Does Apple do co-creation?

Perhaps the most frequently asked question when it comes to co-creation is whether Apple is the best or the worst example of co-creation. The answer, of course, is yes.

If we think of co-creation as the process of involving customers and employees in the design of the next generation product, the co-definition of any customer-facing process, or God forbid, the opening of the firm’s governance to outside stakeholders, Apple is the worst student in the class. “More secretive than Apple, you die”, a French trade journalist once wrote, frustrated by the KGB-like approach of the firm. Give them an “F” in the “Co-Creation as a Process class”! (Dear Steve Jobs, you may be devastated reading this evaluation, but don’t despair; I have encouraging words for you later on).

If we define co-creation as the extent through which the customer experience that is delivered day in, day out by Apple allows a two-way contextualization of that experience, Apple fares better. The play list on my iPod or iPhone is uniquely mine. I may not have designed iTunes (Steve Jobs and his team did that), but iTunes sure allows me to create a personalized play list, so much so that my two sisters emphatically acknowledge this play list is “uniquely me” (this opinion came with a recommendation not to publish it on iTunes, but rather to keep it “exclusive to the family”; my sisters can be over-possessive sometimes). My ability to browse through products at the Apple Store on my own terms, or to dialogue with the repair folks at the Genius Bar, are also quite co-creative. Of course, many elements remain ferociously controlled by Apple, including price and distribution access. In the Allowing Customers to Co-Create their Experience class, Apple might get something like a “B-“ or a “B.” (Told you, Steve, it would get better).

With the advent of the App store, Apple has decidedly crossed the co-creation Rubicon. Being old enough to remember the early insistence of Apple on keeping software proprietary, it is nothing short of remarkable that Apple would allow independent software writers to sell their products on the iPhone platform today. They now even advertise the App store as the key feature for the iPhone, for goodness’ sake! In the “Getting Partners to Co-Create with the Firm class”, Apple may well come close to an “A.”

O.K., Steve, you’ve been improving steadily. Now, work on that Co-Creation as a Process thing. You have all the makings of a good businessman. I believe in you.

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5 Responses to “Does Apple do co-creation?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Every consultant seems to want a piece of the Apple pie. Why is it every business theory hungering for proof points gravitates to successful companies and claims them for their own. Weak.

  2. Francis Gouillart says:

    Hello anonymous,
    "A piece of the Apple pie" is cute. If you read the whole piece, I was not claiming Apple as "my own", but was actually more criticial than supportive of their secretive way in developing products. I do not imagine Apple cares much whether they meet co-creation standards or not, but the Steve Jobs-centric way of developing products may prove unsustainable once he's no longer at the helm. The stock market's current discounting of the Apple stock may be an indication of this challenge.

  3. Pandu says:

    I agree with you on Apple’s current co-creation endeavors through the Genius playlist on iTunes and the App Store -- albeit with restrictions and all. And another example on top of my head would be Nike+ iPod. But that’s it. They have no other collaborative activities. (If you do know other co-creation efforts from Apple, do bring me up to speed.)

    One would think that for a company to co-create, it would need to give up some of its control. The problem with Apple is that they need to be in full control of every process. However, as you said, through iTunes, they did just that. And they kept their control on the whole process. I’m very keen to see what they’ll do next in terms of co-creation.

    I’ve noticed that Apple has a lot of hardcore enthusiasts that are almost cult-like. Through blogs and websites, they sometimes collaborate amongst themselves to try to contribute to the whole Apple experience. Some people went as far as imagining and even designing product concepts. As Apple did not involve itself in, let alone organize these activities, do you think this is a form of co-creation? Because Apple could certainly benefit from those concepts and use them. Does co-creation require interaction between both sides?

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