Steve Jobs, Salesman Extraordinaire and the iPad 2

March 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last week, the world witnessed the launch of Apple’s second generation tablet device, the iPad2. What it also saw was one of the best presentations yet from their CEO and arguably the greatest salesman of this generation, Steven P. Jobs. If you want to save the trouble of reading the post, you are welcome to view the presentation here. Jobs unveiled a modest upgrade to the immensely popular iPad in his inimitable style that has been copied by many but mastered by none.

Prior to the event, there was speculation if Jobs would be present given his recent health issues. But surprising many, Jobs took stage at the Yerba Buena Center in downtown San Francisco to launch iPad2. Some have questioned[1][2] if the upgrades iPad2 has offered over iPad could have really been part of the first generation of the product and if the specs are comparable to the current and upcoming slew of Android tablets. But the way Jobs masterfully presented the product to the world, there is little doubt that this iteration will be as wildly successful if not better than the first generation of the product. Joshua Topolsky has a well written Editorial at Engadget explaining just why so. Avid Apple enthusiast John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame has a nice article that actually goes beyond his love for Apple and presents a valid case for why Apple will succeed with the iPad 2.

I wanted to dwell for a few lines on the presentation itself which was brilliant. Starting with the appearance of Jobs and the masterfully edited iPad montage and simple yet assertive slides on how much more popular the iPad was, compared to the competition, it was just fantastically done. Friends have referred me in the past to a wonderful blog titled Presentation Zen and the associated books[Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery][Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations][The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides (Voices That Matter)] from its author, Garr Reynolds that lets us present much like Jobs. Reynolds in facts writes quite a bit about Jobs as seen here and here. The books are great but not everyone who has read these books and others[The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience] can present like Jobs and we all know that. Jobs, in my opinion is a one of a kind innovator and salesman. This video from the author of the Presentation Secrets book captures the gist of Job’s presentation greatness and how we can emulate it. We are truly privileged to see the man in action in our lifetimes. Remember, the tablet is something most of us really don’t need. Between the superphones of today and our laptops/desktops, there is really not that big a void the iPad fills. But it is to Apple and Jobs credit that they have convinced over 20 million people and counting, that they need the iPad. And with the launch of the iPad2, they will only conquer more such millions. And the launch presentation set the ball rolling just about perfectly!

Motorola’s pricing strategy

February 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, Motorola had on its hands, two certifiably hyped up and much wanted devices- the Atrix 4G superphone launching on AT&T and the Xoom tablet launching on Verizon. What was known was that the devices had some of the best technical specs in their respective fledgling categories and also boasted the Motorola stamp of quality- one that has good street cred with the success of the Droid platform. Also in tow was their excellent experience in crafting cool Android products. In all, a win-win. Coinciding with the split of the company and the launch of Motorola Mobility (NASDAQ: MMI), this was to be a rebirth of the iconic Motorola brand with a new identity.

What has followed is a very puzzling pricing strategy that threatens to kill all the buzz surrounding these products (if the Internet forums are to be believed). The Atrix was supposed to be ATT and Motorola’s champion against iPhone on Verizon. And from a product stand point, it still is. But from a cost standpoint, it has the possibility of falling short of its lofty goals. The phone has been priced at $199 on a 2 year contract but the Atrix accessories which include a cool laptop dock and an entertainment dock have both been priced significantly out of a normal person’s reach.  The dock costs $300 when bought along with the phone (total $500) and $500 if bought separately. To note, a brand new iPad costs $500 in comparison. The entertainment dock comes with a wireless keyboard and a mouse for $200. Full pricing details are available here. To me, it seems like the pricing does not reflect that of its competition and does not capitalize on the uniqueness of its accessories. If there is a hidden secret sauce here, I am missing it. The Atrix looks like one of the coolest devices to be launched this year, one I was seriously considering upgrading to. At this price point, I am not sure if I can afford it.

