The X-Factor: Why Apple Succeeds where Others Fail

I’ve spent the weekend with Apple’s new MacBook Pro Retina, as well as the newly updated MacBook Air. While working on these remarkable devices, I had an epiphany. Apple doesn’t engineer extraordinary technology to make money. No. Apple makes money so they can build extraordinary technology. Therein lies the essence of the difference.

Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Microsoft, Asus, GOOGLE, you need to figure this out. You’re focused on bottom lines, pleasing shareholders, etc., and it shows in your product offerings. Your most interesting products are copies of Apple products. Even when done exceptionally well, they are still just copies. From so called “UltraBooks” to Microsoft’s “Surface,” to pick your flavor of Android phone, you are following the leader and you need to look past the leader. That doesn’t just mean tacking on a kickstand, a keyboard cover, and growing the screen.

You need to stop where you are, and go out and look for new engineers. During the interview process you need to probe. If that person does not at some point say, “I don’t work to live, I live to work,” he or she isn’t the person you’re looking for. You want people who find non-traditional solutions to traditionally daunting problems. If you don’t find such people, Apple will go on eating your lunch forever, because this intangible attitude, this innate “Jobsian” pattern of behavior, now seems to be part of Apple’s DNA. Think of it. You might be dealing with thousands of people, at every level, ¬†conditioned to think like Steve Jobs.

I was dead set against it. I wasn’t going to sell my existing MacBook Pro and opt for the new MacBook Pro Retina. Hereinafter “MBPR,” but the minute I got my hands on one, it was love at first sight. Or was it touch? I don’t know. It’s all a blur. ¬†After spending some time with it, I started calling around looking for one. I finally located one at the Pasadena Apple Store . Why did I have this reaction? It is because I viscerally sense the intangible factor I just described above.

Call it Apple’s X-Factor if you will, but know that you cannot copy it. You must evolve your own. When you mimic Apple, it’s obvious. When a Japanese auto maker produces a BMW or Mercedes look alike, it’s obvious and it is understood to be a knock off, a cheaper copy of the actual object of desire.

I know that it is difficult. I know that you ask yourselves, “Gee, what else can we do but try to make our devices thinner, or prettier than Apple’s, after all a computer is a computer.” This is the mindset you need to root out. Find the Howard Roarks of hardware engineering. Find the Hank Reardens of software engineering. If you know those names, you’re probably ahead of your competitors. Start off by telling your engineers, “There is no Apple. Start from here with the technology we have. Ask yourself what should this technology evolve into? Stay away from news about Apple, Inc. Indulge yourselves.”

When I started typing, this was not the message I intended to deliver. I was going to write my own review of the MBPR, but it was the silence from the computer, the phenomenal Retina Display, the feel of the keyboard, the essence, the incorporeal vibe of the machine, that took over my thoughts. I was starting to wonder if I held my hands just above the keyboard and closed my eyes, could I feel the minds of those who collaborated to create yet another masterpiece from Apple.

I was also working on configuring a few Lenovo notebooks for a client. Each was a decent computer that you could get your work done on. Each cost literally less than $600. Each was as inspiring as a box of cat litter. Then I would return to working on my client’s MacBook Air, or the MBPR, and it was such a striking contrast that I began to comprehend more than ever why Apple succeeds and others do not. It’s the X-Factor.

It’s the thing that makes me chuckle when I hear that CISCO, a router company, thinks they’re going to move into consumer technology, make a tablet or something. You know almost instinctively that they are going to fail because they aren’t doing it out of pure love of the opportunity. They aren’t doing it because this is the reason they exist. They’re doing it because they think they can make some money.

Charles F. Kettering said, “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” I submit that Apple’s competitors simply don’t expect much of themselves.

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