Understanding Apple

I am not an Apple employee, but I’ve often wondered about the company’s DNA. With some downtime over the holidays I was able to read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. The narrative helped me peer into Apple’s core values. And as I step back, I find myself less frustrated by the chaos of the App Store, and more grounded about which apps matter and which don’t.

This article reviews key points in the book that can also apply to app development. I’ll proceed by laying out the book’s themes next to a parallel track about apps.  I hope those of you who have read it can expand, debate, and discuss in comments.

On Excellence

Pg. 123 – “He could not make trade-offs well. If someone didn’t care to make their product perfect, they were a bozo.” Pg. 565 – “And he created a corporation crammed with A players.” Pg. 407 – “If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.”

App Translation: Don’t be a bozo. Use the best talent to produce high quality products that you love.  

On Focus

Pg. 460 – “At (the farm), his job had been to prune the apple trees so that they would stay strong, and that became a metaphor for his pruning at Apple. Instead of encouraging each group to let product lines proliferate based on marketing considerations, or permitting a thousand ideas to bloom, Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time.”  Page 336 – “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

App Translation: Where does app development fit in your list of priorities?

On Simplicity

Pg. 445 – “We make progress by eliminating things, by removing the superfluous.” Page 564 – “He made devices simpler by eliminating buttons, software simpler by eliminating features, and interfaces simpler by eliminating options.” Page 389 – “If he couldn’t figure out how to navigate something, or if it took more than three clicks, he would be brutal.”

App Translation: Does your app require instructions?

On Art and Technology

Pg. 397 – “When I went to Pixar, I became aware of the great divide. Tech companies don’t understand creativity. They don’t appreciate intuitive thinking…and they think that creative people just sit around on couches all day and are undisciplined…I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes real discipline.” Page 517 – “At the end he added a zinger: ‘By the way, what have you done that’s so great? Do you create anything, or just criticize others’ work and belittle their motivations?’ ”

App Translation: How does your app use technology to create something greater than the app itself?


Steve Jobs directed the artful engineering of consumer technology products. This talent of blending science and creativity has left us with a powerful toolset for progress in the modern world. How did he do it? The book tells us he was genius – genius at sensing what lies ahead.

I have a different opinion. I don’t think it was genius, as much as it was conviction. He had a conviction about certain ideas that was so strong, that he fought for it, and insisted upon it, constantly.

Are you convinced you have an app that the world should be downloading? Do you have confidence in that conviction?

Enough confidence, to make it happen?

Lorraine Akemann | Editor | Moms With Apps 



9 Replies to “Understanding Apple”

  1. Lorraine, very well written!

    Bought the book in first week, but have had no time to start 🙁
    There is no break in a startup life. Breaks are taken by my daughter.

    A friend of mine recently shared a picture from Apple HQ (he recently joined Apple), a quote from Steve Jobs, “If you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what next”.

    For app developers: “Keep on moving”! In a crowded app space, you, esp your success is being watched by many. Unless you keep innovating, you’ll be easily overtaken!

  2. As an educator and someone who is working with a team to make decisions about what makes a good educational app, the questions you raised are ones I am often thinking about.

    We have the ability, right now, to produce experiences for children that they have never had access to before. It will be creativity, ingenuity and internal high standards that brings the next generation of Ed Tech forward.

    The question that I am actively thinking relates to the balance of simplicity with complexity. Apps that can work with no instructions would be a beautiful thing. Most of the ones I review where – no instructions are needed – are so simple that they don’t take advantage of what app tech has to offer. Any suggestions for apps that do “simplicity” with out sacrificing complexity of learning?

    I look forward to seeing more apps for young children that transcend what has been traditionally used in the classroom and in our homes to make authentic and meaningful learning experiences.

  3. @Satyajit, always a pleasure to hear from you, thanks for taking time out to leave a comment on the blog. I like the sentiment about “keep moving” in terms of the inventions we produce. So true.

    @Carolina, I believe you are with Kindertown, correct? I think some apps depending on their intentions will probably require instructions, but it’s the essence of how those instructions are delivered which can set it apart. I like to think of Motion Math as an example of how to finesse fluid instructions into game play. At the beginning of the app, there is a demo that shows how the ball is bounced. Furthermore, this is one of those apps that uses the technology to create conceptual understandings of fractions. Very cool: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/motion-math/id392489333?mt=8. Thanks, also, for taking the time to leave a comment. I don’t always respond on the blog as I’m usually moving onto the next AppFriday before I can blink, but I do read what comes through. –Lorraine

  4. You nailed it.

    You better love making apps if you’re going to spend months of your time creating, producing, testing and refining – for the opportunity to compete against 52,000 others (in Education category alone), for $1.99 a pop.

    And it better be good.

    Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to you!


  5. Lorraine, I really hoped that Santa would bring me this book so I am very grateful to have this summary. (Santa brought me a cashmere scarf so I am not complaining)
    I am constantly being swayed by the emails and reviews and last night I DM’d my developer to say I wanted to change our layout in response. But your quotes above are making me rethink that. Rather than add I might prune……

  6. Great Post Lorraine!
    It’s exactly that! you must believe in your app and if you don’t believe in it your app won’t be good anyway.
    For my literacy apps, I’m really sure that it can help kids to learn in an efficient and fun way, and that’s what is pushing me the most.
    However, once your app is on the App Store you must listen carefully to the feedback, and eventually your app may be not so good and it’s time to do a really check and go to the next app.
    Note that when you do a really new kind of app, it may be difficult to convince people that it is a very good idea. Really innovative apps may be difficult to understand at the beginning and some people may say that it is useless, but after a while everybody understand the power of the product and it becomes something that everybody wants .

  7. @Matt, it’s been a pleasure to watch your team at Artgig, because it definitely comes across that you really care about what you are producing. So glad you are a part of the community.

    @Lisa, I hope Santa brings to the book, even if it’s a little late. It’s insight that could prove helpful to people who are focused on Apple products.

    @Pierre, completely agree, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. We’ve known each other a couple of years now virtually, across the miles. I wish you continued success!


  8. My copy is still sitting on the shelf, ha! Thanks for the preview, or summary! 🙂

    Just curious, can you expand on how reading it helped you with this, though? “And as I step back, I find myself less frustrated by the chaos of the App Store, and more grounded about which apps matter and which don’t.”


  9. Hi @Gene, thanks for checking in, good question. The book gives you a feel for Apple’s culture (i.e., Steve’s priorities), which are that quality matters. There is so much clutter on the App Store that doesn’t stand up to Apple’s quality, that it makes me less frantic about the need to make sense of it all, categorize it all, or even value it all. The high quality apps, and the dedicated people that develop them, will persevere over time. Maybe they aren’t noticed today, but after their 5th app, if they keep trying, they’ll get noticed. Now, will it “pay off”? That’s a relative question, it depends what you’re in it for.

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