Tag Archives: Apple

We are the World

A very different Mobile World Congress (MWC) week has ended for me. Because I wasn’t there. Having attended a trade show or two in my 17 years at Nokia and mobile industry, I can’t say I really miss the insanity (which includes the preparation) that makes February definitively the shortest month of the year. Nor do I think I missed any news. In fact, I probably was able to follow the actual news better at home via Webcasts, tweets and blogs than on the ground. But, of course, the beat just doesn’t feel fully the same. And I miss that. A little bit. But only a little bit.

The Mobile World Congress, like many other trade shows, keeps on going and getting bigger. But I wonder for how long, or does it need to change. Looking at the news, it seems to be not that optimal launch pad for new stuff (as I predicted in my September post) and looks more like a non-time-sensitive PR and meeting festival. Those being operations always under scrutiny for return on investment

The state of the industry might also not help. Richard Windsor of Radio Free Mobile put it accurately in his “MWC Day 1 – Writer’s Block” post:

I very much doubt that I am alone in sitting here at the end of day 1 staring a blank screen and wondering what to fill the page with. There were a few announcements but pretty much all of them were about evolving what is already there rather than any big change. Therein lies the essence of where the mobile phone industry finds itself in 2013.

Ari Jaaksi  (previously of Nokia MeeGo, then HP and now at McAfee) had a little rougher take in his tweet.

 

Ari Jaaksi tweet

That is a little harsh, though funny (especially if you know Ari’s sense of humor), but there’s also some unmistakable truth in the words. Now this isn’t new. The normally introverted Finns celebrated wildly Hockey World Championship both in 1995 and 2011, even though most of the world’s best players were all tied in the NHL playoffs. The champion of which, by the way, calls themselves the World Champion. As does the winner of the NBA, National Basketball Association. And, the music history will never forget that Michael Jackson had the audacity to record We Are the World, without the contemporary Finnish artists of the era being in the choir.

But let’s move on before somebody calls United Nations for rescue.

Because, by far the more interesting observation around MWC – which probably would have escaped me on the fake-FIRA floor – is that simultaneuosly there was a lot of media attention around iWatch and Google Glass, both being concepts that severely challenge the “job to be done” of smartphones.

The storyline on both being, now quoting Sergey Brin

The cellphone is a nervous habit. I whip this out and look as if I have something important to do. [Add Product Placement here] takes that away.”

Co-incidence? I think not.

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Nike and a new catchphrase

Fast Company magazine put recently out its 2013 list of Most Innovative Companies. I take all these type of lists with some healthy skepticism, assuming – until proven otherwise – that there’s about as much shady background lobbying going on than in the Olympic Committee.

(Ed. note: Speaking of which, I doubt that even any Corporate PR department anywhere would dare to top the audacity of the IOC proposal to eliminate wrestling from the Olympics. Cauliflower ears or not, any sports fan with respect to the sports history and the meaning behind the phrases like “Citius, Altius, Fortius”, “Just Do It” or “Impossible is Nothing” simply couldn’t believe their ears this morning)

False positive or not, I read these type of lists with great interest, both for entertainment value and getting ideas how to be populistic, if needed.

I didn’t find it surprising that none of the usual mobile or computing companies made Top 10. Not Google (#11), Not Apple (#13) nor Samsung (#17). Nor did, as Fast Company commented themselves, Facebook and Twitter. ‘Mobile’ and ‘Social’ seem no longer be catchphrases used in the context of innovation.

Amazon made #2. Interestingly, less so because of their digital efforts, but for speeding up the same-day delivery.

#1? Another physical world company. Nike.

For anyone close to sports, the pick itself was not that surprising. What was surprising, however, was how come Fast Company missed the opportunity to coin a catchphrase describing how apparel and footwear companies are using digital features to transform product categories.

Phrases like ‘brick-and-mortar’, ‘cloud’ and ‘big data’ took everyone by the storm. We need something similar.

Being a non-native English speaker, I feel unsure of proposing anything, so I just screenshot the six most used materials of Nike (source: Nike Web site), in case that would be of help.

Nike Top 6 materials

The first instinct was to go for rubber-and-cotton company, but at least the Finnish translation is prone to some unwanted extensions of the meaning (or do I just have odd friends?). Cotton-and-polyester company would kind of work, and definitively cover Adidas too, as they “own” the 1970’s style warmup jackets, but it doesn’t properly cover footwear. Leather sounds a little old fashioned, and impractical, as the material for housing any digital gear.

This was more complicated than I thought. But I trust there’s an answer somewhere.

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Product guy – dream living other people’s lives

shutterstock_95792512 dreaming 600pxDoes Product Guy need to be of the target audience? Can a bald guy sell shampoo? Does the baby food product manager need to wear a bib at breakfast? But on the other hand, should golf companies only hire lousy golfers as product managers to ensure they really know how their hacker customers feel after pulling two identical hooks to the wrong fairway?

