Everyone has a favorite “concept car.” Whether it’s the ‘54 Firebird, ‘64 Stiletto, ‘80 Epcot or ‘88 Sunraycer, these “flights of imagination” all have one thing in common: they weren’t for real.

General Motors had no intention of selling these cars, or cars that were close in form or function. They were largely “concepts” detached from reality or economics. It’s even debatable if they have advanced the art and science of producing cars in ways measurable by subsequent sales. In fact, over the years, while GM was busy creating concept cars, its Asian counterparts were working overtime selling cars that real customers here and elsewhere actually preferred to purchase. After losing over $50 billion in the last three years alone and its debt closing on junk rating, analysts are now wondering if the once-mighty GM will be able to avoid bankruptcy at all.

The “conceptualizers”

Certainly, GM is not alone. Other technology giants like Microsoft and Nokia have also had a penchant for concocting concept products that never see the light of day in the marketplace. Bill Gates & Co, for example, have for years been showing off all-digital concept products from kitchens and mediarooms to bedrooms:


One of the latest Microsoft concept products is Surface. Microsoft first announced this bathtub-size “product” in 2007 and promised to ship it by the end of that year for nearly $10,000. Hotels and casinos were cited as early adopters. The product never shipped in 2007. So far the only public sightings of Surface have been a unit at Harrah’s iBar and 12 AT&T cellphone stores. To confuse matters, Microsoft is also rumored to position Surface as an interface to its pricy, enterprise-oriented BizTalk Mapper modeling/rules engine platform and recently demonstrated the same touch interface wrapped around a 3D surface in Sphere.


Another flashy concept product is the Nokia Morph, the self-cleaning, self-aware, self-preserving, self-charging, semi-opaque and semi-flexible mobile device that the company hopes to integrate into handheld devices in seven years. (This from a company that hasn’t even been able to answer the multi-touch iPhone challenge in nearly two years.)


Why bother?

It’s quite easy and fun to dig up “concept products” that really have no hope of turning into real, shipping products. Why then do commercial entities bother to produce them often at great expense?

Although Nokia and Microsoft gave us an endless supply of concept products over the years, they haven’t produced, for example, anything like the TiVo, the iPod, the iPhone, OS X, the iTunes App Store, or created brand new user experience paradigms, transformed calcified markets, captured the imagination of people, and so on. They didn’t have the organizational and intellectual discipline to go from concept to product.

As a test, it’s hard to remember a single groundbreaking or even a moderately inspiring product that actually shipped during Nathan Myrvold’s long reign as the head of research at Microsoft. That hasn’t apparently dampened the adulation he gets as a billionaire genius jetting among the world’s glitterati today. But there does appear to be a weak correlation between a company’s ability to churn out concept products and its ability to design, manufacture and profitably sell products based on those. So why bother indeed?

Corporate image maintenance? Design experimentation? Employee morale boosting? Market-direction manipulation? Simple trial and error? Marketing ploy? Many such reasons are often cited. But are they sufficient and commensurate with real or imagined benefits?

As a contrast, let’s take the outfit that has been voted as the “most innovative” company by BusinessWeek and Fortune many times, Apple. Hasn’t Apple produced in the late ’80s perhaps the canonical concept vision in technology, the Knowledge Navigator?


Yes. And that was the last such concept piece coming out of Cupertino, certainly since Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. Why hasn’t Apple, the most innovative and visionary company in computing, produced a single concept product or vision in over a decade? Because, to paraphrase Jobs, real artists ship.

What’s wrong with Apple?

Why would a commercial entity like Apple produce a concept product? Apple is likely generating more concept products and visions than any other technology company for internal use. When Apple wanted to get into retail stores, for example, Jobs had Ron Johson build a fully-functioning, real-size prototype and tore it down at the last minute to rebuild a new one. Why didn’t Apple release the “concept store” to the then-deeply-skeptical press in order to “demonstrate visionary leadership”? In a similar situation Microsoft likely would have.

Product design, above all, is a bet. Apple understands this better than any other company. In iPhone: The bet Steve Jobs didn’t decline, I explained just what a huge bet the iPhone project was to Apple in 2005. It was a bet-the-company kind of bet. One that Nokia, which has sold hundreds of millions of phones over many years, never took. Neither did Microsoft. They would just as well release annual concept products to the public in order not to go through the pain of taking a bet.

Apple bet the company to single handedly change the industrial design of mobile devices, how we interact with them, the balance between carriers and manufacturers, mobile application vending, etc. Indeed, it simply redefined what a mobile device is to become. Apple did this not with a concept product, but by betting its own billions on a shipping product. This, of course, is nothing new to the company that also gave us Apple II, Macintosh, iMac and iPod…all without concept products.

Doesn’t Apple get it? Aren’t concept products the ultimate sign of getting and shaping the future?

Real artists ship, dabblers create concept products

Pretenders don’t quite understand that design is born of constraints. Real-life constraints, be they tangible or cognitive: Battery-life impacts every other aspect of the iPhone design — hardware and software alike. Screen resolution affects font, icon and UI design. The thickness of a fingertip limits direct, gestural manipulation of on-screen objects. Lack of a physical keyboard and WIMP controls create an unfamiliar mental map of the device. The iPhone design is a bet that solutions to constraints like these can be seamlessly molded into a unified product that will sell. Not a concept. Not a vision. A product that sells.

It turns out that when capable designers are given real constraints for real products they can end up creating great results. In Apple’s case, groundbreaking products like the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone. Constraints have a wonderful way of focusing the mind on the fundamentals, whereas concept products can often have the opposite affect.

Concept products are like essays, musings in 3D. They are incomplete promises. Shipping products, by contrast, are brutally honest deliveries. You get what’s delivered. They live and die by their own design constraints. To the extent they are successful, they do advance the art and science of design and manufacturing by exposing the balance between fantasy and capability.

But, concept products never killed anybody

Perhaps. But they can sure lead designers astray. Concept products grant designers a break from constraints, economics and, ultimately, reality. The internets are full of concept phones, for example, that bend and morph, change functionalities and appearances, weigh nothing but defy breakage, project ethereal 3D images, seem to communicate at the speed of light and laugh at material science limitations of ‘ordinary’ phones:


How else are we going to advance product design, you might ask. Not by pretending that there’s free lunch for designers. Designers shouldn’t be encouraged to simply assume somehow constrains magically will disappear: mobile devices, for example, will somehow be powered by Herculean power sources that then make possible most of the other flights of imagination found in a typical concept phone.

At the end of the day, we have to confront the question of why companies like Nokia can sell hundreds of millions of phones and produce many concept products, but it takes Apple — a company that doesn’t do concept pieces — to shatter the market with a single product introduction.

Commercial entities have no advantage in releasing concept products the likes of which they hope to subsequently sell. If the conceptual piece truthfully captures their “best” it can only tell their competitors how advanced they are and where they fall short. If it camouflages their true capabilities in an effort to mislead their competitors, then what value is it to others? In fact, the intention to mislead competitors is really the only effective reason for a commercial entity to publicly release concept products.

