What the Apple-IBM Deal Means to The Rest of Us

For most, the announcement a few weeks ago of a historic strategic partnership between Apple and IBM was probably a curious aside to their daily lives. If an average person heard about the announcement at all, they probably thought that it was an interesting bit of news, but nothing worth really paying attention to. Other than those who find the Apple-IBM partnership a strange combination of companies given their history, I doubt many people gave it a second thought. While this new turn of events truly does not directly affect either the consumer or small business markets at this time, the announcement is worth taking a look at to understand the big picture.
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The strategic partnership between Apple and IBM will likely solidify Apple’s position in the large enterprise market. Whereas Apple is dominating the consumer market, IBM is still probably the most respected name in corporate technology. For IBM to “bless” Apple is a big deal. While Apple has been pushing its way into large corporations through the choices of employees as consumers, to partner with IBM will only acceleate a somewhat begrudging acceptance by IT directors and their staffs. However, this is really of no direct importance to small businesses or consumers. So why does this announcement matter to the rest of us?

Truly it is a sign of the times. Fifteen years ago Apple was hardly a blip on the radar in the technology market. Now, Apple has so thoroughly dominated the consumer and small business markets that even IBM wants to partner with them in the enterprise space. For Apple to become an “accepted” vendor in the large corporate market only means that Apple’s position as a major player in the technology market will be entrenched for the long term. And it may finally push them into markets that have been historically very slow to adopt new technology such as financial and healthcare. But perhaps more importantly, this means that others in the technology market may be significantly impacted by this announcement.

For one, this may squash any of the tiny advancements that the Android platform was making into the corporate space. With the fragmentation of the Android platform, corporations were already squeamish about supporting Android. Samsung was the only company that truly has any unified marketshare and they are not a big name in corporate IT. Now IT departments can lean on the trust that executives have in the IBM name to support Apple iPhones and iPads.

The bigger impact, however, may be on Microsoft. Given that Microsoft’s mobile platform has virtually no presence in the consumer market and their small business influence is quickly fading each day, the large enterprise market is their stronghold. If IBM’s influence can push Apple into companies that would have otherwise looked at Microsoft, this could be a significant blow to Microsoft. Where Android isn’t really a significant money-maker for Google, any hit that Microsoft takes in the enterprise market could mean big drops in revenue.

The bottom line is that Apple is in an extremely strong position now. If anyone had any perceptions left over from the 1990’s of Apple being  a second-class citizen in the technology market, it is now time to wipe those thoughts clean. Similarly, perceptions of Microsoft being the dominant name in technology should be strongly reconsidered. While Microsoft is still making a lot of money today, the rapid pace of technology change has left them very vulnerable.

iPads Outsell HP PCs in Q4 2011

15.4 Million iPadsDuring the keynote address introducing the New iPad, Apple announced that they sold 15.4 million iPads in the fourth quarter of 2011. Certainly, that’s a lot of iPads, but the more significant revelation is that Apple sold more iPads than HP sold PCs in that quarter. Compared to HP’s 15.1 million PCs, Apple’s 15.4 iPads meant that Apple outsold the world’s largest PC vendor during the holiday 2011 season. As more experts begin to acknowledge that the iPad is for all practical purposes a “PC”, this is a very significant development.

Of course, HP responded to Apple’s claim by saying, predictably, that traditional PCs aren’t dead and that a lot of people and companies still rely on them. Way to be stuck in the past, HP. But then they also stated that “… if you’re sending Junior off to college, the first computing product needed for homework is a PC.” Really? What exactly do you mean by that HP? Are college students actually required to purchase PCs? Or have they been increasingly choosing Apple’s Macintosh over the last 5 – 10 years? And could it just be possible that students are discovering that they can actually do most of their homework on an iPad? This isn’t even considering that in a year or two, students could be reading all of their textbooks from their iPads.

But seriously, what else would you expect to hear from a company that killed their tablet product and has nothing to sell but traditional PCs? HP’s former CEO specifically said that the “tablet effect is real“. Now there are some hard numbers to back that up. The Old World of Technology is ending right before our very eyes. If you haven’t already noticed, perhaps this is your wake-up call?

Steve Jobs: Leadership vs. Management

Late today, the technology industry was rocked by yet another major announcement: Steve Jobs officially stepped down as Apple CEO after a 7 month medical leave of absence. A quick search on the Internet should provide as much coverage as you care to read, but I think many are missing a simple fact. Since January, when Jobs went on medical leave, he wasn’t acting as CEO anyway. So this really doesn’t change anything except make permanent the situation that has existed for 7 months.

