Why Apple Always Wins By Copying aka MAYA.

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Apple never releases a product into market before its competitors. If you didn’t know any better, you would think this is a deliberate strategy. And you’d be correct. Because it is. And it’s not a new one. It’s borrowed from Raymond Loewy and based on the understanding that consumers are always looking for familiarity in any new product or service. Consumers do not like ‘optimal newness’ and even in some cases, downright scared of technological advancements that make them feel dumb, stupid or disfluent. So Apple releases products into a market after everyone else has. Everytime.

The grand release of most Apple products always follows the innovation that some other company has tested before the ‘jury of customers’.

  • We all know the iPod was not the first MP3 player. The iPod had the 10x advantage of iTunes inside but it benefited from the fact that other companies had familiarized you and me with the concept of portable electronic devices that played music.
  • Bill Gates actually released the first tablet, Touch, ten solid years before the iPad. But Apple, with the ecosystem and brand promise we’d come to expect, released the iPad and we all felt we’d never seen anything like it before. Except we had. We’d been conditioned ten years earlier to believe in the possibility of a handheld touchscreen only computer.

The same was true for the Apple Watch. And will be true for the soon-to-be-released Apple Home which will be the 5ht or 6th voice controlled home device in the market.

So how does Apple enter a market late, by our standards, and still captures a good chunk of the market? It’s based on the philosophy of MAYA ‘Most Advanced Yet Acceptable’ put forward by an industrial designer called Raymond Loewy.

Most Advanced Yet Acceptable (MAYA) and Loewy

Based on what is now known as the ‘mere exposure effect’, Raymond Loewy developed a grand theory of product design suggesting that consumers gain comfort from new products that have elements the consumer is already familiar with. He called this theory MAYA, Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. Raymond Loewy realized that, even in our need to experience new and original things we want those things to be derivative of things we already know. He believed, according to Derek Thompson in ‘Hitmakers’,

“that all consumers are affected by the conflicting forces of neophilia (a curiosity about new things) and neophobia (a fear of anything too new).

Based on this understanding, Raymond Loewy went on to successfully design products as broad-ranging as tractors, locomotives, toasters, automobiles, Greyhound buses, Pepsodent toothpaste, ocean liners and he even had a hand in the design of Saturn-Apollo NASA space project. Loewy affected the American consumer more than most in his time. And he did this not by creating totally new products but by making the familiar surprising. Sounds a lot like Apple’s approach doesn’t it?

Why Apple Will Never Go First

While Apple benefits from creating hit products that are familiar but surprising, there are two conditions that need to be met before a company can adopt the MAYA strategy;

  1. It is not a winner-take-all market: Even though the Power Law still applies , where the #1 company in a market captures most of the returns, the MAYA strategy works better in markets where many winners can exist. The power law does not necessarily mean you have to enter the market first, you just have to enter the market best.
  2. You must get in quickly with a far superior product: Apple’s DNA isn’t just design, it is anthropology. This enables Apple to come to market second based on an understanding of what the customers truly desire beyond the basic need the product serves. Most of the initial products in a market only serve the first and most basic need. To enter the market second and win, you must ladder up to the emotional needs that the customers have. Quickly. The beauty of going second quickly, in a market that isn’t winner take all, is that you can still charge the premiums the market of early adopters can bear. You can stick with this premium price by making that your brand promise. So when your competitors start the race to the bottom, your technology product stays above the fray and you maintain a healthy margin even as the cost of the underlying components (e.g sensors, mapping on phones) continues to drop.

These two conditions need to be met otherwise you’ll be late to the party and your superior product will wallow in the graveyard of me-too competitors.

MAYA Anyone?

So what’s next for Apple? We don’t know. But we have some ideas. What we do know is that Apple’s next thing will be a product that someone else has familiarized or at least conditioned you and me to believe is possible. We know Apple eschews optimal newness. And we know it will be centered around our homes.

The important questions for you, as laid out by Derek Thompson in his excellent book ‘Hitmakers’ (where the idea for this blog post came from) are

How do you make something new, if most people just like what they know?’ What is the familiar but surprising product you are building that will help you capture market share?

If your industry meets the two criterion above, what is the Most Advanced Yet Acceptable product you’re building?

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Why Apple Always Wins By Copying aka MAYA. was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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