Tough ones. No wonder that in the post-Steve Jobs era, there is no clear-cut answer to this eternal question that was perhaps the most asked one, when I collected input for this Product Guy series.

What matters is the passion for the product and the people who use it. That passion can come from within one’s own life, but interestingly, it can equally arise from having the imagination and the curiosity about other people’s lives (note: If this feels too creepy or outer space now, take a breather and read something tangible, like Facebook Graph API documentation)

So when the life is too short to develop a new skill – like a consistent golf swing – Product Guy should focus on trying to understand how it feels for those who have it.

The ultimate stage of dreaming to live other people’s lives is what happened to Jesse Eisenberg. He went to see basketball in London Olympics and was introduced in the TV broadcast as Mark Zuckerberg. And he probably can’t code at all.

For the record, I am so rooting for Ashton Kutcher to be able to pull off the same.

*****

Happened in the previous episodes of Product Guy series:

Stay tuned for the next episode: Product guy – understand your levers

 

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Generation gap for online user interfaces

flickr_nerd at birthThe next generation always has it so easy. At least in the opinion of the previous generation. No need to work 24/7 just to put food on the table, but just play all day. Gaming consoles, instead of carving your own toys. Color TV and cable and on-demand, instead of the top-down programmed national broadcast. Tree houses with an elevator and a gift shop.

And so on and so forth. You know how it goes. Depending how old you are (I’m 42), you may have started to whine a little yourself. At least, if you have kids. Suddenly, it dawns on you that the kids being glued to the Nintendo or the iPad is not really a proof of your math and hand-eye co-ordination genes being passed down – but simply the privilege of being a first world kid in the post-PC era.

But kids, enjoy while it lasts, one day the destiny of Atari will fall upon your ecosystem!

“Dad, what’s an ecosystem? Our teacher says……” Okay. Time to move on.

At the same time, it is easy to forget how much we ourselves have benefitted from the advances in computing and in mobility during the past five years. Surely, we have our gadgets (like our kids, but Mom and Dad need to have the Maxi, XL or Premium version) but it’s also the advances in the user interfaces have made our daily lives so much easier. Just, for example, think about:

  • Threaded messaging: Needing to jump between Inbox and Sent to feel the flow of all the poetry I’ve been a part of? Wow. Sounds so Dead Poets Society.
  • Notifications: Like, you mean, I need to remember to go to check some messaging folder out if somebody has messages for me? Do I look like The Mentalist to you?
  • Drag-and-drop file attachment: Choose Filet? The only Filet I choose is with pepper sauce
  • Autosave: Save button? I don’t want to save what I just wrote, I want to keep on writing!
  •  (add your own favorites here)

When you get used to all the goodness, you learn bad habits. Yesterday I found out that I almost managed to get all my insurances terminated. I still am not sure what exactly happened but at the context of some change (probably I just clicked “Yes” on something without really thinking what it said) all the correspondence my way, including the invoices and the the re-approval of the automatic payment scheme, from them went into an online folder, the notification settings of which weren’t automatic. So I really had no idea that I even had a folder. Only through the sheer luck of having to claim one ancient cost, I found my way there, finding out that our family was days away from being uninsured and having debt enforcement officers being sent our way.

Now, the IT guys at my insurance company are probably proud of their work. It probably is a major miracle to be able to fully web-ify the ancient legacy systems to even show the right data and be fully integrated with banking and so on, so there might not be much sympathy for the user interface complaints. But they better get used to it – Apple, Google and Facebook have so spoilt us on what the ease of use really means.

I didn’t complain in this post, did I? No. I gave feedback.

Image by Flickr user tyger_lyllie (licensed under Creative Commons)

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My Mayan predictions for the mobile industry

shutterstock_endofworld_lowresThose Mayans were lousy analysts. Why tie your end-of-the-world or apocalypse predictions to any date? There’s only limited upside, but big downside one day. At least, if one has to pick a date, one should do like a master politician of Vladimir Putin’s calibre, and play it safe.

Using the same playbook, I will make a few predictions about the end of the world as we know it -level events in the mobile world. Note that I am not saying these will happen in 2013. Unless they actually do.

