Microsoft culture must change, chairman says

Microsoft culture must change, chairman says – Fortune Tech:

“I would argue that there are some attributes to Microsoft today that do look vaguely like IBM circa 1990. The Windows monopoly is in fact under attack, and therefore we’re going to have to change or think differently about the management systems and the associated culture of the company as time goes on.”

I hope this reflects Satya Nadella’s thinking too.

The most stupid article in tech history has been published

If you spend any amount of time reading technology news and opinion sites, you’ll know how high the percentage of bullshit is. It’s huge. Finding the decent stuff takes forever, and you’ll spend your time tripping over errant nonsense.

It takes a lot to excel in the field of writing bad technology stories, but I think Eric Jackson, writing for Forbes.com, may have beaten us all and written the worst article in tech history.

It is, naturally, about Apple. Apple attracts poor writing like nothing else, probably because posting articles about the company attracts page views like nothing else. Jackson spends hundreds of words chastising it for failing to buy companies. Everyone is doing it: Microsoft, Facebook, Google… just everyone. So why isn’t Apple?

It’s clear almost from the get-go Roberts knows remarkably little about how Apple works and what’s made it richer than Croesus. Take this:

It’s also clear that Apple has lots of weak areas that it should be more aggressive in filling in: cloud services (it would nice for iMessage not to go down), web/app services (hello Ping and MobileMe), adding key mobile apps beyond things like iPhoto and iMovie, and maybe even turning its back on the whole walled garden approach with iCloud and iMessage by acquiring a leading cloud company like DropBox and messaging app to open it beyond Apple users.

Sure, Apple could “turn its back on the whole walled garden approach”. But why? So it could lower its margins? So it could have to support more platforms, increasing its costs and complicating its business? Apple sells hardware, with high margins. Now I know this idea utterly offends blinkered pundits who think there’s only one way to make a profit (repeat after me: “MARKET SHARE”) but that’s the way it is. Everything else it does is to support and enhance the hardware.

Better is to come. Jackson isn’t just a Jeremiah: he has actual positive ideas for how Apple can spend some of its cash:

What’s a quick way Apple could deploy $50 billion in cash? Well, they could pay $400/share to take out Tesla (TSLA) and make an audacious huge play for the Internet-connected car, as well as snagging Musk into the fold in one fell swoop.

Leaving aside, for one second, the value of Elon Musk (not everyone thinks he’s a genius) what would Apple gain by this? Suppose AppleTesla becomes the biggest car company in the world, by force of will, hitting the levels of General Motors. That’s 10% of the market. What happens then? Simple: every other car company, which might all have bought Apple technology for their connected cars, uses someone else’s tech because there’s no way they’re benefitting a serious competitor.

Plus you’re now saddled with a high-revenue, low profit business: General Motors made just $18 billion gross profit for the whole of 2013, on revenues of $155bn. Over the same period, Apple generated $64bn gross profit on revenues of $174bn. Apple’s profit margin is 21%; GM’s profit margin is 3%. If Apple wanted to just put $50bn in an ordinary bank savings account, it could make a better annual return than buying a car company.

Fucking. Dumb. Idea. This is why people like Jackson don’t get to be CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies.

google_london

The best of Google

It’s easy to forget.

I’ve spent much of the day at one of Google’s UK offices, being trained in how to make YouTube channels work better, something that’s of great interest to my employer. Whenever I visit the offices, tucked round the corner from the windy, desolate obelisk that is Centrepoint, I’m reminded of what makes Google awesome: the people.

I’ve never met a Googler that I didn’t like. I’m sure there are some, but in many years of dealing with them I’ve just not met one that wasn’t clever, engaged, interested in what you had to say and most of all fun. That makes it sound like there’s some kind of clone factory churning them out, but it’s true: The Googlers I’ve worked with have been, to a person, great.

That’s one of the things that I think about when someone says to me that Google is evil. It’s not, at all, simply because the kind of people who I’ve met who work there have mostly been anything but evil. They’ve also been incredibly switched on to the compromises that you have to make in running a service which lives or dies by the results of advertising, and that depends on harvesting as much of the world’s data as possible.

The issue I have with Google is simply fear: not that the current crop of Googlers might do bad things with all the power we’re handing over to them, but that in the future some other Googlers will. If there’s one thing history proves, it’s that the more you centralise power, the more likely that power is to be misused in the future.

Meanwhile, though, I’ll just carry on enjoying the products. I’ll keep on being able to find pretty-much anything published in the last 20 years online with just a few keystrokes. That’s the kind of thing which, as a graduate student, I would have died for.

