Why Apple doesn’t do MVPs

The Biggest Lesson I Learned as an Apple Designer is a thoughtful piece that pushes back on the standard advice given out today of creating an MVP (minimum viable product) and learning as you go. It comes from a former Apple designer, Mark Kawano (who also wrote about Apple’s design culture), and suggests that MVPs just don’t make sense within the Apple process. Instead of “launching and learning”, Apple waits until their products are much more mature and offer a more complete experience:

“Waiting to launch a product until its “magical” moment goes against the concept of MVP, or minimum viable product, which has become so trendy in business over the past few years. It’s part of the lean startup mentality that became mainstream with Eric Ries’s best-selling book, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses

The idea goes something like this: Build a product to the point at which it’s good enough, launch it quickly into the marketplace, and then make iterations as you go while learning from your customers.

Though there is wisdom in Ries’s ideas, entrepreneurs need to be very careful in their interpretation of what a minimum viable product actually is. If you’re launching something in a space where there are a lot of people trying to do something similar–for example, a consumer product–then the bar for MVP should be ridiculously high.

I think the pendulum has swung too far toward the “launch to learn” end of the spectrum of product releases. You can and should learn a lot before you launch. Frankly, many of the pieces of software that I love best have not been built in a launch and learn environment and instead were refined internally by a thoughtful and critical team of designers. That’s not to say that the products aren’t iterated on, all products are, but they aren’t iterated and released continuously in public for the means of “learning”.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking “but Apple is Apple and nobody else is”. Yes, that’s true, but consider that this is just another process, albeit a different one. At Apple they have internal checks-and-balances about when to launch a product or not, and it stands in stark contrast to the lean approach. That’s what I find interesting here, and I think there are merits to both processes.

At the very least, the definition of “viable” should change depending on the maturity of competing software.

Published: September 1st, 2014

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