Apple would gain nothing from telegraphing its intentions and capabilities by releasing public conceptual products. The company is being more than prudent by not displaying their unconstrained fantasies to competitors, media, investors or customers.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, this inexorably leads us to Kontra’s law:

A commercial company’s ability to innovate is inversely proportional to its proclivity to publicly release conceptual products.

101 Responses to “Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products””

  1. Kontra Says:

    Due to an unfortunate sequence of events several dozen comments were deleted. I’m reconstructing them manually. I apologize for avatar substitution.

  2. Jan Says:

    In my opinion, product development is about building knowledge – about a lot of things: technology, end-users, behaviour, processes, infrastructure, interoperability… Good companies, like Apple, has the ability to build this knowledge into their products. They also organise themselves to facilitate this kind of learning. Companies who think that software development is Henry Ford, where you can transfer knowledge between brains like it’s manufacturing, will ultimately fail. And you see this all the time. A CEO who creates a research division, puts them in a special house, even at a separate location, and expects the learning to find itself into regular projects in other parts of the company. Xerox Parc is the ultimate example of this failure (from Xerox’s perspective).

  3. Kontra Says:

    Jan: “In my opinion, product development is about building knowledge – about a lot of things: technology, end-users, behaviour, processes, infrastructure, interoperability…”

    Exactly. The shipping product itself should embody and celebrate that knowledge, rather than promise disjointed bits and pieces of it in a non-committed, bet-free “concept product.”

  4. Jared Says:

    What about products shipped (monthly) by Microsoft Researchers, like Simon Peyton Jones ( who, for example, is paid to work on the GHC compiler for the programming language Haskell? He is currently working to solve some rather important problems in software engineering: allowing the developer to more easily utilize the power of multicore chips (see )

    I guess what you’re saying is that Haskell Research is about as helpful to Microsoft as Xerox PARC’s groundbreaking GUI research was to Xerox: anyone (e.g. Apple) can benefit by just grabbing up this wonderful research and MAKING A SHIPPING PRODUCT like the Macintosh.

  5. Nate Austin Says:

    Great post. See also: Nintendo, who are famously secretive and have recently and repeatedly upended the entire video game market.

  6. Robbie Says:

    Imagine if Microsoft ran NASA in the 60s. “Someday we’ll build a rocket ship!”

  7. Mark Sigal Says:

    Awesome post, Kontra. You hit the bullseye, and I am so glad that you flag Myrvold, as I always thought that the MS Research folks were way too smug for so little actual results in the market.

    Concept products are the consummate masturbatory expression without commitment or the discipline of a real customer or real market. You rightfully distinguish between INTERNAL prototypes and EXTERNAL concept products.

    In the R&D scheme of things, it’s the proverbial ‘everyone likes the R part but the actual D part is REALLY hard.’

    Fairly complimentary to your post is a post I wrote called:

    Innovation, Inevitability and Why R&D is So Hard

    Check it out if interested.



  8. Iain Says:

    It depends on the company. Volvo’s ECC concept heralded a new design direction (initially resulting in the S80). Audi’s RSQ concept showed off the R8 and their new design direction. The Morgan AeroMax Coupe is another example of a successful concept to reality product.

  9. Jim Says:

    Concept Laptop: It’s a little thing called the MacBook Air, have you heard of it?

  10. paulbeard Says:

    Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue (who actually says proclivity, other than moralists?): how about this?

    A company’s willingness to invest in concepts that not designed for a real market underscores its inability to lead.

  11. Kontra Says:

    Jim: “MacBook Air”

    MacBookAir is a shipping product, one that’s selling very well.

  12. ginswizzle Says:

    @Robbie actually it would have been more like “in the second half of next year we’ll ship a rocket that will fly men to Mars.”

  13. nobi yuno Says:

    Great essay, but I strongly disagree with the conclusion. Auto companies release concepts (frequently, but not always) to gauge consumer reaction. They have a sense of a change or evolution of design and want to see what the public reaction is before the fully commit to building it. Happens all the time, dozens of times per year. And, yes, their competitors, to a certain extent, get to see what cards they’re holding. But they do it anyway.

    I happen to agree, by the way, that Apple (by which I mean Steve Jobs) is so good at its job that it doesn’t need to produce concepts. Not that all their products are winners, but overall they’re very, very good. Steve Jobs has that rare combination of a real consumer perspective, a profound sense of design, and the ability to run projects well. Toyota’s Miata, which is going on 2 decades now, sprang from the forehead of a Toyota project manager who was given nearly free reign to design the British-style sportscar he always wanted to build. The Miata was and is a winner.

    GM spent most of the last 3 decades focus-grouping its cars to death, and got the inevitable results. But resurgent Cadillac’s design theme - Art & Science - started out as a concept car designed explicity to test the public’s taste for its then-radical departure in design.

    There are valid reasons for showing off concepts…on the other hand, in consumer electronics, I think it’s more feasible to just build what you know is good…if you understand design. But nobody I’m aware of other than Apple seems to have the foggiest notion of what design is.

  14. nobi yuno Says:

    (Important caveat: I’m talking about real prototypes, not the utterly useless Photoshop specials like the silly Morph above - those are so utterly disconnected from real design constraints as to be utterly meaningless, and deserve all the scorn they’re receiving here)

  15. Michael Says:

    Lain, you prove the point. They are telegraphing future intent. Competitors can gain insight into possible future directions. Customers might like what they see, but what matters is what they can buy. A competitor could be there first. It likely doesn’t matter much though. Volvo and Audi are not threat or asset to the volume manufacturers. Unless it’s something revolutionarily innovative, they can be ignored. Those products don’t lead the auto industry. The iPhone does lead in the cell phone market.

  16. Jomy Says:

    Apple doesn’t need to waste time generating concept products.
    Apple’s loyal userbase, many of whom are professional designers, do it for them.
    I must have seen at least 100 iPhone concepts before Apple ever announced it.

  17. Christopher Davis Says:

    How can you talk about Microsoft Surface without mentioning the parody video?

  18. MattF Says:

    I agree that Apple’s lack of ‘concept’ products is an important clue to its success, but for a different reason. Look at the initial versions of OS X, the iPod and the iMac– and compare them to the current versions. Huge differences between then and now. Apple follows the gospel of continuous improvement in both production and design. This is conceptually the opposite of the process that produces a ‘concept’ product; a concept product is already at the end of the design process, Apple’s products are always on the way to something better.

  19. Pessimist Says:

    I have to disagree with the “innovative” iPhone. There’s nothing new about it. The only relativly new thing was the multi-touch, but the rest of the phone was behind the innovation curve. The functionality (except multi-touch) was found in other smart phones long before iPhone.

  20. Eugueny Kontsevoy Says:

    There are plenty of companies out there who don’t build concepts. The most common reason, I suspect, is simply the lack of funds: yes, Japanese companies were busy developing their future hits in the 70s not wasting any resources on concepts, but you may visit any major auto show today and see plenty of concepts without future on Toyota/Honda/Nissan podiums. Perhaps as Apple’s bank account grows, they may start doing this as well.

