Apple’s Friends with Benefits: Working Together to Build a Brand

Today is the routinely awaited announcement of the 6th iteration of the iPhone - The iPhone5. It is highly anticipated, with the hope of seeing new technologies some call revolutionary, some say incremental. Whatever that may be, we will not know after the announcement is made. Why? Apple is very tight lipped and values secrecy as part of the competitive advantage, just keeping close partners and suppliers in the know.

What this means for core suppliers

As part of the supplier quality management, Apple's initial production will use LG supplied panels as the other two are  not ready for mass production. This is supply chain and management harmonization at its best. Supplier management and production control are essential to seamless production and timely product release on September 21 in many more countries than in the past.

Quality starts from Day One

Apple expends so much effort and resources to deliver products that their customers expect from them. Quality and user experience are hallmarks of Apple and any deviation will be detrimental to their image and brand value. Every detail of the product, fit and finish and customer experience are processed in detail as part of the product life cycle management.

As has been in the past, Apple's primary manufacturer of iPhone is Foxconn /HonHai in China. Foxconn had been in the news lately due to their worker treatment and Apple had taken direct actions to make sure those non-conformances are addressed and new processes are in place as part of their continued commitment to safe and quality practices. Foxconn is handling the entire final production and some logistics as part of the order fulfillment. This makes them a strategic partner as part of the value chain which places huge importance for quality at all levels.

Accessories

The Apple iDevices market is huge, with so many third party vendors supporting its ecosystem. There are vendors of all sizes, price points and quality. Take iHome for example, a leading a provider of docking clocks, radios, speakers,etc. for Apple products. There are also bigger names involved for higher quality speaker docks like JBL, Bose. Also consider simple device accessories like screen protectors, chargers, covers, holsters and replicators.  All these must fit and function well in the crowded market. But for the iPhone 5, there is no official released dimensions or specifications, so these vendors cannot provide these products on day one due to strict secrecy employed by Apple.

One of the changes is the bi-directional smaller 9-pin ‘Lightning’ connector instead of the old 30-pin connector that the entire Apple mobile universe uses would make the existing cadre of accessories obsolete. It is rumored that Apple would release an adaptor to appease Apple citizens with all their load of accessory investment. So these third party vendors must meet the strict design guidelines to make relevance in the crowded accessory marketplace.

What's next?

Customer experience and satisfaction is so important, and handling customer events, concerns, returns, replacements extend that experience. The way Apple handles product and production issues to the delight of the customers is paramount. As a result, Apple places customer satisfaction as the reason for their success and continued growth.

This extends to the accessory suppliers as they are fighting to gain market share in the sea of suppliers. Some have made a name (like iHome, Otterbox, JBL, etc.) and some are getting into this market with some innovative products like on-demand 3-D printed phone cases.  All must provide quality products that mirror the quality image of the parent product. This includes Apple and all vendors and their collective suppliers. They should all be harmonized with solutions to manage any expected problems in the grander scale to be successful.

Based on its track record, Apple exemplifies the benefits of harmonizing processes,  raining personnel and technology to make this work in the fragmented and globalized supply chain.

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