Category Archives: iPod

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?


Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 4)

This is part 4 of the series. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

In this part, I’ll take a look at whether the industry can get out of the mess it’s in.

Looking back

Before looking forward, let’s take a look back at some ads from a couple of decades ago.

Click each image to enlarge.

Notice something about these ads? They all look rather similar. Pictures of (similar looking) computers and lots of text! Check out those headlines. “A new way of personal-professional computation”???? What’s that all about? Is it a personal computer or a professional compute? Well it’s both (and neither)! Ouch.

And that’s one fine looking set of muttonchops on Issac Asimov in the Radio Shack ad!

Even Apple was not immune to kind of advertising.  Here’s the original Macintosh print ad. A double-page spread! Click images to enlarge.

Cool. Did you catch the specs on the Mac? 64K ROM, 128K RAM, 32bit MC68000 processor, and even a clock/calendar chip!

Comparing these ads to advertising today, it’s  clear that things have changed for the better in 25 years. Apple certainly leads most other technology companies in their sophistication, but then, they’ve been at it much longer than most other technology companies!

As every industry matures, so does the audience for it’s products. Forty or fifty years ago, a lot of advertising for cars talked about engine horsepower, size (in cubic inches), acceleration, top speed etc. The only metrics that are frequently mentioned today are mileage or fuel consumption (and sometimes number of cup holders!). But that’s because those are important to us.

In personal technology, few consumers, truly care about the processor in their device. Quick, what kind of of CPU does you iPod have? What about a Blackberry? What about an iPhone? The Palm Pre? The Motorola Razr? The MacBook Air?

If you know any or (even worse) all of the CPUs in those device, you’re a serious geek. 🙂

But for the vast, vast majority of people, it doesn’t really matter one bit. Those days are behind us. We have matured and so has the industry. Of course, there are still many companies that talk in “speeds and feeds” or mumbo-jumbo, but in a maturing industry, they pay a price. The segment of the market that listens to the “tech-speak” is shrinking steadily.

Looking forward

If we try and look 25 years into the future, how will things have changed? Technology will have become much more embedded and ubiquitous in our environment.

The days of the big desktop computer will be gone. We will carry, wear and perhaps even embed devices within our bodies.

A second full generation of people will have reached adulthood living in an Web-enabled world. The word “offline” will be an anachronism. Augmented reality will be our reality.

In a world like that, how will people relate to technology? How will companies need to communicate with the market about their products?

The current “craze” known as social-media will be old news, and will just be part of the communication process vendors have with their customers. Consumers, particularly younger ones, will likely give up a lot of what is now considered “personal” information to companies, in exchange for individualized products and services.

In the context of the digital world, “Give me what I want, when I want and how I want” will simply be a common state of affairs.

Remember the phrase “personal computer”? That of course was shortened to PC, which is still used today, but few people think about the “personal” part explicitly anymore. Messaging and advertising will become “personal” in the future as well.

And of course there will be those that do it well, and those that do not.

So getting back to the original question – Can we get out of this mess? – the answer is yes, but it will take time. But for those of us who are at the forefront of this change, let’s see if we can’t make that change happen just a little bit faster and easier and ensure we don’t get emails that promise to help do things like  “Design a Monetization Strategy to Enhance Strategic Goals while Protecting Core Assets” any more.



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Taking the “mess” out of Messaging (part 3)

Continuing this series (click the links for part 1 and part 2), let’s look at the following question:

  • How can we get out of this mess?

Given the problems cited in part 2 – laziness, review committees, truthiness – it’s not easy. There are many other reasons of course, and the combination of them makes it difficult to change the behaviour of an entire industry.

Differentiate yourself

It takes effort, skill and planning to create great messaging. Like many other things, it’s difficult to describe what makes great messaging, but you know it when you see it (or read it, or hear it)!

Messaging should be a weapon of differentiation for companies. Tied very closely to positioning, messaging can impact audiences in ways that no technical achievement can. The now famous 1000 songs in your pocket message for the original iPod was simply brilliant.

Why? It was completely focused on the value to the customer. It spoke directly to them, was conscise, appealing and spoke about the iPod in a way completely different from any of it’s competitors.

Watch the video, and observe the story it tells.

The “dude” is sitting behind his Macintosh, listening to his music and clearly enjoying it. He then transfers it to his iPod, puts on the earphones, selects a song on the iPod with the thumbwheel, and within seconds is enjoying the song again. He then tucks the iPod in his pocket and dances out the door. The voiceover comes on and in only 6 brief words, speaks volumes to the audience:

iPod. 1000 songs in your pocket.

In 1 minute, Apple demonstrated how easy it was to enjoy music on their portable player, and focused the audience on the 1 thing they wanted the audience to remember. It worked amazingly.

Now, someone else — not as savvy as Apple and their advertising agency — would probably have promoted the iPod as follows:

  • Comes in 2 models with 5 GB and 10 GB hard drives
  • Capable of holding 1000 or 2000 songs respectively (in 160Kbps MP3 format)
  • Patented thumbwheel interface
  • 2-in backlit LCD display
  • 60-mW high output amplifier
  • Battery life of 10 hours (your mileage may vary)
  • Firewire port with 400 Mbs transfer speed
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack

In fact, if you looked at how other competing music players were advertised, they actually were marketing technical specs. Instead of benefits, they actually spoke about things like the amount of RAM they provided or the audio formats they supported.

It amazes me that in the 25 years (yes it’s been about that long) since the original commercial that introduced the Macintosh to the world, very few technology companies have been able to match the simplicity, clarity and effectiveness of Apple’s messaging.

And the obvious question is, yet again, why?

Rules for getting it right

It takes culture, commitment and command in the craft of communication for a company to create consistently compelling commuiques like those of Apple.  For the rest of us mere mortals, we can try something a little more mundane to mend our messages. 🙂

For whatever reason, people seem to think that in business writing, all the rules they learned in school are no longer needed. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Follow these rules (created by none other than George Orwell himself) and see what a difference they make:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

If you want more detail on any of these, check out this article.

And here’s the original essay where he first wrote these rules (way back in 1946).

For business writing, one other rule is needed.

Apply the “So what?” test to everything you write. If what you’ve written doesn’t provide a good answer the question “So what?”, rewrite it, and ask the question again.

I’ll stop there. 🙂

In the next part, I’ll discuss whether the industry can ever fix the messaging problem for good.



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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)

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?


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.