    You also imply that companies that do concepts don’t innovate. That may be true, but you haven’t offered convincing examples. Microsoft may be boring lately, but they’ve been pretty aggressive innovators before, albeit without Apple’s charm. And Nokia’s story is even more exciting: it has been the most innovative cell phone maker in the world, perhaps they don’t really see iPhone as a “challenge” to respond to, why would they? After all, this Apple hysteria really does not exist outside of US: iPhone, OSX, iPod, Macbook Air - whatever, most Europeans and Asians don’t care for them. Even here in US, talk to an average teenager about the iPhone and the response will be “blah… not good for texting”.

  21. Kontra Says:

    Eugueny: “Perhaps as Apple’s bank account grows”

    Already hovering around $20 billion, at this rate of growth Apple will have the largest ‘bank account’ in the technology industry in a year or two, surpassing that of Microsoft’s. Do you see Apple doing concept products?

    “[Nokia] don’t really see iPhone as a ‘challenge’ to respond to”

    Maybe they have decided to (re)enter the US market in a more serious way and did the Symbian buyout just to compete against Moto?

  22. Petter Jensen Says:

    I think you are being a little unfair historically to Nokia. They “bet-the-company” sort of back in 1992, when they decided to streamline only on mobile phones. A rather bold decision for a company that was originally founded on anything but mobile communications. Of note Nokia originally was established as a paper mill in 1865, and later was involved in the making of tires and footwear and a lot of other stuff.

    Apples “bet” on the iPhone is a rather small one compared to the decision Nokia made in 1992 to skip anything but mobile phones. The equivalent bet for Apple is the one they also did in the 90s, getting Jobs back, betting the company totally on the iMac. If the original iMac and iBook had been a failure - I’d say there’s a big chance there would be no Apple today. And those products were bold introductions at the time, and Apple had only one shot to get it right - nowadays they have the time to make the product perfect before launch, and they can afford a misstep or two.

  23. ghoppe Says:

    Pessimist Said: I have to disagree with the “innovative” iPhone. There’s nothing new about it. The only relativly new thing was the multi-touch, but the rest of the phone was behind the innovation curve. The functionality (except multi-touch) was found in other smart phones long before iPhone.

    Firstly, from multi-touch flows many innovative features, such as guestures to interact with the photo storage, scale the photos, manipulate easy to use UI elements, and so forth. It’s game changing. Your statement is like saying “There was nothing new about the airplane, the only relatively new thing about it was flight. The functionality is found in other transportation methods long before the airplane.”

    Secondly, what previous phone had visual voicemail, where you could choose which voice messages to hear? Do you think the launch of an application store built into iTunes is not innovative? I know, you can buy Palm applications online, but it isn’t nearly as powerfully integrated.

    Is the integration of a full-featured browser not innovative? What other phone had an accelerometer to sense its orientation? This is just as innovative as multi-touch and is used to great effect in the UI for applications and games.

    I suppose by “behind the innovation curve” you’re referring to superfluous features like the relatively modest camera resolution etc. Big whoop.

    “Innovation” isn’t just modestly increasing the number of megapixels in a camera, it’s changing the way one interacts with, or views a device. Yes, adding a camera to phones in the first place was innovative. And changing the way people interact with their phones is indeed innovation.

  24. stardotboy Says:

    Fascinating article, a great read.

    Robbie: Imagine if Microsoft ran NASA in the 60s. “Someday we’ll build a rocket ship!”

    This possibility could have given rise to the stark and literal new meaning to the blue screen of death.

  25. Jean-Denis Says:


    Featuritis is *not* how Apple innovates (mostly). Piling up features leads to what you have in other phones: features are there, but few uses them.

    Indeed, the iPhone is a breakthrough innovation, while not from its raw features

  26. Blue Link Of Death | Programmer's Log Says:

    [...] Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” Actual innovation or faux innovation? Actual innovation is something you actually sell and users can actually use. [...]

  27. alex.r. Says:

    I’m a little O.T. because I’m not talking about concepts products but I would like to emphasize that it’s a mistake mix R&D with pure research and blame the latter for not building working products.

    There is a place for pure research organization (e.g. MS Research, Universities) and their goal is not to build products at all.

    Their goal should be to help us understand the world and to provide viable models for (part of) it.

    Sure, nowadays, their success is mostly measured by some secondary metrics like the money they bring or the number of papers they publish, which is less than ideal — but it would be much worse to measure them the products they generate.

  28. John Whittet Says:

    To say Apple “doesn’t do conceptual products” is a little misleading. Of course they do. What Apple doesn’t do is parade their half-assed designs in front of the general public and make outrageous claims about, say, Herculean power devices that will most certainly be invented some time in the next decade.

    Instead, Apple’s concepts are internal. Where other companies may waste time building a concept to stand up to the public’s scrutiny, Apple builds concepts to achieve their own goal: to release a publicly available product.

    In doing so, they save money, save face if things go awry, and keep great ideas out of the hands of competitors until the market’s already cornered.

  29. Top Posts « Says:

    [...] Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” [image] Everyone has a favorite “concept car.” Whether it’s the ‘54 Firebird, ‘64 [...] [...]

  30. dave k Says:

    Toyota’s Miata, which is going on 2 decades now, sprang from the forehead of a Toyota project manager who was given nearly free reign to design the British-style sportscar he always wanted to build. The Miata was and is a winner.

    ( I believe that it was Mazda not Toyota that designed the Miata )

  31. UKD Says:

    There definitely is a US-centric strand running through this article (Apple shattering the mobile phone market - really?), especially with regards to Nokia not taking “bets”. As already highlighted, they took a huge gamble in the early 90’s by banking on shipping mobiles alone. The fact that 3G and unlimited data download plans were not readily available (combined with Nokia’s appalling marketing strategy in the US) meant that many of the features the iPhone has you drooling over have been available on several Nokia (and other) phones for 2 years to us Europeans/Asians. Yes a big screen and a touchscreen is nice, but one-handed texting is a big thing here - how long did it take the US to catch up with the rest of the world with regards to the txting bug? And what’s the point of having fancy finger gestures to zoom in on low-res pictures that due to a lack of flash require perfect lighting, with no focus to speak of? Once you’ve had a phone with an auto-focusing 5MP camera with flash that has become your actual camera, it’s a bit of a down-grade (and damaging to your pockets) to have to cart a digicam and a USB stick around as well as your iPhone.

    The 3G iPhone is *almost* on a par with the N95 Classic (still no video, no file manager, no proper bluetoothing, a piss-poor camera with no flash and no cut-and-paste, for starters), a phone which has been available for nearly 2 years now, so to say Apple have redefined the mobile phone smacks of Apple fanboyism. Of course the iPhone wins over the plaudits. Why? It’s simpler to use (although the lack of menu structure is a major failing once you start downloading lots of applications on the 3G model), better designed and far better marketed than its competitors at a time when the US is finally getting the 3G coverage it deserves.

