Tag Archives: Joe Wilcox

John Gruber, Joe Wilcox, and why comments are anti-web

Myself and John Gruber have had plenty of disagreements. John and I have debated the reasons for the relative lack of malware on the Mac. I’ve tweaked his tail over his habit of excoriating those who make predictions and get it wrong, and over some inconsistency in the way he views positive and negative figures for Apple market share. And I’ve argued that he’s flat-out wrong on occasions, too.

I see it as part of the cut and thrust of healthy debate on the Internet. You put out an idea, people test it, you respond if you feel the need.

However, recently John’s weathered some criticism for the lack of comments on his site, and in a particularly angry post Joe Wilcox got about as close as you get on the Internet to demanding John go outside with him and settle things like a man. Now I should make this clear: I like Joe. We’ve conversed online and over the phone for many years, since his days as one of the best analysts covering the Apple market, and although we’ve never met I think of him as friend. Continue reading

Apple levitates: Financial quarter, by the numbers

Joe Wilcox goes through Apple’s numbers for the quarter thoroughly (and dispassionately – something that I appreciate when it comes to numbers).

What sticks out for me is that Apple has managed a pretty astounding feat: preserving unit sales (or expanding them in many product lines) while pushing margins even higher, something that should barely be possible when the world is in the grips of the worst recession since the 1930′s. There’s been a lot of focus on the bottom-line revenue numbers, but the truth is that given the changes in the way Apple accounts (driven by a revision to the rules by the Financial Standards Accounting Board) it’s hard to really see clearly how well Apple did on that score. The best estimate is “very well, but not as well as the figures look at a glance”.

That’s why my focus in looking at these figures would be on unit sales and margins, and in both cases Apple did well – outstandingly so, in the case of its margins.

Put together unit sales on iPod and iPhone – something that’s a valid idea, I think – and they moved from 27.1 million in the equivalent quarter last year to 29.7 million units this quarter. The mix of products is high-margin items (iPhones) up, lower margin items (iPods) down. More product, at higher margin, is pretty-much all you could ask from any company at the moment. I am absolutely certain that many tech companies that are being driven to slice margins more thinly in the recession will look at Apple’s figures with a massive sense of jealousy.

As for unit sales in Macs, they seem to be broadly in line with IDC numbers, certainly for the US. In the US, IDC had estimated unit sales increase of 31%, and Apple hit 30%. Those are very good figures, but it’s worth remembering that IDC also estimated that Toshiba had upped its sales by 78% and HP by 45% in the same period. And neither Toshiba nor HP concentrate on the “cheap junk” end of the market: while their margins won’t match Apple’s, this isn’t a case of people flocking to netbooks rather than expensive PCs.

(UPDATE: But see an excellent point below by Piot on worldwide market share.)

Given these figures, don’t be surprised if Apple actually loses market share in the US this quarter. How much value you apply to market share figures is up to you – personally, I think that as long as Apple is selling enough Macs to sustain itself and keep the third-parties interested, it doesn’t really matter. The days when its market share was sinking at a worrying rate are clearly over and I doubt they are coming back.

It’s worth remembering there were many predictions that Apple’s unit sales in Macs would actually slide during a recession, as customers looked to significantly cheaper PCs or (if they were dyed in the wool Mac users) deferred purchases. That simply hasn’t happened. Without detailed, qualitative data on customers’ purchasing choices (why they’re buying what they bought) it’s hard to say for sure, but my best guess is that while Windows 7 has slowed Apple’s growth compared to the rest of the PC market, it hasn’t drawn back any of those customers who switched from Windows to Mac over the past few years.

In other words, once you’re Mac you don’t go back. The net migration from Mac to Windows which characterised the 1990′s is over. Instead, the chief characteristic is now net migration from Windows to Mac – something that Windows 7 has slowed, but not halted.

(Image by Photo by Checiàp – http://flic.kr/p/5n9bi)

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Tech rumours and wish fulfilment: The Google Phone and the Apple Tablet

There’s always been a hype-cycle, particularly with products from Apple, but something I’ve noticed recently is how the hype-cycle has changed into a world of fantasy.

The two best examples of this lately are the Google Nexus One and (apparently forthcoming) Apple Tablet. You see a simple pattern: In blog posts and forums the hype gets whipped up… and up… and up. More than hype, though, the rumoured product becomes a method of wish-fulfilment for writers and commentors, to the point where – upon real announcement – there is a massive sense of disappointment.

Take the Nexus One. First came the rumours of the hardware, which were at least based in the fact that Google had given some employees some advanced phones. The hardware was hyped up – it was going to be the fastest, greatest Android hardware ever seen. Next the software was hyped up: it would be released with the most advanced, most amazing version of Android.

Then more and more wishes got attached to the product, as if they were really part of the plan. The phone would be as low as $100, subsidised by Google because it could then sell more ads. And that would be without a carrier – Google would introduce unlimited data, no-voice plans for $20 per month. It would use Google Voice for communications, and you could use it on any network, anywhere.

The rumours piled on thick and fast. Someone on a forum would say “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and within a day or two you’d see this repeated as an “I heard a rumour that…” type of post.