  • Windows Phone 9 or 10 introduces a massive break to the previous version.  The phone didn’t really need it. The break was just strategically unavoidable to stay in sync with the (mother PC) Windows re-design after the vistaesque misread of consumer wants, called Windows 8
  • So flawed is the software licensing –based business model that a vote is held at Wikipedia and twitter about dropping the word ‘original’ from the abbreviation of OEM. From now on, the people who do only hardware are called EM:s
  • Following (add letter here)-Series, Ovi and Lumia, Nokia introduces another brand name for its high-end devices. The brand promise is two amazing everydays for the price of one
  • Samsung will move all its money from the support of the Galaxy brand to drive a new Tizen-based product family name. Various gift shops start selling small green robot gear at -30% discount
  • For the umpteenth year, analysts will predict Google will do a low-end profile of Android to capture the rest of the feature phone market. The memo doesn’t get past the skeptical Google Search & Ad Monetization Department, but people in China read it with great interest. Ironically, with the help of Google Translate.
  • Huawei keeps on quietly gaining market share in smartphones. Consumers don’t really love it, but choosing a smartphone starts to be about as non-eventful as choosing, say, a refrigerator.  As one consumer put it in the focus group: “I like the value-for-money I get from Korean brands. I used to have a Samsung and I like my Hyundai car. I really need to save up some money for that Apple stuff”
  • Apple volumes keep on growing like there is no tomorrow. At the same, the devices start to have so many bugs and outdated user interfaces that stand-up comedians will recycle the old jokes about Windows and Symbian and just replace the company name. The 90’s joke “Bill Gates & GM: If cars would run Windows” gets a new confusing spin because all cars run Android anyhow
  • iPad Mini is so whoppingly popular that Apple realizes that big screen iPhones are pointless. Because they already have them. Consequently, iPhone product line is re-directed to go small, almost like an accessory. iPhone 6 is introduced with 3-inch display size and with the feature phone resembling physical size. And with an unheard-of price enabled by the cheaper component base. Using its operational machine, Apple takes over all cost conscious emerging markets in less than six months.  Those who’ve predicted the end of Nokia Series 40 for like ten years get to be finally right
  • RIM is acquired by an enterprise company. The deal team can pull the coup off only because the board of the acquiring company is full of old guys and gals who still use Blackberries and believe others do too. Including their kids who definitively talked highly of BBM at some Xmas dinner – was it two years ago? Or the one before? Gosh, those kids grow up so fast
  • Disgruntled by supposedly clueless executives, Canadian ex-RIM employees launch a small Linux company that targets Indonesia trade customers. Like with similar attempts before, the business impact is limited, but the press is huge. More lasting, however, is the new “Mobile Operating System Veterans For Truth” association they form together with the WebOS folks in the Valley, the ex-SonyEricsson folks around the world, and the Jolla team in Tampere

Did I miss anything obvious?

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All smartphones are great and terrible

It’s Little Xmas and glögg time here in Finland. Which means we hav…sorry….get to do more small talk in a few hours than during the rest of the year combined. Once the weather topic is out of the way, the discussion turns into what smartphone to buy.

I get asked that a lot, especially now that people think I don’t need to accommodate the Nokia party line in my answer.

Here’s what I say: “They actually are all pretty good. iPhone5, Lumia 920 or Galaxy S3 are all great products and it’s hard to go wrong choosing between them. It is almost a matter of taste”

That’s how it is for anyone who hasn’t changed their phone in the last 1,5-2 years. The industry as a whole has done such an impressive job lately that picking up any of the three will feel like a big step forward.

At the same time, each statement comes with a big BUT.

  • iPhone is the best and the most polished Internet phone there is…..but the increasing amount of bugs and outdated UI conventions will make you wonder this ‘it just works’ statement -– if you are even close to an individualist
  • Lumia is refreshingly easy to use and a well thought out package…..but the amount of important functionality (not just apps) totally missing will come to haunt you – if you are even close to a hard core user
  • Galaxy has it all and some more for a great price….but the lack of attention to detail will disappoint you, if you are even close to a hipster.

So work to do for everyone.

And as a bonus, we the Finns are safe for a good small talk topic for some more holiday seasons to come.

Related posts:

Picture credits: flickr user Blue Moon in her eyes. Licensed under Creative Commons

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The art of the marketing apology

Is it just me feeling this way, or are we the consumers being sent apology letters like suddenly the Big Corporates have learned manners?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not talking about important apologies of real things going horribly wrong. Like people dying because of faulty cars or our planet being spoiled because of negligence. Or governments failing to protect their people and doubling the damage by covering it up.

I am talking (in the lack of better word) “marketing apologies” for so-called “first world problems”. Those are the kind of cases where the product of the service was not quite up to the level people expect. Not that many people probably even got affected but yet companies need to react in grande fashion before the tweetosphere creates a meme of which there is no return.

Apple profoundly apologized for the map fiasco. I forgive them, though on personal level I am not sure what exactly for what. My iPhone maps usage hasn’t yet gone one bit worse because of the change from Google Maps to Apple. In fact, it has gotten better because I suddenly found out I got turn-by-turn navigation. So do I have some apology credit topped up, in case I find a bridge that wasn’t hit by an earthquake after all?

