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Yes, In It’s Pursuit of Being a High-Margin Luxury Brand, Apple Must Eventually Be Less Functional

Posted by Bob Warfield on November 3, 2014

DSCN0023Even Seth Godin flushes out the Apple Fan Boys sometimes.  David Terrar has an, “I disagree with Seth Godin,” post going.  Seth’s premise, as set forth in, “Decoding Apple as a luxury tools company,” is that eventually, as a company builds a luxury brand, they must choose between luxury and utility or be trumped by another luxury brand that did make the choice.

I’ll cut to the chase–Seth is right and David is wrong to disagree.  Now I’ll explain.

David Gives The Best Counter-Examples to His Own Position

He talks about Patagonia being able to continue on utility and still function as a luxury brand.  But that misses the nuance of Godin’s article.  Patagonia is trumped by Louis Vuitton and countless others precisely because they were focused entirely on luxury with no need for any utility-seeking compromises.

He askes whether Ferrari, Bentley, Bugatti, or Aston Martin compromise their engineering in the interests of luxury, and suggests that of course they do not.  Au contrare, David, aucontrare.  At the risk of mobilizing both the legions of Apple Fan Boys and still more fans of these fine marques, they do compromise engineering.  Enzo Ferrari used to purposefully limit the performance of his street vehicles because he didn’t feel his customers were competent to drive cars with greater potential.

This practice didn’t stop when the Old Man checked out.  Every Ferrari I’ve owned or driven compromised all sorts of handling performance in the interest of greater comfort.  They love that light steering feel and the cars are ever so much more supple over bumps because of course we need to protect the delicate posteriors of our customers.  Luxury?  Absolutely.

Much the same can be said of Bentley, Bugatti, and yes, Aston Martin.  Their cache is exclusivity or outrageousness, not fine engineering.  We may as well lump Lamborghini into all that, if need be.  McClaren?  The jury is still out on that one for me, perhaps there is one shining exception.  Or indeed, perhaps individual models (F40) escape.  But overall, these auto brands are great examples.  Mercedes and Porsche are luxurious, but they are not apex luxury like these other cars.  They have much better engineering and bring more innovations to the table.  Heck, the lowly Corvettes have Utility advantages over many of these cars and are at best low-end luxury.

Watches?  Don’t get me started.  The luxury time pieces favor mechanical movements.  My Rolex loses time every day compared to a decent Swatch.  But it just wouldn’t be right to stick a quartz movement into a luxury watch like the Rolex, Patek, or name-your-expensive-Swiss-timepiece-here.  So they don’t, and have therefore done something to benefit their luxury status to the detriment of their utility functionality.  You could argue they’ve abandoned Utility altogether from any objective measure of what the Utility of a wrist watch ought to be.

Must Apple Do This?  Has Apple Already Done This?

So far, I think most agree that while Apple may have flirted with sacrificing Utility for Luxury, they haven’t actually crossed that line decisively.  There are certainly needless dogmatic issues that drive anyone transitioning from a PC crazy.  I have True Apple Fan Boy friends that only use their Macs with PC keyboards and PC mice.  It seems they want real <Del> keys, <Home>, <End>, scrolling mouse wheels, more buttons and all that jazz that Apple mysteriously refuses to give them.  In the past there have been missing fans and arrow keys that were again nods to Luxury versus Utility.  But Apple backed away from them.  Perhaps they’ll fix their keyboards and mice too.

These things happen because part of being apex luxury is ignoring customers.  After all, you are the infallible arbiters of style.  What you produce is by definition better than what anyone else produces.  What could a mere customer possibly have to tell Louis Vuitton about how to make more luxurious cases?

Yes, it’s arbitrary, dogmatic, and a chase your tail kind of tautology.  But that’s the nature of Luxury and Style versus Utility and Function.  It starts with how the brand is judged, and it would be hard to argue that Apple doesn’t see themselves firmly in the Luxury versus Utility side of the judgement game.  They don’t consider anyone worthy of judging their products.

What About the Ecosystem?

