The Apple iPhone Experience is Not Lean Consumption

One way to reduce wasted time waiting in airports or in rental car queues is to read and respond to e-mail. This requires a devices such as a blackberry or high-end mobile phone. So far this is a luxury I’ve lived without but with all of the travel lately it seems like it may be worth the investment.
So it was with interest that I watched the launch of the Apple iPhone this week. So far it doesn’t look like the mobile device of choice for business. The lack of keyboard is a concern, but more so than personal issues with its innovative user interface, the entire Apple iPhone experience is not Lean consumption, and therefore is undeserving of our money.
In the book Lean Solutions: How Companies and Customers Can Create Value and Wealth Together, Jim Womack and Dan Jones coined “Lean consumption” which although it sounds like a nasty medieval wasting disease, is an extension of their brand of all things Lean to the customer experience. I confess that I haven’t read the book, but the idea is straightforward and easy to relate to as a consumer.
Womack described Lean consumption in a September 2005 IndustryWeek article as:
“Even with those advances most manufacturers are not making a great deal of money and customers aren’t happy,” explains Womack citing the need for lean consumption. “Lean consumption involves solving customers’ problems completely, not wasting their time, providing exactly what the customer wants, in a location they prefer and a timeframe they need. And finally it is helping customers reduce efforts to solve their own set of problems.”
To summarize Lean consumption, the consumer wants the producer or service provider to:
1) Solve my problem completely
2) Don’t waste my time
3) Give me what I want, where and when I want it
4) Reduce the number of problems I need to solve
This seems like a reasonable list of demands in exchange for the money in my wallet.
Based on feedback from bloggers as citizen journalists, Apple and AT&T are delivering anything but a Lean consumption experience. Apple & AT&T are wasting people’s time and creating problems with activation, rather than solving the problem.
There are reports that several AT&T stores forced customers to buy accessories with iPhone. This is not only not customer-focused, it is illegal, and creates rather than reduces problems for consumers who want to return the forcibly bundled items a day later.
There is some evidence that Apple’s might have drunk their own massive-hype marketing Kool-aid that they would sell millions of these iPhones. The early indication is that there is plenty of stock left on the shelves because of product-out technology push rather than market-in delivery just in time. It doesn’t help that the iPhones are built an ocean away. Overproduction perhaps?

7 Comments

  1. Mark Graban

    July 1, 2007 - 9:42 am

    A lot of that salesperson behavior comes down to incentives and typical western results-driven management:
    From the gizmodo article…
    “A reader tells us if an AT&T rep doesn’t sell between $60-$65 worth of accessories for each phone sale and $20-$30 worth of features, he can be written up and terminated if sales don’t improve within 45 days. If customers came and bought iPhones without accessories, this would have caused a big downwards drag on their record. Each accessory sold will count toward a rep’s sales goals, even if it’s returned the next day, plus he gets six cents on the dollar.”
    What management genius set those arbitrary goals? Threatening to fire people? Of course they’ll ask like used car salesmen! Blame Cingular, not the salespeople.

  2. Jon

    July 1, 2007 - 8:02 pm

    Right you are Mark. Bad systems make good people do bad things.

  3. Justin

    July 4, 2007 - 5:55 pm

    This article is poor. This argument could be applied to any product ever to call it not lean. If you only look at the initial investment (whether time money or whatever), and none of the benefits, no product will ever be worth your time. Certainly not computers or any other “smart phone”. This judgement shoud be made in balance with the productivity gain, and in comparison with the same for other products or methods for achieving the same end.
    I am not one of the camp-overnight-to-get-an-iPhone folks, and the iphone may very well not be “lean”, but it may be as well.

  4. Jon

    July 4, 2007 - 8:44 pm

    The jury is still out on whether the iPhone is worth its price tag as a productivity tool, but that’s not my point. I’m not commenting on the product itself, but on the experience of buying and attempting to set it up for service.
    It seems that so far Apple has focused on the product but not the overall customer experience and service delivery.
    Air travel is a great product. Air travel saves me time by getting me from point A to point B quicker than walking or driving. Yet the overall experience is mediocre to terrible.
    We as consumers need to complain about poor service so that the provider (be it Apple, an airline, a hospital, etc.) are challenged by free market forces to provide the best possible service.
    I stand by my point.

  5. Dr Jack

    July 6, 2007 - 8:42 am

    Compelling consumers to buy AT&T subscription along with the iPhone is ridiculous. If the iPhone price had been subsidized by AT&T , then maybe it would have made some sense. But when I am paying the whole 599$ why should I get a slow EDGE connection with a SIM card which I can never change even if it is with another AT&T one? Lean or not lean is not the question; it is whether the guy who waited so long to buy this much hyped product leaves the store with the iPhone and a smile or with the iPhone and a bitter feeling in the heart. The heart may not figure anywhere in quality books, but one thing I know is, if I feel let down by any company I will not buy its products for a long time to come. On the other hand ” a feel good factor” in purchase of any product has a lasting effect on the buying pattern of the customer.

  6. Lisa Drysdale

    July 8, 2007 - 6:48 pm

    I found this an interesting article, but very one dimensional. We say “we haven’t solved all of the consumers needs” but we are making that need through marketing. Living in New Zealand we don’t have the cell phone network to support the phone, so it’s just been an interesting exercise in watching from afar. I will say again – well done to Apple for creating a market need. So much so we did see people camping outside the shops. They have done an excellent job of playing on peoples emotions and previous success. I would ask though how much money they spent to create this need, and whether it could have been better spent…

  7. Jon

    July 8, 2007 - 7:16 pm

    That is a very insightful comment Lisa. Apple may in fact not have solved any problem for consumers at all, but created a need through marketing and then attempted to fill it.
    This is exactly how a product-out technology push can waste tremendous resources which could have been better spent focusing on market-in, with the smart people at Apple solving an actual problem.