Bob Schwartz

Tag: Apple

Samsung’s Fruit Identity Crisis

Apple Banana

Samsung wants to be an apple. What it fails to understand is that it was on its way to being a banana: basic, useful, nutritious, delicious—and ultimately way more interesting and even sexier than an apple.

Instead, it tried to be a bunch of different fruits, bigger and smaller, adding and subtracting features and flavors. In the end, it’s like one of those odd and unusual fruits that you see in Whole Foods but don’t know the name of, and don’t care because you pretty much still prefer bananas.

Okay, that’s not their only problem. They developed durable devices that worked better than well and didn’t really need replacement very often. (Apple solved this problem by convincing its tribe to switch from Fuji to Golden Delicious to Jonathan, even though they were still and all just the same fruit. Samsung couldn’t get away with this.) Samsung eliminated core features that people really liked, such as slots for a memory card. On top of that, Samsung has to deal with having a mediated channel, where wireless providers are still the last marketer and last link between them and the consumer. The feelings of most digital consumers towards their digital service providers range from frustrated tolerance to outright disgust. So having those companies as your “salespeople” is never going to be ideal.

There may not be a good solution for Samsung, at least not one that will maintain their thwarted expectations of ever-increasing sales and profits. But one thing they might do is stop thinking about apples and start thinking about why and how much people really love bananas.

When Nokia Ruled the Mobile World

Nokia 1110

Microsoft is reportedly killing the Nokia brand, after having spent billions to buy the iconic company in hopes of boosting its stalled Windows Phone presence.

We are not surprised. Microsoft is the all-time tech accidental/incidental behemoth. Right place, right time, a few fortuitous decisions, strategic appropriations rather than innovations, and the next thing you know, we’re living and working in a mostly Microsoft world. Which is why Microsoft is constantly fixing what isn’t broken, and annoying and frustrating millions of users every second of every day.

The Tech Advisor article on the Nokia move led to one on the Top 10 Best Selling Mobile Phones in History.

Of those best selling mobile phones, 9 of the 10 are from Nokia (the Motorola RAZR V3 comes in at number 8). You may be used to what you think are big numbers, but at the top of the list—maybe forever—is the Nokia 1100:

The best-selling mobile phone ever is believed to be the Nokia 1100, which was released in 2003 and sold more than 250 million units. That’s more than any iPhone model. The success of the Nokia 1100 was not down to its features – it didn’t have a camera or even a colour display – but it was cheap, durable and did the jobs any mobile phone should.

Depending on your generation, you may not recognize the form factor of these Nokia phones. It was called a “candy bar” for pretty obvious reasons. If you were around for these, you also know that these were some of the most stylishly functional tech gadgets of all time: strikingly beautiful, naturally comfortable, reliably useful. Nokia did not sell over a billion and a half of the phones on the list because they were the only ones around; they sold them because they were the best and the coolest. (If that sounds like the iPhone story, it might a little, except that the Nokia phones were way cooler than any iPhone.)

Time does pass, and best is not biggest forever. Nokia’s big mistake was sticking to its proprietary operating system, Symbian, rather than adopting the then-nascent Android. If Nokia had gone Android early, it is possible we wouldn’t be talking about Samsung or Apple mobile the way we do. What later ended up happening was the marriage between a number 3 operating system, Windows, to a long past noble brand. It was a union that was never going to last.

In that box over there, though, are a couple of gorgeous Nokia phones that carried me into the mobile age and that I relinquished with great reluctance. A few years ago, when smartphones were still using the old, bigger SIM cards, I even switched SIMs and fired one of those Nokias up when a smartphone went temporarily down. Sure the Nokia seems rudimentary now. But I could still talk and listen, and still caress that Scandinavian beauty in my hand. Something Microsoft would never understand.

The iBrain and gBrain Devices

My Favorite Martian

With the release of the iWatch, both Apple and Google realize a challenge they face. There has been a bit of pushback to Google Glass, and there will no doubt be a similar issue for the iWatch. Even the most avant garde people may have second thoughts about just how cool they don’t look wearing and using those devices.