We shouldn’t leave this whole Luxury/Utility dichotomy without touching on the issue of ecosystems.  Luxury goods don’t have them.  Utility goods do.  There can be little question that ecosystems add utility value, though they can also add complexity and other pain.  My Macs plug and play with, well whatever they’re willing to plug and play with.  My PC’s plug into vastly more things but very often they don’t play very well once plugged in.

Apple has sharply limited their ecosystem to that which they strictly control.  In so doing, they have made some choices not unlike the Godin quote:

When Apple dumbs down Pages or Keynote or allows open bugs to fester for months or years, they’re taking the luxury path at the expense of the tools path.

Consider the whole approval cycle for their App Store ecosystem.  They will argue it is there to protect users from junk apps.  I’d argue it’s more about closing Apple’s ecosystem so it cannot threaten them in any way and so they can maximize their profits from it.  Here’s what I mean about the Godin quote being close to home:

One of the great advantages of SaaS is keeping everyone on the same release and making sure that release can be quickly and easily upgraded.  I surveyed Enterprise Software Customer Service one time and discovered that companies estimated that 40-70% of bugs in open trouble tickets were fixed in the current release.  That’s how important updates are–they literally keep 40-70% of your customers from even seeing the bug in the first place.

Yet, because we have to protect these  Walled Garden, it may take quite a lot of time and effort to get a new release approved.

To David’s list of brands and the power of ecosystems, I’ll bring in the world of audio.  Bang and Olufsen are beautiful.  They’re luxury.  But are they utility?  Are they the best sounding audio?  They’re all in one and they eschew an ecosystem, but is that really a good thing if you want to maximize their Utility (e.g. Audio Performance)?  No, not really.  And look at how similar B&O are to Apple.  Interesting parallels there.

Is Apple helping their Utility or their Luxury by limiting their ecosystem so much?  At one time, I think they were helping their Utility, but that balance seems to me is shifting more to Luxury.

Godin’s Decoding of Luxury vs Tools is Not Unlike Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy

I found Godin’s view of the Luxury vs Tools markets to be not unlike Michael Porter’s venerable Competitive Strategy, for those who remember their B-School studies.  Porter argues that there are only 3 successful competitive strategies:

1.  Be the Best.  Here he means “having the most utility” vis a vis Godin’s take.

2.  Be the Cheapest.  This is Microsoft and Dell to Apple’s “Be the Best.”

3.  Serve a Niche that #1 and #2 are under-serving.  This is where the most Luxurious winds up.

Porter suggests that companies need to pick just one of these strategies.  Trying to serve more than one divides your resources and will allow a competitor that focuses on just one of the strategies to beat you.

What often happens to brands that start out to be the Best is they can’t sustain that advantage.  That requires too much engineering inspiration and innovation, which is just not reliably schedulable when you need it.  So instead, they start to flirt with design inspiration, which can be scheduled and in fact is more desirable if things change often because what that audience seeks is distinction.  They relish the opportunity that there is new distinction constantly being made available for their delight.

The situation for Apple is sustaining that pace of innovation.  My Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a good example.  It’s hardware is absolutely up to Apple’s standards in every respect.  Apple at this time has no notebook tablet.  Will they build one?  Or will they insist that since they are Apple, the world must follow their lead and they will not be following anyone else?

Can there be a MacBook Tablet, or will it go the way of the keyboards and mice, wishing they had the PC functions or worse, suffering the indignity of having PC hardware plugged into the pristine Mac User Experience?

Is Apple selling the Best Technology or Silicon Haute Coutoure for the Well-Monied Gadget Set?

Oh and David, you mention you wished there were comments on Seth Godin’s blog?  I sure wish Medium where your article appeared had them too.