Of course, it was all too good to be true. And while my post was wrong on the core point that Google would release an “own brand” phone, all the arguments I made were correct. There was no special plan, no subsidised price, no carrier-less phone, no souped-up version of Android. The Nexus One is just another Android phone. Not a bad one, to be sure: but just another phone, with just another plan.

Surprise, surprise: the reaction was massive disappointment. A lot of “GOOGLE YOU SUCK!” Even some comments that Google had conducted some kind of “bait and switch“. And, of course, the usual hypesters trying desperately to justify their earlier breathless claims that the Nexus One would change everything.

The same thing has been happening with the purported Apple Tablet, only there’s been a lot longer for people to attach wishes to the machine. Publishers, for example, at looking to this mythical beast to save them from the free publishing model of the web. It’s going to run OS X apps. Or maybe be a bigger iPhone. It’s unicorns and fairies and the tricorder – all in one. It will change computing, change your life, amaze you… and be the biggest thing since Jesus.

You can see how much wish fulfilment there is attached to the Tablet when someone dares to suggest that maybe (just maybe) it might not be all things to all men – that it might, in fact, be a niche product that really only a few people need. My friend Joe Wilcox, for example, had the temerity to claim that tablets as a whole are niche products, and that there was little that Apple could realistically create that would change this.

Cue hysteria from TechCrunch, which has invested almost as much time and energy whipping up fantasies about the Apple Tablet as they did about the Nexus One. Cue general tutting from publishers (who really, really want a tablet). Cue lots and lots of True Believers – who all want a world-changer from Apple, but who rarely all want the same thing – piling on and claiming that Joe just doesn’t get it.

All Joe has done, really, is point out that the tablet form itself faces some serious technological and ergonomic challenges if it is to ever break out of a niche. Can Apple meet and beat those challenges? I hope they do. But Tablets are not an established product area in the same way that phones or MP3 players are, so they’ll need to break a lot of ground to make it work.

But that doesn’t matter when a product rumour gets to the point of the Tablet, a point where it has had attached to it so many wishes and dreams that it’s impossible to meet all those dreams.

Of course, like everyone else, I have an idea of the Tablet that I’d like Apple to produce. Slim, light, capable of touch and also pen input (got to be able to draw and write notes on it). But like everyone else, I’m just indulging in wish-fulfilment. The problem with tech writing these days is that all too often, those writing write from a perspective of wish fulfilment rather than hard information. And that’s sad.

(UPDATE: As if to make one of my points, Joe has published a post listing some responses to his request for comments on what people want from an Apple Tablet. The answer is “pretty much everything”. And, with the exceptions of browsing and e-book reading, pretty much no one wants the same thing)

(Image by Photo Giddy)

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How Microsoft is snatching Windows 7 defeat from the jaws of victory

I made the point with rather more swearing on Twitter yesterday, but Joe Wilcox says it without the bad language:

“After commandingly executing Windows 7 development, Microsoft had run off the track right before the finish line. Suddenly, Windows 7 is a disaster potentially like its predecessor. Could anything be worse than Vista?”

What’s the cause of our ire? The insane hoops that Microsoft is making customers jump through to upgrade to its latest and greatest operating system. In response to a query from Walt Mossberg about the upgrade process for different legacy versions of Windows, Microsoft a chart which consist of  6×11 matrix, 66 different options, and a few hundred words explaining the different options.

On one hand, I can understand Microsoft’s predicament. There are a lot of potential versions of Windows that you can upgrade from, and testing all of them with all the different widgets, bits and pieces is tricky to do and even trickier to explain. 

But it’s not the explanation that is at fault: it’s the fact that Windows XP users, the people who Microsoft most needs to get to upgrade to Windows 7, will have to perform a complete wipe-and-reinstall of Windows, plus every application they have, plus all their drivers, and restore all their files from a backup.

I’ve done this a few times. It’s not trivial. It’s not fun. And for the average consumer, it will be a terrible experience as they have to look through old boxes trying to find original install disks, root through their email for download and license details, and generally go through a day’s work.

Here’s the deal: Microsoft cannot consider Windows 7 finished until there is a single-click upgrade from Windows XP. If it ships the product without one, it will miss out on millions of potential upgrades, cause its users considerable pain, and leave Apple laughing all the way to the bank next time those users upgrade their computer.

Windows 7 is a good operating system – in some ways better than the current version of OS X. If Microsoft messes up its release it will not get another opportunity from a big chunk of its consumer customers, and will be handing Apple another couple of points of market share on a plate. 

This might not sound too bad when you consider the commanding lead that Microsoft has in operating system market share. In my next post, I’ll write about why it’s not only bad news – it could spell disaster for Microsoft, and turn John Gruber’s prediction into reality faster than even he imagines. 

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Watch out, Mac-using analysts: Ballmer knows where you live

Via Joe Wilcox, comes this bit of Steve Ballmer’s speech to financial analysts:

“We have low share, by the way, in the investor audience. I can see the Apple logos versus the PC logos. So we have more work to do, more work to do. Our share is lower in this audience than the average audience. But don’t hide it. I’ve already counted them. I have been doing that since we started talking. (Laughter.) Anyway, we’ve got a bank of them right here in the middle. I know where they all are. One over here on the side. But anyway, that’s OK. Feel free as long as you’re using Office to go right on ahead.”

My guess is that the average financial analyst doesn’t spend less than $1,000 on a laptop…

 

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