Apple: Evolution as revolution


Philip Elmer-DeWitt is a senior editor at Fortune.

It's known as a disruptor, but the secret of Apple's success may be its incrementalism

It's a bit of a shock to hear TidBITS tech editor Glenn Fleishman describe the iPhone as a "plain phone," but in many ways it is. As he explains it:

  • Apple released the original EDGE-only iPhone when 3G phones were on the market
  • It included a low-resolution camera when higher-resolution ones were available
  • It avoided adding 4G LTE to the iPhone 4S despite competing 4G LTE phones

Fleishman's point, which he makes in a provocative essay posted last week called "Incremental Change Wins Apple Big Gains," is that although Apple (aapl) bills itself as a "revolutionary" company (it uses the term in almost every press release it issues), that's not what drives its business model.

"Apple makes its money over the long term," writes Fleishman, "not just by introducing disruption, which would mean flash-in-the-pan products that spark and then fizzle, but by seeing disruption through into stable releases, each with significant improvements that appear to be incremental to a product’s design and capabilities."

Fleishman has put his finger on a deep truth about Apple, one that its competitors -- who struggle to make thin margins competing with one another on prices and specs -- don't seem to grasp.

It should also make investors feel better about the future of the company without Steve Jobs -- Apple's chief revolutionary -- at its helm.

I highly recommend Fleishman's piece, and thank Daring Fireball's John Gruber for bringing it to my attention. You can read it here.

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