Consumer education has been a key to Apple success

May 27, 2010

Back in 1984, the first magazine devoted to Apple Macintosh came to the market. Macworld has been a must read for me ever since. I’m therefore pleased to now be writing a monthly column on Apple for Macworld and my thanks to Jason Snell for allowing me this opportunity to offer my insight and analysis to Macworld readers. My inaugural column deals with what I believe is one of the key to Apple’s success over the last decade. Education. Apple 101 if you will. Few vendors have taken the time to explain to the market just what their products do and why consumers should purchase them. Fewer have spent the time and effort at retail (or the classroom) to let users come and learn about Apple products.

Education is the magic that’s behind much of Apple’s current success, but it’s been a decade-long process of determination, patience and keeping one’s own counsel in the face of market critiques. The question is, can Apple’s competitors get school in session and get consumers to enroll, or is the consumer going to be faithful to their alma mater?

A few thoughts on Apple and the DOJ

May 26, 2010

Today’s news has been a lot of conversation about Apple and the DOJ. Short version, the DOJ is apprarently investigating Apple’s iTunes business and if it somehow has violated antitrust issues. A good summary is this Bloomberg article. First and foremost, I’m not an anti-trust lawyer (much to my parent’s chagrin) so this is hardly legal analysis. Nevertheless, here’s how this looks to me.

1. Apple is no longer the scrappy underdog. With Apple’s position in the market (and a stone’s throw from exceeding Microsoft’s market cap) there’s going to come a lot more scrutiny about Apple’s business and their practices. That’s a fact of life when you hit a certain measure of success.

2. Apple has no monopoly on music, legal or not. There are legal monopolies and illegal ones. Hard to see how Apple has either. As a consumer, there are plenty of places I can go to get music without ever dealing with Cupertino. There’s no issue of DRM or lock in as there’s no DRM on iTunes music. Someone want to explain this to me?

3. One core issue seems to be Apple not willing to promote content that’s been given exclusivity elsewhere. Again, I must be missing something. If you give my competition exclusive rights on content why on earth would I invest dollars promoting it myself. I suspect I’d promote the content that was my exclusive. It’s one thing if there’s a single dominant store that says if you stock my competitors store, I’ll stop buying from you. That’s not what’s happening here.

4. This appears to be preliminary look. No one has said Apple has done anything wrong. Early reports are the music industry is driving the complaint. Having invested in Apple’s iTunes experiment early on, it paid off big time but also created a new player with a lot of power in the marketplace. If I’m the music industry, I’d probably prefer to see more digital stores and services compete with Apple. I’m not sure complaints to the government will achieve what market forces failed to achieve.

Bottom line? The world is a different place and Apple is going to be viewed as a very different company going forward. As more vanquished competitors cry foul, expect to see more of these types of stories going forward. As Apple success continues to grow, Cupertino will learn that it’s now playing by a different set of rules and expectations.

FroYo is quite tasty

May 24, 2010

My latest SlashGear column takes a closer look at Android 2.2 or FroYo. It’s a solid update and makes using Android 2.1 downright painful for me. If you use a Nexus One it’s a total no brainer to update.

Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed by this release. Google continues to refine the Android experience, making it more usable and more useful. If you have a Nexus One or other 2010 stock Android device, it’s a no-brainer upgrade. If you’re using an older device or have a device with heavy vendor customization, it’s likely to take some time for this release to get to you and I’d probably wait to see how well older devices handle the updated platform. Google’s rate and pace of OS updates has been impressive and there’s no sign it’s slowing down. Next stop, Gingerbread, but we’ll have at least a few months before we get to sample Google’s next dessert.

Android isn’t summer camp for handset vendors, not everyone gets a trophy

May 23, 2010

The subject of the possible fragmentation of the Android platform has been a concern from day one. I recently spent some talking about this issue with the “father” of Android, Google’s Andy Rubin and cam away with an interesting view of the Android market. Is Android fragmented or are we just seeing a new rate and pace of innovation unlike anything we’ve ever seen before with the velocity of mobile. Does it even matter. These are the topics of my latest Engadget column. So what do you think? Innovation or fragmentation?

