There’s an app for that – great marketing?

Apple has applied to trademark that expression.  Even if they hadn’t it always reminds you of them.  They made having thousands of apps available for you to buy and install on your phone something we all thought was very important.  They made it so important that all their competitors had to copy them.  Google, Microsoft and RIM (BlackBerry) now tout the thousands of apps you can choose from.  Of course the reality is that for most of us, having thousands of apps to choose from is nice but we are never going to actually buy thousands of apps.  I have about 40 apps on my iPhone.  I used to have a few more that my kids had downloaded but most went unused and I managed to purge them from my phone.  When I do buy a new app, I tend to buy from the top 25 list.  Only rarely will I seek out an app not amongst that list.  Now I’m sure the apps I need differ from the apps most students want.  Indeed my daughter has games that leave me cold.  Even then she has no more than 100 apps.  So, by my calculations, less than 1% of the apps for sale actually get a big market.  Put another way, the vast majority of apps get no audience whatsoever.  Today’s app developers are like the Victorian prospectors in search of gold.  They’ll invest in a piece of land in the hope that they’ll strike it rich.  Most of course don’t.  So when you think about it, all the app choice message that Apple started is effectively just marketing.  They want us to believe that we should buy their phone because somewhere out there is an app we don’t know about that we might need.  Truth is the universe of apps we really need is really small, maybe a 1000 at the most.  I don’t blame Apple for taking this path.  They are, after all, protecting the market they created.  But sooner or later, two things will happen:

1.  All the phones will be able to offer all the apps you want

2.  Consumers will realize that they don’t really need hundreds of thousands of crappy apps.  Instead a few hundred good ones will do very nicely.

Until that happens, the app war will continue and we’ll all wonder if there is an app out there that would make our day that bit better.

Should Skype be scared of Google?

Google today announced they are going to offer free voice calling for users of gMail.  Some media outlets have said this poses a significant threat to Skype.  I’ll confess that was my immediate thought but on reflection I think the news may actually be far worse for carriers such as AT&T.  What Google has done is validate that the concept of free/almost free calling using the Internet is the way forward.  To use their service you need a gMail account.  If you already have an email account from say Yahoo! or Hotmail, then you can of course open a gMail account or simply use Skype…  Given the way Skype works, I can’t see people necessarily switching to using the Google service.  What I can see is some people who still use land lines giving the Google service a try.  I can also see that having competing services from Skype and Google will really a) improve these products and b) force traditional carriers to look at their pricing.  In other words, the people who will likely feel the most pain are the AT&Ts of this world who will inevitably end up having to make drastic cuts to their rates.

Will the iPad be good for the media industry?

Another way to ask this question:  “will Apple’s iPad be bad for the media industry?”  Right now traditional media is struggling.  I’m not referring simply to print media which is getting more and more desperate for ways to stay alive but also broadcast media, as people spend more of their free time online.  The iPad could be a game changer for the media.  Why?  Well, the iPad does two things:

1.  It creates a new platform for the media – early views of the WSJ on the iPad suggest it is a far better product than the current online version.  This in turn suggests the iPad offers, magazine publishers in particular, new ways of presenting their content.  That’s got to be a good thing.

2. The iPad puts media back into the time equation – people currently spend their time online looking at Facebook, YouTube and Google because they like to explore, make connections, learn etc.  But the iPad creates the opportunity for media to be a part of what they find and even look for.  I, like many others these days, like to get news online.  That said, even a laptop isn’t a great substitute for a good magazine or newspaper.  An iPad may well be.  In other words, given we have all become used to spending time with our computers that we would have spent with our TVs, the iPad may start to shift the balance back towards consuming media.  Of course it will only do that if the content is worth us spending that time.

One thing is clear, if the media doesn’t grab opportunities like the iPad and the Kindle by the horns, then its steady demise will only continue.  That would be a sad, sad situation.  One that’s bad for society and of course for the media moguls.  The latter doesn’t bother me so much but the former most definitely does.

Can Google beat Apple?

The launch of the Droid by Google and Motorola was notable for one reason: It effectively ignored RIM (Blackberry) as the competition and instead targeted would be Apple iPhone customers. When you think about that it’s quite amazing. The Blackberry defined the smartphone market and still holds a huge share of the market. Yet the marketing of the Droid shows that neither Motorola or Google views RIM as the long term competitor.

