Apple as tensegrity structure

A new business model for a new age of computing.

Apple’s strategy for eventually moving beyond the iPhone is coming into focus,” writes Neil Cybert in his recap of last week’s WWDC.

In a piece posted Wednesday on his Above Avalon website, Cybert offers a view of Apple’s evolving business strategy as a series of simple diagrams: The Mac as media hub. The three- or four-legged stool (iPhone, iPad, Mac and maybe iPod). Tim Cook’s four platforms (iOS, macOS, tvOS, watchOS).

Conventional wisdom—at least on Wall Street—is that when the world moves to cloud services, Google wins and Apple is doomed. When devices are just nodes on a net, commodification inevitably sets in and profit margins evaporate.

Cybert begs to differ.

“Google and other services-oriented companies don’t have it completely right,” he writes. “When services become more valuable, one consequence is the altering of how we use different form factors. Hardware does not lose relevancy. Rather, a world in which services are much more useful and valuable ends up elevating new hardware form factors that have access to these services.” [Note Cybert’s addition of a couple of new, unannounced form factors.]

Steve Jobs, a child of the 1960s, might have recognized Cybert’s diagram as a tensegrity structure—akin to one of Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic domes.

In this model, services like Siri, iMessage and Maps are the connectors that hold Apple’s devices together, allowing the company to keep delivering superior experiences for a premium price, even in the age of SnapChat and Facebook.

The great thing about Apple’s tensegrity structure as Cybert has drawn is that it’s both redundant and flexible.  Not every product has to be a hit, and no two users’ experience will be the same.

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Click to enlarge.

Cybart has done a neat piece of conceptual analysis. Contrast it with the “one-trick pony” model that passes for analysis on, for example, MarketWatch, CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Bloomberg and even the Wall Street Journal.  See today’s The reason everyone says Apple is a one-trick pony is because it is.


  1. John Kirk said:
    I’ve used this analogy a couple of times — but I like it, so I’m going to use it some more.

    What people are buying is the user experience. But people don’t want to pay for user experience. It’s too abstract.

    So Apple makes people buy a ticket to Apple Word, the same as people buy a single ticket to Disney World. That ticket is the cost of the iPhone, iPad, or MacBook. Once you’re in Apple World or Disney World, everything, i.e., user experience, is free. At Apple World, you still pay for services like apps, music, books, the same as you pay for food, clothing and souvenirs at Disney World, but once you’re in the park, everything else is free.

    While the pundits are discounting hardware, I think hardware is going to be more important than ever. When you’re building a warehouse, design isn’t crucial. When you’re building a space shuttle, design is essential. When computers were desktops, design was nice, but not a necessity. The miracle of Apple is that they got people to want well designed desktop computers.

    But as devices get smaller and smaller, design because ever more important. So as we move from the desktop to the tablet, from the tablet to the phone, from the phone to the watch, from the watch to an on-body accessory or implant? design matters more and more and more and more and more.

    The pundits have it backwards. Hardware isn’t going away. Well designed hardware is what will deliver to us the services of tomorrow.

    P.S. In case I wasn’t clear, I’m not disagreeing with Neil Cybert. I’m agreeing with him. I just took what he said and put my own spin on it.

    June 23, 2016
  2. I’ve said it so many times it bores even me. Analysts, be they from Wall Street or the media, are myopic. They have no ability to look beyond the obvious.

    Hardware is only as good as the power to use its intended purpose. A screwdriver requires someone/thing to turn it. A hammer requires someone/thing to being it. A smartphone requires software to make it functional.

    Design is not limited to the hardware. It encompasses the usability factor (software) as well.

    Great design enables more functionality in a form factor people will use.

    Apple’s business model is to develop new products that exploit Apple’s universal technologies (NextStep Mach kernel) with mission specific enhancements. Each feeding the ecosystem and taking away from it what it needs.

    For me, the future lies in Apple’s acquisition of VocalIQ. VocalIQ’s artificial intelligence/machine learning technology is years ahead of the competition. It is the fourth generation of user interface following command line, graphical user interface and touch screen

    What makes VocalIQ so special is its ability to learn with a bare minimum of data points, and achieve accuracy rates 4X greater than competing products. Read more on that here

    SIRI/VocalIQ is so important that Apple is putting it on everything it manufactures/sells, and giving developers APIs to access its power.

    As a small very specific example of where VocalIQ technology WILL take us, consider how VocalIQ’s artificial intelligence/machine learning technology can improve medical sensors to be used in the Apple Watch.

    PED thank you for this site (the first I have ever paid for). The pleasure I derive from not having to read a hundred mindless posts to get to the good ones is indescribable.

    June 23, 2016
    • Welcome, Gregg.

      “PED thank you for this site (the first I have ever paid for). The pleasure I derive from not having to read a hundred mindless posts to get to the good ones is indescribable.”

      Thank you for that!

      June 24, 2016

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