Apple Both "Listens to Customers" and "Doesn't Listen to Customers"

Nobody "gets it right all the time," not even the late Steve Jobs, who unusually refused to drive new product creation using end user surveys. 
But there is an exception for every rule. And Apple, with the launch of the iPhone 6, and earlier with the launch of the mini version of the iPad, reacted informally to end user preferences as expressed in buying behavior.

An Apple Fy 14 Planning document shows company executives were aware sales trends were lead by products in a segment Apple had eschewed, namely bigger-screen phones costing $300 or less.

Some might argue Apple responded to both issues, over time, by creating the iPhone 5C (lower price) and introducing larger-screen iPhone 6 models. 

To be sure, Apple did not abandon its "premium" positioning, but some studies suggest the lower-priced 5C did attract users who otherwise would have bought an Android.

There is an inherent tension between "listening to customers" and "innovating." Listening to customers tends to produce incremental improvements to products customers already buy.

Creating totally new lines of business and brand new products often requires that firms not listen to customers, instead striving to identify unmet needs. By definition, potential customers cannot always identify what is lacking and unmet.

They can often identify where an existing product or service needs improvement. Apple's customer studies showed that "small screen size" was a frequent complaint. 

But Jobs undoubtedly was often correct in maintaining that consumer surveys were useless for proposed new products they never had seen or used.

Fundamentally, every firm faces the tension. "Listening to customers" will yield incremental improvements in existing products.

Looking for unmet needs will lead to uncovering new lines of business or product categories. Apple historically has excelled at creating new categories.

But some also would note that Apple has tended not be "first to market" in any category. Instead, it has tended to try and figure out the best way to create a product for a category.

But in doing so, it has often come to dominate and define a category it did not actually create.

So there's the paradox: listening to customers is good--but so is not listening to customers.
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