The Xoom tablet was officially launched to the American public with a Superbowl ad that reminded us of the iconic Apple 1984 ad, just that Apple was “The Man” this time around. Earlier in the month, Google and Motorola had previewed the tablet and the new Android Honeycomb OS that will power it. People (and yours truly) were really excited for the tablet. It looked and played cool. And then came the hammer that the Xoom would cost $800. Yep, the first genuine iPad competitor (ignoring the Samsung Galaxy tab which was running an Android version designed for smartphones)  will cost almost twice as much. Yes, I agree that the $800 Xoom has inbuilt 3G which the $499 iPad does not. But people tend to compare apples to oranges all the time. And the barrier of entry is much higher for the Xoom than the iPad. In addition, the VZ data plans for tablets are pretty expensive (not that any tablet 3G plan is cheap). All in all, the Xoom is going to have a tough time matching the iPad sales numbers which is a pity considering that it looks and feels like a fantastic product- comparable if not better than the iPad.

I am no business executive or finance maven but in my humble opinion, Motorola should have launched a WiFi only SKU comparable in price to the iPad. The WAN version should have been priced closer to the iPad 3G price ($630) although Apple has immense pricing flexibility due to their purchase volumes ( I should someday write a post on Apple’s excellent supply chain management). The Atrix accessories should have been much cheaper. If you think the laptop dock to be really a screen with a connector and 15 inch LCD screens costing less than $80 in the market (cheaper with more volume) pricing it at $300 or worse still $500 puts it out of the reach of very many people. Until this changes, Motorola has lost a surefire customer in me for the Atrix and a possible customer for the Xoom.

I didn’t think there would be a day where the “premium” Apple products are also the most affordable ones in their segment. To be clear, I am not blaming Motorola for all this. It is probably a mixture of costs, strategy and also carrier constraints which are driving the pricing but it is something that is worth a revisit. For my sake if not anyone else 😦

Update: To validate the barrier for entry point, HP/Palm just announced the TouchPad tablet with webOS and the first model to ship will be Wi-Fi only. Well played HP/Palm. Very smart business move. More on the TouchPad here and here. I will write a separate blog post on this topic soon.

Touch interfaces and child development

January 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

My 33 month old has started to get very comfortable with the touch interface devices at home- we have a Vtech MobiGo which I picked up 2 months ago primarily as a tool to engage the child on a long flight. He also does educational apps on our iPod Touch and my iPhone 3GS. As he has gotten better and better at fully navigating these touch based devices- I am happy and a wee bit scared at the same time. Here is why.

  • Do these touch devices help him with his motor skills and ability to interact with automated devices and thus position him better for a touch based future?. An article I read today seems to show that kids seem to enjoy Apple touch devices in their classrooms. Not surprising. But are the parents thinking along the same lines as I am?
  • Does it make him reliant on only touch driven devices?. Case to point, he got his hands on a plain vanilla Nokia from a friend and kept swiping the screen to no avail. Humorous as it was (and almost representative of Nokia’s present/future versus that of Apple/Google), it made me wonder, can he even handle traditional non-touch devices adroitly?
  • There are tons of websites recommending apps for kids[1][2]. But are these primarily to shut them up so parents can do what they want to..or are they real tools for growth and education?
  • Schools are jumping on board with giving iPads for students[1][2]. Is this a healthy development?

Meanwhile, B&N, Amazon and Apple are rolling out apps and kids books tailored for touch devices. They look fantastic. But will this impact the child’s ability to learn to read the old fashioned way?. I have nothing against e-reading. In fact I love it. But that is after I spent all my childhood reading dog eared copies of classics aplenty.

Some recommended reading on the topic are Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools by Milton Chen (and the companion website) and also Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs” by Ellen Galinsky.

As I type this, my son is spending some time reading an old fashioned book with his mother. Not all is lost, atleast not yet 🙂

Is it time for Google TV?

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

In May, Google announced Google TV with much fanfare. It was announced as the second coming of television and the true marriage of the web and television. After many leaks and official sprinkling of information, the product is ready to go with a select set of partners (Sony, Logitech, Intel, DishTV,…). With official products now unveiled, I am not sure if I see the value in adding more hardware to my living room. Google TV may still thrill me by being a complete experience, but early videos and press has me skeptical about its real impact.

