It’s been impossible to ignore the biggest technology headline of the week – especially as it became the biggest business headline in many places too. Apple declared the largest quarterly profit in corporate history – not bad for a company dismissed as a failure 15 years ago and derided as behind the times when it launched its first smartphone.
Apple sold 74.5 million iPhones in the last three months of 2014 – that means 1% of all the people in the world bought an iPhone. You can’t say anything other than it was a remarkable achievement – perhaps the zenith, so far at least, of the consumer technology revolution.
I must admit I wasn’t convinced by the iPhone when it first launched. I feel the same way about the Apple Watch, which means it’s guaranteed to be an instant blockbuster product.
Apple’s success has been widely attributed to its focus on product design – making tech cool, fashionable and desirable for the first time. But great design underpins the real reason Apple has changed the tech world – it made the technology secondary, invisible even.
People bought iPhones in their millions because they didn’t need a user manual – the intuitive nature of the product meant they looked at its utility not its functionality or technicalities. Even the simplest Nokia phones in the past typically needed you to read through the manual first. That’s also a contributor to why Google Glass failed – it was the complete opposite of invisible.
Technology works best when you don’t notice it. The suppliers that realise this will be the winners from the digital revolution – I’m not sure, for example, that IBM, HP and Microsoft quite get this yet.
The smartest CIOs that Computer Weekly meets get this – and in some respects, it’s what makes them stand out from their IT leadership peers. If your CEO notices your technology, it’s usually because it’s gone wrong, or when it causes endless frustration to use. “We need to turn that irritant into something that has value,” as one such CIO said to me recently.
Technology is great, we all love it, and it’s a part of our lives. But the technology that works best – and in a corporate environment in particular – is invisible. For IT to lead in business, it needs to disappear.