In his Personal Tech column for 16-Sep-2010, New York Times columnist David Pogue asks:
"Why do companies bring products to market that they know and even admit aren't ready?"
Having worked at one such company, I became all too familiar with the pattern. At most companies, managers are judged on their ability to deliver on schedule, yet it's not until you actually start using the product that you discover many of the things that don't work right or need to be improved. The pressure is to follow the schedule and make the best of it. Nobody wants to be a complainer.
At Apple, senior management uses the product on a daily basis until they are confident customers will say wow! The rule at Apple is it doesn't ship it until users say wow! Apple still makes mistakes and discovers problems after a product has shipped, but for the most part their stuff works from the users point of view. If Apple does discover a problem, they have resources in place to upgrade or replace defective units in the field.
The key difference in thinking is actually revealed in the question itself. The management at most technology companies believe they are selling a "product" that meets a set of previously agreed upon specifications. It must do A, B, and C, and the sooner we can ship it the better. Apple believes they are selling a "User Experience". The hardware is a vehicle for delivering a great user experience, not an end in itself.
Apple still cares about schedules, but they recognize that the most important learning occurs after they begin using the product internally, and that providing a great user experience is a much bigger competitive advantage than being first to market or having the lowest price.
For years analysts questioned why Apple's didn't have a Netbook strategy. With the introduction of the iPad, we see that while other manufacturers were producing stripped down lower cost notebooks, Apple was doing the real work of thinking about what makes for a great mobile computing experience and what can be left out.
Apple's focus on the user experience also clarifies why Apple insists on greater control over the software that runs on their mobile iOS products. Apple is not merely selling a mobile device that runs software and allows you to make phone calls, Apple is selling a user experience that ties in to a global brand image and "digital lifestyle".