Take for example one of the early Google TV experience products, the Logitech Revue. It promises the complete web in your couch plus access to web enabled TV content. Cool stuff. But is it worth spending $299 on? I could see a $49 app or maybe a $99 hardware unit that almost disappears from view in the living room as enabling this cool stuff. But do I really need the $299 product (with extra for the camera and mini controller and many other useless accessories?). Maybe in the future, the add-on hardware will become a minimal unit that is essentially a commodity. Cool gear has a way of becoming a commodity fairly quickly.

Second example to illustrate my point is the Sony Bravia line of Google TV enabled HDTV’s. These already expensive TV’s might not be worth spending any extra money on unless its a small price point over its non-Google TV enabled counterpart. Sony could do this if the product takes off well and  an integrated experience without extra hardware and significant markup would be appealing.

By lowering the cost of its hobby TV product, Apple has set the price benchmark that Google and its partners need to reach to make it appealing against the competition. Given the ubiquity of the iOS fans and the success of iTunes, Apple TV will have a strong headstart in this nascent business and Google will have a challenging task ahead to one up the iOS product.

The most critical element to all of this is the programming. Google (and to a degree, Apple) is having problems convincing networks to participate and offer Google TV enabled programming. Until this happens, the connected tv/entertainment box industry will be segmented and thus minimally successful. Even Apple with its huge popularity hasn’t had much success selling Apple TV to the networks and thus to the consumer. If Google can change this status quo, it will be a huge difference maker. Early tidings aren’t very good but hopefully things will change for Google’s sake.

For now, Google and Apple just opened up yet another battleground and it will be an interesting one in the coming months to see how it goes. As always, the great folks at Ars Technica, have a nice writeup on the launch of Google TV.

The smart city business proposition

July 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of issues ago, Fast Company had a big article on on Smart Cities and how IBM, HP and Cisco are betting huge on them. There have been more from them on the same topic that can be found here [1][2][3][4]. So what does a smart city mean and how does it impact you and me?

Most of you must have noticed IBM bombarding all business and tech magazines with its smarter planet pitch while Cisco does something similar with its “Smart+Connected Community“. Billions of dollars are being poured into courting everybody from local planning officials to heads of state. In addition, ads campaigns are all over the place and more is expected in the coming months.

The business folks at IBM and Cisco have reams of material on the matter here [IBM][Cisco] describing energy and financial savings for communities that become “smarter”. They are also touting better educational opportunities and improved government functioning as major benefits of moving to a smarter community. From what I have read and assimilated on this topic, it boils down to the following real world factors.

1. Building a well designed network to serve all aspects of the community from the ground up. Simple as it may seem, it hasn’t happened in much of the west since development and infrastructure growth has been staggered. When wiring a community from scratch, smart network engineers can do an optimized and well connected system that will account for potential bottle necks and build better load balancing techniques into the system. While this is in no way revolutionary, it will perform much better than most evolutionary infrastructures we are used to.

2. Using vast amounts of collected data to feed back into the system and optimize it from all aspects. This is something that is becoming bigger and bigger as we speak. Data Mining has so many applications that are yet to be “mined” (pun intended) it is mind boggling. IBM’s expertise in data mining will come into play here. Predictor systems will be in vogue and for a good reason.

3. Provide a backbone that can handle future traffic requirements. This is big. Much of the current infrastructure is not scalable enough to handle the explosion in Internet traffic. A smart city built from the ground up will be designed taking this very important element into consideration. If there is one thing all planners and designers agree- network traffic is headed one way, up.

4. Enable rich applications that were impossible until recently. This will be an offshoot of the previous point. The better the infrastructure and available bandwidth, more innovative the applications that can use them. This ties into some of the ad-speak of the smarter city ideas namely improvements in basic education and remote teaching.

5. Empower newer kinds of economies that lie untapped. This is an unknown entity which will remain so until each and every smart city identifies its niche and uses all the new found power to exercise it to its benefit.

But for all the cool things that it promises, there is a huge cost to pay. Each of these cities are billion plus dollar investments which will take a lot more to manage and maintain. Herein lies the bounty Cisco, HP, IBM and many more are after. The promise of newer revenue streams that could take care of the bottom line for years to come.

I am just waiting to see the first smart city built from the ground up that manages to not just be a showcase of cool technologies, but one that actually executes on a vision to put all of it to use for its citizens.