This begs the question: can Google beat Apple? It’s a Goliath versus Goliath marketing war. Apple is known to be an marketing machine, whereas Google isn’t. Ask yourself when you last saw a Google advert of any kind? When did Google sponsor a sporting event? Have you received an email from Google promoting a new product lately? You do see a lot of PR from Google. There’s rarely a day when they’re not in the news and of course when you’re the go to search engine you don’t need to run TV ads. Though I could imagine some funny ads where there’s a Google guy and a Yahoo! guy.

But given Google is so used to having much of its marketing done for it, can it beat Apple? It stands a chance because others such as Motorola and HTC really want to beat Apple and will throw a lot of $$$ at the problem. But this means Apple has no real rival. It has lots of minor rivals but they are also competing with each other. Apple must love that.

Of course the battle isn’t just a consumer marketing battle, it’s a software developer battle. This is where Google stands a real chance and where it has been active on the marketing front. When the Droid launched there were apps available but only a few hundred. That number is rising fast but then so is the number of iPhone apps. Ironically Apple is in the position Microsoft has long been with the PC and Google us where Apple has been with the Mac. For years people thought the Mac was dead but then they released a really great machine and the tide turned. Today the Mac is an amazing success story. Sure its sales are still less than that of all PCs but any single PC manufacturer would love the Mac volume and price point. In other words if Apple can succeed against the PC, Google can against the iPhone. It just takes a great product and some great marketing. Right now they have neither and they don’t have forever to get it right which of course they are smart enough to know.

2010 promises to be a fascinating battleground if Google does produce a great product. But for them to win they will have to really learn fast if they want to win a marketing war with Apple.

All I can write about these days is Apple recent posts I want to congratulate Apple for something – namely the launch of the mighty mouse.  It’s a great addition to the product lineup.  It’s a bit of a pain to install and to make use of all of its features requires everything to be updated – including the mouse software for some reason.  Anyway, despite an install that reminded me of what Microsoft products used to be like to install, it is a great product and shows that Apple can reinvent technologies, even peripheral ones.

PS – the Motorola/Verizon/Google Droid officially launched today.  That means we won’t be seeing any more of the teaser ads.  But has anyone really paid attention.  I stopped by Best Buy at lunch today and saw one person playing with the new phone.  Not exactly the mania a new iPhone creates…

Enduring brands – do they still exist?

Earlier today I was pondering the fact that someone will inevitably produce a better iPhone.  I have no clue whether that product is the Droid.  I very much doubt it.  But it may be.  At this point in the game Apple holds most of the cards.  It has a well designed product, reasonable customer service and the iPhone links to that wonderfully closed world call iTunes.  Google is trying to do an end run around all that with its own links to music producers and it may well get somewhere.  The Android technology also looks like it will be good enough to keep some Verizon customers who would have shifted to the Apple/ATT world.  But Google has a huge mountain to climb.  The noise level around the iPhone is still huge.  A Google news search shows there are roughly 87,000 news stories about the iPhone versus a little under 10,000 for the Android phone.  The stats on YouTube are even more in the iPhone’s favor with just 11,200 hits for the Android versus 385,000 for the iPhone.  But I expect things to change on that front and change quickly.  I have two reasons for believing this:

1.  Verizon has to throw a lot behind the launch of the Droid and when that happens the US public will know that the Droid is a real competitor to the iPhone.

2.  I think the world is ready for someone to compete with the iPhone.  Innovation on the iPhone seems to have stalled.  I own one and I love it but the 3GS isn’t that much better than the original.  The battery life is still dreadful.

All this makes me wonder whether there really is such a thing as an enduring brand anymore.  Competition is more fierce than ever and the tools for competitors to compete using social media mean that any weakness can be exploited and any opportunity grabbed.

We may well have seen Apple’s peak, or we may have seen another competitor try and fail.  We’ll know all too soon.