It is also important to note that Jobs has been elected Apple’s chairman of the board and director. While this is being reported as fact, it seems that many are also missing the significance of this development. Steve Jobs is still going to exert his influence on Apple. While he may have officially given up CEO duties, his real value to Apple is not lost.

As Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, made famous, there is a crucial difference between leadership and management.

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

Leaders provide the vision and set the direction of their organization. Managers carry out the mission that the leaders have defined. Steve Jobs has clearly brought back the vision to Apple that it was lacking in the late 80’s and 90’s. With that vision, Apple has become the largest company in the world and has completely changed the technology industry and the world in general. Luckily for Apple (and perhaps all of us), Steve Jobs’ visionary mind is still around and he will continue to put his mark on the new world of technology he helped kickstart.

iPhone on Sprint: For Real This Time?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Apple will release an iPhone for Sprint in October. It’s been rumored before, but this article is pretty firm on its assertion. If this ends up being true, then the WSJ has just gotten a huge scoop. Otherwise, they’ll be eating a lot of crow soon. Stay tuned …

HP: “The Tablet Effect is Real”

In the second shocking technology announcement of the week (after the Google announcement that they are going to buy Motorola Mobility), HP revealed that they are killing the TouchPad product after only 6 weeks, as well as their WebOS-based phone line. Additionally, HP stated they are considering leaving the PC business, possibly spinning-off the division that made the mobile devices and makes their PCs.

Let’s get clear just how important these announcements are.

1) The biggest PC company in the world threw in the towel after just 6 weeks in the “tablet” market. Why did I put the word tablet in quotes? More on that in a bit.

2) The biggest PC company in the world wants to get out of the PC business. The same business that brings in one-third of its revenue.

For a company to throw in the towel after 6 weeks is almost unprecedented (only Microsoft has done this with their Kin phones of last year). Sales of the Touchpad must have been utterly abysmal. This just shows how much of a lock on the market Apple has with their iPad. This is why I put the world “tablet” in quotes. As I’ve said before, along with a growing number of others, there really is no such thing as a tablet market. There is only an iPad market. People do not seem to want anything except the iPad. Most people probably aren’t even aware that the other tablets compete with the iPad. I wouldn’t be surprised if they think that the iPad is the only product of its kind – which in many respects, it is. Just look at the recent report that 97% of all web traffic by tablets is from the iPad.

This utter domination of the tablet market by Apple’s iPad explains why HP bailed out on their TouchPad so quickly. But it doesn’t explain why HP wants to get out of the PC business. Or does it?

Just look to one comment by HP’s CEO, who said “the tablet effect is real.” What he is referring to is the thought that tablet (i.e. iPad) sales are eating into PC sales. Up until now, the “tablet effect” has been sort of a hush-hush topic among the PC makers. Sure, PC sales were shrinking for the first time in history, but other factors such as the economy were surely to blame. Certainly the iPad could not be a significant factor, right? Well, now the cat’s out of the bag – big time. There’s no denying it anymore. The iPad is not only dominating the tablet market, but it is eating away at the PC market as well. HP sees the writing on the wall. The PC market has become stagnated with price being the only real differentiator. Competition is fierce and profits are slim. The PC Era is ending, the market is moving towards mobile devices, and the rats are leaving the sinking ship. Well … except for one company.

The only “PC” company that is growing sales, revenue, and profit is … you guessed it … Apple. The Macintosh personal computer, seemingly long forgotten until recently, is seeing tremendous growth while the rest of the PC industry is shrinking. So not only is Apple poised to dominate the “tablet” market, the Macintosh may be the “PC of choice” of the “Post-PC Era”.

Imagine a world where Apple completely dominates the “personal device” market – tablets, smartphones, iPods, laptops, and desktops. Does it seem like fantasy? Perhaps 10 years ago, even 5. But ever since the iPhone was introduced 4 years ago and the iPad just a year and-a-half ago, nothing seems out of reach for Apple. And perhaps companies like HP are waking up to that realization now.

Where Tech Companies Go To Die

The now-famous open letter to RIM executives references a quote that one of RIM’s CEOs recently made in regards to RIM’s so-far-not-yet-successful technology transition, “No other technology company other than Apple has successfully transitioned their platform. It’s almost never done, and it’s way harder than you realize. This transition is where tech companies go to die.”