Android isn’t summer camp for handset vendors and not everyone gets get a trophy for showing up. Google is treating partners equally, but will not slow the rate of innovation so weaker players can keep up. By constantly raising the bar, both in terms of reference devices and software, Google aims to keep innovating and drive that innovation as a differentiator. Google wasn’t looking for volume sales with the Nexus One, it was looking to raise the hardware bar — and arguably the best way to do that is to do it yourself.

Flash goes mobile with Android

May 21, 2010

I’ve spent the last few days running a pre-release version of Flash 10.1 on Android 2.1. The results are the topic of my latest SlashGear column

At the end of the day, developers will be a key factor. With ten mobile platforms vying for attention and ten not a sustainable number long term, many developers may look at Flash as a way of leveraging their code and IP to a larger number of platforms without making a strategic bet on the success of any one of them. After weeks of rhetoric, Adobe has answered the mobile Flash challenge with a solid demonstration on the technology viability on mobile, notably Android. Developers and users now will make the final call about whether Flash is important enough for them as they make their development and purchase decisions.

Two weeks with Kin – the view from GenUpload

May 21, 2010

Latest Chaim Gartenberg column on SlashGear is an update directly from GenUpload after two weeks of Kin use. Must read if you’re interested in Kin from the demographic it’s aimed for,

Overall, the KIN isn’t perfect. But it does get a lot of things right, especially in regard to teenagers. And, with a few tweaks – particularly in regard to the refresh rate on the Loop and a lower data price – it could well be the perfect phone for teens.

Can RIM make the transition from enterprise to consumer?

May 18, 2010

RIM’s role in making the transition from enterprise to consumer is the topic of this month’s column in Computerworld. I’m a long time Blackberry user going back to the first devices ever made but I wonder if RIM can really make it in the consumer space. I recently tried to update to the newest version of the BB Facebook app and the experience was a disaster. It refused to let me sync to my contacts. A little investigation revealed that my BB once connected to a BES and therefore needed a policy adjustment. Of course, I no longer connect to that server which made it impossible. The command line fix, backup and restore to make it all work was hardly consumer friendly. RIM’s a great friend to the enterprise IT manager but less so to the consumer. A lot will depend on what RIM does with Blackberry Six. While there’s a lot of momentum at RIM’s back, the question is how well they can do long term in an increasingly consumer driven market.

BlackBerry is still a hugely popular platform. For many business users and IT departments, it’s the only choice. In fact, an alien who landed on Earth and boarded the Acela train from New York to Washington would assume each earthling not only wore a blue suit but also owned a small oracle with a keyboard they were constantly consulting. RIM’s problem is that much of its success depends on inertia — it’s a snapshot in time. But with the enterprise market saturated, RIM must find ways to evolve its platform to be more competitive with changing user needs. While recent acquisitions show that RIM is slowly picking up some of the parts that it needs, such as a new kernel and better Web technology, it will need to accelerate the process of integrating those features into a new operating system — as well as a more coherent marketing campaign to better explain RIM’s offerings. (Some of RIM’s recent commercials have been so arcane, I didn’t even realize they were for the BlackBerry.)

Thirty Three Screens and a Cloud

May 17, 2010

My latest Engadget column explores the idea of glanceable information and why three screens and a cloud are just archetypes. Forget three screens, it’s much more like thirty three screens.

Glanceable information is key. I love the idea of glanceable content. Microsoft attempted to do much of what is key to Dash with its SPOT initiative (although with a very different approach). Information should be easily accessible and viewable. I don’t even need to make an argument here, really — glanceable devices are all around us. Look at that watch on your wrist or your clock radio. Both are designed to quickly convey one bit of information: the time of day. The dashboard on your car conveys key information such as speed and fuel consumption. At the moment, no one’s quite gotten how to extend richer views of information to those glanceable screens, but the Dash begins to do this. For example, when I wake up in the morning, I want to know the time as well as the weather.