Its all about the cloud

June 5, 2010 § 2 Comments

Cloud Computing has been quite the buzz word for the last few years and rightfully so. From PC OS vendors like Microsoft and Apple to data storage vendors to mobile handset OS developers, everybody has been talking about moving “it” to the cloud. So what does the “it” refer to and why is the “cloud” so important.

To understand the value proposition of the cloud architecture, look no further than salesforce.com and Amazon Elastic Services. When Oracle and SAP were trying to get the enterprise to commit to heavy duty hardware and software to run their tools, Marc Benioff came in and said, away with all those. He offered small and medium businesses a completely web based on-demand service (termed as SaaS or Software as a Service) to manage everything that Oracle and SAP allowed them to do at a fraction of the cost. This was truly a revolution.

Fast forward a few years later to the Amazon story. Amazon, not content with its tremendous success with its ecommerce platform was experimenting with its own version of cloud based computing that would allow small and medium businesses to rely on Amazon’s computing infrastructure to crunch massive amounts of data at a per byte/per minute/ per computation cost. This lowered the barrier of entry for startups that needed the computing power without the significant initial investment. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is now a big hit for the company and is starting to contribute in a small way to the giant’s bottom line.

A recent yet incredibly successful attempt at Cloud services is the Google Apps system. The solution from Google, free for most users and for a small fee for SME’s has been a big success story. It has truly questioned the Microsoft domination of the word processing and office documentation segment. It has also offered cloud based storage of such documents. It has been so popular that MS had to launch its online version of its Office toolset called Office Live to combat the threat.

All this brings us to the cloud based battle brewing in the mobile space. Google with its pioneering Apps service has a headstart on the rest by integrating a lot of its cloud services on the Android OS. While the success of its recently launched Kin handsets for teens is debatable, Microsoft has a legitimate smart approach to cloud storage of mobile data with its Kin Studio service. There is now talk that Apple will make its MobileMe service, currently offered to Mac customers for $99 a year will become a free part of the Apple iPhone user experience. It makes no sense for Apple to charge for services that Google and Microsoft offer for free. Rumors seem to indicate that it will indeed become free as of this WWDC.

It is obvious that cloud computing and cloud storage is the way forward, be it for enterprises and their complex software or a mobile device with rich user content. Most of us are incredibly dependent on the cloud – we just haven’t realized it yet.

The Android Revolution is being televised

May 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yes, this is one of the million articles on Android following a great Google IO Conference with a bunch of cool announcements. But no, I am not a opportunist to cash in on the android hype machine. I truly believe the OS is out to change the handheld device spectrum and this post is all about that. We will go over some of the cool IO announcements, but the trigger point for this post is not that but this and this. Pandigital, an also ran in the low price digital frame industry with questionable support (I know!) and even more questionable features just announced a competitor to the iPad. Yep, you read that right. A few years ago, this might be almost foolhardy. David of unknown origin going against a really big Goliath. But Pandigital now has something up its arsenal that gives it legitimacy, Android. And herein lies the revolution.

With the support of a behemoth like Google, Android is enabling manufacturers all and sundry to now be able to compete in the smartphone industry and also the ancillary industries such as e-book readers, tablets, netbooks and what not. This coupled with the surging popularity of Android based smartphones (thanks also to the lack of iPhone with any other carrier but ATT), there is a groundswell movement of all things Android.

Google TV is another Android foray into realms unknown and unconquered. How popular it gets remains to be seen but it is undeniable that Google is putting its best foot forward with an interesting array of partners. Oh, and did I mention the Google TV ads?

The “Do no evil” mantra of Google coupled with the inherent openness of the platform is enabling device vendors to pick and choose their variant of the OS- be it the core with their own skin [htc sense][motoblur] or the entire experience [nexusone]. It is so flexible, that Moto could pack in a different LBS provider on its Android device and it was fine. Imagine that with Apple or Microsoft. Remember how long it took before the first legitimate browser outside of Safari made its way into the iPhone. Apple has its reasons to be closed and rightfully so. But in the same vein, it helps Google to continue its perceived altruistic (time will tell the real motivation – mobile ads and control of the mobile eco-system)foray into the mobile space.

For now, anyone looking to get into the mobile eco-system, look no further than the Android.

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