    If anything, it’s Nokia who’ve taken the gamble, by betting that one-handed mobile phone operation is always superior to two-handed “walking around town looking like you’re playing with an expensive calculator” ergonomics. And it’s a daft gamble, as the leaks of their new touch-screen iPhone clone show - apart from Symbian Freaks the general public are always going to be more impressed with a simple touch-screen than a phone with a million options, most of which they have (thanks to Nokia’s poor marketing) no idea exist. A particularly fine example is the accelerometer - someone above wonders which other phone had this - well the N95 did, 2 years before people started queueing for iPhones. And they didn’t really bother letting even developers know about it. Stupid. (Nokia, not the commenter!)

    The comparison between Nokia’s bleeding edge (ie concept phones, Beta Labs) and Apple’s tried-and-tested approach is an interesting one. Apple has built up a reputation for reliable, simple to use devices which one bad concept device could ruin. The iPhone wasn’t really that big a gamble - all they needed was to get a touchscreen working with a basic but pretty phone (not a new concept, despite what is written above) and and the rest was marketing and branding (they managed to spin having GoogleMaps on a phone as their own innovation, FFS! And all that nonsense about “the whole internet” - got FlashLite working yet?). Let’s face it, for the conservative features it packed, there was never going to be much under the bonnet of the original iPhone that could fail. Holding back the release of the 3G model was standard Apple flame-proofing their backsides, checking they got all the tricky stuff (e.g. GPS) right. After all, GPS was something that took Nokia a year to sort out properly with firmware updates and Apple wouldn’t want a fiasco like that to tarnish their “reassuringly expensive” reputation.

    As something of an aside, here’s a great article on innovation in smartphones - snippet:

    If a new technology is invented, that’s an innovation. When innovative technology brings about large scale change in the world, only at that stage does it become a revolution. In the case of products aimed at individuals, revolutions normally only happen when the innovative technology becomes cheap enough that anyone can afford to buy it.

    Real technological revolutions in consumer products happen a million miles from the cutting edge, and products at the cutting edge are a million miles from any revolutions.

  32. George Chen » Blog Archive » Must read - Why Apple Doesn’t Do ‘Concept Products’. Says:

    [...] Insightful stuff. Favorite quote: “Real artists ship, dabblers create concept products”. [...]

  33. Kontra Says:


    Apple has never played the game of “features & options.” In fact, we might say the Apple way of designing is precisely the antithesis of that. Apple tries to eliminate options to focus on the essentials and their seamless integration. Apple sells balance, Nokia and other iPhone-killers yardage.

    Despite all you say, people line up to buy the iPhone, not Nokia phones. Pretty much every aspect of the smartphone market has been substantially altered by the introduction of the iPhone: multi-touch UI, screen size, virtual keyboards, WiFi, price, app store, mobile browser, sensors, carrier relations, multimedia playback, etc. Surely, Apple didn’t invent any of these, but no other company ever put together a mobile device that remotely has the balance of these components in a package that so many millions want to pay a premium to buy.

    The point of the essay above is that Apple didn’t do this by floating concept visions, like Nokia, they just went and did it. I think the results speak for themselves.

  34. Rip Ragged Says:

    One hopes that the “concept” crap inspires Apple to find ways to push the envelope of constraints even further.

  35. grant czerepak Says:

    It’s interesting to note that Google was never a concept product either. Venture capitalists were presented with a working product that just needed more investment.

  36. scott Says:

    “Toyota’s Miata, which is going on 2 decades now, sprang from the forehead of a Toyota project manager who was given nearly free reign to design the British-style sportscar he always wanted to build. The Miata was and is a winner.”

    Toyota doesn’t make the Miata. Mazda does.

  37. chirax Says:

    Come to think of it I think Apple does concept products and the very smartly captures the problems and pain points associated with it give market exactly what it wants. Their ability to “execute” ideas as they are intended ate the main strength. eg. Apple TV, iPod shuffle.

  38. ED Says:

    How quickly we forget that the great Apple, a company able to “…to shatter (a US$150 billion) market” need Microsoft to save it from bankruptcy a bit over a decade ago.

    I just love analysis based on myopic hindsight!

  39. Kontra Says:

    ED: “bankruptcy a bit over a decade ago”

    Perhaps you could explain what the relevance of this is.

    I think most people, pro or con Apple, would agree that the resurgence of Apple after the 1997 comeback of Jobs is one of the most dramatic turnarounds in American corporate history.

  40. madaerodog Says:

    Apple does concepts … only after they test it .. they burn them .. and burry all who worked on them .. IF they aren’t good for production. Until now there were no such things. Apple devs fear fire … and burying .

  41. John Keogh Says:

    Surely Surface is not a Microsoft technology. They bought the product design and technology in, already fully-formed before their purchase.

  42. Evgeny Says:

    And not a single word about the Newton? Not even in the comments?

    It would be appropriate to say that even real-products-that-are-concept don’t always work, and the Newton is a perfect example IMHO.

    So the bet on the iPhone could have been the ruin of Apple, and with high odds at that.

  43. Por que Apple no hace productos conceptuales « Geek Mood Says:

    [...] Articulo: Why Apple doesn´t do concept products [...]

  44. xman Says:

    @Evegny - the Newton was a fantastic product, especially the 2K model. It worked really well. I only wish I could get a PDA half s good today (but the iPhone/Touch is getting close)

  45. Bibble Chubber Says:

    Apple’s iPod wasn’t the first mp3 player. Apple simply made a better mp3 player. That’s not visionary.

  46. Thibaut Says:

    Thanks for the input, Sebhelyesfarku.

  47. Thibaut Says:

    Thanks for your classy input, Sebhelyesfarku.

  48. Matt Says:

    As a software designer I take these words to heart:

    “…when capable designers are given real constraints for real products they can end up creating great results.”

    Well said! As someone that has to ship real products for a real company we live in a world filled w/real constraints. The best products are the ones that push back the constraint envelopes within the bounds of physical (and digital) realities.

  49. Passages: You're in a... » Blog Archive » Real Constraints Says:

    [...] a post entitled “Why Apple Doesn’t Do Concept Products“, the author “Kontra” writes this passage: It turns out that when capable [...]

  50. Thibaut Says:

    I agree with most of what you’ve said, but :

    1. You can’t apply Kontra’s law to every industries.

    Take the car example you used as in introduction : we’ve seen a lot of innovations in automobiles, yet they have a long tradition of showing concept cars. Sure, it could and should be more innovative, but I don’t think showing concepts is causing of their lack of momentum. GM is not going down because of concept cars. BMW, Mercedes and Nissan are pretty healthy and are big in concept cars.
    Concept products are displayed for one purpose only : communication opportunity. Affordable brand pumping. For the car industry, it’s a way to make people dream - a car company really sells dreams, not a vehicle that takes you from A to B (I’ll be happy to discuss about it with anybody who’s not convinced of this, elsewhere). You actually buy a vehicle, but if you are inclined to think there’s much more to this product than commuting, signing the check feels like a brain massage. Concept cars are a medium for this message : «we take care of your future, it may look like this, now while you’re on a cloud go buy our real cars», it’s not : «look at what you’ll be driving in ten years».
    Nokia is selling basic phones as much as Honda is selling commuting cars, they need to pump their brand a little so they are not automatically associated with the «default choice» of mobile phones.

