360° Coverage : Apple-Beats Deal Epitomizes the Preeminence of Design Over...

Apple-Beats Deal Epitomizes the Preeminence of Design Over Technology

Jun 1 2014, 8:38pm CDT | by

Commodification means we’re leaving the era of technology and entering the era of design and style

Apple’s $3 billion acquisition of Beats is an event that highlights technology’s march through consumer products, creative content and now, fashionable style. More importantly, the deal demonstrates the ascendence of design over technology, form over function, style over features. People don’t buy Apple products because they do anything unique, but because they do them better, more intuitively and as the late Steve Jobs might say, more beautifully than the competition. Likewise, Beats didn’t come to dominate the headphone market because of demonstrably superior sound. Far from it. Reviewers regularly condemn Beats’ audio quality and cheap construction . No, Beats are popular because they’re stylish, fashionable and hip; an unmistakeable accessory for celebrities at high profile events .

In the era of semiconductor foundries, mega contract manufacturers, cloud software and a global logistics ecosystem, technology is seldom a product differentiator. Technology is now something anyone can buy, from the lowliest Kickstarter entrepreneur with a dream to the largest technology conglomerate with an R&D overhead problem. Technology is rapidly commodified and the gap between lead edge and last generation has narrowed to the point of being functi

onally meaningless. Most people don’t care, or even know, that their year-old smartphone only has a 720p display while the hot new phones quadruple the resolution . Never mind if you can tell the difference. Bigger is, or used to be better. But technology specs are increasingly a distinction without a difference.

Technology and Specs Aren’t Enough

Technology of all stripes is now a commodity, not something companies like Sony (long, lost Sony) can build a business upon by layering feature upon feature to differentiate from competitors. No lo

nger can a company differentiate itself and its products by leapfrogging the competition’s specs and adding bells and whistles. Creeping featuritis, a disease endemic to technology products, has long been a liability, not an asset. A truism in the tech industry is that 90% of the buyers use 10% of the features.

Indeed, even when a company develops a demonstrably superior interface with better UI metaphors and more intuitive access to well-defined features, key bits and pieces, if not the entire package, are rapidly mimicked by competitors. The epic legal battle between Apple and Samsung is a testament to the futility of protecting genuinely useful software and design innovations from imitation.

This is the era of technology superabundance. The hard problems don’t involve how to do seemingly impossible things. We already have the technology to do that, whether it’s translate a message from one language to another, give precise directions from your current location to any destination or have a video chat with your family while on a business trip. Instead, the real challenge is how to make devices that allow average people, not just technophiles and engineers, to actually use these seemingly impossible features; to make them so intuitive as to be easily incorporated into everyday life. Forget about building a better mousetrap. Instead, build a more intuitive, useful and stylish mousetrap. A mousetrap that makes people wonder why they tolerated something that could snap their fingers off and looked like a doorstop.

Apple the master of design; Beats the master of style

Having perfected design and usability, the next problem for a consumer technology company is getting buyers to not only embrace and evangelize its products, but to transform them from utilitarian solution into cultural fashion statement. Apple excels at the former — slick designs and user-friendly features – while Beats has mastered the latter: turning a mundane product into a reflection of one’s values and identity.

Founding Beats investor and musician will.i.am aptly characterizes the transition in product strategies and design as emphasizing cultural relevance over utilitarian functionality. He nails it in a recent interview :

You can go into any consumer electronics store and you’re going to see tons and tons of things on the shelf and the things that you are pulled to are the ones … that skew to culture. And there’s there’s a very thin line between the ones that did it right and the ones that just sit on the shelf. The ones that sit on the shelf are the ones that have no connection to culture and the pulse of things: pop, popular culture.

Facing row upon row of feature-laden products, whether smartphones and tablets or headphones and TVs, consumers are smashing into the paradox of choice . In an era of technological bounty, small is beautiful, less is more, style differentiates and cultural significance is the holy grail. By hiring Burberry’s CEO and acquiring Beats, Apple seems ready to change the rules for judging technology companies by further blurring the line between product and user identity.

 
 
 

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/30" rel="author">Forbes</a>
Forbes is among the most trusted resources for the world's business and investment leaders, providing them the uncompromising commentary, concise analysis, relevant tools and real-time reporting they need to succeed at work, profit from investing and have fun with the rewards of winning.

 

blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest stories

Slow down to instil sexual desire in her
London, July 26 (IANS) Does being nice and responsive increase sexual desire in her? Do men perceive responsive women as more attractive and vice versa? The answers lie in slowing down if the goal is to instil sexual desire.
 
 
Apple Makes Another Purchase
Apple Makes Another Purchase
The company has now bought the “Spotify” of books
 
 
Notification Changes Coming In The iPhone 6
Notification Changes Coming In The iPhone 6
The new iPhone will make it easier than ever to stay up to date
 
 
The Five Biggest Apple Rumors of The Week
The Five Biggest Apple Rumors of The Week
Some are believable, while others are far from it
 
 
 

Latest from the Network

Ancelotti aims to end Real Madrid goalkeeper debate
Madrid, July 26 (IANS) Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said that he was looking to avoid the debate over who should be first team goalkeeper which affected the club last season. Real Madrid count on two fine...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
25 militants killed in Egypt's Sinai
Cairo, July 26 (IANS) At least 25 militants were killed Saturday during a military raid in Egypt's North Sinai province, an official said. The military raid started Friday afternoon in the city of Sheikh Zuweid near...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Ronaldinho hails Deco after missing flight for testimonial
Rio de Janeiro, July 26 (IANS) Ronaldinho took to Twitter to congratulate former Barcelona teammate Deco after missing his flight to play in the retired midfielder's testimonial. Ronaldinho was invited to feature in...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Iniesta optimistic for Barca ahead of new season
Madrid, July 26 (IANS) FC Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta said that he was optimistic his club would improve on last season's disappointing campaign. Barca have acted quickly this summer to solve the problems...
Read more on Sport Balla
 
Two Palestinian teenagers killed in West Bank
Ramallah, July 26 (IANS) At least two Palestinian teenagers were killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, officials said Saturday. A 16-year-old boy was killed in the West Bank city of Bethlehem during violent...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
UN condemns attacks in South Sudan
United Nations, July 26 (IANS) The UN Security Council has condemned the recent attacks both by the opposition and government parties in South Sudan, urging immediate peace talks. "The members of the Security Council...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
App clicks thief's selfie, got her arrested
New York, July 26 (IANS) An app called Lookout has hunted down a woman thief who stole a smartphone from a woman's car in Florida. The app detects when someone is trying to unlock a stolen device and snaps pictures of...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
Slow down to instil sexual desire in her
London, July 26 (IANS) Does being nice and responsive increase sexual desire in her? Do men perceive responsive women as more attractive and vice versa? The answers lie in slowing down if the goal is to instil sexual...
Read more on Apple Balla
 
Indian American officials asked about 'your country','your government'
Washington, July 26 (IANS) In an extremely awkward incident, a newly elected member of the US House of Representatives mistook two senior Indian American officials of the Barack Obama administration to be from India...
Read more on Politics Balla
 
India at Commonwealth Games Saturday, Day 3
Glasgow, July 26 (IANS) Abhinav Bindra and Malaika Goel gave India a gold and a silver from shooting on day 2 of the Commonwealth Games and the country will look forward to earning more glory from the discipline with...
Read more on Sport Balla