Steve Jobs

I first heard the name when watching Pirates of Silicon Valley while in high school.  It was appropriately during a computer programming class.  It was the first time I associated a person with the Macintosh computer I had first used to play Space Invaders as a little kid.  I associated the face of Noah Wyle with Steve Jobs for a very long time.  I didn’t bother rectifying that association in my mind because it seemed as if Apple was a thing of the past.  Why bother?

Fast forward a few years, and I owned an iPod Mini.  Fast forward a few more, and I owned an iPhone 3G.  Fast forward to today, and I am browsing MacBook Airs. . .  It is safe to say I no longer think of a former ER actor when I think of Steve Jobs.

I usually view words like “revolutionized,” “genius,” and “visionary” with disdain for being honorable superlatives that have become mere platitudes.  But with Steve Jobs, they were not only applicable—they may have been understatements.  In the time of ubiquitous behemoth corporations, for one individual to have such a lasting impact on several separate industries and millions (billions?) of people is truly remarkable.  It takes an unbelievable person to exert his will in such a manner.

We all want to say something special at times like this to honor people as special as Steve Jobs.  However, words have the peculiar quality of failing us at these crucial moments.  So, I will just share my feelings.  I am deeply saddened.  Whether through game changing consumer devices or Pixar, Steve Jobs has inspired me to dream big.  Some of the things he made possible were inconceivable, but his propensity to never settle for less than  his vision, compels me to be just as relentless—to “stay hungry, stay foolish.”

Thank you, Steve.  We miss you already.


Apple: Innovator or Hype Machine?

The verdict is still out on whether Apple’s iPad is just an oversized iPod Touch or truly something revolutionary.  At the 0260 Entrepreneur Conference at NYU last week several speakers, including Firstmark Capital’s Larry Lenihan and Union Square Ventures’ Albert Wenger, voiced their enthusiasm for the new device.  I, on the other hand, have been skeptical.  I noticed the recent popularity of netbooks and thought there might be a market for something even less clunky in the same vein.  Of course, the iPhone’s rapid adoption suggested that a touch device could be a great answer.  That is why I applauded Michael Arrington’s original mission with his failed CrunchPad, but after years of unsuccessful tablet gadgets, I started questioning their value.

The iPad, however, has me rethinking things once again.  With now over a million sold, the iPad does present some interesting potential.  I had for a long time been curious about who would win the home media center computing battle—a combination of WinTel, Netflix, Sling Media, Apple, etc.—and the more I think about it, a tablet seems to be a great answer to that dilemma.  Every family room could use a communal computer that looks neat on the coffee table and can plug into the HD TV without too many wires or frills, which the iPad or other tablets can eventually facilitate.  I also realize that on certain trips of shorter duration or of leisure I don’t want to carry my laptop, but I still want more than just what a Kindle-like E-reader can provide.

With all this obvious potential, then, why is it only now that the endless possibilities of tablets are being explored?  Tablets have been around for a while, but only now do we see a conscious effort by electronics providers to push the concept.  There are a slew of competitive offerings on the way.  Perhaps, the new excitement in this category just reinforces Apple’s pivotal role in technological innovation, which was reestablished with the introduction of the iPod.

Apple’s influence in defining electronics categories has spurred innovation.  The iPhone accelerated adoption of smart phones, forcing competitors to work on new handsets and mobile OS’s.  Yet, Apple also operates in a walled garden, meaning its products are self contained, not always playing nice with other software and hardware (lack of Adobe’s Flash being my biggest pet peeve on the iPhone).  The question then is:  does Apple’s dominant role sometimes hamper progress?

MP3’s were already being played on phones as Apple kept releasing newer versions of its ever popular iPod, but the phone and music player all-in-one concept didn’t seem to garner the attention it deserved.  The iPod’s marketing campaigns were just too effective for users to consider alternative MP3 players.  Then, the incredibly sleek design and UI of the iPhone left other smartphone makers playing catch up.  Through its App Store, the iPhone offered some openness as users were treated to games and software produced by third party developers.  Now, however, because the iPhone remains the sleekest handset on the market, users aren’t experiencing a lot of the advantageous aspects of other mobile OS’s such as Android (e.g., multitasking/background processing, open source, notifications).  I worry that Apple will control the potential of mobile devices on their own terms.  For one thing, I look forward to owning a phone some day that projects videos, but there might only be a push to provide this feature if Apple decides to do so.

With this latest iPad rollout, I wonder if the Apple brand has assumed too much power.  Can Apple just put its stamp on any consumer electronic device and succeed?  Is the next step an Apple HD TV that threatens Samsung and Sony?

I am clearly being overly dramatic.  Apple products probably deserve most of their popularity.  If the iPad does indeed reshape the way we think about computing once again, kudos to Apple.  For the time being, I’m not ready to completely buy into the hype just because this tablet has an apple tattoo on its back.

Mac Gets Back

Microsoft has been running an advertising campaign to combat Apple’s popular Mac versus PC commercials. Though not as clever as the Apple ads, as a viewer Microsoft’s commercials at least seem effective. Apple’s latest Mac ad jibed at Microsoft’s increased ad spend but apparent lack of improvement in Vista. Apple, of course, spends its own fair share on mass market advertising, but its dedicated base of fanboys and legions of followers that get excited by the slightest movement by Jobs afford the brand the ability to make this snide commentary against the software giant.

In Apple’s new Mac release last week, the company noted the increased popularity of Macs in colleges, which makes Apple’s swagger justifiable. After all, if a generation of college attendees prefers Macs to PCs, a generation from now, Mac should be the personal computer of choice. In the short run, however, the lack of expected price cuts on the new Macs and gloomy macroeconomy might not bode well for Apple. ChangeWave Research observed  a drop in the number of consumers willing to buy Macs in September. Among consumers that plan to buy a PC in the next 90 days only 26% will consider Apple, and among consumers that plan to buy a laptop in the next 90 days only 29% will go Apple. These numbers are down from 30% and 34% just the month before. Risk aversion in this market will likely lead consumers to buy cheaper Windows driven machines with which they have prior, albeit imperfect, experience. This consumer research does not even factor Apple’s performance in the public (education) and enterprise markets. These markets influence consumer/personal computer preference and are not easily won by typical marketing. No doubt Apple’s past and projected future trajectory is impressive–almost as impressive as its brand management, but as the company’s newest commercial itself notes, advertising alone might not be enough to continue gaining market share.