Who is Responsible for the iPod?

The input method – the way people interact with a product – is the most important product decision made.  Horace Dediu writes and makes a compelling case for this: “The Primary Cause for the shift of profits from Incumbents to Entrants has been the disruptive impact of a new input method.” Who do you think suggested the input method for the iPod?

Leander Kahney writing for Wired in October 2006, five years after the first iPod was introduced and five years before today:

The idea for the scroll wheel was suggested by Apple’s head of marketing, Phil Schiller, who in an early meeting said quite definitively, “The wheel is the right user interface for this product.”

Schiller also suggested that menus should scroll faster the longer the wheel is turned, a stroke of genius that distinguishes the iPod from the agony of competing players.

Apple’s head of marketing.  Schiller is what marketing guys should be.  The marketer’s job is to think of what makes sense to consumers.  How would a consumer use this?  What would make a consumer buy this?  How can we make users love this?  These are often the same questions the people developing the products are thinking about.  But marketers and product managers restrict their thinking.

Schiller clearly thinks about these questions more broadly than your average marketer.  The question to him isn’t “what campaign/TV spot/ad would make a consumer buy this?” it’s “what decisions should we make to get a consumer to buy this?”  More than ever before, it’s the product decisions that influence purchase.  Great marketers are consumer-oriented thinkers who think about the end-to-end consumer experience.  At one end of that experience is using the product itself.  I’m certainly not suggesting most marketers are great (or even decent) product managers, I’m suggesting they should be.  It’s their job to be.

Product management requires a deep passion and understanding of design (and technology in the common case of software products) that is far beyond today’s average marketer.  But in five years this passion and understanding will be required for every marketer.

Schiller was and still is way ahead of his time.  Apple has thrived by making all decisions – business, product and marketing decisions – by thinking like marketers: consumer-first, or better: consumer-only.  That’s how Steve Jobs thought.  More and more companies are following suit.

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