Picture by  Kasya Shahovskaya

No, really, this feature alone proves Samsung is a true innovator

Galaxy S5 Hands On: Samsung Galaxy S5 Review Part 1 | BGR:

“Chief among them is a novel new power-saving mode that only displays black and white, and restricts which apps can run.

When you’re nearing the end of a busy day and running out of juice, this feature is going to be amazing.”

AMAZING! I’m AMAZED! And if you’re not AMAZED you’re probably some kind of Apple fanboi.

Amazing!

Steve Jobs, Gil Amelio’s advisor

Doing some research for a MacUser piece, I came across this from a Peter Burrows piece, writing for BusinessWeek in 1997, just after NeXT concluded the deal to take over Apple:

“After years of trying to take NeXT public, [Jobs will] get some $175 million in cash and stock for his 45%-plus stake. And other than a part-time consulting role–he'll even have an office at his old haunt–he's free to focus on Pixar Animation Studios and other interests. ''I'll advise Gil [Amelio] as much as I can, until I think they don't want my help or I decide they're not listening,'' he says.”

It really didn't quite work out that way – and I'm glad it didn't.

Why people were wrong about the Apple netbook (and what it tells us about punditry)

Poor old David Carnoy. You write a post about a conversation between you and your brother in law Ken where you talk about Apple’s need to get a netbook, and you end up in Internet pundit infamy.

Let’s take a look at the “conversation”, piece by piece.

“Ken: “Apple really needs to do a Netbook.”
Me: “Yes, now. It’s the biggest growth category in laptops. They’re missing out on a big opportunity to take Windows’ share away.”

Mistake number one: A focus on market share. Even in 2009, it was obvious this wasn’t Apple’s focus . In its lean years, the company had learned that you could survive happily on market share of a single digit, and that what was important was simply profit. If you were profitable, you lived. If you weren’t, it didn’t matter how much share you had.

Ken: “Apple keeps saying it doesn’t want to go near the low-end and make crappy notebooks with low margins. Would tarnish the brand, hurt the bottom line.”
Me: “They’re lying. They know they have to go there.”

Mistake number two: Thinking Apple will make crappy products to grab share. Apple’s made its fair share of duffers over the years, but since the end of the Amelio era they’ve tended to be few and far between – and I can’t think of a single example where the product has been crap because Apple has tried to create something cheap with a low margin. Apple just doesn’t do that anymore. Instead, the company focuses on building the best things it can, and if it can’t make something “good enough” at a specific price point, it just doesn’t enter that part of the market.

The best example of this is the way Apple introduced new variants of the iPod. The original iPod was expensive, by the MP3 player standards of the day, but was also significantly better than anything else on the market. When the company extended the range and hit lower price points, it didn’t do so with something crap: the iPod mini was a better iPod, and cheaper. The iPod nano was much higher quality than its competitors. None of the iPods ever felt like “me too” products. None of them ever felt cheap. And none of them were crappy products with low margins.

Ken: “Agree.”
Me: “So they slap a little design flair on the thing, put one model out for $599 and another for $699. Sure, the Windows version would cost you $350-$450, but I’d have no problem paying the Apple premium on one of these.”

Mistake Number Three: Thinking design is something you “slap on”. There’s a phrase for this view of design: “putting lipstick on a pig”. It’s not what Apple does – or at least, it’s not what the Apple of 2014 does. It used to be what it did, back in the early 1990’s, and it’s one of the things which almost killed it. The likelihood of Apple starting to just put lipstick on pigs again is about the same as pigs growing wings and flying.

Ken: “A lot of people would pay $599 for an Apple Netbook.”
Me: “No one’s buying the Macbook Air at $1,800.”
Ken: “I wouldn’t say no one.”
Me: “OK, but it’s sort of the Apple TV of laptops. It’s just not that relevant. Most people would prefer buying a more powerful notebook that weighs a little more for a grand.”
Ken: “I agree. I almost bought an Air when it first came out, but I’m glad I didn’t pull the trigger.” [Note: Ken uses a MacBook Pro but he wants a Netbook for nonbusiness travel].

Mistake Number Four: Failing to understand how Apple pioneers product categories. Sometimes, Apple will produce something which is a little expensive, but which effectively reshapes or creates an entire product category. In the case of the MacBook Air, that category was what we now call ultrabooks: something expensive, high-margin, but thin and light.

Me: “Apple always talks about design–and they do have great designers–but what people want now is cheap. As I said, this thing doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. I’d rather see them keep things simple and elegant and keep the cost down to $599.””