Bing debuts and has a convert of sorts

Bing, the new Microsoft search engine has gone live. I have to confess I’m impressed with the way it works. It looks a lot different to Google, having the various reasons for searching shown on the left of the page. I used its travel functionality today to help out a family friend and it worked very well and certainly saved a lot of time compared to using several travel sites to book a flight. Interestingly I came across Bing because I tried to access and it took me in to Bing. This in itself is a clever move by Microsoft, given I searched on Farecast through Google as I wasn’t quite sure of Farecast was the right name. I’ll confess I’m now tempted to use Bing as my search engine. Being someone who has Google as a part of my toolbar will of course make that a bit harder in the short term. Of course I’ll also be stuck with Google on my iPhone until Bing is offered there. So I’m a convert… sort of.

No news is bad news

Yahoo! may not want Microsoft to buy them but I suspect they are enjoying the attention the Microsoft offer has brought to the brand. For a while now Yahoo! has been struggling to regain the spotlight from Google. With Microsoft’s offer they suddenly have that spotlight albeit for different reasons. I’m curious to see whether this attention translates into increased sales revenues – I suspect it could. If it does, the old saying that: “no news is bad news,” may well prove correct.

btw – for those of you that track this blog, you may recall my YouTube measure. Since I last checked (which was back in December) Google’s postings have increased from 169,000 to 192,000 (an increase of 13.6%), while Yahoo!’s have increased from 123,000 to 149,000 (an increase of 21%).

Google’s stance is hard to swallow

Google is clearly scared that if Microsoft succeeds in buying Yahoo! it will lose it’s dominance in the search/online ad sales business. So it is using the idea that if a deal gets done Microsoft will suddenly become the dominant email and instant messaging player as a way to get the deal called off by antri-trust lawyers. There are few things that make this a hard line to swallow:

1. Microsoft is already the dominant email supplier in the workplace thanks to Outlook. Indeed if you taker the email market as a whole I’m sure Microsoft is way ahead of any rival thanks to Hotmail so this doesn’t really change things that much.
2. They are so obviously picking a fight that has nothing to do with the real… fight. The real battle is about online ads. Google has been killing the competition for several years now thanks to the dominance of its search engine. A deal with Yahoo! would simply make Microsoft a real competitor as opposed to a potential competitor.
3. They think it is OK for them to be a dominant player but not Microsoft. In effect they are suggesting that Microsoft’s history suggests that if they become dominant in the Internet business then they will treat the Internet just like they did the PC business and that will be a bad thing. I think we all know that even if Microsoft pulled off this deal and even if they then de-throned Google, the governments around the world would be watching them like a hawk. And the governments have been pretty successful in getting their way when they take on Microsoft in court.

Of course you can’t blame them for reacting to the deal but judging by the drop in Google’s share price (now below $500 for the first time in over six months) it is clear that the market thinks they are running scared. I almost wonder whether they would have been better to play down the deal rather than look as if they are scared by it.

PS – I know Yahoo’s name has an exclamation mark after it but Google’s Blogger won’t allow me to use one in the labels section…

The high price of Tech

When I blogged on the importance of Facebook the other day I have to admit I would have struggled to put a $15Bn valuation on the business. That said, Microsoft has effectively done that today making both the purchase of MySpace by News Corp for $580m and Google’s acquisition of YouTube for $1.65Bn look like bargains. It will be fascinating to see what this deal does to the Facebook express train. With this amount of cash they can presumably go global and invest in their platform at a pretty aggressive rate. It will also allow the senior executives to get on with running the company instead of having to go through any rounds of VC funding. That said, it is pretty clear that they’d have had no problem raising money via that route if they’d wanted.

What I find more interesting is that Microsoft took such a small stake. It is pretty clear that they simply wanted to block Google rather than get executive control at this stage. Of course beyond the stock deal there is the ad rights portion. This is where the deal starts to make a lot of sense. The deal effectively gives them the rights to one of the biggest online properties on the planet and for that reason alone you can see why the valuation makes sense.

We have seen Tech valuations rebound quite dramatically this year. We had the VM Ware IPO which has been an amazing success story and now we have this deal. It certainly seems like the investment banks are keen to recoup the losses the banks have made in the mortgage business by some bold tech investments. It will be interesting to see which tech property can outdo these deals. One things for sure – someone will!