Which is why Apple and Google are working on devices that are innovatively powerful but completely inconspicuous. These are brain implants that will function as smartphones—and more. Working names for these devices might be iBrain and gBrain. No one will know you are wearing them. No more pulling your smartphone out of your pocket, or putting on a pair of glasses, or bringing your wrist up to your face.

Ironically, the problem that Apple and Google have is precisely that: nobody will know you are using it. That is, there is no badge. Which is why, on a parallel track, marketers are working on an actual badge that tells the world that you are wearing an iBrain or gBrain. Another thought that marketers have is to encourage jewelry or tattoos that bring attention to the implant site. One product manager has even suggested a non-working antenna that could attach to the implant, giving the user the look of an old-fashioned Martian. Futuristic glasses and watches might not be cool, but that sure would be.

Familiar Faces and Founders Who Flee

George Zimmer
George Zimmer, founder of Men’s Wearhouse, has been terminated from the company he grew—on the day of its annual meeting.

He moved (was kicked upstairs) from CEO to the position of executive chairman in 2011, and he still has a 3.5% stake in the company. It is thought that he may have had some trouble letting go of the reins—a not unusual circumstance—and his firing is the result of the attendant conflicts.

Everyone with a television knows the bearded Zimmer, and has heard him promise that when you wear one of their suits, “You’re going to like the way you look. I guarantee it.” And with 1,239 stores in the Men’s Wearhouse family, many have seen one of its outlets.

There are shareholders to please, a different situation than with Zimmer’s first store in Houston forty years ago. Times are changing for suits, ironically the very fact that Zimmer highlights in the latest series of ads. So if a fresh take was called for, both in the business and the marketing, he may have been seen as standing in the way.

You know George Zimmer. But do you know John Sculley?

Everybody who studies or practices big business does, but few others any more. In 1983, Steve Jobs recruited Sculley from Pepsico to run Apple. Differences almost immediately began cropping up about exactly how Apple was going to reach the next level on its way to make money (Sculley) or make money by changing the world (Jobs). It is reported that Sculley wanted to emphasize the Apple II until the Macintosh was powerful enough to fulfill its promise. No doubt where Jobs stood; just watch the historic Macintosh “1984” ad that ran during the Super Bowl that year. Jobs was demoted in 1985 and quickly left the company. Sculley would leave Apple in 1993, after a few successes but mostly under a cloud. Jobs would, of course, return to Apple—demonstrating in the long run just how potent a founder’s combination of entrepreneurship, vision and hard-nosed business can be. Today, practically everybody on the planet knows Steve Jobs.

It’s sometimes true that founders get it, but can’t take it to the next level. It’s also sometimes true that those outsiders who think they can take it to the next level can’t because they don’t get it.

George Zimmer didn’t sell the world’s most popular and powerful digital devices, actually changing the world. He sold men’s suits. Getting that isn’t so very tough, so he may be expendable. On the other hand, he has proven that over the course of four very tumultuous decades, he did know how to sell those suits.

Sometimes founders really can’t be trusted to evolve themselves or their offerings for a changing market and world. But the possibility that they can shouldn’t summarily be dismissed, and neither perhaps should they. George Zimmer may not be back. But we know who he is, to the benefit of Men’s Wearhouse.

Do founders sometimes know what they’re doing? George Zimmer? Steve Jobs? John who?

The Most Important Document In History

The Magna Carta. The Declaration of Independence. The Constitution. The Emancipation Proclamation. The number of essential documentary moments goes on and on, both here and globally, each one of them a significant next step in progress.

Twenty years ago, what may turn out to be the most important document in history (above) was issued. The website of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) explains the event:

On 30 April 1993 CERN published a statement that made World Wide Web (“W3”, or simply “the web”) technology available on a royalty-free basis. By making the software required to run a web server freely available, along with a basic browser and a library of code, the web was allowed to flourish.

British physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the web at CERN in 1989. The project, which Berners-Lee named “World Wide Web”, was originally conceived and developed to meet the demand for information sharing between physicists in universities and institutes around the world.

Consider what the web would be like if it was a toll road and not a freeway. That was a possibility, had Berners-Lee and CERN decided to leverage and exploit the technology. But the web was born free and continues to resist chronic attempts to control and monopolize it.

One of the strangest ironies about the freedom of the web is that it was born on a NEXT computer. If you know digital history, you will recognize that NEXT was the company that Steve Jobs founded, in between his first stint at Apple, from which he was bizarrely let go, and his second stint, when he turned Apple into the richest technology company in the world.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not get as rich as Jobs. But he did get a knighthood, and recognition as an unsurpassed visionary, and the thanks of billions for shaping the world as few before or after did or ever will.

The Goldilocks Test for Phone Size

First things first: You iPhone folks can leave. You have no choice on the size of your smartphone, because Apple has made that choice for you. The iPhone 5 is no wider, but one-half inch longer, than the previous version. Take it or leave it, and millions are taking it.

Android is a whole different world or, as we’ve learned to say, ecosystem. Screens are getting bigger, for optics and utility, and so have the phones. Samsung pushed the limits by creating the Note, half-phone/half-tablet (a “phablet”) with a screen more than five inches in size. Even the same phone may have slightly different dimensions for each carrier. Someone has no doubt charted the dozens of sizes available; it is enough to say that there is probably an optimal size for just about everyone.

But what is optimal? That very practical question arose in the course of handling and comparing two of the most popular and capable Android phones of the past couple of years, the Samsung Galaxy S2 and S3. The S2 is superb, but in almost all respects the S3 is better. The S3 does have a bigger screen, and so is ever so slightly bigger to hold.

Ultimately, the question is not whether size matters; the question is whether it matters to you.

That’s what the Goldilocks test is about. There are three parts, one about style, two about functionality.

The style part requires a mirror. If you are someone who uses a smartphone for voice calls (though fewer now do), hold up the phone to the side of your head. Do you feel that you look cool or silly? Do you feel like a modern version of the 1970s hotshot with a monstrous Motorola Brick pressed to his ear? (see above)

The second part is portability. Without getting stereotypical, this is a divide between women and men. Many women carry their phone in a bag, where up to a point, size doesn’t matter. Men usually carry theirs in a pocket, and depending on which pocket and which clothes, this can be an issue. Jeans and tight pants can be a problem (it is taking unreasonable will power not to paraphrase Mae West: “Is that a phone in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”)

The final part is the most important: How much does size affect usability? This is where differences in hand size come into play. You want to be able to use a phone with one hand, and that’s going to depend on the hand that’s using it. This is also where the most objective part of the Goldilocks test was formulated.

Put the phone in the palm of your hand. Reach around the middle with your thumb and middle finger. If your fingers touch, you will mostly be comfortable using the phone with one hand. If not, you are on occasion going to find yourself doing some juggling or bringing in the other hand. It’s that simple.

Take the test. You want to be able to say about your phone, as Goldilocks said about beds, as others have said about the height of trees: This one is just right.

Think the Same: Apple as IBM, Android as Apple

Think Different.

That was the theme of Apple’s award-winning and successful ad campaign that ran from 1997 to 2002. Among other creative inspirations, the concept played off of the even more famous one-word IBM slogan “Think”, which had been in use since the 1920’s, when it was devised by IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, Sr.

To make the point, Apple created a series of commercials and posters featuring those who had thought differently, including Albert Einstein.

The ad copy included this:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

Keep this in mind as thousands line up—camp out in tents on the street—to be one of the first to own an iPhone 5. Even many self-aware tech pundits have had to admit it: in the current state-of-the-art, the iPhone 5 is not all that cutting edge. But even knowing that, they too are craving it. Resistance is futile.

