Can Apple stay focused?

I spent some time in the Palo Alto Apple store yesterday.  My eldest daughter was playing with a raft of different products from laptops, to ipods and iphones and of course all the various accessories.  Standing in the midst of the store I became aware of just how many products Apple is now selling and the list seems destined to grow.  Now imagine the store as a metaphor for what the average consumer can associate with and you can easily see that as the product range expands their ability to maintain strong associations with products diminishes.  Pretty soon Apple is meant to launch some kind of tablet which will take up yet more shelf or table space.

As someone that loves the quality of the Apple products and admires the brand, I worry that this ‘growth’ mentality could be a dangerous path.  Some companies are able to run large product lines because their products are designed to reach different audience segments and we understand that as consumers.  But Apple’s brand has been built around the idea that we all want all of their products and they’ve actually done a pretty good job of selling that brand.  I for example have an iPod, iPhone, iMac, Apple TV and a MacBook Pro.  I’ve also got countless Apple accessories and chargers.  At some point though the list has to stop.  As a consumer I don’t want yet more products.  I want fewer that span the gamut.  Apple in its recent incarnation (Steve 2.0) has done an amazing job of only launching products that are really needed.  Few products seem to have struggled – the Apple TV and the Mac Air seem the notable exceptions, while the iMac iPod, iPhone and iTouch have been huge successes.  If Steve was 100% well I wouldn’t raise these concerns.  But we all know that Steve is not devoted to Apple in the way he was before his illness and that at some point he’ll take a huge step back.  When that happens I worry that Apple will miss his iron grip on the company’s product strategy and that inferior products will be launched and Apple will be right back where it was before Steve returned.

Next time you are in an Apple store, try and imagine that they’ve launched four major new products and still have all the current product range.  You will quickly start to wonder how they can fit everything in without making the stores much bigger.  FYI rumors are rife that Apple is going to take a much bigger space in Palo Alto and open a new flagship store (click link).  Does this suggest their solution to the product proliferation problem is simply to take on more space?  I sincerely hope not.


iPods disrupt another market

A friend is leaving for France next week with his family. They are doing the usual mix of Paris and Provence. He’s a fan of the Rick Steves‘ travel guides and TV series and has used his advice for many parts of the trip. One thing they are taking advantage of is a series of guides to places like the Louvre and Versailles that are available as a free download on the Rick Steves site. In other words you can download a podcast on to your iPod on all the places you think you may visit on your vacation and then simply call them up while you walk around the museum, castle or whatever it is you’re interested in. This saves potential expense, standing in line and you ending up with a handset trying to guide you in the wrong language (that happened to me when I was last in France – I got a guided tour of some Roman ruins in German. My German is non-exsitant).

Now of course it makes sense for a site like Rick Steves’ to offer these podcasts but I also wonder if it may also be worth Google and Microsoft adding these podcasts to their maps. So if you drill down on a map and see a museum, you could download the audio tour and perhaps even a video tour. Another idea would be for these museums or places of interest to offer a ‘pre tour’ introduction, giving you an idea of how long the tour will take, what you can expect to see, learn etc. It may include the items that would be of interest to young children or for that matter that would bore them. In other words it could guide you on how to get the most out of the… guide.

You may think this an obscure market and an obscure idea but given the popularity of the iPod and iPhone, I can see this changing the way we all enjoy and learn about our history. Imagine walking up to a Rodin sculpture at the Cantor Art Museum and being able to play a short video on your iPhone that shows you details you may have missed, gives you an insight into other pieces he created, or he may have taken from other artists etc. In short it gives us all the chance to learn and be entertained in a completely new way.


eBay as a market research tool

I was reading a blog entry the other day that asked what had happened to the Microsoft Zune, the much touted rival to the iPod. Given the money Microsoft spent promoting the product it is a good question to ask. One way I sought an answer was to look on eBay and see what price these were now selling for. In essence I wanted to see if there was a big market for them and also what had happened to prices. It then occurred to me that eBay in effect offers a great tool for people wanting to track the life cycle of a consumer product. You can pretty easily take off the current pricing of products (highest and lowest) and also the volume available on a daily basis and thus plot the rise and fall of these products over time. This is the sort of data that usually required expensive research. Thanks to eBay it is essentially free if you can get someone to pull the data, or if you create a tool that automatically takes off the data. In the case of the Zune it did sell at a small premium to start with and can now be bought for around $180, which is about a 28% discount. Taking my theory another step I’m pretty sure you could use this kind of data to predict when you need to release a new version of a product in order to prevent the sales price sliding too far. Of course you could also use it to predict when your competitor should be releasing a new product.


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