10 Responses to “Yes, In It’s Pursuit of Being a High-Margin Luxury Brand, Apple Must Eventually Be Less Functional”

  1. Bob,
    I really appreciate the long and detailed response and the chance to add more to the conversation. First let me say that you can add comments to Medium. Click anywhere in a post, or highlight some specific text, and then you can add a “note” alongside. It’s a little arcane, and you wouldn’t realise it was there (which is crazy!) – even Ev Williams the founder recognises that for interaction, this Notes approach is broken – see his long post about other stuff that doesn’t work too:

    Second let me tell you that there is much common ground between you and I and Seth, in your post and his post. Lots that we agree on, but still I have to disagree and try to make where I am coming from clear. The problem I have with Seth’s post is that it suggests that the utility path and the luxury path are divergent and in some way opposed – if I go down one road, I can’t have the other. And anyway, life is much more complex than that – Seth compounds that misdirection by even talking about not running a marathon in Jimmy Choos. Running is only one piece of utility that I might want from shoes – there are many, and one other is a high fashion component. So I’m suggesting that I can find luxury running shoes along with high end pro style running shoes as well as sensibly priced versions for the next marathon I plan to run (actually I’ve never run a marathon, must get fit!). In the same way I can have high fashion in shoes at various price points, including the luxury that an Imelda Marcos might desire as well as the levels down to high street fashion prices. For me, this is Darwin’s theory of evolution applied to the market. Markets necessarily fragment in to more and more precisely defined categories and sub sectors, and the rules of marketing still apply in all of them.

    Sorry I don’t agree with you on what you say about Ferrari, Bentley and Bugatti. You say ” Their cache is exclusivity or outrageousness, not fine engineering.” Sorry, no. Their cache is exclusivity AND fine engineering, and that is exactly the point you and Seth are avoiding. Although I absolutely agree with you that some Ferrari’s make compromises that wouldn’t be acceptable on the race track, that’s exactly why some super cars have suspension that help them raise the car to handle speed bumps. I’m buying in to engineering that could be used on the track, but in my luxury road car which is going to have a sound system and air conditioning. Depending on what you are looking for in a super car, there is a blend of luxury and high performance engineering that will suit. That McLaren you mention, or a Bugatti Veyron will be better suited to the track than some of the Ferraris of Lamborghinis models. If I want high performance AND luxury I’ll go for the Bentley. In all of these cars, I don’t actually expect bugs in the system. All of those makes are known for their excellence in engineering as well as their luxury cache.

    You mention Bang and Olufsen – an interesting case in point. I am a high end Hi-Fi nut. Sadly my system is over 20 years old – kids came along and spending on expensive toys had to go. I used to spend over £500 just on some isolating stands for my floor standing speakers. My system has components from Meridian, Linn, Roksan and Monitor Audio – all high end, high performance, to a certain extent luxury Hi-Fi brands and added together the system cost as much as a substantial car. B&O has always been a luxury lifestyle brand. You will pretty much never find a review of a B&O system in any audiophile magazine. It doesn’t give a pure, natural sound – it gives the B&O sound, and it has particular style and elegance. In general you buy them through their own chain of retail stores. For the Hi-Fi purist, depending on your taste you can have stunning natural sound, and a luxury style. Of course there are compromises – a sort of spectrum/continuum of convenience AND ease of use AND luxury AND high performance. Interestingly, when the music world went digital my iPod and a great pair of headphones gave me just as much of a natural window to what the producer intended on the track as my expensive Hi-Fi – and I started to listen to more music as a consequence, but plugged in. And there’s another example of luxury AND high performance. Just about every high paid footballer (you call it soccer over there) can be seen going to and from a Premier League, La Liga or Seria A match plugged in to music with Beats headphones (if you’ve heard Beats headphones that are bad, they’ll be fakes). I use Beats headphones myself because I believe they have the best sound, at my particular price point, AND they come with a super cool bit of a luxury tag too. No wonder Apple bought them.

    Then you talk about ecoystems – do luxury goods have ecosystems… I think they probably do, they’re just not as obvious as an App Store.

    It’s great you bring in Porter. Be the best, be the cheapest, serve a niche. This is completely valid, but it’s just that to be the best these days is more complicated because:
    – it’s always going to be in a niche or multiple niches
    – it’s best at what? Performance, ease of use, style, overall design?
    We’re back to Darwin – we have many more categories in every market so it is more complicated than those 3 choices, and in any case the various components I can play with are components, they’re not mutually exclusive.

    You also touch on the Apple versus PC thing and mention the fanboy. I am Apple phone, table, digital music player, but my laptop is a (Samsung) Windows 8.1 PC. Apple has for a long while been the premium product but one of the key differences is the user experience. My Apple products just work almost all of the time (and my technology challenged wife can use them). Occasionally I have to restart my iPad. I have to restart my Windows PC too many times a week. For a 20 year old operating system, I kind of wish they would start getting it right soon. Sorry for this diversion…..

