Yesterday I read a wired article of how Apple creates their products. Working at MS right now, it is interesting to me the comparison of how Apple vs. the rest of the industry, where is seems like most is designed by committee. The article highlights that Apple products can only be a result of employees having less power and that most decisions are made by a benevolent dictator (AKA Steve Jobs).
This model of not giving employees’ power only works when Steve is around, and is the reason why he is so revered by Apple. When Steve was out, Apple did not innovate; the model did not work, and the rest of the industry passed them. Now that Jobs is back, it seems like a great model to follow. So, the reality here is that, simply put, Steve Jobs has good taste.
Witness other companies that have higher level executive making decisions on what is good for customers: mobile companies. They demand certain designs from manufacturers and had (until the iPhone) the final call. Some executive have really bad taste and are the opposite of hip-Steve. Thus the need to give control back to employees so they can innovate.
But having employees control causes another problem. How do you create a seamless user experience if you have every single person thinking about their own feature in a different way. The only solution I see is to have a good process to review and merge different feature into one consistent way. I've seen these processes at work, but they tend to only focus on review and fail at the merging stage. This is why you see some products as a frankefeature of things, instead of a consistent whole.