Recently, two very big, very famous, very different companies made the same mistake – they assumed that accuracy wasn’t all that important. Or rather, they assumed that accuracy wasn’t all that hard.
The NFL and Apple have, in the last few weeks, come under fire (and rightfully so) for the decision to find a lower-cost alternative to a part of their businesses that they never had to think much about.
In the scope of the NFL, keeping refs happy seems mundane, unimportant – certainly compared to pleasing and paying the millionaire freak-athletes* that actually put butts into seats and eyeballs onto screens. Officiating had always worked in the past, and there was no reason a bunch of new refs could come in and make it keep working in the future (now for a low-low price!) Refereeing doesn’t look all that hard at first blush – you just stand around while others guy do the hard stuff and blow the whistle once in a while. As we’ve discovered, though, it’s not so easy. Not just for decoding and ruling on the little things, but things like game-winning TD catches on Monday Night Football.
Similarly, the Maps function of the Apple iPhone was easy to take for granted – it always worked, and we expect things like maps to work, so it was never exactly a marquee part of the product. So it was easy for Apple to decide that it could take a seemingly simple task like navigation and do it for cheaper than they could pay Google to do it for them.
Accuracy, though, is a lot harder and a lot more important that it gets credit for. Deciding who caught a touchdown pass with only a split second to rule is hard. It turns out it takes years of experience to even have a chance of getting it right. Making an up-to-date map of the entire United States that fits into your pocket is hard.
Apple and the NFL were undone by their own success. They are both massively successful brands with undeniable dominance of their respective marketplaces. Both are very, very good at what they do – they both regularly deliver a high-quality product to a finicky consumer base. Both thought that meant they didn’t need to count on other people to be good at what they do. So the next time you’re tempted to cut corners and costs because you think you can do that “unimportant” part of your life and business on the cheap, remember Apple and the NFL.