    The Apple brand isn’t really weak these days, it doesn’t need this kind of medium to get out there. Probably because it has cojones and vision at the corporate level more than any other company right now. One day it might need it, who knows.

    If you’re interested with prospective design, check the work done at the Phillips Eindhoven design studio concerning future domestic life scenarios.

    2. I fear some readers would get a «concept products are bullshit » message.

    Concept products are essential to drive innovation, they are like torches you throw in the dark to lighten the path for your real products. Concept product are failed products by essence, they are developed with a totally different brief, you design them to discover what not to do for the products you’ll sell, and possibly one thing or two you could use. They help you create alternate realities where you could find undisclosed constraints that will drive your product development.

    As for the «Real artists ship» line. First : does Art has anything to do with computer industry design strategies ? Second : yeah, but it doesn’t mean that because you ship you’re an artist aye.

  51. brands and concept products « 1 + 1 = 11 Says:

    [...] brands and concept products Jump to Comments Why doesn’t Apple create concept products? [...]

  52. RR Says:

    You are mistaken. Microsoft Surface has now been implemented in the Sharwood and Sheraton hotels.


  53. Loren Heiny Says:

    First, Surface is a shipping product. You can buy one if you have the money. I think Microsoft has said on several occassions that they’re looking into a more consumer version too.

    Also, Microsoft has some multi-touch whiteboard projects-slash-concept designs they’ve shown publicly too that are Surface-like but rather, of course, vertical.

    Now in terms of Apple, I have no idea what they do internally, but from multiple accounts I’ve heard that they’ve been experimenting with various Tablet concepts. And from what I understand it was from this group that several of the features you see in the iPhone came from.

    I can’t imagine a product company not exploring different concept designs.

  54. Kontra Says:

    RR: “You are mistaken.”

    Thank you for the update. (The article above, however, was written a day earlier than this press release.)

  55. W Says:


    Based on the date of this post and the date of the press release; no, this post is not mistaken.

  56. dafttimo Says:

    I love the concept of the bendy moving cellphone. Ever since I saw a video of it a few years ago. I will totally buy one when it comes out.

  57. | news and opinion Says:

    Why Apple Doesnt Do Concept Products |…

    Technology giants like Microsoft and Nokia have also had a penchant for concocting concept produ…

  58. John Says:

    Concept cars are not always about innovation. They are a fantastic way for designers to test the waters with new ideas. To show consumers what can be done with current and sometimes future technology.

    Many concept cars have been shown with millions of people slapping their heads in unison. But many have also been shown that has made the press and enthusiasts go wild. Two examples: The BMW XO (what was the silver car) failed miserably. It was a great presentation of what could be done, but it was never meant for the production line. The BMW 135Tii on the other hand gives a glimpse into the future of the 1 series lineup.

    Similarly, Microsoft Singularity gave those of us willing to actually learn about it a glimpse into a future far past what any competitor could do or was thinking about. It alone proves that Microsoft was thinking of a cloud computing and threaded environment well before the media caught on.

    Why did it never make it to consumers? Because the consumers (business world mostly) are not ready for such a change. Let’s face some cold hard facts: Apple didn’t have much of a consumer base to worry about when it ditched outdated software and developed OSX. The same cannot be said about Microsoft, as evident in Vista. What is the sole reason people don’t like Vista? It is different (it really isn’t, but this is about perceived difference, not actual difference). Business won’t adopt it nor will consumers because they do not want to relearn something.

    Why are the iPod Touch and iPhone so successful then? Because Apple rode a gigantic wave like they have before. They are nothing more than simple gimmicks that work. The technology isn’t groundbreaking or innovating. They simply got the right mixture of components to make a slightly above average product for a market saturated with crappy products. They dove into a market that had no competition. Why do I say no competition? Because why change the cell phone when you make so much money off the service?

    Now look at what Microsoft has done. Since Xbox and Xbox Live were introduced the gaming world has been sprinting just to try and keep up. Nintendo still has nothing close to the offering of Microsoft or Sony and the latter is only recently catching up. Microsoft did what Apple does so often. They infiltrated a market with an above average product where no products existed before (except Dreamcast online maybe). Hell even Steam has copied Xbox Live in more ways than one.

    So before you argue that concept products are worthless, remember that concept products do sometimes evolve into real products that sell (Office Gallery instead of Toolbars ftw) and the the market often dictates what sells, not the innovator/company.

  59. Quote: Kontra « Mike Cane 2008 Says:

    [...] Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” At the end of the day, we have to confront the question of why companies like Nokia can sell [...]

  60. Jimmy! Says:

    Apple Concept products exist, remember Apple TV? That’s more of a concept NOW than when it was being sold. Less so a concept I guess and more so just a memory.

  61. URasupertool Says:

    Concepts are fun, concepts are R&D shown to the masses. A lot of times it can be waste of money but you can’t tell me nothing good has ever come from a concept. I’m feeling more of an Apple plug here than anything else.

  62. streetsmart Says:

    U apple fans… Always dumb and will always be… From work to everything you work on… has something to do with Microsoft.. From ur Daily tissues to your hair gel.. Someone somewhere is using MS software to create these. And yeah! Almost forgot.., U guys love to pay ridicules prices for shity stuff cos u liked the Apple ad. Genius!

  63. yadda Says:

    “How quickly we forget that the great Apple, a company able to “…to shatter (a US$150 billion) market” need Microsoft to save it from bankruptcy a bit over a decade ago.”

    What nonsense. That was effectively a loan that helped Apple at the time, but it did not “save them from bankruptcy.”

    Anyway, so what? MS didn’t have to do it. So they helped a competitor that went on to out-innovate them? More fool MicroSoft.

  64. explorer Says:

    also apple’s innovation comes from making products accessible to the everyday person, take the first imac for example, it made computers fun. The ipod? the clickwheel is by far the best way to navigate your music library

    too often technology is considered the only face of innovation, when a huge part of innovation in the technology world is making that technology useable, something apple does by not focusing on conceptual designs.

    touchscreens, mobile internet, cell phones and mp3 players may be old technology

    but the iphones ability to “seamlessly” combine those are what make it such an innovative products

    awesome essay

  65. Daniel Says:

    Err… the iphone delivers so much balance that it’s battery life sucks, is that it?

    Frankly, iPhone sells to iPod users. People queue to buy iPhones because you can find a store selling Nokia every 100m.

    Gauge the market, not the queues.

    I was thinking of just skipping commenting this, because most of the stuff it considers “good” sucks, and the market thinks so too. It boils down to “if you, like me, thinks Apple products are great, here is the reason why”.

    All that’s left coming up with is the greatness. :-)

    Not to say Apple doesn’t have great products. Their decision to ditch MacOS, which powered all Macs for many, many years, and replace it with a Unix-based operating system was right on. Curiously, they did that at about the same time Microsoft launched their last great operating system.

    The iPod, as opposed to other products mentioned, is inarguably great.

    Most of the other stuff is great… for apple lovers.

