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How Apple Uses Big Data To Drive Success

Guest blog post by Bernard Marr

Apple’s old slogan was “Think Different” – and while it is now retired, and the ethos may not be as apparent in the company’s products as it once was, it is true for their approach to Big Data.

In some ways, despite being the most profitable tech company in the world, Apple found itself having to play catch-up with Big Data.

While Apple traditionally employed teams of highly paid experts in aesthetics and design to produce systems that they thought people would want to use, competitors like Google examined user data to see how people actually were using them.

This gave those competitors an edge with the everyday apps that made smart phones so popular – maps, navigation, voice recognition and other aspects of computing that we want to do on the move.

But while they may have been slow off the starting block, they have now entered the race with a strong stride. Their powerful presence in the mobile market has put their devices in the hands of millions and they have been keen to encourage development of apps that are based on monitoring and sharing of user data. A notable example is their recently announced partnership with IBM to facilitate the development of health-related mobile apps.

It has also provided a range of applications targeted at other industries, including air travel, banking and insurance, also developed in partnership with IBM and aimed at bringing analytical capabilities to users of its mobile devices in those fields.

The launch of the Apple Watch could potentially accelerate this process in a dramatic fashion – if, as many commentators are saying is possible, it turns out to be the device which finally brings wearables into the mainstream. Designed to be worn all day long, and to collect a wider variety of data thanks to additional sensors, even more personal data is available for analysis.

As well as positioning itself as an “enabler” of Big Data in other people’s lives, it has also been put to use in its own internal systems. Apple has often been secretive about the processes behind its traditionally greatest strength – product design. However it is known that Big Data also plays a part here. Data is collected about how, when and where its products – Smart phones, tablets, computers and now watches – are used, to determine what new features should be added, or how the way they are operated can be tweaked to provide the most comfortable and logical user experience.

The Siri voice recognition features of iDevices have proved popular with users too, and this is also powered by Big Data. Voice data captured by the machine is uploaded to its cloud analytics platforms, which compare them alongside millions of other user-entered commands to help it become better at recognizing speech patterns (machine learning) and more accurately match users to the data they are seeking. Apple keeps this data for two years – disassociated from your real identity and assigned with a unique anonymous indicator, as a concession to ensuring privacy. 

Like its biggest competitors, Apple also offers cloud-based storage, computing and productivity solutions, for both consumer and business use. Last month it was reported that it had purchased FoundationDB, a popular proprietary database architecture widely used for Big Data applications.  It is thought that this could be used to bring increased analytical prowess across its suite of online services such as iCloud, Apple Productivity Works (formerly iWork) and its upcoming streaming music service.

Aiming to capture a share of the market dominated by Pandora, Spotify and Google Music, this service will be built on the technology acquired by their purchase last year of Beats Music. Beats developed algorithms designed to match users with music they are likely to enjoy listening to, in a similar way to recommendation engines used by Amazon and Netflix. Sales through Apple’s iTunes service have declined as the popularity of streaming services has usurped downloading as the favorite method of accessing music online. The new service, expected in June, is Apple’s attempt to get a slice of this action.

Apple may have been slower in its uptake of Big Data and analytics than many of its rivals, but it has clearly seen that it has to play a big part in its future if it wants to stay ahead of the pack. It seems likely that it will try and use it to move away from relying on hugely expensive, episodic product releases to drive its growth as a business, and towards the more organic, constantly-regenerating model of growth favoured by its competitors in the software and services markets. If Apple can meld its trademark excellence in design and user-friendliness with innovative uses of Big Data analytics, it could continue to surprise us with products and services which become culturally ingrained in everyday life, just like the iMac, iPod and iPhone – ensuring it remains the world’s most valuable brand for some time to come.

I hope you found this post interesting. I am always keen to hear your views on the topic and invite you to comment with any thoughts you might have.

About : Bernard Marr is a globally recognized expert in analytics and big data. He helps companies manage, measure, analyze and improve performance using data.

His new book is: Big Data: Using Smart Big Data, Analytics and Metrics To Make Better Decisions and Improve Performance You can read a free sample chapter here.

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