Category Archives: iPhone

The secret to Apple’s success?

If there’s one company that is the envy of the high-tech community these days, it’s Apple.  Steve Jobs is hailed as a genius CEO and lauded for a string of hit products. Apple’s market capitalization is over $200 BILLION dollars currently, easily ranking it in the top 10 companies in the world by market cap, and just shy of Microsoft for biggest technology company.

Everyone wants to understand the secrets of Apple’s success and hopefully emulate them. The reasons given by people for Apple’s success are many. The following are a few of the arguments made:

1. Vertical integration – Apple owns most of, if not the entire, technology stack for its key products,  and thus gives it advantages over other less vertically integrated products.

NOTE: “Vertical integration” used to be called “being proprietary” and was given as the reason for Apple’s relative lack of success against Microsoft in the OS/PC battles of the 80s and 9os. But phenomenal success has a way of changing people’s minds.

2. Making markets vs.  addressing markets – Some claim that Apple doesn’t ask people what they need but gives them products they decide they want.

Does anyone NEED an iPhone or iPad? Not really, but a lot of people seem to want them.

3. The Cool Factor – Let’s face it, Apple does make “cool” products. Attention to design and detail – fit and finish as they say – really distinguishes Apple’s products from competitors.

4. Entering markets after they’ve developed — Contrary to #2 above, some people claim that Apple doesn’t make markets but enters existing markets once they’re growing and takes  advantage of latent demand.

The iPod was not the first digital music player and the iPhone was not the first smart phone, and the iPad is not the first portable computing device. In the case of the iPad, products like the Kindle and Netbooks actually paved the way for the market to accept  small computing devices, and Apple’s iPad is riding that wave.

5. Differentiated business models – whether it was iPod+iTunes or the iPhone+App Store, Apple innovates not just on technology, but on the business model. This makes it difficult for competitors to play catch up, let alone overtake Apple once it establishes itself in a dominant position.

6. People care about the experience not technology — Apple has always been about the user experience, but for a long time, the majority of the market didn’t care about that.

The majority of desktop computer users cared about “techs and specs”.  Now the tables have turned, and the majority don’t care about the specs, they care about the experience. The iPod, with it’s “1000 songs in your pocket” motto and iTunes which radically simplified purchasing music latched onto the experience wave, and Apple has been riding it ever since.

7. Simple product offerings – Apple has a very clear and simple set of products. It’s easy to understand the differences between their products, product families and the various configurations. This makes it easy to buy an Apple product if you want to.

A lot of companies complicate things unnecessarily. How many iPhone models are there? How many Blackberry models are there? How many Nokia smart phone models are there? See the difference between Apple, RIM and Nokia?

The same is true for the iMAc, the iPod and the iPad. Granted, there are actually a number of iPod models (Nano, Shuffle, Touch etc.) but they are very distinct amongst themselves. This can’t be said for digital music players from other companies.

I’m sure there are other reasons for Apple’s success, but it’s interesting to see how much debate is happening today on this topic. What it says to me is that there is no single reason for their success. And keep in mind that Apple has had failures as well.  Notice Apple doesn’t talk much about Apple TV. And remember the G4 Cube? The 20th Anniversary Mac?  Even the ultracool MacBook Air has had far from stellar success.

So, what do you think are the reasons for Apple’s incredible success over the last 10 years?


Agile/Scrum Software Development and Product Management

I think ours is the only Product Management blog in the entire blogosphere that has not yet had at least one post on Agile/Scrum software development. That is….until now.

I’m not so sure it was a conscious decision on any of our parts. There is so much other good and relevant stuff to write about, like iPhones and iPods for example. 🙂

But seriously, I don’t think we have written about Agile because, and I’ll speak for the 3 of us, it’s not that critical to product management. There I said it!

NOTE: where I use “Agile”, it implies a combination of Agile/Scrum

If you are not familiar with Agile or Scrum software development, you can read more in many locations on the web. A good starting point is, as expected, Wikipedia. Read up on both Agile and Scrum methodologies. While quite distinct in many ways, it’s important to understand both Agile and Scrum and how they are inter-related in practice. In fact, the first line of the Wikipedia entry on Scrum reads:

Scrum is an iterative incremental process of software development commonly used with Agile software development.

While not an absolute definition, and clearly some may argue, I view Agile as more of a culture or approach to software development, whereas Scrum is more truly a methodology, with specific roles, practices etc. that can be implemented. In many cases, when people say Agile, they imply Scrum as well.

As mentioned earlier, Scrum defines a set of roles. One of the key roles in Scrum is the Product Owner. That role is defined as:

The Product Owner represents the voice of the customer. They ensure that the Scrum Team works with the right things from a business perspective. The Product Owner writes User Stories, prioritizes them, then places them in the Product Backlog.

Now, this would most likely map to the Product Manager in most software companies. While true at a high level, another key element of Scrum is the daily scrum meeting where every member of the team, including the Product Owner attends.

Now, imagine if you as a Product Manager had to attend a development meeting every day. When would you get out of the office? When would you meet with customers, partners, prospects etc.?