    Get a grip.

  66. Aaron Says:

    I think concept products are like drawings/sketches that you never intend to finish. If you don’t intend to finish it, you get a sense of not having to do your best. Concept products (IMHO) are LAZIER than real products. While designers might want to make it as cool as possible, concept products have no risk, so why bother making it better than what’s already out there? Really, what good would a morphing phone do you anyway?

  67. Shane Says:

    Apple users are amazingly religious people.

    You talk about Apple in this article as though they are a behemoth in the computing industry that is more stable and innovative than Microsoft could ever HOPE to be. Like they step into a market and crush it, put all of their competition out of business, change the paradigm!

    This marketplace simply does not exist.

    Yes, Apple has an amazing market share in the mobile music market…

    …and that’s about it.

    Overall, they have around 8.5% of the PC market. This is due, partly, to their wildly disproportionate pricing. The high cost of their products is due to their huge margins. It stands to reason, then, that their huge margins are what keeps them afloat, because they have a less than 10% market share in every arena they compete in (again, with the exception of the iPod). They can’t compete on the traditional basis of cost per unit and making feature-rich products, so they make all of their products impractically pretty.

    Concept products are concept products because they are impractical. They make the pretty, cool thing, and then they scale it back to make it work in the real world. Apple doesn’t make concept products because the products they ship are impractical. They crack (see new iPhone), scratch (if you breath on them… see every generation of iPod), and are generally underpowered (based on price of comparable products).

    They didn’t change the relationship between phone manufacturers and carriers. They just made a special contract for them, that is (like everything else they make) overpriced. Everyone else still operates in the same way. It’s not a “paradigm shift” unless it’s a good business practice that other people follow. People want to emulate the look of the iPhone, not the contract and pricing structure. Apple has under 8% of the mobile market, which is just a little worse than their PC market share.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, decided to get into the gaming industry, a similarly “calcified” market. Everyone thought they were insane, but as of last year the Xbox has 36% of the market. And they didn’t do it by making an acrylic piece of artwork, they did it by making a superior system.

  68. good ideas, poorly summed up | a crank’s progress Says:

    [...] [From Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” « counternotions] [...]

  69. bullmeister Says:

    Hollywood does a better job of designing and creating concept products that they actually pretend to use.

  70. bob Says:

    i love all the crazy mac people who comment. you can almost hear them crying in hysteria through their comments.

    apple was bailed out of bankruptcy by microsoft. they got into bankruptcy because they ran their business poorly; and there products did not compare to total package put forth by microsoft. microsoft is still on top and still leads the market.

    pricing, hardware interchangeability, and the BUSINESS sectors of the market have been there weakness. Name a prominent fortune 500 company dependent on apple products/services? okay, now do the same for Microsoft…(all 500).

    apple’s got good laptops, i like to surf the web on them and play with pictures. but don’t ask me to exchange virtual machines with it. A laundry list of professional/business oriented activities that apple products don’t work good in.

    hey, all the shiney white stuff coming out of apple sure does look cool though.

  71. Bo Says:

    I can tell you exactly why Apple doesn’t produce concepts, fanboys. Unlike other companies, Apple is selling to a very specific group of people. All of their products look the same, act the same way, and are basically the same colors because they know their niche users are going to respond to that. Microsoft, Nokia, and auto companies have to market to a very broad group of people. The 20 y/o kid wants the car to be fast, soccer moms want them safe, and grandma wants it safe with a smooth ride. Trying to develop a product line that appeals to all these users is far more difficult than just marketing to artist and trendy people.

    Also, it’s been proven several times that Apple “borrows” rather than innovates. MacOS? Ya, Xerox had a OS with a windows GUI before them. iPod? Without iTunes it would be nothing more than a PMP with a touch-wheel interface. iPhone? Beyond multitouch there’s not much to it, in fact there are several other phones out currently that work far better as a phone, PDA, and camera at the same price point.

    Finally, Apple enjoys using their users to beta test their products. Release the iPhone without 3G, we’ll see how people respond, make fixes, then charge them again for the same device with a few new features a year later. This can also be seen in OSX, where point releases are treated as new OS releases along with a new OS price point.

    What I’m getting at is that concepts are great if you’re trying to gauge new market and general response, and until Apple realizes this and shows the non-faithful something that really innovates they will be nothing more than a niche hardware producer. Great for some, not for all.

  72. Jay Says:

    Apple had a whole bunch of concept products in the past. The Pippen(with Bandai), the E-Mate, the Newton, OpenDoc, I’m sure there are nore too, thats just off the top of my head

  73. eclecticism » Blog Archive » Links for August 12th through August 13th Says:

    [...] Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products”: Kontra’s law: A commercial company’s ability to innovate is inversely proportional to its proclivity to publicly release conceptual products. [...]

  74. hierzu gibts eigentlich doch nix zu diskutieren oder wenig « Heutenoch ! Says:

    [...] was noch ? ja mailen ist auch angenehm und übersichtlich zu konfigurieren, ja genau das keyboard ist gut gelungen, kann man nach wenigen texten zackig tippen. safari natürlich wegen dem großen display einwandfrei. könnte paar mehr funktionen vertragen aber super zum surfen. dieser lage/beschl. sensor, ne? daumen hoch. der zoom mit dem fingertippen ist selbst auch schlau und holt einem direkt eine textspalte oder die navigation ran (kuckt sich wohl vorher das layout an) daumen hoch für viele solcher details in diesem OS. achja flash fehlt. ja mir auch. ma kucken ist es nicht witzig, dass nokia wohl ein sortiment an gefühlt millionen von modellen hat und dann noch die anderen, ericsson und samsung und noch paar fische. dabei macht apple zwei telefone und übernimmt das innovationszepter. und es sieht für mich so aus als ob das iphone einfach alles auf den kopf haut was vorher da gewesen ist. also zumindest großzügig gesehen (vorsicht! Zahlen!) 90 % aller anderen aktuellen und überhaupt je hergestellten handys? wie geht sowas denn? keine evolution von unzäligen produktgenerationen, sondern einfach bam! da haste! und die leute stehen schlange ! ha. und alle so: “booaaahhh… cooool und sooo niedlich! Schatz kaufst du mir auch eins?” -wie machen die das?  ->  Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” [...]

  75. pacer521 Says:

    I think (as a apple geek so don’t call me biased) that the things apple is coming out with are really up to par with concepts themselves. And I’m not just talking about the Iphone — the ipod video and touch are alone things that windows wouldn’t even dream of mass producing. I like your points.


  76. Mia Says:

    The work of Leonardo da Vinci largely consists of concepts, as in sketches and drawings of things never made during his time. Artists ship? Er … He spent decades on perfecting the Mona Lisa. Once finished, he didn’t bother to give it to the painting’s commissioner. Men-with-monetary-dreams ship. Artists create and conceptualise the future.

    That said, I wouldn’t say Apple doesn’t do concept. Apple is cool, but the pricing’s a real turn-off. A big fat humongous turn-off. Microsoft’s pretty cool too, and cheaper, so I’ll ride with them instead.

