Aug 14

Microsoft’s new ads: beating a dead horse

Hail Microsoft, the King of PCs.

It’s easy to understand why the company clings to its “PCs forever” strategy, even after every major Windows PC maker has suffered slumping sales due to the tablet revolution.

It’s actually a form of corporate addiction. When you’ve built a huge global powerhouse based on one strategy, it’s hard to stop.

When trouble brews, the reaction can be reflexive: “let’s go with our strength.”

So now, in its three new ads for the Surface tablet, Microsoft once again goes with its “strength.”

While it previously fell short by comparing Surface to the iPad, it tries again by comparing Surface to the MacBook Air.

Because, as we all know, what the world really wants is a tablet that feels like a PC. Complete with keyboard and Office software. Continue reading →

Oct 13

Apple event: the week-after report

Rush to judgment? Nah. Not here. A week after Apple’s latest product unveiling, I’ve had time to let it stew.

I’ve also had time to play with the various bits of new software. Here are some random reactions to all of it:

Disaster! Apple didn’t revolutionize anything. True, but let us note that historically, Apple’s astronomical success has come from three places: its ability to revolutionize, its ability to improve upon the revolutions, and its ability to out-market its competitors. At this event, we got two out of three.

Opening video
As Tim Cook noted, this was a repeat from this summer’s WWDC. “It does such an incredible job talking about our values,” said he. While many love this video, I’m not a fan of it. To quote from Game of Thrones, “If you have to say you’re the king, you’re not a true king.” Apple has in the past communicated its values more clearly than any other company — simply by producing great products and great ads.

Craig Federighi
Damn, he’s good. Everyone at Apple is smart, but being likable is a very different matter. Of all the presenters, Craig wins in this measure hands-down. Did you notice that when Tim yielded the stage to Craig, the superlative count dropped precipitously? While Tim incessantly pounds words like “amazing” and “incredible,” Craig cuts way back. As they say in the speaking biz, he’s a natural. Continue reading →

Feb 13

Apple battling where it used to crush

No one denies that Apple has been more successful than any other technology company on earth.

How that happened shouldn’t be a matter of debate, but we can always count on human nature to muddy the waters. Some Apple detractors put forth the theory that it’s not the technology; it’s all in the marketing.

Reasonably intelligent people can’t possibly believe that. However, there is one bit of truth to it. That is, Apple has always been amazingly good at marketing. It’s been the gold standard in marketing as long as most of us can remember.

No matter what brand I’m working with, technology or otherwise, it’s astounding how many times I hear marketing people cite the Apple example to make a point. Apple’s advertising history is as famous as its products.

But something’s changed. Continue reading →

Feb 13

Microsoft’s uncool quest for cool

In the technology biz, “cool” is a very good thing to be. Ask Apple. Its past revolutions were fueled by the ever-present aura of cool.

But where exactly does cool come from? One thing is for certain: it doesn’t come from standing on a mountaintop and screaming “we’re cool!”

This is apparently one marketing lesson Microsoft has never learned. Because just a few days ago, it stood on a mountaintop (The Grammys broadcast) and screamed its coolness with the above Surface Pro commercial.

Let’s start with the obvious: it isn’t cool. If I had to categorize it, I’d say this spot falls somewhere between “retro” and “embarrassing.” Continue reading →

Dec 12

Microsoft goes for the gimmick

Back in the days of NeXT, Steve Jobs taught me a lesson in technology advertising. As you might expect, it wasn’t very complicated. It went like this:

“Be important.”

At that point in time, Steve had a particular need for importance. Sales of the NeXT Computer weren’t exactly on fire. The company was struggling to survive.

Steve wanted the world to believe that NeXT was a relevant force with a message that deserved notice. He had no interest in an ad that was cute or inconsequential. He wouldn’t pin his hopes on a marketing gimmick.

I can’t help but think of Steve’s direction when I see Microsoft’s advertising for its Surface tablet.

“Important” it is not. Continue reading →

Jul 12

Maybe Sculley wasn’t so $#@ after all?

Quick. When you hear the name John Sculley, what comes to mind?

Conspirator? Failed CEO? Uh, visionary?

As we all know, Sculley’s attempts to fill Steve’s visionary shoes didn’t quite pan out. Newton was a good idea, lacking only in the technology that would make it work well. (Though it did provide excellent fodder for the late-night comics).

Sculley’s most revolutionary idea was the Knowledge Navigator. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a product — it was just a video. It was his vision of Apple’s computing future. Continue reading →

Jun 12

The joy of demo crashes

In a world where competition is often seen as combat, there’s nothing more delightful than watching the other guy squirm.

