendors, and the only sustaining difference, long term, may be the OS.
The lesson is that winners learn from other winners, losers stop learning. The irony is that the leaders of the market are adapting Apple strategies in order to beat each other, not beat Apple. The best part of this is that this is driving better designs, better service, and better business phones into lines and that means all of us should benefit even if Apple never really gets enterprise sales.