    But back to the main point. I’m convinced that, as Apple move up from the premium niche in to the luxury niche for some of their products, it does not have to be at the expense of utility at any stage in their product development. Show me these luxury products that don’t work or have flaws?

  2. David, you say that Ferrari’s cache is fine engineering, and their proponents will say so all day long too. The Luxury crowd wants to believe “their” brand is best in every way, but there’s no proof in that pudding. Just speaking to Ferrari in particular, I’ve owned three–a 512 Berlinetta Boxer, a Testarossa, and a 355 F1 Spyder. Art? Yes! Fun? Yes! Status/Luxury symbols? Absolutely! Well-engineered? Not even close to the Porsches and Mercedes. Not. Even. Close. Hell, I owned a used Fiat spider for a while that gave me less trouble than the Ferraris.

    The 512BB Boxer was introduced when they were first having to go to fuel injection over Webers due to emission requirements. While the dealers all refer to it as a “hot rod”, it’s performance is actually mediocre because of the injection. And BTW, they adapted it from Germans at Bosch and didn’t build it. The Testarossa was a next gen mid-engine flagship, but had some even worse problems. The engine was mounted too high so the center of gravity made the handling iffy. Spun mine out one time just going up to Los Altos Hills and not particularly fast. Mine also had a habit of dying if you took your foot off the gas going downhill on Hwy 17. A very nice gentleman spent several months before he finally got it fixed. His explanation? Rather than purpose designing a 12 cylinder injection, they adapted a pair of 6-cylinder models from an Alfa Romeo. As he put it, these two tend to fight each other from time to time creating very subtle bugs if they’re not perfectly balanced. Then there was the 355. Man you gotta love the dot com money, lol. Brand new. Started dripping trans fluid a month after I bought it. I took it back to the dealer who informed me, “Yeah, it’s some sort of design defect in the transaxle. We’ve already sold out of replacement parts and it will be six months before the next shipment gets in. It’s no problem though. Put a pan under it to catch the drips and keep the transaxle topped off with fresh fluid and it’ll be fine.”

    That’s a brand more interested in Luxury than Utility, there’s just no other way to look at it. None of those sorts of brands really has the cash to do Engineering and Innovation. They can’t afford to test drive a bunch of copies of a model for at least a year before releasing it to the public. The Lamborghini I owned stranded me no less than 6 times over the course of putting just 4000km on it. Just one of the many reasons was they stuck the alternator directly above the catalytic converters without any form of heat shielding. This kind of stuff is common on these exotic cars and it’s because they ship the prototypes. Luxury is easier. Easier to buy fine Connolly Hides and hand stitch them than to do the long-term reliability engineering that Utility calls for. These stories are common for people who’ve tried to live with such machines for real.

    When you say, “… when the music world went digital my iPod and a great pair of headphones gave me just as much of a natural window to what the producer intended on the track as my expensive Hi-Fi,” you have absolutely put your finger on a case where you decided the compromises made for Luxury (bragging rights) weren’t worth it and voted in favor of Utility. That made a real mess of it for the audiophiles (and BTW, are the Beat Headphones really written up in the audiophile tomes, or are they left out as B&O is?)

    When you use words like, “I believe they have the best sound, at my particular price point,” you’ve stepped off the Luxury track and onto the Utility track. You’re actually agreeing with Godin and me. Your talking like the Corvette owner (It goes just as fast as the neighbor’s Ferrari, and I can’t drive five Corvettes at once anyway, so why buy a car that goes no faster and costs 5X as much?). You’ll never hear the Ferrari owner utter such words. The latter doesn’t enter into discussions of compromise or comparison. They know they own the “best” because they’ve paid for a brand that signals that message. Never mind whether it is true. If they were so great, how come so many have so little mileage on them? Certainly their audience can afford to drive the wheels off of them, but they don’t. There are just too many Utility compromises to really make one a full-time driver.