  77. The Wren Forum » What a Concept! Says:

    [...] with perfect timing, here comes Kontra to muse on the concept of why other companies do concepts, but Apple does not. He or she or it or they or them are and/or is absolutely correct. While concept products are [...]

  78. Kontra Says:

    John: “[iPod Touch and iPhone] are nothing more than simple gimmicks that work.”

    Over five years after the iPod and nearly two years after the iPhone introductions nobody else has been able to come up with similar gimmicks to challenge Apple.

    “Now look at what Microsoft has done. Since Xbox and Xbox Live were introduced the gaming world has been sprinting just to try and keep up.”

    Microsoft has sunk billions into that money pit a.k.a XBox, which hasn’t made a dime of profit since its inception.

  79. James Says:

    Didn’t the HTC Touch have very similar industrial design and UI elements in the market before the iPhone?

    Of course, it was built on a Windows Mobile platform, so sucked, but I think HTC certainly deserve credit for that bold design move.

  80. Kontra Says:

    Thibaut: “For the car industry, it’s a way to make people dream - a car company really sells dreams”

    Problem is you can’t continue to sell dreams and keep shipping crap, because…

    “Nokia is selling basic phones as much as Honda is selling commuting cars, they need to pump their brand a little so they are not automatically associated with the «default choice» of mobile phones.”

    …some other entity comes and blows up your made-up dreams with a real shipping products that delivers it: the iPhone.

    “but it doesn’t mean that because you ship you’re an artist aye.”

    Yes, you don’t get to be an artist if you can’t ship, but not everyone that ships is an artist. That is essential to understanding the centrality of constraint-based design.

  81. Kontra Says:

    James: “Didn’t the HTC Touch have very similar industrial design and UI elements in the market before the iPhone?”

    In a word, no.

  82. Wim Permana Says:

    Wow, wonderful craft. I think you can deliver this crafts as a “concept book” than a “shipping essay”.


  83. The Design/Engineering Balance - Michael Mistretta Says:

    [...] magic and make it happen. I came across two fascinating articles via The Gruber this weekend—Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” and Divide—that countered my notion of design work being separate from engineering. Let’s [...]

  84. Shane Says:

    Microsoft has sunk billions into that money pit a.k.a XBox, which hasn’t made a dime of profit since its inception.

    That statement is false. A profit was posted for the 2008 fiscal year (admittedly, its first profit for the gaming division).

    The goal when creating the Xbox was long-term brand gains, not short-term profit, though. You think they won’t post larger and larger profits with a THIRD (almost 40%, actually) of the market they’re competing in? You think Apple can sustain profits (if any) with less than a TENTH of the market they’re in?

    That’s not even considering the fact that Halo 2 was the highest volume, fastest selling media of any kind when it was released, and Halo 3 was the highest volume console game of all time in pre-order.

    We don’t know whether or not Apple has made a profit on the iPhone though. One estimate shows a crazy margin like 50% per device, but since the cost associated with the proprietary display is not released, we have no idea of actually confirming that. Not to mention research and development. How many millions do you think Apple sunk into the iPhone? Apple set a goal of 10 million iPhones by the end of 2008, do you think that number is arbitrary? I doubt it. So far, by the way, they’re a little over halfway to that goal.

    Not to mention Microsoft has the business sector backing it up, a market Apple could only break into in their wildest dreams (and they’ve tried, those GS servers gained them I think .4% in 2004). It’s funny (to me, probably not to you) that Apple uses Motorola handhelds running Windows Mobile in their retail stores, to allow their sales people to roam around the store, helping people make purchases.

    That was a smart move on their part. If they tried to work with a company to develop the software needed on an iPhone to do that, the developer would give up in a week because of their NDA (this has happened, they tried to partner with Hewlett Packard once and HP gave up… not in a week though, to their credit)!

  85. Intosh Says:

    Apple does concepts. The difference with other companies is that Apple actually releases those concepts and then they fell into obscurity.

    By the way, you USA people should try travelling outside your country a bit sometime. Acting as if the iPhone was cutting-edge device second to none just makes people living in Europe and Asia laugh at you.

    Nokia answered the iPhone “challenge” — it’s called market share. Nokia’s market share went from 38% to 40% in the last quarter.

  86. Kontra Says:

    Shane: “A profit was posted for the 2008 fiscal year”

    That’s gaming division, including line items like Halo 3, etc. If you actually look at the billions sunk into XBox, it’ll take Microsoft 3-4 more years to just recoup that money, let alone make a profit.

    “You think Apple can sustain profits (if any) with less than a TENTH of the market they’re in?”

    I don’t know when people will stop equating market share (whatever that is) with profitability. Motorola sells many more phones than Apple. Dell sells many more PCs than Apple. Yet when it comes to profitability, Motorola and Dell look like a joke:

    market cap: $22.40 billion
    revenue: $33.99 billion
    gross margin: 29.18%
    profit margin: -0.09%
    employees: 66,000

    market cap: $50.8 billion
    revenue: $62.49 billion
    gross margin: 18.83%
    profit margin: 4.76%
    employees: 82,700

    market cap: $158.8 billion
    revenue: $30.80 billion
    gross margin: 34.08%
    profit margin: 14.94%
    employees: 21,600

    Apple is embarrassingly more profitable than any other PC company.

  87. Kontra Says:

    Intosh: “people living in Europe and Asia laugh at you”

    Here’s what really happened according to AppleInsider quoting Japanese tech business journal Tech-On: The iPhone carrier in Japan, SoftBank secured 215,400, more than half of the 391,500 new activations in Japan during the month of July.

    “We believe our large net growth was an iPhone effect,” SoftBank representatives said.

    [SoftBank competitor KDDI] too credited the iPhone 3G launch with the unusual shift. “We are accepting the fact, considering that our handsets weren’t attractive enough,” KDDI’s PR group said. [emp. added]

    Apparently, in the most sophisticated mobile market in the world, people are smart enough to see that it’s not just a matter of piling up features.

  88. Shane Says:

    Ah… I assumed, based upon you’re authoritative economic tone, that you knew what market share was. My mistake, I’ll define it…

    Market share is the portion or percentage of sales of a particular product or service in a given region that are controlled by a company. If, for example, there are 100 widgets sold in a country and company A sells 43 of them, then company A has a 43% market share. You can also calculate market share using revenue instead of units sold. If company A sold widgets for a total cost of $860 and the people in the country spend a total of $2,000 on the same widgets, then the market share is $860/$2,000 or 43%. The two different methods of calculating market share won’t always provide the same answer, because different companies may charge slightly different prices for the same type of widget.

    Interestingly absent from your list was Microsoft, a direct competitor to Apple. Allow me to break down the numbers:

    Market cap: $254.83 billion
    Revenue: $60.42 billion
    Gross Margin: 80.8%
    Profit Margin: 29.3%
    Employees: 60,000

    Now THAT’S embarrassingly profitable.

  89. Shane Says:

    Might I say, by the way, you are excellent fun to spar with.

    I tip my hat to you, sir.

