Iterative Deepening: Owning the Stack

Post by
Scott Francis

I find Apple's approach to it's products and services really interesting (obviously, given how many posts have historically touched on the subject). Recently TechCrunch posted an article on Apple Maps and the reboot it is getting. It is another example of something Apple does more than any other company I follow closely:

  1. Identify a user experience that Apple believes it can dramatically improve
  3. Build the user experience, leveraging current technical capabilities on the market, possibly using something that already exists in a new or innovative way... but usually without a lot of invented tech...
  5. In successive years, on no fixed timeline other than perceived need to improve the experience, push deeper into the supporting tech on the market, producing innovations with partners or on Apple's own - that ultimately enable even more innovation or control over quality for the user experience originating with step 1.

Take a look at examples:


  • MP3 music players existed, but weren't very good
  • Apple grabbed off-the-shelf small hard drives and even a mostly off the shelf OS to kick start iPod...
  • Gradually over the years, Apple pushed into technology to make these products better... partnering for NAND memory production and replacing most 2.5" drives with solid state memory... writing its own software, improving the click wheel, etc.

iPhone screens (we could do several rounds with this):

  • Plastic screens left much to be desired
  • Partner with Corning to produce better glass screens - even glass backs! - using glass based on Gorilla glass (originally intended for another use: helicopter windows and windshields and the like).
  • Gradually over the years push into glass display tech - how to layer LCD or OLED components onto the glass to make the phones thinner... etc.

And CPUs:

  • Current "smart phones" lacked sufficient CPU horsepower to do normal computing tasks like web browsing.
  • Initially leveraging off the shelf ARM CPU's with Samsung fabrication...
  • Gradually designing more and more of the CPU and other chips inside an iPhone - until the A4 is released, representing proprietary Apple modifications on an ARM architecture.? (Now on A11? )

And now we can turn to Maps, the subject of the article:

  • Current phones lacked maps and turn-by-turn directions.
  • Apple leveraged the tech behind Google Maps on the desktop browser, to power the Maps on the iPhone - a new use case for maps that we now take for granted as if it were obvious. Apple built the UI, leveraging Google for all the map data and algorithms.
  • Gradually, Apple built the supporting tech to supplant Google maps from it's technical stack for Apple Maps.? In this case an additional phase was required: partnering with other data providers (other than Google).
  • Finally, in this article, you can see that Apple has determined that it needs to push all the way down to primary collection of street data, locations, and base maps in order to produce the better user experience they desire for their customers.

It's a fascinating read.? And:

"This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it?s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning."

Now the question I have is: is this a methodology that works for Apple because of their unique market situation, or does it work for potentially any business that has the discipline and focus?

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