    So, I’ve given you the auto-example in spades with Ferrari. We agree that B&O is another example. We can talk about the advisability of really attempting to use Louis Vuitton luggage on commercial air with weather and I have also talked about actually trying to tell time on fine wrist watches. How many more examples does it take?

    Where perhaps we differ is you’d like to take some brands that are in the strong Utility category and call them Luxury. But they’re not, at least not in the sense Godin is using. They are perhaps Lexus, but Lexus is luxury for the middle class guy which is kind of an oxymoron. Luxury is Bentley and Rolls. There is no Lexus there. It’s high-end Utility cache, but calling it Luxury is a nice stretch Lexus wants you to make, but that doesn’t actually hold up. If it did, the wealthy would dump their Bentleys and buy Lexus. Here’s another test for the Luxury/Utility issue in these cars: ever see what happens to resale on Bentleys and Rolls? It’s because their Utility is terrible–they are buggy. The only sense in having one is to have a brand new one because that maximizes the exclusivity and Luxury factor while minimizing the Utility weakness because you know you’re going to sell it before it has a chance to strand you. Jaguar’s decision to eschew Utility in favor of Luxury nearly killed that brand because they let the Utility get so poor. It took the likes of Ford to bail them out of that hole. Embarassing to stomach for a Luxury brand.

    BTW, my series 1 iPad crashes constantly. Many times a day. My PC does not. I’m told it’s because it just doesn’t have enough memory. I like it, but I won’t create content on it. It’s not usable for that, but my Surface Pro 3 is.

    I say po-tay-to and you say po-tah-to. But in the end, something gives and a brand has to decide whether to go Luxury or Utility. Apple is right at that crossroads. If they’re don’t innovate enough, and it gets harder and harder, they will have no choice but to play the Luxury card. BTW, another signpost of the Luxury/Utility dichotomy–R&D spending. Apple has been noticeably light on that for years.

  3. One last thing – you jumped on my “at my particular price point” and turned that in to utility versus luxury – you really are pushing the boundaries to make your case. For in ear headphones at the £150 price point Beats Tours and Diddy Beats are the best I’ve heard. Up at the next level the Beats on ear Studios are the best I’ve heard, and I haven’t tested extensively above that – probably they start to be amongst the best rather than the best but I’m only guessing (but they are much more regularly seen on the heads of those high paid sport persons)… and yes they do make the magazines in a way that B&O doesn’t.

    All of your stories about the Ferraris you’ve owned are perfectly valid… I just don’t think you can use those examples to “prove” that Bugatti, Bentley, McLaren and other luxury or super car brands have poor engineering because of the compromises they’ve had to make to be luxury – what compromises…

    So in summary, I still don’t get it. I still don’t get that Apple will have to be less functional. (But great discussion!)

    • No boundaries were pushed or injured in the making of this case. Godin’s whole point is about Luxury with a capital “L”. It isn’t Luxury at a price point, for that isn’t Luxury. Godin explains this clearly with his quote, “I’m seeing the hoi polloi buying the brand at H&M and on the street, it’s peaked.” Once the hoi polloi have their hands on it, it is not Luxury by definition.

      If my stories which describe inferior engineering in a brand you’re touting for engineering don’t resonate, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to help though I will spell out more below. What I don’t understand is how could you define any of the things I mentioned as Engineering Excellence? Heck, Medium not having comments is another great Luxury versus Utility trade off. In this day and age it should take what a week, two weeks, a month at the most to build a scalable commenting system for blog-like software? But they don’t have it.

      Let’s put the shoe on the other foot though. I have run down Ferrari. Perhaps you’d like to present the list of Utility Innovations they offer? Why exactly are their cars Utility Stars as much as they are Luxury Thoroughbreds? What features, innovations, or specifications can you point to in support?

      And that gets me to the bottom line. My examples really do show compromises these brands have made that favor Luxury over Utility. I’ve spelled out the template in two different ways in good detail:

      – “We skipped the extended debugging of our Exotic Cars because reliability wasn’t as important to us as cache.” That’s entirely analagous to the examples Godin gives and on point to the discussion.

      – “We’re not going to invest in Engineering Innovation, we’re going to invest in Design Innovation because Engineering Innovation is much more expensive and too hard to schedule often enough to keep our cache going.”

