Consumer education has been a key to Apple success

Back in 1984, the first magazine devoted to Apple Macintosh came to the market. Macworld has been a must read for me ever since. I’m therefore pleased to now be writing a monthly column on Apple for Macworld and my thanks to Jason Snell for allowing me this opportunity to offer my insight and analysis to Macworld readers. My inaugural column deals with what I believe is one of the key to Apple’s success over the last decade. Education. Apple 101 if you will. Few vendors have taken the time to explain to the market just what their products do and why consumers should purchase them. Fewer have spent the time and effort at retail (or the classroom) to let users come and learn about Apple products.

Education is the magic that’s behind much of Apple’s current success, but it’s been a decade-long process of determination, patience and keeping one’s own counsel in the face of market critiques. The question is, can Apple’s competitors get school in session and get consumers to enroll, or is the consumer going to be faithful to their alma mater?

A few thoughts on Apple and the DOJ

Today’s news has been a lot of conversation about Apple and the DOJ. Short version, the DOJ is apprarently investigating Apple’s iTunes business and if it somehow has violated antitrust issues. A good summary is this Bloomberg article. First and foremost, I’m not an anti-trust lawyer (much to my parent’s chagrin) so this is hardly legal analysis. Nevertheless, here’s how this looks to me.

1. Apple is no longer the scrappy underdog. With Apple’s position in the market (and a stone’s throw from exceeding Microsoft’s market cap) there’s going to come a lot more scrutiny about Apple’s business and their practices. That’s a fact of life when you hit a certain measure of success.

2. Apple has no monopoly on music, legal or not. There are legal monopolies and illegal ones. Hard to see how Apple has either. As a consumer, there are plenty of places I can go to get music without ever dealing with Cupertino. There’s no issue of DRM or lock in as there’s no DRM on iTunes music. Someone want to explain this to me?

3. One core issue seems to be Apple not willing to promote content that’s been given exclusivity elsewhere. Again, I must be missing something. If you give my competition exclusive rights on content why on earth would I invest dollars promoting it myself. I suspect I’d promote the content that was my exclusive. It’s one thing if there’s a single dominant store that says if you stock my competitors store, I’ll stop buying from you. That’s not what’s happening here.

4. This appears to be preliminary look. No one has said Apple has done anything wrong. Early reports are the music industry is driving the complaint. Having invested in Apple’s iTunes experiment early on, it paid off big time but also created a new player with a lot of power in the marketplace. If I’m the music industry, I’d probably prefer to see more digital stores and services compete with Apple. I’m not sure complaints to the government will achieve what market forces failed to achieve.

Bottom line? The world is a different place and Apple is going to be viewed as a very different company going forward. As more vanquished competitors cry foul, expect to see more of these types of stories going forward. As Apple success continues to grow, Cupertino will learn that it’s now playing by a different set of rules and expectations.

FroYo is quite tasty

My latest SlashGear column takes a closer look at Android 2.2 or FroYo. It’s a solid update and makes using Android 2.1 downright painful for me. If you use a Nexus One it’s a total no brainer to update.

Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed by this release. Google continues to refine the Android experience, making it more usable and more useful. If you have a Nexus One or other 2010 stock Android device, it’s a no-brainer upgrade. If you’re using an older device or have a device with heavy vendor customization, it’s likely to take some time for this release to get to you and I’d probably wait to see how well older devices handle the updated platform. Google’s rate and pace of OS updates has been impressive and there’s no sign it’s slowing down. Next stop, Gingerbread, but we’ll have at least a few months before we get to sample Google’s next dessert.

Android isn’t summer camp for handset vendors, not everyone gets a trophy

The subject of the possible fragmentation of the Android platform has been a concern from day one. I recently spent some talking about this issue with the “father” of Android, Google’s Andy Rubin and cam away with an interesting view of the Android market. Is Android fragmented or are we just seeing a new rate and pace of innovation unlike anything we’ve ever seen before with the velocity of mobile. Does it even matter. These are the topics of my latest Engadget column. So what do you think? Innovation or fragmentation?

Android isn’t summer camp for handset vendors and not everyone gets get a trophy for showing up. Google is treating partners equally, but will not slow the rate of innovation so weaker players can keep up. By constantly raising the bar, both in terms of reference devices and software, Google aims to keep innovating and drive that innovation as a differentiator. Google wasn’t looking for volume sales with the Nexus One, it was looking to raise the hardware bar — and arguably the best way to do that is to do it yourself.

Flash goes mobile with Android

I’ve spent the last few days running a pre-release version of Flash 10.1 on Android 2.1. The results are the topic of my latest SlashGear column

At the end of the day, developers will be a key factor. With ten mobile platforms vying for attention and ten not a sustainable number long term, many developers may look at Flash as a way of leveraging their code and IP to a larger number of platforms without making a strategic bet on the success of any one of them. After weeks of rhetoric, Adobe has answered the mobile Flash challenge with a solid demonstration on the technology viability on mobile, notably Android. Developers and users now will make the final call about whether Flash is important enough for them as they make their development and purchase decisions.

Two weeks with Kin – the view from GenUpload

Latest Chaim Gartenberg column on SlashGear is an update directly from GenUpload after two weeks of Kin use. Must read if you’re interested in Kin from the demographic it’s aimed for,

Overall, the KIN isn’t perfect. But it does get a lot of things right, especially in regard to teenagers. And, with a few tweaks – particularly in regard to the refresh rate on the Loop and a lower data price – it could well be the perfect phone for teens.

Can RIM make the transition from enterprise to consumer?

RIM’s role in making the transition from enterprise to consumer is the topic of this month’s column in Computerworld. I’m a long time Blackberry user going back to the first devices ever made but I wonder if RIM can really make it in the consumer space. I recently tried to update to the newest version of the BB Facebook app and the experience was a disaster. It refused to let me sync to my contacts. A little investigation revealed that my BB once connected to a BES and therefore needed a policy adjustment. Of course, I no longer connect to that server which made it impossible. The command line fix, backup and restore to make it all work was hardly consumer friendly. RIM’s a great friend to the enterprise IT manager but less so to the consumer. A lot will depend on what RIM does with Blackberry Six. While there’s a lot of momentum at RIM’s back, the question is how well they can do long term in an increasingly consumer driven market.

BlackBerry is still a hugely popular platform. For many business users and IT departments, it’s the only choice. In fact, an alien who landed on Earth and boarded the Acela train from New York to Washington would assume each earthling not only wore a blue suit but also owned a small oracle with a keyboard they were constantly consulting. RIM’s problem is that much of its success depends on inertia — it’s a snapshot in time. But with the enterprise market saturated, RIM must find ways to evolve its platform to be more competitive with changing user needs. While recent acquisitions show that RIM is slowly picking up some of the parts that it needs, such as a new kernel and better Web technology, it will need to accelerate the process of integrating those features into a new operating system — as well as a more coherent marketing campaign to better explain RIM’s offerings. (Some of RIM’s recent commercials have been so arcane, I didn’t even realize they were for the BlackBerry.)