The small black strip along the two back edges of the twin speakers on the MacBook was easy to miss. It could quite easily have been mistaken for a vibration dampener or bit of shielding. But that’s not what it is.
Some call it “Speaktenna.” It is a never-done-before combination of antennas and speakers for WIi-Fi and Bluetooth that is space-saving.
“Speaktenna” represents the Apple way of formulating, designing and building its products.
Apple’s long-serving senior vice president of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, who joined Apple in 1987 (and left like Steve Jobs did, only to return in 1997), has witnessed a lot of change in the last two decades. Schiller describes those changes as things he observes to be different and incredibly great compared to the past.
Schiller says that from the beginning, the Mac has been about the company taking responsibility for the whole package: software, hardware, how applications work and Internet services. He also stated that it means something different nowadays than it did 20 years ago.
According to Schiller, those teams are not only merged and designing something together, they are thinking of features that could only occur because of that integration and solving issues that could only be solved due to that unique advantage.
As Schiller and John Ternus (vice president of Mac and iPad engineering) see it, a lot of the innovation – like the speaktenna – inside the 0.5 inch thick and 2 pound laptop would have been impossible without different teams working together.
Regarding the speaktenna, engineers from Apple did everything they could to fit the most amount of technology into the small anodized aluminium chassis, but realized they could not produce a great speaker and great antennae because they would be compromising. Both elements require space. Although antenna elements are small, they need space to resonate.
The solution was to make the speaker and antenna teams collaborate to produce something new.
That height of collaboration is part of Apple’s DNA today. However, things were not always like this.
It used to be much less of a clear path from product inception to production. One group would come up with an idea, and then throw it over a wall to the next group like design or engineering, which would then do the same with its concepts.
Other than collaboration, Apple heavily relies on institutional memory to build upon past accomplishments.
Creating Something New
Apple may have overcome coming up with new answers for tough technology issues, but those answers are not always found in-house.
Sometimes resources have to be added to Apple to accomplish things they were unable to do before, according to Schiller. There are also times when Apple has to make others alter what they do in order to meet its goals.
Apple often leans on suppliers in ways few other companies would. According to Schiller, it is unheard of for the company to refine third-party part specification and to assist suppliers in delivering exactly what is required by Apple to achieve its product vision.
Apple works with a lot of suppliers because they, of course, do not build the individual parts. Apple details what it needs and then finds a company to build it for them. Questions about who supplies Apple’s unique glass screens have often been met with silence.
This is partly because Apple often sources one part from different suppliers, meaning the parts can change.
When Schiller was asked if Apple does everything well, he replied “of course not.” He stated that they are careful not to sound as if they are perfect, because they never are. He added that the best thing Apple could do is to push boundaries further than they have been pushed before.
Outside partnerships and in-house collaboration on new technologies and designs only takes Apple halfway to their goal.
Apple is part of a vast competitive landscape where they are not the leader in desktop and laptop PCs.
However, Apple recently reported a record 5.7 million Macs sold in the last quarter; over the past year the company has sold more than 20 million Macs – more than any other year. In late 2014, Apple’s US PC market share was reported by IDC to have grown to more than 13%.
Apple definitely has a level of quality so unquestionable that none of its competitors should dare forget it.