Mistake Number Five: Believing mature markets are solely price-sensitive. Where to go with this one? It’s so obviously false that it almost beggars belief. No matter how tough the market, there’s always someone buying a £50,000 Mercedes rather than a functionally-equivalent £20,000 family car. And there’s always someone who will pay $2000 more to get exactly the model they want, even though it’s functionally the same as the cheaper alternative.

The thing which makes Carnoy’s post brilliant is how it manages to encapsulate every way of misunderstanding what Apple is about, while also misinterpreting the signs of the overall market. It’s not that Carnoy was an idiot – I’m sure he wasn’t, and isn’t – it’s simply that everything in his post illustrates how easy it is to get tech punditry wrong when talking about Apple. This is a company which has grown because it defied expectations, bucked trends, and followed its own path. If you want to write about Apple, this is the first thing you should always bear in mind.

Oh Samsung

About the rumoured Samsung finger print sensor:

SamMobile claims that as you swipe over the sensor, a “real-time image of your fingerprint” appears on the display. Contrast that to the iPhone 5S, which doesn’t store actual fingerprint images on the device, and you’d think privacy advocates and grandstanding lawmakers would get more riled up with Samsung than they did with Apple. (They probably won’t.)

Oh Samsung.

Gruber on Ad Age on Apple and Amazon (and that’s too many “on”‘s)

John Gruber, on “Ad Age on Apple and Amazon”:

Interesting take on Apple’s advertising initiatives, but it seems like the ad industry just doesn’t get it that Apple cares more about its customers — their experience, their privacy — than the advertisers. I also detect a sense of entitlement — not just that they want this personal information, but that they think they should have it.

Speaking as someone who's been within the ad world, it's not so much that they think they're entitled to it. It's simple that they don't understand why Apple won't give them access to this data at any price.

A Mac and iPad user’s view of the Surface Pro 2

Back in 2003, the fully-fledged Windows Tablet PC was a pretty amazing machine. You could work on it (I wrote hundreds of thousands of words on my Acer C110, with its 9in screen and tiny keyboard). You could play games on it. You could read on it. You could do everything you could on a laptop and more. It cost more than a normal laptop, and the performance tended to be lacklustre compared to laptops of the same price. But it allowed you to do things no other laptop could do, from note taking using a stylus (with handwriting recognition which put the Newton to shame) to reading nascent ebooks in a much more natural way than on any other device. It was expensive, and clunky, but it worked.

Or at least, it worked for me. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for the rest of humanity, which – despite the constant promotion of the platform by Bill Gates – took one look at Tablet PC, went “huh?” and bought normal laptops instead.

Fast-forward to 2014 and Microsoft is still trying to sell people on the concept of the one-size-fits-all combined Windows PC and tablet. The company is so convinced this is the right way to go that it’s backing its hunch by building its own hardware, the latest of which is the Surface Pro 2.

Microsoft wants you to think of Surface Pro 2 as a “no compromises” PC that’s also a tablet. This is exactly the same line which Gates span in 2003, and unfortunately for Microsoft, it looks like being about as successful as marketing spin as it was ten years ago.

I’ve spent the last few weeks using Surface Pro 2 extensively. I’ve taken it on trips, where I might otherwise have taken my iPad. I’ve used it at home, instead of my MacBook Air, for everything from playing games to social media to business with Office. Although I’ve enjoyed the experience in some respects, the compromises Microsoft has been forced to make in creating something which supposed replaces both PC and tablet are probably more than I’m willing to put up with.

By being a tablet, Surface Pro 2 is a compromised PC: compared to laptops with equivalent performance it’s expensive, especially when you factor in buying a keyboard (£100 to you, sir!). It’s high-end ultrabook territory.

Compare it, also, to Apple’s latest iPad. The iPad Air weighs half as much (1lb vs 2lbs), has longer battery life, and will cost you $200 (or $79 if you want cellular networking, something that’s not even an option on Surface Pro 2). And that 64GB Surface Pro 2 will have a lot less space remaining after Windows has eaten into it than you’ll get with the iPad.

So what, exactly, is the point of the Surface Pro 2? Continue reading

The Plus in Google Plus isn’t quite this Plus

John Gruber in “The Plus in Google Plus”:

The conventional wisdom about Google is that they’re selling our privacy to advertisers. That’s no longer a fringe opinion — it’s the consensus. They’re breeding resentment.

The ironic thing is that they're not actually doing this. Google never, ever, gives your data to advertisers – it's way too valuable for that. What it does is give access to audiences, which is a very different thing.

Ian Betteridge on Macs, mobiles, and technology