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Four Unlikely Lessons from the iPhone 5

There’s been a lot of discussion around the iPhone 5 since its unveiling last Wednesday. “It’s the best smartphone ever created! It’s proof that Apple is completely out of touch with the industry! It’s a minor upgrade that cedes the market to more innovative competitors!”

Which ever side of the fence you fall on, I think there are several important lessons that church communicators can learn from Apple’s most recent product launch. Let’s dig in…

New and Cool Isn’t Always the Right Decision

At first, I was pretty bummed about the lack of NFC (near field communication) in the iPhone 5. It’s something many of its competitors have had for a while now, and a technology thats seemingly on the edge of hitting it big. Why on Earth would Apple want to gimp its flagship device right out of the gate?

Turns out, its just not as useful as it sounds. Apple figured out that similar functionality could be accomplished with a thoughtful implementation of some existing technology, notably a location-aware app called Passbook and simple barcodes. Passbook is more secure, easier to implement quickly on a large scale, and will work just as well. It may not feel as “Star Trek” as NFC, but its the right road to go down until NFC finds a fitting problem for its solution.

How many times has your church investigated the “next big thing,” only to find out that you just need to pour a little more imagination into the tools you already have? Remember that the needs of your congregation should be at the forefront of every decision you make, not the rush to implement some “gee whiz” feature. That leads me to my next point…

Know Your Customer

As I followed the keynotes for iOS 6 and the iPhone 5, Twitter quickly turned into a cornucopia of gripes from my fellow geeks. In context of the uber-nerds among us (myself included), many of Apple’s decisions just don’t look good on paper. The thing is, Apple doesn’t design according to our nerdy spec lists; Apple designs to delight their customers.

There’s no NFC… but there’s Passbook, which is more graceful implementation of the same goal. There’s not a 4.7″ screen… but there’s a larger screen that’s designed to be usable without contorting your hand. There’s not a quad-core processor… but there’s an amazingly efficient dual core chip that was built specifically to make iOS fly. There’s not a dramatically different OS… but there’s hundreds of refinements with features you didn’t even know you need. Thoughtful usefulness trumps specs every time.

I think one of the biggest temptations for any ministry is to chase after the “spec list” of the ministries that they admire. While we can all learn a lot from each other, its easy to chase a cool strategy/design/environment and completely miss the things your audience is actually looking for. Don’t plan around what’s working elsewhere; step into the shoes of your audience and plan according to their perspective.

Know When to Kill Off an Old Hit

You’re in one of two camps with the release of Apple’s new Lightning connector last week: “Yes! A sleek new cable that’s easier to plug in, smaller to carry and designed for the future,” or “NOOO! What am I going to do with all of my accessories?!” (for the record, I fall into the first camp)

The ubiquitous dock connector was just about as reliable as a standard as you can find; it’s compatible with all sorts of devices, familiar and generally successful. Unfortunately, its also old-fashioned from a technology perspective, including extra room for functionality no one uses any more (FireWire) at the expense of Apple being able to design more graceful hardware. Apple had to make the decision to temporarily frustrate its customers in order to delight them again in the future.

It seems like its especially hard for ministries to kill off the old hits. Maybe it’s your bulletin. Maybe it’s your email newsletter. Maybe its a service time. Dramatic change will always generate a dramatic response, but its up to us to make the right changes now that will set us up for continued success (and hopefully growth) in the future. Don’t be scared to kill off “great” to replace with “greater.”

“Real Artists Ship”

It’s one thing to have a vision; its another thing to execute it on a massive scale, on time, and without any major hiccups. That’s something no one gives Apple credit for.

There have been several other great smartphone announcements this month (most notably Nokia’s awesome Lumia 920), but you’ll notice one big contrast with Apple: no concrete information. Many companies announce amazing products, but it takes a lot more to ship them with any great success.

First it was the Surface product from Microsoft shortly after the original iPhone announcement. Then it was Android 3 for tablets shortly after the iPad. Now its Windows Phone 8, crazy multiple core processors and graphics, and wireless charging. It’s one thing to make a big stink with availability, pricing and real world numbers “available soon.” It’s another thing to make a big stink, lay all of your cards on the table, and have it available to the public in 10 days.

Real-world results are the litmus test for success, and Apple does’t announce anything until its actually available, and ready for prime time (Siri being the one debatable exception to this rule).

Don’t talk a big game or unveil a new program to your congregation unless you’re convinced its ready to go. Nothing losses the trust of your audience like a botched launch or lack of confidence from your staff. It’s okay to admit mistakes and change things up, but a pattern of poor planning and execution will wreck your audience’s trust in your vision. Don’t betray that trust.

I’ll try to make this my last Apple post for a while, but had to share a few thoughts I’ve been kicking around over the last few weeks. Do any other lessons come to mind for you? Do you disagree completely? Let me know in the comments below.

Eric MurrellToday’s post was written by Eric Murrell. Eric is the Co-Founder of MediaBLEEP, Communication Manager at Long Hollow Baptist Church and creator of Series Engine and Prayer Engine. Eric and his wife Lauren reside in Hendersonville, TN with their daughter.

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  1. Kristi Johnsen (Reply) on October 2nd, 2012

    Great post! Yes, as churches, we often jump to the “next big thing” but taking time to tweak the ministries we have that will accomplish the same thing is a wonderful reminder. However, I find myself waiting for the iphone 5 to come in, though I know it is nothing really new. What to do?

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