The last mile: the human answer.

In retail, the last mile, the human touch, is the most important. Especially when you’re trying to launch a new kind of product, one that requires consumers to change their habits:

This isn’t the first time we could have made [this coffee], but this is the first time we could sell it. We finally have the places that not only have the technical expertise and make good shots, but that have the staff who can make it accessible to the man on the street.”

The best way to share information is still the personal exchange. Could Apple have launched two new kinds of computers without its Apple stores and their well trained staff?

Which is not to say that the human touch is inherently a physical one – though eye contact helps. Social networks, abstract and mediated, also yield the benefits of one-on-one, personalized interactions. (The prized “customer service.”)

Both the iPad and the iPhone, the two devices which have done the most to revolutionize the popular use of computers in the last decade, were shipped with only one universally popular tool: the App Store.

The App Store is not just computer code, it’s also a system of business decisions (legal, financial, marketing) that allow Apple to shift to third parties the burden of making its platform relevant to the widest possible spectrum of consumers, while retaining for itself enough leverage to make sure these third parties are competitive and focused on the consumer.

By insisting on a more transparent marketplace where innovations can rise quickly to the top through popular feedback, Apple keeps vendors in check and consumers satisfied – having fulfilled the promise of a distinctly personal computer.

From a corporate standpoint, the App Store is an ingenious organization of resources: a massive outsourcing or crowd-sourcing project whereby Apple can tap into the marketplace of ideas to address what is likely the greatest challenge any consumer-oriented company faces today: diversity.

Here’s the Wikipedia definition of a killer app:

any computer program that is so necessary or desirable that it proves the core value of some larger technology, such as computer hardware, gaming console, software, or an operating system. A killer app can substantially increase sales of the platform on which it runs.

If Apple’s goal was to sell computers to designers, it could rely on a company like Adobe to make the killer app. But Apple’s goal is to sell computers to everyone: designers, doctors, Dads, dance instructors, etc. It has confronted the challenge of providing an endless variety of killer apps to a diverse marketplace by creating a massive, decentralized factory of ideas.

Already it appears this market is diverse enough to support dozens of calculators, not only because personal software is becoming increasingly tied to personal style but also because mobile computing requires a greater diversity in applications.

As the space of human-computer interactions becomes almost anywhere (from club to Church, from bank to beach), the need for context-aware and context-specific applications ensures there will be more such diversity in the future, not less.