One big mistake a lot of people make is assuming that the Product Owner has to be the Product Manager. While conceptually that may be true, the Product Manager cannot, and in my opinion, should not attend these daily scrum meetings. I’ve worked in PM role in two previous companies that used Agile/Scrum development methodologies, and I think I attended one Scrum meeting. We still had regular communication with the development teams and regular product reviews etc. but we weren’t embedded into the development process the way some people might think we should be.

Other roles such as Product Designer need to be defined to take that day to day decision making role and act as the Product Owner, or at minimum, be the proxy for the Product Owner (if that is the PM) so that the PM doesn’t get bogged down by daily scrum meetings.

Keep in mind, Agile/Scrum is a DEVELOPMENT methodology. It is a great model for developers and engineers and other R&D team members to work and communicate more efficiently. There are very clear benefits to this model. It provides greater visibility into current work status, work remaining, can identify development hurdles earlier and can communicate them outward more easily.

But, in the end, it is still a development methodology. It should have minimal impact on Product Management’s job as a cross-functional leader marshalling the product from development through marketing, sales etc.

Here’s an analogy. Sales teams invariably follow some kind of sales methodology. It could be strategic selling, solution selling, or conceptual selling. It could be some other model, or even none at all. If the sales team decides to adopt or change their sales methodology, do other related teams like Marketing or Product Management have to change how they work?

The answer is NO. So, then why should those changes happen to Product Management if the development team adopts Agile/Scrum? Our job remains the same. Understand the market, customers, competitors, merge that in with business objectives etc. define what needs to be built and move that through all the stages of development/launch/post launch to enable product success.

If in a few years, some better development methodology comes along, and is adopted by the engineering teams, will that change what Product Management does?


Development methodologies should be a grey box for Product Management. We should have an understanding of them, but we don’t need to become an “embedded” part of their implementation. It’s all about loose coupling and clear lines of communication. We have our objectives, and Development has theirs, and when we need to interface, we do so in an efficient and mutually convenient manner.

Let me put it this way, and pardon the analogy if it is a bit inappropriate. Product Management and Development don’t need to be married to each other to be efficient. The relationship needs to be more like a “friends with benefits” arrangement. i.e. the two hook up on a regular or as needed basis. 🙂


Agile/Scrum Software Development and Product Management (part 2)

Agile/Scrum and Product Management (part 3)

Agile/Scrum and Product Management (part 3a)

Partnering for Strategic Breakthroughs

I thought I’d give this one a dry title – it’s really about the iPhone again. But I thought people would be pretty tired of iPhone posts by now.

So, for those of you who don’t follow the iPhone (both of you perhaps), Apple released the iPhone SDK. But they did something else that will end up driving many more iPhone sales than allowing you to download games – they added ENTERPRISE support. Yes, ENTERPRISE. It’s just that important. (I’m sure you know by now that your products are nothing if they’re not ready for the ENTERPRISE.)

You can now connect your iPhone directly to Exchange and get all your corporate email in one sleek, beautiful Apple-branded package. All the cool of Apple and all the IT-approvability of the Blackberry. And how did Apple do it? Did they hire dozens of developers to copy RIM’s BES gateway technology? Nope. They licensed ActiveSync. The trouble is that, as anyone who has ever owned a Windows Mobile device can attest, ActiveSync stinks. It just doesn’t work reliably. But you know what – no one cares. In one fell swoop Apple just did more damage to RIM then a dozen NTP lawsuits.

When you’re looking to take your product to the next level and add in the “killer” functionality that every single prospect asks for during demos you need to look long and hard at how you can buy or license that technology instead of building it yourself. RIM had nothing to license when the Blackberry first came out – ActiveSync was even worse back then anyway – so they had to do it themselves. But Apple went to the source and did in just a few months what RIM has spent millions of dollars building. So Apple knows what to do. What technology have you licensed for your product lately?

OnProductManagement plagarized!


I’m sure this happens all the time on the web, but I just ran across 2 – likely related – blogs on Blogspot that have lifted my iPhone vs. IPod Touch article verbatim.

Any suggestions for how to handle this? If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, does plagarism imply something better?


It Pays To Stay Cool

From Wired, on the iPhone development process:

A product manager slammed the door to her office so hard that the handle bent and locked her in; it took colleagues more than an hour and some well-placed whacks with an aluminum bat to free her.

I guess this means I should be happy that I don’t even have a door.

Starbucks and iTunes: The new click-and-mortar channel for music?

I wasn’t fortunate enough to be in Seattle or New York today, the initial two cities selected for the launch of the iTunes / Starbucks wifi store. The news is that the user experience is smooth, even if there were a few initial glitches along with one usability complaint reported by this reviewer. Frankly I am not surprised that there were a few glitches with this one. The baristas pull a mean espresso, but I doubt the T-Mobile gear has on-site expertise.

I think this is a brilliant move for both Starbucks and Apple. Starbucks has been aspiring for a few years now to become a third place, somewhere we can all just go and hang out between home and work. It has wifi, unlimited use of its couches, comfy chairs, working desks, and a supply of coffee and sweets limited only by the balance on one of your plastic cards.