This video is a good example. Microsoft Windows president Steve Sinofsky’s mid-demo crash of the Surface tablet during the “big unveil” last week now has garnered 3 million views in a week. That’s over three times as many hits as the presentation itself — and over twice as many as Steve Jobs’ iPad 2 presentation has accumulated in over a year.

Good moments just don’t attract a crowd like good moments gone bad. But then Sinofsky added to the allure with his own little bit of performance art. Note how he does a little bunny-hop to the back of the stage to pick up a backup unit — almost as if no one would notice. Continue reading →

Apr 12

Intel’s “new era” echoes Apple’s old idea

Thanks to Intel, “a new era of computing” has arrived.

No more thick, heavy laptops. No more clunky design. This is the dawn of the “ultrabook”: super-thin, super-light and beautifully sculpted.

It’s a bold claim and a fantastic idea, except that it ignores one obvious fact:

The Intel era of ultrabooks looks exactly like the Apple era of MacBook Air, which began four years ago.

It’s particularly interesting because MacBook Air has actually been running on an Intel processor all this time. And PC companies have in fact dabbled in the super-thin space before, though they haven’t had much luck. Continue reading →

Oct 11

Zigging when Apple zags

Sometimes Google seems to do some extraordinary acrobatics just to prove it isn’t Apple.

Speaking at the All Things Digital conference in Asia yesterday, Andy Rubin made it a point out their difference in philosophy.

1. He doesn’t believe in tablet-specific apps. All apps should work on a phone and scale up.

2. He doesn’t believe the phone should be an assistant. “You shouldn’t be communicating with the phone — you should be communicating with somebody on the other side of the phone,” he said.

Statements like these diminish Google, mostly because they fly in the face of common sense. Rubin makes it sound like it’s more important to dismiss Apple’s advances than it is to move forward.

His view on tablet-specific apps appears to be a defense for the Android Marketplace having so few of them. That number has been cited as anywhere from 300 to 3,000 — whatever, it’s way less than Apple’s 140,000.

Obviously, many apps can scale perfectly well from a phone to a tablet if they’re written to do so. Just as obviously, there’s a big difference between a 4-inch screen and a 10-inch screen. Though many apps can successfully scale, common sense says that a bigger screen opens up new possibilities. Otherwise, we’d all be running phone apps on our 27-inch screens too.

To be dismissive of Siri is to appear almost Luddite-ish. Even in its beta form, Siri is shaping up to be a monster hit. Again, common sense. It’s infinitely easier to say “Set alarm for 8am” than it is to go through the normal routine. Controlling the phone’s more advanced capabilities the same way feels nothing less than miraculous. And phones are just the start.

Apple didn’t denigrate Android’s superior voice recognition capability, they pushed it to a much higher level — the ability to intelligently interpret words to initiate actions. You’re a smart guy, Andy, but to dismiss this kind of leap with comments like “you shouldn’t be communicating with the phone” is pretty embarrassing.

Common sense says one other thing, too. Not too far in the future, Android will feature a built-in intelligent assistant. It may even help you explore Android’s library of made-for-tablet apps.


Sep 11

Michael Dell’s world of fantasy and delight

Studies  have shown it’s natural and healthy for males to have recurring fantasies. But still, the ones dancing around in Michael Dell’s head may be pushing things.

To hear Michael tell the tale, life is sweet. All this talk of a post-PC world doesn’t phase him. Quite the contrary. With HP leaving the PC business, his eyes light up at the idea of gaining PC market share. So it goes in his recent comments to Financial Times.

Only a few problems with Michael’s logic.

First is the fact that HP decided to get out of PCs for good reason. Even though they sell more PCs than any company on earth, HP believes the smartest thing they can do is abandon ship. That’s because (a) PC profit margins are microscopic, and (b) it’s only going to get worse as PCs continue their descent.

Second, it’s hard to deny that demand for PCs is fading. Not only have the prognosticators lowered their global sales estimates, so has Michael’s own company. It was just one month ago that Dell cut its sales forecasts for PCs, citing “weakening consumer demand” and other causes.

Third, Michael was publicly downplaying his PC sales as recently as April, making sure we were all aware that Dell was now more focused on the enterprise, with PCs only representing one third of their business. The most positive thing he could say about PCs was that Dell made a “modest profit” on them. “I’m just level-setting what Dell is today,” he said.

He speaks optimistically of Dell’s prospects in tablets too—despite the fact that the 5-inch Streak is dead and the 7-inch model is languishing at best. For some reason, Michael’s fantasy here is that things will somehow be different when and if the tablet competition heats up. In fact, Dell will be one of dozens of tablet-makers all sharing the same OS, slugging it out for a sliver of the market.

“We are very distinct from our competitors,” says Michael in that Financial Times interview. Hard to argue with that.

At least IBM and HP stopped having those PC fantasies.