Apple began as the “other” personal computer. The IBM/Microsoft-based paradigm relentlessly rolled on and over the market. The hardware technology was almost universally licensed and adopted as a standard. Microsoft dominated the operating system, and software was developed for it. PCs were available at every price point and capability, and the market exploded.

Apple thought differently. From the beginning, and with only one brief foray into third-party licensing, Apple decided it would control everything. Quality and style could not be left to the vagaries of the market and to the poor judgment and penny-pinching ways of third party vendors. The result in personal computing was that while Apple won only a minority share of market, its products were not only different but (in the view of some) better, and adopted by creative and thought leaders.

The turning point came when Apple went mobile with the iPod. There had been portable music players for years, beginning with Sony’s revolutionary Walkman. By applying its computing model to this device, Apple did something just as revolutionary. Unlike having a minority position in computing, Apple took the lead in digital music players and never looked back. It not only owned the device, it owned the store for feeding the device. Apple was no longer the other; Apple was it.

Apple took the same tack as it always had when it entered the mobile phone market: superior technology plus superior style. And as with its earliest computers, it maintained complete ownership and control. This was more than just a matter of not sharing the rewards with third-parties. As a consumer, you could be sure that any application would run flawlessly with the Apple OS on an Apple device.

The iPhone is now a standard, one embraced by millions with a fanaticism that approaches a cult. Henry Ford’s famous message to car buyers of the original Model T was that you could have any color, as long as it was black. Steve Jobs may have never quoted this, but this is the experience of the iPhone buyer. And they are ecstatic at the lack of choice.

The iPhone is a standard, but not the standard. The other force in mobile phones is Android.

The metaphorical differences between Apple and Android are infinite. If Apple makes the trains run on time, Android has powerful trains still looking for the conductor, the schedules and even the track. If Apple is a tightly produced Broadway show, Android is a three-ring circus with the ringmaster on acid. If Apple is Singapore, Android is the Wild West.

And yet, Android is the dominant mobile platform in the world, and its lead over Apple is widening.

The Android system—if you can call it that—works like this. The operating system is developed and upgrades. Each version goes out to device makers, who adopt it to their own needs, including overlaying it with proprietary additions, and test its integrity and compatibility. These devices are then sent to carriers and service providers who add their own proprietary touches and do further testing. It is a lengthy process that is fraught with missteps, and explains why new versions and upgrades can take months to reach consumers.

Then there are the applications and developers. Quality and qualified developers face the challenge of making sure that their applications work properly on all permutations of Android versions and device-specific overlays. Developing for Apple iOS, on the other hand, is as simple as developing for Apple iOS: if it works, it will work for everyone. And anyone can and does develop for Android. With the exception of malicious apps kept out of the Android market, anything goes. There are thousands of Android apps that are dysfunctional, sometimes comically so.

For some of us who appreciate the excellent and forward-thinking devices in the Android world, even the weirdos and app pranksters are part of the charm. Yes, it can take far too long to get Android upgrades, and even then things may not work perfectly. But most of the time, the results are spectacular. If that is the price to pay for not enlisting in the Apple Army, we’ll pay it.

In the final analysis, that is the irony. Apple has become the world’s leading tech company the way IBM did in the 1950s and 1960s: by telling the world how computing should be done and making them accept it. IBM salesmen—in fact everyone in the company—was required to wear a uniform white shirt and tie. One of the legendary mantras of that period was recited by corporate purchasing agents: “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

Android is an adventure. It might say of itself, as one corporate iconoclast used to:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.

Apple is now IBM. Android is now Apple. It doesn’t take a genius to see that.

The Spotify Cover Game

Note: Two online music services launched in 2006, one in Palo Alto, California, one in Stockholm, Sweden. Both shared a vision of offering on-demand, track-by-track access to streaming music. Lala, the American service, was a simple and usable platform. It was offered free, and was based on an evolving business model that had something to do with future subscriptions and music sales. It was a wonder. In 2009, Apple bought the company, possibly to integrate the platform into a future streaming service of its own. That vapor service never materialized and, instead, Apple killed Lala.

