Apple and the Art of Integrated Product Development

If you had the opportunity to watch the Apple Keynote today you could not fail to notice the amazing rate of innovation and the beautiful yet incredibly complex design of the company’s products these days.

One very important point though could easily have gone unnoticed: When introducing the display of the new iPhones with its 3D-touch feature as well as the new taptic engine both Jony Ive and Phil Schiller mentioned that realizing these design feats was only possible thanks to the tightly integrated development of hardware and software.

Only people who have been involved with developing products that include both hardware and software understand the tremendous difficulty and complexity behind this inconspicuous sentence.

Most companies today have indeed completely separate processes and systems to develop hardware and software. Requirements are defined in different systems, hardware and software components are managed in separate repositories, and the development and change processes for each area are different. Only at the end of the two processes the two finally come together for integration testing and then everyone prays that everything works together. It’s unnecessary to say that in most instances it doesn’t, and then the design iterations, the problems, the delays and the cost overruns happen.

And this is where Apple is indeed different, not only from other smart phone manufacturers, but probably from most other companies in the world. When I worked with Apple a few years ago we started to build the foundation for a completely integrated product development environment, where all hardware and software design and development systems and processes were aligned and integrated not only inside the company, but also with its external partners and suppliers.

This allows Apple today to make sure already very early in the development process that hardware and software will work together as planned, and also to make changes quickly and efficiently from one product version to the next.

And this integrated product development environment is what gives Apple an incredible competitive advantage today, to such a point that they even mention it in their annual keynote, the company’s most important event of the year.