    *tips his hat* :)

  90. Intosh Says:

    Kontra: New product release usually causes such surge; it’s notunheard of. This is especially true for an Apple product, which is generally much hyped and also due to a religious fanbase. If that trend is sustainable, then I’d be impressed.

  91. Kontra Says:

    Shane: “Microsoft, a direct competitor to Apple”

    Other than its peripherals (I’m a devotee of their IntelliMouse), Microsoft doesn’t really sell hardware, where Apple makes the bulk of its profits. When it does in competitive consumer markets, with XBox and Zune, the company has been pretty spectacularly failure prone.

  92. Shane Says:

    Again, the Xbox is not a failure. After some digging, I found numbers on CNET that suggest that the company spent about $500 million on the development and launch of the Xbox. I imagine if we were able to discern Apple’s numbers on the iPhone, they would be similar (considering the significant hardware and software hurdles that they faced)… if not higher, considering the lofty sales goals they set.

    Hypothetically, if we’re talking R & D costs, it could be argued that the iPhone probably hasn’t actually made much in the way of profit for Apple either… but since I don’t have any numbers to back it up, I won’t attempt to make such an argument.

    The Zune player holds an 8.7% market share (there I go throwing around that crazy term again), while Apple holds 70% in the mobile music market. So 8% of the market is a failure for Microsoft, but the same rules don’t apply for Apple (see my original comment)?

    And don’t forget, Apple is, at it’s core, a software company (Mac OSX, iTunes, Safari, etc. etc.). That’s direct Microsoft competition. iTunes music store, iPhone App store, these are all huge profit centers for Apple (I imagine larger than anything else, when you work it all out). Jobs is saying that the Apps store (a software product) could be a $1.2 billion business by 2009! Hardly a trifle in the grand scheme of their business.

    Not to mention the recent crash-and-burn of MobileMe, which was their direct competition with Exchange and Outlook. These don’t sound like the endeavors of a company that counts on making the bulk of it’s profit through hardware.

    Sounds to me like they are direct competition after all.

  93. Kontra Says:

    Shane: “$500 million on the development and launch of the Xbox”

    The most conservative figures are $5-6 BILLION spent so far on XBox, I’m not even sure that includes the $1+ billion on the recent hardware-failure write off.

    “8% of the market is a failure for Microsoft”

    If you still think Zune is not a failure then I don’t know how we can even be on the same planet. Zune is an embarrassment even to Microsoft.

    “Apple is, at it’s core, a software company”

    Apple does software to sell hardware, where the vast majority of its profits has always come from, period.

  94. Shane Says:

    I’d be interested to see where the figures for the Xbox come from.

    It should be noted, since you mention hardware failures, that Apple devices have a bad habit of that as well. I remember lines of people returning horribly scratched generation 1 iPods. They were plagued with horrible hardware issues, including (but not limited to) peeling of the outer coating, clouding of the digitizer, and separation of the display glass from the base.

    It seems that with the recent cracks that 3G iPhones are developing, we should be in for another round.

    Which is not to say I hate Apple. I use an Apple display, best damn screen I’ve ever owned. Simply beautiful.

    You’ll have to explain how the Zune would be an embarrassment to Microsoft. Because you say it is?

    They certainly don’t seem to think so.

    And neither would I. Microsoft plunged into a “calcified” market, that Apple holds a vast majority of, and came out above all of their other competitors. Microsoft may not come close to Apple’s longtime foothold on a market that they basically pioneered, but no one else is coming close to Microsoft.

    That’s pretty significant, especially if you think the iPhone’s tenuous hold in the phone market is a great success story.

    The Zune player will simply never get close to the iPod.

    The iPhone, though, will never get close to pretty much anyone else (in market share… or rather, percentage of devices sold).

    That’s what happens when you go into a market that you have no previous experience in. The Zune player is doing comparatively as well in the mp3 market as the iPhone is in the mobile market. Apple is just better at buzz marketing.

  95. Kontra Says:

    Shane: “The iPhone, though, will never get close to pretty much anyone else (in market share… or rather, percentage of devices sold).”

    I don’t know how you get to say these things. Apple has already far surpassed the incumbent Palm and Motorola in the smartphone market it competes in. It’s second only to RIM. I fully expect Apple to command 25-30% of that market in the current quarter.

    Anyway, this is drifting too far from the focus of this essay.

  96. From: Digg to: Apple to: Real Products vs. Concept Products « Grabriel Ayuso Says:

    [...] evening I stumbled upon a very interesting article titled: Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products”. I should point out that I’m an Apple Fan. I’ve always been interested in cool, simple [...]

  97. Free Apple Gear Says:

    Great article. Thanks for the information.

  98. De l’idée au produit « Hot Chaud Says:

    [...] Publié août 14, 2008 Chaud devant , France , USA Kontra, bloggeur designer livre un article bien senti sur l’efficacité des études de concepts, encensant au passage Apple pour son sens du produit. Il escamote un peu rapidement le rôle [...]

  99. Shane Says:

    You’re right, it is drifting too far. Just one more point…

    I’m curious as to how you could say these things. What could you possibly be basing your growth expectations on?

    Lets narrow this down to the smartphone market, then. The iPhone’s popularity spiked last year at about 27% against RIM, Palm, etc. 27% is pretty impressive… but between Q3 and Q4 of last year, it lost over 8%, to hit a low of about 19.2%.

    This is significant, because it clearly shows that people “get over” the iPhone quickly. There’s no numbers to suggest that the iPhone’s market share will continue to increase this year at all (right now it’s managed to get back up to around where it was at the the peak last year). As a matter of fact, the numbers I cited in the last paragraph suggest that once this new product “rush” is over (which it effectively is), Apple will dip back down below the 20% mark in North America. Unless they manage to release a version of the iPhone with cut-and-paste or something pretty soon (iPhone Nano, maybe?), it’s unlikely they’ll be able to sustain these numbers.

    And that’s based upon actual quarterly market trends, what is your growth assumption based on?

  100. Deanston Says:

    Although your final conclusion is a bit too general, I assume you categorize every shipped product as non-concept, even ones that proved only experimental. There are a ton of niche failures in the market, some never seen again, and some, like the Cube, I supposed evolve into new forms.

    The clearest parallel I can draw (excuse the pun) is sketch book vs. finished painting or game character in the artistic design process. There may be a ton of great ideas in the sketches, but only the final rendering in the CG that made it onto the film matters. Or more esoterically to poetry. The greatest poems usually are not in free verse, because it is within the constraints of rhyme and meter and form that true beauty and creativity stand out.

    Perhaps this concept can also relate to Linux? The trouble with its image, I think, is that Linux always appears to be still a concept needing to prove something. The Linux developers are always creatively applying it to every gadget and field imaginable, but instead I think what average consumers really want is just a simple but elegant low cost computer that does not seem too foreign and works like they expect, which are requirements that on the surface appears boring to all but the most serious professional designers.

  101. Links Will Eat Themselves | Programmer's Log Says:

    [...] How Apple Does It A bit of an old article about how Apple approach design and engineering. This segues into the next couple of links: The Great Divide Why Apple doesn’t do “Concept Products” [...]

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