How Apple’s philosophy of ‘no’ has us saying ‘yes’ to $549 AirPods Max and maybe an electric car

No matter what Apple product you were lucky enough to get this holiday, you can be assured of three things: It’ll “just work” out of the box. It’ll do exactly what you want it to do. And it’ll last as long as you need it to.

That’s the not-so-secret secret to Apple’s success. Apple might sell more devices than ever, but it’s never going to be like like Google or Amazon and blanket the landscape with products, so the ones it makes are built to make an instant impact. Instead of cramming as many features as possible into the latest iPhone, for example, Apple chose the features that will matter most, even if it means lagging behind its competitors with things like super zoom and 120Hz displays.

It’s all part of Apple’s philosophy: a thousand nos for every yes. It’s why we hear about products for years before they release and why features often arrive late to the party. It’s also why bad products, such as the MagSafe Duo Charger, are so surprising. Since the iPod launched in 2001, you can count on one hand the number of Apple products that flopped—and you probably wouldn’t need all of your fingers.

apple airpods max wearing Apple

The AirPods Max are basically sold out everywhere despite their exhorbitant price tag.

So when a pair of $549 headphones come along a week before Christmas in the middle of a pandemic, they’re instantly backordered until March before anyone has a chance to even see a pair in person, let alone hear them. You might roll your eyes, but the fact of the matter is Apple has earned a lot of trust. Its track record over the years is such that a new product with an exorbitant price tag sells out before it even reaches shelves.

Granted, most people won’t fork over $549 for a pair of headphones, but those people weren’t willing to shell out $600 for the first iPhone, either. Or $399 for the original iPod. But massive sales are never Apple’s motivation for launching a new product. Rather, it’s about making something that fills a void we didn’t know was there and fixing problems we didn’t realize existed. Apple philosophy of “no” means it won’t ship a new product unless it can match or surpass its peers, even if it comes at a much higher price.

airpods max internal Apple

The AirPods Max’s appeal is the technology inside—and not just the sound.

Just like the original iPhone and iPod, the AirPods Max won’t be overpriced forever. But its inevitable affordability won’t bring a reduction in what makes them worth $549. It’s not the choice of materials or the comfiness of the headband that makes the AirPods Max worth $549 for so many people. It’s the trust that they will deliver an experience unlike anything you can get with the similarly specced Sony XM4 or the Bose 700 headphones.

Apple’s strategy isn’t about reinventing the wheel. It’s about finding a balance between what we want and what we need in a product that feels both familiar and new. I’m quite certain there are AirPods Max prototypes at Apple Park that would have been cheaper or arrived earlier, but that’s never been Apple’s objective. It’s about delivering the best possible product in the simplest package.

The experience is the difference

You don’t have to look hard to see how Apple’s philosophy of “no” pays off. The original $399 iPod was written off as an overpriced vanity project, and it took years before people realized how impactful it was. Before very long, there were iPods that cost $249, then $99, and inevitably a slew of imitators.