      Let’s add another one that Godin alludes to:

      – We don’t care if that other design is more functional or if changing it will inconvenience our users. What’s import to us is the Aesthetic Integrity of our Designs.

      That one Apple has in spades. I’ve provided examples for keyboard and mouse function (unless you want to argue the missing keys or mouse functions somehow make Apples more usable?), but let’s add another. Apple started this ridiculous trend of making scroll bars disappear or otherwise be so thin it’s hard to hit their hot spots. Successive generations of designers love to emulate and so we get scroll bars with less and less contrast to the point where sometimes you really have to work to find and use them. This was all part of that last big look and feel update made to all the iDevices. Remember all the people who said, “Well, it looks cool, but it sure isn’t more usable?”

      Those are all compromises made in favor of Luxury Cache over Usability. I’m sure we can keep finding more, but if you’re prepared to ignore all of these, why bother? We’d just have to agree we have a much different definition of what Luxury and Utility really are. Unfortunately, the whole point of Godin’s piece was to define what they are from the standpoint of making business decisions and achieving competitive differentiation. That’s the essential insight he’s providing and that’s what I’m not prepared to walk away from because he did a really good job of it. He’s right, as usual.

  4. Bob,
    Really enjoying this debate, but you’re not seeing my points and I’m not see your points so we’ll have to agree to differ….. But I just can’t resist chipping in a few more rebuttals. 🙂

    I never said Medium was a luxury blogging platform. It does have a particular design aesthetic around simplicity. The fact that Ev published that output from their design meeting bodes well for their fixing some of the difficulties, including turning notes in to a proper commenting system. Will it be 2 weeks of development as you suggest? A common thread from our different positions – life’s more complicated than that.

    Much of your response focuses on particular design specifics and misses the broader point.

    Again you avoid talking Bentley, McLaren or Bugatti and come back to your Ferrari experiences. Particular brands are going to have particular problems with specific products or periods of production in their lifetime. I am a Jaguar fanatic. Currently drive an x350 style XJ8 Sport. Jaguar went though a period in the 80s of very dodgy quality and engineering. They were aquired by Ford in ’89 and steadily improved through the 90s to get their quality reputation back, becoming the very successful Jaguar Land Rover group in 2002. A luxury brand known for quality, high performance engineering. But the dodgy quality period was solved without moving away from the luxury component of what they do.

    You talk about specific design points on Mac OSX. I don’t see how those likes/dislikes of design choices around detailed function points can be extrapolated to a trend away from utility in pursuit of luxury. They say more about your particular preferences. You have problems with your iPad 1 and you love your Surface. There seem to be plenty of iPad fans, and I can introduce you to users who are deeply disappointed with their first Surface, but that’s not the point. The point is how successful is the iPad vs the Surface for a larger population of users and what utility are each of those aiming at. A very big, wide ranging topic – one edge of which crosses from premium to luxury.

    So, I still don’t get it. Still think luxury and utility isn’t an either or. Still believe that a Louis Vuitton handbag is a great handbag as well as having the luxury cache when I’m walking around Selfridges with it (well not me, they’re not my style). Haven’t seen one that has holes and doesn’t do the job of a handbag.

    • David, chip to your heart’s content. I do wish you’d eventually give us some actual supporting evidence for your point of view rather than simply restating it emphatically over and over. If brands are, “known for quality and high performance engineering,” how is that quantified? Who knows them as such and why are they the arbiters? I had asked for some list of bona fides establishing Ferrari as a leader in the Utility category, but I have seen none. I’d take them for any of the other Luxury brands you mention–Bentley, McClaren, Jaguar, or Bugatti. Why are any of them Utility leaders? And by the by, not only have I already talked about Bentley directly as well as McLaren, but I brought up Jaguar myself. They got themselves into their Utility plight by only being able to focus on Luxury and had to be bailed out of it by an organization with enough resources to do both. It is that competition for scarce resources that drives the tension between Luxury and Utility.

