Steve Jobs and Constraints

Nice article by Matt Gemmell regarding constraints in today’s technology products. As I read it I was reminded of Steve Jobs’ similar philosophy as he described it at the AllThingsDigital D8 conference.

For example, after discussing Flash, Jobs was asked what Apple’s “ultimate goal” is in not using it for the iPhone/iPad.

Jobs: You see our goal’s really easy. We didn’t start off to have a war with Flash or anything else, we just made a technical decision that we weren’t gonna put the energy into getting Flash on our platform… and that was it.

“We just made a technical decision.” A simple statement, but when Gemmell describes the plethora of ports, switches, jacks and other “choices that weren’t made by the designers”, it’s clear those designers should’ve made technical decisions, too.

Later, Jobs was asked what would happen if customers insisted on Flash and thought the iPad was “crippled” in this respect.

Jobs: Well I’d say two things. Number one, things are packages of emphasis. Some things are emphasized in a product, some things are not done as well in a product, some things are chosen not to be done at all in a product. And so different people make different choices…

“Packages of emphasis.” Another simple statement, and when Gemmell discusses various factors — “Performance and power consumption. Size and weight. Noise and heat. Beauty, durability, and portability” and others — he’s listing opposing points of emphasis. Many designers try to cram them all in one box, Apple chooses an emphasis then designs a package for it.

Jobs continues: We’re trying to make great products for people, and so we have at least the courage of our convictions to say we don’t think this is part of what makes a great product, we’re gonna leave it out… we’re gonna take the heat because we want to make the best product in the world for customers. And we’re gonna instead focus our energy on these technologies which we think are… gonna be the right technologies for customers and—you know what?—they’re paying us to make those choices. That’s what a lot of customers pay us to do, is to try to make the best products we can…

“They’re paying us to make those choices.” This is perhaps my favorite statement. When other firms toss every feature into a product and call it choice, what they’re really saying is “here, you figure it out.” But Jobs believed customers expected Apple to make the choices required to build the best product Apple can in a given category. As Gemmell puts it, not doing so results in compromises that “illustrate not only a damaged assessment of the choice that was made, but also a failure to grasp the product’s vision and intended usage scenarios.”

I think Jobs would agree.