Meet H/Pre

May 13, 2010

My view on the HP and Palm merger is the subject of my current column on Engadget. I’m pretty bullish on what’s happening here but there’s a lot that needs to be done to make this a success.

It’s H/Pre that will ultimately have to prove itself in a fast moving market place. The core ingredients are there, but it’s time to execute the recipe and sell the dish.

Two weeks on the road, Ten iPad lessons

May 13, 2010

I recently spent two weeks on the road for business travel sans laptop. My main device was the iPad. The ten lessons i’ve learned are the topic of
my column this week on SlashGear.

Overall, I’ve been pleased with the experience and find that there’s enough functionality to make the iPad useful for not only content consumption but content creation. So why not just use a netbook? Easy, while netbooks offer much of the functionality I lack on the iPad, it comes at too high a price. Lower screen resolutions, slower than my laptop performance and cramped keyboards are too many tradeoffs for me. The instant on capabilities, fast performance combined with a full XGA screen make the iPad experience unique, not quite a laptop but certainly more than just a large iPod touch. For me, it’s now a valuable travel companion.

On Apples and Androids and Blackberrys

May 10, 2010

Interesting news today from NPD on Android passing iPhone in US marketshare. Some quick thoughts.

1. It’s an Apples to Androids comparison. Android (to Google’s credit) is on multiple devices on multiple carriers. Combine that with buy one, get one free offers and it’s no surprise that Android and RIM are in the number one and two positions. Given RIM’s been around longer, makes even more sense.

2. It shows Microsoft needs some work here. Windows Mobile has been around longer than Android and Android doing better. For now.

3. This is a fast moving market and what we’re seeing is a snapshot in time that’s not likely relevant long term. Microsoft is introducing Windows Phone 7 later this year, Palm is now a part of HP. Google, Apple and RIM are all working on OS and platform refreshes so for the moment, there are a lot of players here who will shuffle for position over time.

What I do see interesting is how well Apple has done with a single device (for the most part) on a single carrier in the US. That’s an interesting lesson that should not be missed by the competition.

Data doesn’t prove iPad affecting netbook sales

May 7, 2010

Stories like this are getting a lot of press with the assertion that netbooks are somehow being killed by the iPad. Except for one thing, the data doesn’t say that at all. In fact, if you look at the chart, you can see netbook declines started in October, well before there was even an iPad announcement. Don’t get me wrong, I think the netbook is essentially a dead idea. In fact, I wrote about it some time ago. It’s just that not everything happens because of Apple. The iPad may well be having an impact on netbook purchases now, I know I’d buy and iPad sooner than a netbook but there’s absolutely no causation shown here.

This is a reverse case of “post hoc, ergo propter hoc“. That’s Latin for “after it, therefore because of it”. It means that if one thing follows another, one thing also causes another. (it’s also the title of one of my favorite episodes of the West Wing of all time. but I digress)

The problem is that type of causal relationship is almost never true. It’s a common mistake that’s often made and in this case it’s clear to me that one thing has not proven to have led to another. It’s quite possible iPad is affecting netbooks sales. it’s also possible consumers don’t want tiny, underpowered laptops running XP or low end versions of Windows 7. The netbook success was the result of an imperfect storm, that storm has passed so not surprised to see the decline.

A view of KIN One and KIN Two from Generation Upload – Second Take

May 5, 2010

In all the debate and discussion that I’ve had around the KIN devices, almost all of them were with fellow analysts and journalists who just aren’t in the demographic Microsoft and Verizon are looking to sell to. You’ve heard my thoughts but I thought it would be interesting to get a second view on KIN that comes not from me, )who’s closer to Generation AARP than Generation Upload) but from someone who’s both analytical but is also squarely in the target demographic. So with that I refer you to SlashGear guest columnist Chaim Gartenberg For his take on KIN.

