>What ever happened to the old saying "The customer is always right."
Apple generally has ridden on the idea that they know what the customer wants before the customer does. Generally, I'd agree with them there. The Lisa (lovely, if too expensive), Mackintosh, iMac, ipod, iphone, ipad all good examples of this. Apple stuff is lovely to touch, look at, hold - many people scoff at this, but it is an integral part of the experience of a consumer electronics item.
Where Apple fails is when the market moves on from this original bright idea to commoditisation. Its hard to keep coming up with good ideas, but inherent in finding a "new good idea" is that you know more than the customer. Being "totally customer driven" is normally code for "complete lack of imagination and effort."
Build-your-own-phone requires standardisation. Its a bit like shipping containers. They work well for economy and utility, but they are awful to look at and they will never be precisely what the customer needs unless they are shipping something which happens to be 8'x8'x40' - which is rare. Its an approximation to what the customer needs and always a compromise. You can compromise and rarely be "loved" or you can build something which will be loved, but only by a few.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. I suspect it will depend on whether phones make the jump to more general compute or compute-access devices. The more general the usage, the more useful a compromise is. Not even Apple's billions will allow them to be "everything to all men." An iphone is a few-uses device and can be tightly controlled, a macbook is more general and can be less tightly controlled. Can apple keep people's faith in their goods, the cloud or drive a home-server purchase, or will they lose out to local infrastructure like an xbox or playstation or the fabled Steam machine? Using the cloud for settings and photo's is one thing, but the question comes as to whether a local host can provide CPU and latency advantages that the cloud cannot. Will tablets become fast enough to run local apps and will the devices attach to larger screens, keyboards and mice to enable better working?
It will be interesting to see where the "next big thing" comes from. We've now got portable computing to the point where we can have it anywhere. The question will be not whether we can have it, but whether we want it. Voice controlled appliances might look great in Star Trek, but Samsung TV's look less shiny. Star Trek never addressed privacy issues and Picard never treated his entire crew as criminals to be controlled and manipulated and spied upon at every opportunity, for fun and profit, even if the tech implied that he could.
Ives could be correct. A designer who makes no decisions isn't a designer, so he has abdicated his responsibility. However, that is assuming that choices have to be made by the designer, that compromises have to be made. That was certainly the case, probably it still is. Massively hi-res screens may be something customers think they want, but which negatively impacts battery usage. Giving the customer choice is nice, but its a good idea to prune that choice to maintain a good experience. That is what your brand does. You can also guide various customers towards particular options so that they don't make mistakes. Customer's don't want to have to make all the decisions - that's too hard. They do want companies to come up with a few good options for them, but when the market matures, more options can be taken as a "given" and more control can be given to the customer.