Apple has been grabbing all the innovation headlines with the iPhone and the iPad and its iMac business has benefitted in the process. Microsoft showed off Windows 8 at D9 today and in so doing showed the world that markets are always open to those who innovate. Windows 8 has a completely different look and feel to the current operating system. Gone is the start button and the icons for apps. Instead the new version will use live tiles. These will be familiar to those who use a current generation of Windows phone. Indeed this is part of what makes Windows 8 so clever. It shares the same interface across mobile and PC, meaning you learn one way to find and access content. It also makes it easier to share content between systems. To get a good feel for Windows 8 see the demo on YouTube. Windows 8 looks very cool and may well be the kind of innovation that will draw Mac users back to the Windows platform. It also demonstrates why Nokia may have chosen to go the Windows route for its mobile products. I love it when you can actually see innovation and with Windows 8 that innovation is not just visible it’s also screaming at you.
Sooner or later Twitter will get serious about an IPO and or someone will try and buy them. My guess is that various firms have already made offers but that they are shrewdly holding out. After all, YouTube sold early to Google for what seemed like a lot at that time but now seems a bargain. Let’s assume that at some point suitors are able to offer enough money to entice the founders and investors to sell. Who is likely to get the prize? Well here are my candidates:
- Facebook – could decide that ‘Places’ is OK but not great and that a second property makes sense. If they did they may be able to offer an interesting alternative for investors, whereby they get to take part in what is likely to be biggest IPO in a decade or more when they themselves go public.
- Google – Google has a search engine, a content library, email, IP comms and great mapping technology. But Bing is catching them up,their email isn’t the best, there’s a lot of competition in their IP comms areas AND it doesn’t have a social platform that rocks people’s world. Twitter would fit into the Google empire much like YouTube has and they have the cash to make an outrageous bid.
- Microsoft – they have the cash and REALLY want to be a player in the Internet world. They’ve stumbled but Bing is proof that they are turning things around. They may well be smart enough to leave Twitter alone and have enough server farms (as do Google) to make sure Twitter outages are a thing of the past.
- Apple – they are a left field option. We’ve already seen that Apple wants to play in the social network space with Ping. I don’t think they get it though and would likely screw up. That said, they effectively invented the small app world and could make Twitter the center of a massive app world.
- Skype -If Skype does an IPO they could have the platform to do a deal. Imagine a Skype version of Twitter with thousands of short videos on your desktop, iPhone etc each day? I can’t see Twitter going this route but it could happen.
- Amazon or eBay – these are also outsiders but both could use this technology very effectively within their businesses and could therefore justify a big price tag. That said eBay bought Skype and later sold it at a loss, so they will likely pass on this one.
- IBM, Oracle, HP etc – any one of the big IT vendors could make a play as they have the cash. They’re not likely to though. Twitter is not a good fit culturally and they would probably rather spend their money on more obvious Internet targets such as Salesforce.com.
What’s clear is that WHEN Twitter looks to realize the value they’ve created, there are plenty of deep pocketed options for them. Don’t you wish you’d got founder stock? I certainly do.
Steve Jobs has done an amazing turnaround at Apple since he retook the helm. Apple was in a death spiral it appeared; yet today they are the most valuable tech company in the world. For a while Apple was a bitter, twisted company that produced nice looking products that nobody but fanatics bought. Today, everyone but my mother has an iPod, iPhone, iMac or iPad. Some poor souls like me have all four. Apple, in short, is king of consumer tech right now. Will that last forever? I for one doubt it.
Right now Apple has a great team headed by a visionary leader. At some point that team will grow old, run out of energy and start to fragment. Apple’s future will be determined by the ability of the company to create a new generation of leaders. I know I’m stating the obvious when I say that but my point is that it is easy to assume that Apple has that problem nailed in the same way they have their product strategy right now. But do they?
When news of Steve’s illness was pushed on to the market, people speculated about who would take over from him. All of that speculation tended to focus on internal rather than external candidates. This makes a great deal of sense and is most likely what will happen. However, if they do go internal we can expect the losers of that battle to be at best disenfranchised and at worst leave. This will in turn lead to a weaker team at the top. Furthermore Apple is likely to have to live through a period where any new CEO is constantly being measured against Steve. That’s a hard act to follow. They’re not going to get standing ovations like he does when they walk on stage at the Moscone for product launches. The crowd isn’t going to laugh at the little jokes that are thrown in. In other words the ‘Steve factor’ will be lost and Apple will be just another good company, rather than a great one.
When this happens, the door will be wide open for rivals large and small. Right now Apple is all but impossible to beat in the consumer space. Sure there are some that hate them but they are a minority. That could change very quickly. Microsoft could fix its mobile strategy, RIM could design a BlackBerry that iPhone users would like or some new player could appear.
My point in all this is that innovation within a company is directly linked to its success but is also linked to the people that run that company. They are the ones that decide which products to sell to whom and at what price. They are the ones that create the markets, the excitement and so on. While some companies do a good job of creating a culture of innovation, even they know that it is what you do with that innovation that matters. Put another way, you will only keep on winning for as long as you have the best team. Today Apple has that team but there will come a time when they don’t. And come that day, others will take their chance.