As for pricing – the $49 and $99 price points for the KIN 1 and the higher end KIN 2 are perfect to reach the teenage market. Furthermore, the phones don’t need special plans – you can just get one as you can any Verizon phone. The big point though, is data: $30 a month, in addition to regular costs. On the one hand, it’s a little high for teens, but considering that it includes unlimited data per month, as well as unlimited storage on Studio makes it much easier to accept. A flat fee that teens won’t have to worry about paying extra for going over a limit, and unlimited space on Studio to store everything is exactly what needed to be offered to make this appealing enough for teens at the price.

In essence, KIN takes the phone – which for teenagers, was limited mainly to personal communication – and extends it to social as well – giving us equal access to an equally if not more important part of our lives. And does it in a way of simplicity and ease of use. It may not offer everything that can possibly be stuffed into a phone – but sometimes, the thing doesn’t do everything may just do exactly what the user – in this case, teenagers, want. Yes, there are phones out there that offer more, but the features they offer aren’t really used by teenagers on phones. The 4: call, text, pictures, and music – that do matter, aren’t cut out of KIN, but expanded by it. KIN doesn’t limit to what a phone can be used for, but extends what the phones of teens do for us.

Where Mobile and Social Networks Collide – My take on KIN One & Two

May 5, 2010

It’s been a topic of discussion and debate but KIN One and Two are here. I’ve spent some time with both devices and it’s the topic of my latest column on SlashGear.

Bottom line? KIN is something new. It’s not a feature phone or a smartphone. It’s something different with aspects of both. I’ve talked in the past at how this is likely to appeal to a specific demographic and psychographic that’s socially connected. Is it the phone for me? Probably not. I’m closer to Gen AARP than Gen Upload and I need my device to do different things. (although I’d love to see a Studio type feature as part of all Windows phones along with Mac music sync). Is there a market for KIN? Absolutely. The key challenge will be how well Microsoft and Verizon can tell the KIN story to the target market. Neither the analysts, pundits or journalists will make or break this platform, the real and only question is how well the message resonates with target audience.

Understanding Apple and the future of Lala

May 4, 2010

Apple recently announced that they’ll be shuttering the doors of Lala, the music service they acquired back in December. This has prompted a lot of speculation over Apple’s motivations, up to and including the notion that Apple wants to take a competitor out of the market.

As always, the absence of short term clarity leads many to speculate on all sorts of nefarious things but I think that’s all wrong. As interesting as Lala was, there’s no evidence that it was a breakout service. Rather, if you look at world that’s moving more and more to the cloud for services and features, Lala technology makes a very good fit for a way that Apple can evolve iTunes from a store to purchase the digital single to something much more.

As phones and other connected devices become the defacto way to listen and consume content, new business model will need to evolve. The whole concept of “owning” music changes if I can listen to any song on any connected device that I own, there’s a different way to pay and monetize. Subscription services like Rhapsody are already adjusting their technology platforms and business models to reflect this. I’d expect no less from Apple as iTunes becomes more reflective of the connected world that we live in.

1,000,000 iPads. 28 days. First Take

May 3, 2010

Apple released some numbers today that certainly caught my attention. One million iPads in twenty eight days. So what does this mean?

1. Apple has validated this market. As i’ve talked in the past, there’s a worldwide market for 50,000 of anything. Try to sell 500,000 that’s another story. Get to a million and you’re a success by any measure. I suspect that in the history of ‘tweener devices, if you added up all the efforts over the last decade they likely didn’t app to a million units sold. The market is real and it’s a new line of business.

2. The reason Apple was successful was they optimized for the form factor. Sure, iPad looks a lot like a large iPod touch but in practice it’s much more than that. Vendors building on Windows 7 need to think how that will play in the market. Windows, like OS X, for better or for worse was designed for large screens, mice and keyboards. Likewise, Android in current format works best for phones. It will be interesting what Google has to say about tablets at I/O.

3. This space is going to heat up. Once a market is validated, expect others to jump in big time. Much as Apple validated the market for GUI based PCs in the 80s, expect others to challenge them this time around as well. Apple has laid out a paradigm of the next 20 years of personal computing. The rest of the market is not going to cede that to them without a fight. Expect to see weak challenges for the next 30-60 days but some very strong competition as we get into the second part of this year.


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