The 90/10 rule- why Apple generates fan loyalty

Apple_logoI had a couple of conversations today where the subject of Apple customer loyalty arose and it made me realize that I have never written about my feelings about that.  You find a number of terms bandied about describing those who are big fans of Apple products, from "fanboys" to the "cult", and while these are often used by Apple’s detractors there is little doubt that there is a fair bit of envy behind them.  What company wouldn’t love to have a customer base that is so happy with their products that they are recognized as zealots?

When you analyze why many Apple products are so well received anumber of factors come into play.  No question sexy product design is afactor as few produce better looking gadgets than Apple.  They havelong tapped into the sleek, thin, sexy materials and form factors andno one does this better.  Quality components is another factor thatenters into fan dedication as there is a strong reputation for usinggood parts to make their gadgets.  Apple is willing to do this as theycan usually command a higher unit price than the competition whichmakes it easier to do.  All other factors aside though you have toadmit that Apple has a strong reputation for their products being easyto use.  You have no doubt heard this stated as "they just work" orsomething similar but the basis of that reputation is because they maketheir products drop dead simple to use.

This ease of use is because Apple design folks have become masters at following what I refer to as the "90/10 rule"in product design.  It doesn’t matter what the device is, the sameprinciple apples to the sophisticated MacBook Air as it does to theiPhone.  I have come to understand that the average user spends atleast 90% of his/her time with a gadget using just 10% of itsfeatures.  For example on the iPhone the user is making calls orchecking email, maybe surfing the web.  While the phone has many otherfeatures and in some cases more sophisticated features these are theones that the Apple design team has determined they spend 90% of theirdevice usage time doing.  So they make these 10% features work rightout of the box as intended and very simple for the consumer.  They makesure these 10% work as well as possible and without giving the usererrors or problems.  So at the end of the day the purchasers of thesegadgets are very happy about the device and tell all their friends.More importantly they also show them how they do those 10% and theirfriends immediately say "ooh, that just works".  See how it happens?

The 90/10 rule comes into play in an even bigger way on Applecomputers but the principle is the same.  Most consumers spend 90% oftheir time checking email, surfing the web, creating documents or thelike.  The sophisticated computers running Leopard can do much, muchmore than that but for the average customer they only rarely doanything else.  So Apple makes these things work very simply right outof the box and every time the customer does them.  It’s only naturalthat they get the reputation that Leopard works more simply than thecompetition because for the 10% of the most used functions it does.Apple is very smart about figuring out what user functions make up the10% and it shows in how well their products are received.

When you compare competitor’s products to Apple’s in a given genreyou often find those that have more features or offer a better bargainthan Apple’s.  Most companies cram as much function as they can in adevice to offer more value to the consumer but Apple proves again andagain that this practice is not necessarily the correct tactic togenerate customer loyalty.  Often the competitor’s product with morefeatures is harder to use or it takes a while for the user to figureout how to get things to work right out of the box.  When that happensthey’ve already lost to Apple because the Apple designers are smarterthan that.  Apple products fire up right out of the box and performthose 10% tasks from the get go and the out of box experience (OOBE) istop notch.  This means Apple customers are satisfied from day one andnot frustrated as competitor’s customers often are.  Technologyproducers would be very wise to pay attention to the 90/10 rule with new products.  It can make or break a product’s reception and go a long way to welcoming the customers to the cult.