Research in Motion (RIM), makers of the BlackBerry, the smartphone category leader for most of the recent past seems in danger of going the way of Palm, who created the category, did. In recent weeks there has been a steady flow of negative news and commentary form the media, ranging form today’s piece on Bloomberg that said “more companies opting for rival devices such as Apple Inc.’s iPhone. Of 200 companies in the U.S. and U.K. surveyed, 74 percent now let their employees use devices other than BlackBerrys,” to news that various governments have raised questions about its security. On the surface it appears RIM is suffering from bad PR and government relations. My question is: Is this a marketing problem or a product problem?
It does appear that RIM has a significant PR challenge. Blackberry 6 has rolled out via a TV ad campaign but with little attention in the editorial side of the media. What attention it has got has tended to focus on this being “RIM’s last roll of the dice.” Of course RIM has also been berated for having a relatively weak product line up and for also having opted for a software application model that gave customers a few really good apps versus the thousands and thousands open to iPhone and Android users. It would thus appear to be a perfect storm. A weak product line up, a software strategy error and less than effective PR. In other words it’s not just a marketing problem.
Can marketing save RIM? I for one believe the BlackBerry brand could still do well. The iPhone, though beautiful, isn’t without its flaws: dropped calls, touch screen keyboard that can lead to horrendous typos, AT&T coverage in markets like San Francisco, the list goes on. The iPhone is also becoming a target for people who like to exploit security holes. I was recently told of a major investment bank that wanted to trial the iPhone for staff. To make it secure they had to disable the camera, iPod functionality and the ability to download apps. In other words it became a phone and email device. Given these are actually two of its weaker functions (see list of weaknesses above) that should make the BlackBerry a very good alternative. This is where marketing needs to step in and hammer the iPhone for all it’s worth. For people who like to email or text message the BlackBerry s still the best device going. But they need to do more than that. RIM needs to get aggressive and invest in a real content and applications model that people see as a real alternative to iTunes. This could easily be done via a comprehensive agreement with Amazon (who also has an interest in unseating Apple). Now of course we hear that RIM is readying an iPad rival. This makes it a rival to Amazon also given the Kindle. Bad, bad idea in my mind. I think there is far more to be gained by having Amazon on its side than having them as a rival. Amazon, after all, offers the only real alternative to Apple’s content strategy.
I could go on and on about how RIM needs to ‘re-win’ the smartphone battle and how this requires them to win over both consumers AND the IT community. It’s achievable with some well executed PR provided they also look at their content/application strategy AND roll out a product line that rethinks their current look. RIM is where the American carmakers were when the Japanese arrived. They were focused on the wrong things and just couldn’t see how tastes had changed. It’s going to be a tough battle for RIM but as of today they have the resources to win if they are willing to take some bold steps and admit some of their mistakes.
Look at any major retail area and you’ll find a Starbucks somewhere in the mix. Starbucks was, for some time, such a draw that mall owners would give them incentives to open stores. After all, with a Starbucks in their complex other retailers would benefit from the people seeking a latte. Facebook and Twitter are becoming online equivalents. Imagine you launch a new smart-phone and you don’t have a Facebook or Twitter app? Well you just wouldn’t. There aren’t many apps that are essential for smart-phone vendors but access to Facebook and Twitter top the list. Imagine that Facebook decided only to offer an official version of its app to say Microsoft. It wouldn’t hurt Apple much right now but it could be the kind of move that could put Microsoft back in to the smart-phone wars. They wouldn’t do that surely. But imagine if they did.
It seems that whenever Apple intros a new version of the iPhone or the iPad customers are prepared to camp out overnight just to be one of the first to own such a product. While I drove past the Palo Alto store yesterday and studied the line I couldn’t help but think that these lines were a marketing opportunity for someone. I could easily see an app vendor creating some stunt that gave the first 100 people in each line a free copy of their app, so that their app instantly became a hit just as the new platform comes out. I could see consumer brands such as Dr Scholls (the people who make foot care products) creating ‘Apple Line Waiting’ gift bags. I could see Starbucks offering a ‘mobile (get it?) latte service’ for the people stuck in line. Right now the only people benefiting from the lines is Apple. With lines formed in major cities across the world, surely there’s an opportunity for someone to capitalize? Come on all you creative consumer marketers, get your thinking caps on.
When Apple announces anything, or even hints at announcing something, the media and blogosphere light up. Steve Jobs face beams from magazine covers and social networks buzz with inside stories. Most, if not all, that attention is positive. Is this great PR at work or simply great products at work? I’d argue that Apple doesn’t do great PR but because they make great products they don’t need to. Don’t get me wrong, I think they execute their PR with great professionalism. Their positioning is as crisp as their product set. But they don’t do high risk tactics, or even stunts. They do build excitement and then they deliver products that match that excitement (for the most part).
There are lots of companies that could match Apple at PR. But to compete with Apple they need a CEO who can sell like Steve and products that are as good as the ones Steve sells. With those ingredients they could out PR Apple. Indeed with those ingredients they could wipe the floor with Apple. Truth be told the media don’t love Apple, nor do many bloggers. But they do love that Apple keeps turning out great products and keeps saying provocative things. But if someone really wanted to take them on and had the substance to match them, the media would enjoy taking Apple down. Then we’d find out how good Apple was at PR.