It obviously feels different when the problem hits you.

In the beginning of 2011-2012 English Premier League season, the official site of their fantasy game went down just before people had to activate their games. It’s one thing when the map is wrong for everybody. Everybody gets lost. But fantasy games are all about equal chance so one team being able to enter lineups and other team not being to creates a relations mess of garybettmanesque proportions. Not fun for us Commissioners.

Now this weekend Yahoo did the same with their Fantasy leagues. And they’ve been churning out apology letters after another. Luckily my NBA league was saved by the time zone difference. When the service was out, all Finland was sleeping. But I can see why people are furious.

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Viva la Vida and the Office

One of my all-time favorite bands is Coldplay (yes, I know).  It is not only their unique sound and stadium-hugging presence that I find appealing, but also the lyrics that have depth and meaning.

Yesterday I wrote about the executive changes at Apple, only to wake up this morning to read that also Steve Sinofsky, the Windows Chief, is going out. Add to the equation all the executive suite drama of Nokia and Motorola in the past five years, and it does seem Google and Samsung are the stable ones, despite their reputation of autonomous groups, fast pace and hard turns.

It seems there is a common ending to the saga of people responsible for delivering products. But why is that? Maybe Chris Martin of Coldplay has the answers in the lyrics of Viva La Vida

I used to rule the world
Seas would rise when I gave the word
Now in the morning I sleep alone
Sweep the streets I used to own

That’s probably how the departing execs feel. One bearded dude can perhaps part the seas, but it takes masters of technology to make them rise.

I used to roll the dice
Feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes
Listen as the crowd would sing
“Now the old king is dead! Long live the king!”

The engineering ranks are always sad to see their ferocious leader go. For about a minute. Or slightly less if one has already signed in to LinkedIn. Then it’s time to figure out how to get stuff done under the new leaders.

One minute I held the key
Next the walls were closed on me
And I discovered that my castles stand
Upon pillars of salt and pillars of sand

The chief responsible for the product delivery has access everywhere and the world revolves around his/her calendar. Until the product is out. Then the empire gets way smaller.

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing
Roman Cavalry choirs are singing
Be my mirror, my sword and shield
My missionaries in a foreign field

Truth to be told, I never got the meaning of this paragraph. I presume every song needs a catchy chorus. Hereby this slot is for the marketing department.

For some reason I can’t explain
Once you go there was never
Never an honest word
And that was when I ruled the world

The product kings are surrounded with other noble people in the transparent, fact-based debate about the future of the mission. Only later on might one find that some people were pawns or jokers.

It was the wicked and wild wind
Blew down the doors to let me in
Shattered windows and the sound of drums
People couldn’t believe what I’d become

Who cares if there were some mistreated souls, bad blood and collateral damage in the mission of getting the stuff out, right? Well, many people do. And their time to speak is after the delivery date.

Revolutionaries wait
For my head on a silver plate
Just a puppet on a lonely string
Oh who would ever want to be king?

Yes, why indeed. With so many nice and easy posts available for capable people, why take the one in the front line with most bullets coming from the front and knives from the back.

Because of the thrill.

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All shook up at Apple

Like many, I’ve been reading the executive shake-up stories of Apple with interest.

Some of the Scott this, Tim that and Jony that too stories might hit close of what’s going on. Most probably won’t even hit the right ballpark.

Sometimes execs don’t perform, get along or have their egos in check, but most often the shake-ups are results of some strategic choice the top people cannot agree on.

And usually that strategic choice is something so secret that only few really know all the nuances and how the competing camps are set up. So it will take some time for the real story to emerge.

Somehow I believe that the choice Apple execs have been making their minds on is closer to whether to merge iOS and OSX for the next paradigm of computing than whether the visual style of notes app should mimick real notebooks or not. 

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iPhone retention rate compared against Nokia five years ago

Tweetosphere has freaked out since Strategy Analytics published a report (Oct 30, 2012) that said

…only 75 percent of iPhone owners in Western Europe say they are likely to buy their next phone from Apple, down from 88 percent in 2011. US repeat purchase intentions have also seen a slight decline, down from 93 percent in 2011 to 88 percent in 2012.

Just for historical comparison, here’s the copy & paste of a WSJ article about Nokia from December 4, 2007

(CEO Kallasvuo) would also like to see Nokia improve its retention rate, now at 53%, to about 60%. Although Nokia’s retention rate is the best in the industry, carmaker Toyota is the model, with 64% retention

Three competing conclusions can be drawn:

  • Apocalypse is upon Apple
  • Nokia’s number is high for a true mass-market company
  • One shouldn’t compare cults with mere mortals

You pick the one that suits you. Just saying.

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