5 product management lessons from the MacBook Air

The first MacBook Air was, while another impressive piece of industrial design from Apple, not a fantastic computer. It was positioned as a normal laptop replacement, with a pricepoint to match, but specification-wise it was somewhere in between a normal laptop and a netbook, without the real power for anything more than email, web browsing and word processing. The focus on small led to functional issues like not having enough usb ports, and it suffered from frequent heat problems.

But was the MacBook Air a failure? Absolutely not. With the second generation Air models Apple has taken everything they have learned from two years of MacBook Air sales and usage and redesigned the Air from the ground up into a smooth, fast, delightful experience.

So what can we learn from this?

  1. Apple released a product that pushed the boundaries of expectations and that was probably ahead of its time.
  2. Apple decided to focus on one thingsmall – but refused to approach ‘small’ in the way that other manufacturers did.
  3. Apple took risks with the MacBook Air – it was not only ahead of its time, but it was risky in terms of its positioning and price point (high end) and also its specifications: would people really buy an expensive computer that could not handle processor-intensive applications like photoshop and final cut, etc, and that doesn’t even have a DVD drive? And supplying only one usb port was challenging everything consumers expected from computers (more ports, more storage, more RAM, and so on…)
  4. Apple got an idea out, watched how it evolved, how it was used, and what their users said about it, and they used that information to build a better, more targeted version from the ground up. They didn’t let consumer expectations drive their product innovation, but they did listen and include valuable inputs from user feedback and user research into their product design.
  5. Apple allowed themselves to fail on their first MacBook Air launch, in order to learn and succeed later. The best winners know how to lose…

Remarkable products take risks, push the limits of what’s possible and challenge incumbent perceptions and expectations. Is your product remarkable? Are you?

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