At the same time, Spotify was developing its own more sophisticated service in Europe. Music licensing held up its introduction in America until 2011. Lala lovers, still smarting from its demise, have to admit that Spotify is indeed everything Lala was and more. Spotify is flourishing, though it still has to prove the viability of its business model, but we enjoy it while it lasts. Maybe Apple will buy it and kill it too. Sorry—still a little bitter.

Spotify has changed the way we listen to music. What music lovers hoped would happen in the future happened: Click on a track, there it is on your computer. The future is here.

Spotify enables a lot of listener creativity and sharing. There are thousands of playlists created and available. Of course, commercial media, artists, and labels are drawn to popular platforms like moths to flame, and there are now plenty of those generated playlists too.

Spotify also allows unlimited exploration and discovery. Among the unique paths is what might be called the Spotify Cover Game. You can choose any song and listen to nearly every version of it ever recorded, minus the small number still unlicensed and unavailable.

The Spotify Cover Game is fun and educational. To try it, take any popular song from any era. Search for the track, and the results will list all—sometimes dozens—of the recorded versions from different artists.

To demonstrate, Mad Men fans might pick The Beatles’ Tomorrow Never Knows from Revolver. (For non-Mad Men fans, this is the track that in a recent episode young and sexy Megan Draper plays for her older and sexy husband Don Draper to introduce him to the Beatles in 1966.)

Here is a very partial list of artists you can hear performing Tomorrow Never Knows on Spotify:

Phil Collins
Junior Parker
Jimi Hendrix
Michael Hedges
Danielle Dax
The Pink Fairies
Cowboy Mouth
Wayne Krantz
Living Colour
Tangerine Dream
The Mission UK
Dwight Twilley
Herbie Hancock & Dave Matthews
Dweezil Zappa
Grateful Dead
Phil Manzanera

The proof of the song is in the covers, and Tomorrow Never Knows doesn’t fail. Whether vocals or instrumental only, it pushes artists to rise to the occasion as they aspire to recreate a cultural milestone.

Best: Herbie Hancock and Dave Matthews. A surprise, given the competition from Jimi Hendrix, Living Colour, and others, and given that neither Hancock nor Matthews are noted for this kind of psychedelia.

Worst: Grateful Dead, hands down. They are noted for their psychedelia, but in this particular live version from a 1992 concert in Oakland, the vocals are literally unlistenable and the music isn’t all that great either. Probably better the next night or if you were really high.

Most Interesting: Legendary bluesman Junior Parker, who recorded it as part of a Beatles album. His smooth and full-bodied voice is in stark contrast to the usual ethereal takes. Accompanied by a spare arrangement of hypnotic bass with a touch of guitar and keyboard, this is a perfect realization and transformation of the original. One of the most interesting Beatles covers ever.

In addition to hearing the multiple ways that the strongest songs are treated, the SCG—and Spotify itself—is about serendipity, the exploration and discovery of unheard artists and tracks. The Hancock/Matthews track, for example, is from a 2010 collection of collaborative covers called The Imagine Project (containing Imagine, but it’s not a Beatles-only collection). There you will find a cover of the Peter Gabriel-Kath Bush anthem of hope in hard times, Don’t Give Up, with John Legend and P!nk performing. Nearly (only nearly) as good as the original, it is mesmerizing, heartbreaking, and uplifting at the same time:

No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my face, I’ve changed my name
But no one wants you when you lose…

Moved on to another town
Tried hard to settle down
For every job, so many men
So many men no one needs

Don’t give up
’cause you have friends
Don’t give up
You’re not the only one
Don’t give up
No reason to be ashamed
Don’t give up
You still have us
Don’t give up now
We’re proud of who you are
Don’t give up
You know it’s never been easy
Don’t give up
’cause I believe there’s a place
There’s a place where we belong

That’s the Spotify Cover Game. Try it. Enjoy. Explore. Discover. And don’t give up.