In fact, Apple has done it by my count, 4 times (Apple II to Macintosh, Motorola 68000 processors to PowerPC processors, Classic Mac OS to Mac OS X, PowerPC processors to Intel processors). And now it is possible to argue that Apple is doing it for a 5th time, transitioning from Mac OS to iOS. How does a company like Apple manage to pull off these transitions, during both good times and bad? It stems from their deeply held beliefs that technology must be user-focused. Great technology is born from this and it requires great technology (along with proper execution) to pull off major technology transitions.

As RIM’s CEO said, most companies that try it fail. It’s an incredibly risky time, as RIM is experiencing right now. Poorly executed transitions are opportunities for customers to jump ship. It’s why Microsoft has never done it. They know their continued success is contingent on the inertia that the Windows platform has built up in the industry. But more importantly, Microsoft realizes that this inertia is maintained by all the software that runs on Windows. In order for Microsoft to develop a truly next-generation operating system, they must give up the shaky foundations that Windows is built up. But they know that if they do this, they cut the ties that binds users to Microsoft, as software that runs on Windows would likely need to be modified or completely re-written to run on a next generation of Windows. Only an exceptionally executed transition across all phases would ensure that Microsoft keeps most of their customers. There’s not yet been a need for Microsoft to take that chance. But it is becoming increasingly clear that standing still is also becoming risky. At some point Microsoft, and many other tech companies, will realize that they must make a transition to survive. And that’s when things will become very interesting.

If one pays attention to the market, it is coming into focus that Microsoft is entering (or already has entered) a transitional state. As I alluded to before, the “PC” market is transitioning into mobile devices such as tablets (i.e. the iPad) and smartphones (i.e. the iPhone). Microsoft’s announcements of Windows 8 and their attempts at re-creating their mobile strategy with Windows Phone 7 is evidence that Microsoft has realized the changing state of the market. But a lot hinges on what Microsoft does over the next two years. If Microsoft doesn’t pull off this transition well, the entire future of the company is in doubt. If one doesn’t believe that a company like Microsoft could fall, just a little study of history can show what happened to tech giants like IBM.

Introducing the RIM Bleak-berry

To those that follow the industry, it’s no secret that the company that makes the Blackberry, RIM, is in trouble. From a sales perspective, they still sell a lot of devices, but from a consumer perspective, they are nearly forgotten outside of the “old” smartphone market (i.e. corporations and tech-savvy people that have had Blackberries for a long time). Industry experts have been warning that RIM has fallen way behind to Apple’s iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Google’s Android platforms for some time now. But it doesn’t take an expert to see that the operating system of the Blackberry is still rooted in it’s original design that was created in the late 90’s. It was great back then, but certainly seems dated today.

An open letter to RIM’s executive management from an anonymous RIM senior manager was recently published on the Internet. The letter portrays a company internally dysfunctional and lost on what it needs to do to successfully compete. This is the major takeaway for anyone who has any interest in the Blackberry platform.

However, while the letter is focused on RIM’s issues, it brings up many topics about the smartphone industry that I have talked about before, both in this blog and to my clients directly. It is those points that I’d like to emphasize, taking quotes from the letter.

We often make product decisions based on strategic alignment, partner requests or even legal advice — the end user doesn’t care. We simply have to admit that Apple is nailing this and it is one of the reasons they have people lining up overnight at stores around the world, and products sold out for months. These people aren’t hypnotized zombies, they simply love beautifully designed products that are user centric and work how they are supposed to work.

I’ve made reference many times to how most smartphone vendors market their products as if they are “made by geeks for geeks”. They talk about specs, speed, capacity, and how “kick-ass” they are. Yet the reality is that most other smartphones simply don’t work as well as the iPhone. What this letter points out, and I can substantiate, is regardless of all the marketing done, if a product simply doesn’t work how it is supposed to (and the common expectation is that it will work as well as the iPhone), then the end-users will not like it. For all the “cool” technology behind a product, users just want something that works and works well. The iPhone should have made this abundantly clear to all tech companies. Obviously, it hasn’t sunk in yet for most.

Until companies embrace user-focused product development AND then figure out how to successfully implement it, they won’t touch Apple. And therein lies the rub. Companies must first embrace this thinking, which is extraordinarily difficult for most tech companies to come to grips with. It won’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of corporate culture to change and that takes time. And then once that long process is over, the company actually has to figure out how to make great, user-friendly products. That of course takes vision and talent, but it also takes experience. That is experience Apple has learned over 35 years. RIM, and most tech companies, have very little of it.