      Perhaps competition for resources explains most succinctly why Luxury and Utility are eventually at war. Consider the definition most sales people use for competition: two things compete if they get their dollars from the same budget. These two are very much competing for dollars from the same budget. Just as Porter advises against selecting more than one category to lead in lest you be mediocre in both, so it is true for Luxury and Utility. It all costs money, takes time, takes focus, has to be molded into the culture, has to be wedged into the Brand Identity, or consumes some other scarce resource. None of those resources are infinite, not even Apple’s. Eventually the budget is spent and that forces a choice between one or the other, not all of the above. I can’t see a way to state it more plainly than that, and the only logical refutation I can see would be the claim that Luxury and Utility can be pursued equally well without being competitive for resources. That’d be a neat trick I would dearly like to see if you can arrange it.

      BTW, Tog has a wonderful discussion of Apple’s usability problems (he mentions my issue with scroll bars so I’m not totally alone in my criticisms):

      I love his view that Apple designs for the Buyer and not the User, who is left to their own devices. It’s just another way of saying Apple designs for an arbitrary and abstract ideal, which is just another way of designing for Luxury. It surely does sell as most Luxury brands demonstrate. But it also shows in yet another way how Utility and Luxury get wrapped around the axle of competing agendas.

  5. Love it! Couple more chips:

    For Jaguar their problems of the 80s weren’t anything to do with pursuit of luxury over utility. They were to do with the tail end of poor management from being owned by British Leyland Motor Company up to 1984, and then struggling for resources when they became a separately listed company from 1984 until being acquired by Ford. I absolutely agree that you have to have the resources to do high quality engineering, and that luxury adds a component which needs more resources again. I’m still convinced these are additive components not separate paths.

    Definitely not saying you are the only person in the World that criticises Apple products. There are, however, a few who support them. Not everyone is going to like some of the “less is more” design choices, and Apple could get it wrong, even under Steve Jobs. It’s just that they got (and are getting) more things right – hence their sales, profitability and value as a company. Just wanted to add a great video snippet of Steve I saw today from 1995 talking about the tension between sales and marketing and product, and about making great products:

    OK you wanted some evidence to counter your Ferrari experiences. So I found this list of cars with the longest waiting lists from back in the day and the Aston Martin DBS is at the top of the list:
    And then this Jeremy Clarkson review of the DBS, with the Stig driving it on the test track. At one point Clarkson describes the car as a work of art. When the Stig manages to do a time on the track that is the same as a considerably more expensive Zonda, it gives Clarkson his final words “that’s just staggering!”

    So I do agree that utility and luxury (just like all of the other factors that go in to a product) are competing for resources to be executed, but I still don’t believe that if you pursue one, you can’t pursue the other as well.

  6. sgodin said

    Fun to read, guys, glad it led to such useful discussion. For me, the watch is a great one to start with–you can’t make a watch more accurate than a $20 digital watch. So, if the “utility” of a watch is to tell time, Rolex etc don’t win. And for cars, if the goal is to make a car that gets from here to there quickly, safely and cheaply, it’s pretty clear that any car over $50k can’t win, because they aren’t cheap enough to offer the utility of get from here to there quickly, safely and cheaply.

    I love luxury goods, they create style, flair and joy and often advance the game–and definitely unite the tribe. But the luxury maker who insists on delivering the most utility (as measured when you intentionally don’t count style, flair and joy) is inherently conflicted. That’s one reason why the best way to stay on top of a market that demands utility is to open your ecosystem, so others can deliver utility. Apple’s free software (mail, keynote, etc.) destroys the business for those that add utility to their platform…

  7. David, I think the agreement that Luxury and Utility compete for the same resources is as close to agreement as we need go. Seth himself (Hi Seth!) seems to agree that they’re “inherently conflicted.”

    So, as so often happens, we have achieved common ground and it becomes an argument over degree. Thanks for the conversation, gents.

  8. Bob,
    Great that we’ve got to some common ground.

    Thanks for joining in – awesome!

    If you’ve added in added in “cheaply” as a criteria on the car surely that removes/limits the luxury component doesn’t it?

    Seth says the luxury maker who insists on delivering the most utility (as measured when you intentionally don’t count style, flair and joy) is inherently conflicted. Why?

    But I’ll agree to differ – great stuff!

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