Lesson from the iPhone 4

Ever since the antenna problems in the iPhone 4 were first uncovered, there’s been a plethora of experts and consumers insisting Apple is making mistakes that will cause long-lasting damage to the brand.

One mistake it made was briefly mentioned by Steve Jobs at the company’s press conference: The break in the external antenna that forms the casing clearly indicates where to put your finger to drop a call. What could have been a product feature to help users from interrupting the signal strength, was unexplained and misunderstood by the public.

Steve Jobs has a long history as the iconic leader of the Apple brand with incredible design intuition, but the problem with the antenna indicates something broader about where Apple is as a company. Apple’s customers are no longer made up of cultish followers. It’s a $50 billion company with a logo that’s as commonplace as Coca-Cola.

The cultish followers were committed fans to the products Apple developed on an as-is basis, but the broader audience wants Apple to hear its feedback. They want products to be developed for them, based on their needs and wants. Customers will have their say, whether Apple is listening or not.

While their reported earnings last week were worthy of celebration, for Apple to continue to grow they’ll need to grow out of the innovation model that’s exclusively dependent on Jobs’ skills and incorporate the voice of the customer into their design process. Otherwise, damage to the brand over time is inevitable.

As a small company, Apple showed everyone how to do repeated innovations that demonstrated market traction.

Now as a major corporation, the ball game is different and Apple needs to reinvent innovation once more. The company that asked the public to “Think Different,” needs to demonstrate again how the best innovators play ball by doing something different.

Apple needs to take the next step in the process of product innovation and leverage technologies that are readily available to them, ones that offer a complete end-to-end solution for the product innovation life cycle that ultimately creates and sustains alignment between company, product strategy and its constituents. As a result, it creates a complete, successful and profitable product that the consumer will need and want.

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