The secret message for app developers in Apple's latest ads

Editor's Corner
Shane Schick

"This is it. This is what matters. The experience of a product. How it makes someone feel."

Like all Apple ads, this new one is everywhere: in print, online and on TV. I saw the most recent commercial for the first time in a movie theater, where the impact of a big screen magnified the significance of the message. It occurred to me that on a smartphone, perhaps watched while someone was sitting on a bus, the power of Apple's brand positioning might not resonate, but I hope it does. Particularly with app developers, who should seriously think about taking Apple's mantra as their own, whether they build on iOS or not.

I suspect that for many of the apps and mobile games out there today, what developers were hoping to make consumers feel was pretty basic: happy, or maybe excited. Sometimes, for more practical apps, it might be something more like "satisfied," but there are probably just as many apps that were created without thinking through this question at all. "Who will this help? Will it make life better?" Sure, it's a good question for an iPhone or an iPad, but it may be even more relevant for the apps that run on such devices. 

Maybe enhancing every life an app touches sounds a bit grandiose for a developer who would be content with merely entertaining, and there's nothing wrong with entertaining. But this is more about being intentional with your objective than the objective itself. For Apple, that intentionality manifests itself by a self-identifying marker: "You may rarely look at it, but you'll always feel it," the ad goes on. "This is our signature: 'Designed by Apple in California."

Contrast this with the average app, which often seems to come from developers who keep themselves deliberately obscure. By grounding itself in a particular place, Apple suggests it is influenced locally and is part of a community. By using "designed by Apple," it is telling the world that anything with such a label should denote thoughtfulness and quality craftsmanship.

An indie developer working on apps as a side project may not see the need for a signature like this, but the lack of anything is a signature of a very different kind. Start with the emotions: What should be stirring inside a consumer every time they activate, use and then finish using your app? What should they associate not only with the name of your app, but the name of your firm, even if it's just a developer's own name? What does it mean if you specify the place where you brought this app into the world?

Of all the various challenges facing developers, the one that gets harder as every app store grows is discoverability. Apple is leading by example, showing that discoverability is not just helping consumers stumble upon a specific app, but discovering a developer with whom they might begin an emotional, sustainable, valuable relationship. --Shane