And of course Starbucks is monetizing this third place. Now it is looking to expand its access to a market segment totally distinct from coffee and sweets: music distribution. But why create another HMV or Virgin Record store? Instead, it is serving up iTunes Store for free through its T-Mobile wifi connections. I need to dig for some info on the relative monetary value projected for music vs. coffee. Please send me a note if you have any info or links to such info.

I still get noticed when I pull out my iPhone and take a picture, check my mail, or just call someone. But today I was wishing that Apple and Starbucks had chosen the San Francisco bay area to launch its partnership, and I would have been there to write up the experience. It wasn’t to be.

Instead, I was in Monterey today, and went into Starbucks to tease the baristas for not being among the launch stores. As they were making my espresso macchiato, I discovered yet another co-marketing action: The Digital Release!

Here’s the concept: Starbucks promotes a shiny card looking like a CD cover, which is actually a coupon you can purchase at Starbucks to allow you to go home (or to your laptop in the store) and redeem the coupon for an album at the iTunes Store. Here are a couple of pictures of the cards I bought.


Not having my laptop with me, and not being able to use the iTunes store on my iPhone, I waited until I got back to Belmont, and typed in the code for KT Tungstall, Drastic Fantastic. I’m listening to Hopeless now as I type.

Will this method of distribution work? I’m skeptical. What is the benefit for the buyer of these shiny little cards? I had to buy one. OK, I bought two. It’s a business expense for me to check out the workflow, test out the concept, and write about it. 😉 Not sure my partners would agree, but after all I only spent $25.

But here’s the thing. I don’t get anything extra by buying this card versus just buying the Deluxe version of the same album on iTunes. So really the only thing this little card does is to serve as an advertisement for this particular album, and perhaps an ad for purchasing digital music. But if I want the next album they advertise, I likely won’t buy the card. I could lose the card before I got to my laptop.

Maybe I am missing the point? Maybe Starbucks gets a larger cut for the shiny cards because it can say that it legitimately influenced the purchase. Or perhaps it allows Starbucks to advertise more “Starbucky music” with less cost of materials. But these all seem like benefits to the seller, not to the buyer.

I don’t think there is much future for the shiny little cards. I will of course keep mine in a safe place to show my kids years from now, alongside the 8 tracks, cassette tapes, and vinyl records ,and even CDs and DVDs that they will laugh at in a few years. Perhaps I have in my possession one of the rarest forms of music distribution ever! Seriously, I don’t think it will last. But I’ll be watching, and I hope you’ll let me know if you disagree.

But iTunes Store over wifi? That will be a huge win. If only I could get myself to a city where they offer it this month.

iPhone vs. iPod Touch

A few months ago, to much fanfare and (possibly well deserved) hype, Apple released the iPhone.

People oohed and ahhed.

And a small number (1, 2, 3) OK…lots of people bought them.

Then Apple did something really interesting. Within a few months of the iPhone release, they dropped the price of the iPhone, by 33% (from $599 -> $399), and almost simultaneously released the iPod Touch.

The price drop really annoyed existing iPhone owners, and the new iPod Touch once again made people ooh and ahh.

The iPod Touch, is essentially an iPhone, without the phone, camera and a number of other features. The Touch is only 15 grams (1/2 ounce) lighter and 3 mm thinner than an iPhone. They have the same sized screen and function almost identically.

Why is this at all interesting?

First, people paid a premium price for the iPhone even though it was clearly quite expensive, AND it had a poor cell phone carrier plan. With the price drop, a customer revolt ensued, but Apple seems to have handled it well with a $100 Apple credit for any of the original iPhone purchasers.

Second, that the difference in price between an 8GB iPhone and an 8GB iPod Touch is only $100. $399 for the phone. $299 for the Touch. Makes you wonder. Is the phone portion such a commodity or are Apple’s margins really good on the Touch?

Third, and most important IMHO, Apple now has two different products that fundamentally share the same technology. And while this can be viewed as line extension (iPod, iPod nano, iPod shuffle etc.), in many ways this is really a big step forward for the iPod. It now becomes a mobile, wireless device, and not simply a portable music/video player. And the rumours are that the multi-touch pointing technology is next headed for the laptop.

So from a Product Management perspective, what can be learned?

  1. Always keep innovating.The iPhone may be as great as all the hype, maybe not, but it truly is different in many ways when compared to other high end mobile phones. But note that in all the hype about the iPhone, was there any mention that this was Apple’s second kick at the telecom can? Anyone remember the ROKR? OK, it was a Motorola phone, but Apple was certainly involved in it’s development. Can anyone say boooring?
  2. Communicate those innovations in intelligent and articulate ways to your market/customers in advance of the launch. By giving people 3 months notice of the launch of the iPhone, Apple ensured that word would spread and demand would grow. Many software companies wait until the ship date to communicate to the market and customers. This is a guaranteed way to delay revenue.
  3. Leverage your technology investments and deliver multiple solutions to different market segments.It’s always great to create a completely new product with new technology and new functionality. But, what’s even better is to get multiple returns on a single technology investment by being able to repackage, reposition, and resell different slices of the same technology to address problems for different users and use cases. If you are in the BUSINESS of technology, and not simply the technology business, this is something you really need to focus on.