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Data, not Desire

INT. AN OFFICE BUILDING SOMEWHERE IN CUPERTINO. SITTING AT THE CONFERENCE TABLE ARE TIM COOK, PHIL SCHILLER, AND JONY IVE. THEY ARE BEGINNING TOP SECRET DISCUSSIONS ABOUT THE NEXT ITERATION OF MACBOOK PRO.

TIM: We have the latest data. Developers want a thicker laptop with the fastest processor possible. They’d rather have more battery life than a thinner profile. And for sure, it absolutely needs to max out at 32GB of RAM. Oh, and it should be upgradable, so they can buy a new one even less frequently than they already do.

PHIL: I talked to our engineers. All that is easily doable, but we’d have to make the thing a bit thicker.

JONY: I want thin.

TIM: Look, I know you guys have a vision for the future of the Mac, but the data just doesn’t show that your vision is what people want.

JONY: Thin.

TIM: Oh, come on…

PHIL: We have go thinner. He’s right. I hate carrying around a heavy notebook. Hey, how about we add a Touch Bar on top of the keyboard? That’ll be awesome!

TIM: But then we won’t have a physical escape key. That’ll be even worse for our all-important developer customer base! Our most important customers want thick and as fast as possible, damn it!

JONY: Thin.

TIM: Ok. Thin it is. Ship it.

All joking aside, I do worry, reading my Twitter timeline over the past few days, that some people actually believe Apple makes decisions based on what the executives personally want, rather than what data tells them is viable.

Unlike us, Apple has millions of dollars on the line in these decisions. If you think what executives at Apple want to build trumps what they think they can sell, you should take a moment and think about it more logically.

Here are a few things Apple knows that you don’t:

  • How many of each kind of laptop they’ve sold in the past five years
  • Where those purchasers live
  • What they do for a living
  • The detailed trend of PC sales worldwide across all PC types
  • What their customers’ general upgrade habits are
  • What they are likely to buy in the next year
  • How customers use their laptops
  • What kinds of places they use them
  • Which ports they use
  • What they’d like to do with their laptops that they can’t currently do
  • New technologies that aren’t ready for primetime yet, but will be coming in a few years
  • The long-term plan for the Mac software platform, as it continually evolves in response to worldwide trends
  • The limitations of what can and can’t be placed in a laptop due to physics, market forces, government regulations, availability of parts, etc.
  • The cost of manufacturing and transporting laptops worldwide, including component costs, long-term contracts, etc.

And about a gazillion other bits of data they’ve been collecting over several years of running the largest retail business on Earth.

Without access to any of this data, none of us is in a position to know what would be best for Apple.

It’s perfectly normal to be upset that the ideal laptop for you isn’t being made by Apple. But where you lose me is in assuming that decision is a mistake, or a purposeful snub, on Apple’s part.

Apple wants its products to succeed. And that’s as far as the want goes.

For all we know, Apple mocked up a more perfect laptop for developers, complete with Cherry switches on the keyboard and an oversized escape key. But then they analyzed the data, predicted the number of sales of such a beast, and decided it would lose money. So they opted not to make it.

Seems more likely to me than believing Tim Cook either doesn’t know what developers want, or that he doesn’t care because Apple is “obsessed with thin.”

These are not emotion-driven decisions. They are data-driven decisions.