Apple’s magic

Steve Gillmore’s love-post to Apple the other day, “Why Apple wins. every. time.” may not be 100% accurate — Apple constantly doesn’t do all the stuff I think would make their products perfect — and I have Mac-related problems daily. But he is 100% correct when he writes:

“Apple’s rigorous march forward and its deep understanding of what the market will want next is not only keeping them ahead of the competition but building the markets they will own tomorrow.”

Apple developers have a way of seeing around corners to know how to “tickle” users (and I’m talking typical consumers, not just “geeks”) with tricks that, at first, entertain us and then, soon, we didn’t know we couldn’t live without them. I think “tricks” is the right word: The features and apps on an iPhone let a user do things akin to magic tricks.

For example, yesterday I caught a cab at O’Hare and told the driver an address that had him so baffled, he had to launch into a non-stop argument with his dispatcher while looking through some booklet map he had. (To be honest, I don’t think this driver knew the way to the next terminal over, much less to Itasca.) Not to worry. Within 30 seconds, I had my iPhone out and was using the Google maps app and I started talking the driver leg-by-leg through to an address I’ve never driven to before. I was able to (even pre-Tom-Tom app) use the Google maps app to watch our progress real-time to reassure myself that we, indeed, were heading in the right direction.

Unlike the car GPS systems I’m familiar with (which for me, are limited to the ones in rental cars), the iPhone’s touch-screen allowed me to click instantly to various alternative views of ways to interpret the route, easing my stress over wondering if we were actually going to make it to the destination. We did, and the moving “dot” entertained me along the way.

It’s like that opening scene in the movie, The Prestige,* where the character played by Michael Caine, Harry Cutter, says:

“All great magic tricks are composed of three acts: The Pledge, where the magician shows the audience something ordinary, but is probably not; The Turn, where the magician makes the ordinary act extraordinary; and The Prestige, where there are twists and turns, where lives hang in the balance, and you see something shocking you’ve never seen before.”

In presenting the new iPhone 3GS on Tuesday, one iPhone app Apple demo’d actually was a medical device that monitored vital signs — and, therefore, I suppose could fall into the “life hanging in the balance” category.

But it’s all those other things that Apple product development people and clever apps creators — the playful or creative ways they think to surprise and entertain us — that are “the prestige” that sets Apple products apart. Like being game-savvy enough to recognize that the built in accelerometer can power a “shake command” that’s more fun than simply “deleting” something — it’s more akin to ripping a sheet of paper out of a typewriter and wadding it up. That’s “prestige.”

Steve Jobs, almost literally, is the Walt Disney of his (our, this) generation. That he’s become the Walt Disney Company’s largest shareholder (though its acquisition of Pixar) seems completely appropriate and an act of destiny. The “imagineering” creative process that Disney is known for seems to be similar to the process at Apple where coming up with “the prestige” is a part of the conversation from day one. I get the feeling that product development people at Apple are always attempting to “shock” us with something we’ve never seen before — even if we’ve seen the trick a hundred times before.

I get the feeling that, like with Disney, that process has become a part of the institutional DNA of Apple.

Apple and Jobs often appear arrogant because, in many cases, they probably are (I only know what I read). But as long as they keep creating products that not only do the turn, but deliver the prestige, I’ll probably keep writing love posts like this.

(I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me to discover when I googled it for this post that The Prestige is a Disney film.)

(Disclosure: I’m happy to say that my IRA has some AAPL stock purchased around $100/share.)

*Thanks Joshua Porter (@bokardo) who provided me with some Twitter-delivered copy-editing that caught my mistake in the name of the movie I referenced.