There is no polite way to say this, but it’s true — BlackBerry smartphone apps suck. Even PlayBook, with all its glorious power, looks like a Fisher Price toy with its Adobe AIR/Flash apps.

The original iPhone was successful. It made people stand up and take notice. Looking back, however, it really didn’t make that much of a dent in the smartphone market. It was the next year that Apple changed the world by introducing the App Store. Since that time, the tremendous success of the App Store has catapulted iOS devices into every aspect of society. Overnight it was no longer enough to make a nice smartphone. That smartphone had to run apps – and lots of them. It took a year or two for competitors to even get into the game. Now it seems that Apple’s experience working with third-party developers as well as the polished and mature software development environment provided for the iOS (both honed for years on the Macintosh platform) have put Apple into a position where the quality of their Apps is head-and-shoulders above everyone else. No other tech company (besides Microsoft) has the wealth of experience working with developers and development tools, so it would seem that this puts RIM at a distinct disadvantage.

25 million iPad users don’t care that it doesn’t have Flash or true multitasking, so why make that a focus in our campaigns? I’ll answer that for you: it’s because that’s all that differentiates our products and its lazy marketing … My mother wants an iPad and iPhone because it is simple and appeals to her. Powerful multitasking doesn’t.

Earlier I mentioned how most smartphone companies market their products as if they were “made by geeks for geeks”. Compare this to Apple’s marketing where they highlight the simplicity and ease-of-use of their products. In many cases, Apple’s marketing is inconsequential as the real secret to their growth is word-of-mouth. Apple owners tend to become evangelistic about their devices, proudly showing them off to their friends and family who quickly purchase their own Apple products and continue to spread the word. Again, most tech companies simply don’t understand that “old world” marketing only appeals to tech-savvy people. When the smartphone market was small and made up of mostly geeks, that worked well. Now that Apple has kicked open the doors of the smartphone market to the mainstream, that type of marketing is no longer effective. But again, it will take a complete corporate culture change for a company to embrace this type of thinking, then they must create the products that are user-focused, AND then they must understand how to market it. Again, none of this will happen overnight.

The bottom line is this letter highlights the trouble with RIM, but it basically shows the fundamental weaknesses of most tech companies which Apple is currently exploiting. The secret to Apple’s success is that they are the ONLY company in the market with so much experience in user-focused computing. That experience has been gained over 35 years, starting in the dawn of the personal computer market. No other company can touch that level of expertise and it is showing now. Only the companies that are strong enough to stick around, gain the necessary experience, and change their corporate culture will have any chance of competing with Apple. Unfortunately for RIM, time is a luxury it does not seem they have. Unless RIM can pull off a miracle, dramatically change their company, and introduce products that can feasibly compete in the new world of technology, it seems their days are numbered.

Something is Up Apple’s Sleve

So it appears that Apple has declared a vacation blackout for the last week of January and first few weeks of Februrary. Then AT&T announces they have cut the price of the iPhone 3GS in half. Perhaps this is a total coincidence, but it does seem oddly timed. Regardless, this is shaping up to be an interesting few weeks ahead.

Apple Predictions

A market research analyst gave some predictions on Apple today. Here are some highlights:

  • 95% chance of iPhone on Verizon, expected in March
  • 90% chance of iTunes Cloud Service
  • 5th Generation iPhone with “near-field communications” (NFC) capability

Will we see these predictions come through? Happy new year!

When in Rome …

A well-known security expert that works for the anti-virus company Sophos has stated that he uses Macs at home. While the fact that many high-profile technology experts own Macs for their personal use should really come as no shock to people who follow technology news, it could be quite surprising to the masses who still use Windows on their home computers.

Graham Cluley, a senior technology consultant at Sophos who also writes a well-read security blog for the company, was interviewed for a story on their new anti-virus software for Mac. In that article, the author was trying to determine if the software was really necessary, given that Macs are known for being resistant to viruses. Cluley stated that, “I use Macs myself at home. There’s no doubt that they are exposed to less of a threat than Windows PCs.”

Again, this shouldn’t be shocking news, but by Apple’s own study, Windows still has 80% of consumer marketshare. A lot of those 80% likely do not know the advantages of Macs in the security area. As I’ve written before, the virus problem on Windows is the “elephant in the room” for Microsoft and one of major reasons that Apple’s share of the consumer market has risen to 20%. If more people hear that high-profile technology experts are using Macs, especially those that work for anti-virus companies, that 20% will grow at a faster rate. As the saying goes, “When in Rome …”

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