Apple & The Art of Weiqi

January 20, 2011 | By More

Weiqi (simplified Chinese ) is recognised as the oldest board game in the world. Nobody knows for sure when it was invented. According to legend, it was created by Emperor Yao in ancient China over 2000 years ago to help his son learn about strategy.

By the third century BC it had become so popular that it spread to Korea where it is known as baduk (hangul: 바둑), and crossed the Sea of Japan as I-Go (). It was through Japan that the West was introduced to this very simple to learn game, now more commonly known as Go.

The object of the game is not necessarily to overwhelm, but rather to control more of the board than the opponent. It is a game of strategy. There is only one type of piece, simple disc-shaped stones, played by two players, black or white, on a board with 19 by 19 lines.

Players alternate placing their colored stones on the intersections of the lines (points). The object being to surround territory and keep it free from stones of the opposite player. Once placed, stones are not moved unless they are captured. A capture occurs when all of the stones of a color in a group are surrounded. The player with the most territory captured wins.

Although each move by the player and countermove by the opponent is completely visible to the other, in the end, the game is won by the one who has the best strategy.

In business, this can be likened to a market move – each is publicly visible to customers and competitors alike, to be studied, reported, analysed and predicted. Without a strategy, the business can be easily outflanked by even the simplest move by a competitor – like a price reduction or developing a new sales channel.

Businesses who want to grow and expand invariably have longer term strategies – such as a technology roadmap supplemented with a plan to retain and develop technical talent; or a long term supply chain strategy, to name a couple of common ones. Activities supporting these strategies do not reveal the strategy itself until many elements of the plan are already in place. Only then will the strategy will be evident – just like the stones placed one at a time on a Weiqi board.

This approach is none more obvious than the immensely successful introduction of Apple’s iPod.

When MP3 players were first launched in 1998, they were seen as alternatives to portable CD players with clumsy user interfaces. Primarily used by early adopters of technology, they were marketed based on their technical capabilities, such as transfer speed and how many songs they held. There must have been at least 20 different companies marketing them, many from Taiwan, including Creative Technology from Singapore.

When Steve Jobs opened the annual Macworld conference in New York City in Jan 2001 with his usual brand of enthusiastic vision, he announced that personal computing was about to leap ahead into a new Golden Age.  To support his vision he introduced several new Apple products that were intended to align the Mac with this new “digital lifestyle”. Few in the audience really understood what he meant. The first white stone from Apple was placed on the Weiqi board.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs discusses iPod at MacWorld Expo in San Francisco

Many criticised the iTunes 1.0 introduction at that time because all it could do was rip CDs for playback on a Mac. Little did they know that this was a significant white stone on the Apple Weiqi board.

iTunes was critical to get Apple enthusiasts familiar with the music player’s interface in preparation for the introduction of the Apple iPod in Oct 2001. Even then, the strategy was not obvious to market observers – Newsweek cited its limitations as being a high price tag, and its proprietary audience of only 7.5 million Mac users.

But when iPod for PC was introduced in July 2002, the avalanche became unstoppable, followed by its availability in 1150 Target retail stores across the US for Christmas 2002.

The rest, as they say, is history. One wonders whether Emperor Yao’s son learnt anything from the game his father invented.

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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

Comments (7)

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  1. arthur says:

    Wow this is an excellent post as it relates to how we deal with our daily lives. thank you

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2018/11. Is its parent directory writable by the server? ET says:

      Arthur, glad you found this useful.

  2. PS says:

    Guess this is kind of similar to the SK-II analogy 🙂


    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2018/11. Is its parent directory writable by the server? ET says:

      Glad this post helped to understand the point we discussed at our meeting. Keep reading for new posts.

  3. Wen says:

    Nice analogy of market strategy to weiqi! In hindsight it was definitely amazing to watch how Jobs was able to lay out the critical “stones” to effectively capture such a large share of the digital music industry. One has to wonder if he also thought through a plan to dominate the digital media industry (the whole board if you will) in the process.

  4. Kiếm Tiền says:

    Hi, Neat post. There is a problem with your web site in web explorer, might test this? IE nonetheless is the market leader and a good section of other folks will omit your great writing because of this problem.

    • Error: Unable to create directory uploads/2018/11. Is its parent directory writable by the server? ET says:

      Thank you, Kiếm Tiền. Will look into it.