Mobile Insight

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On Steve

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Walt Mossberg remembers the Steve he knew. Great to see Walt’s respect for the privacy of their conversations.

A gracious and sincere note from Bill Gates. I have had my misgiving in the past about the scorched-earth policies of Bill from the MS days but I am beginning to like the post-MS Bill — Bill 2.0 if you will — a lot more.

Stephen Wolfram’s fond remembrances of his meetings with Steve Jobs. Guess where Mathematica got its name from?

An incisive piece by Philip Delves Broughton on how Jobs made Apple fit for the future.

Apple is not really one company, but three very different organisations lashed together and devastatingly fit for purpose.

A rather tasteless comment by Richard Stallman. If there ever was an example of how not to say something about someone that just died then this is it. There are just about a million other ways in which Stallman could have expressed his difference in opinion. I’d like to believe that it’s poor choice of words and not thoughts

A thoughtful post by John — who worked for Apple in the 90s — about the complex reaction that Steve provoked in him. Steve was a complicated individual and a quite a few including John find some aspects of his operational and managerial style troubling. Nonetheless there is a lot to admire, learn and imbibe from a life well-lived.  John’s post includes a classic Steve quote when he was asked to respond to Michael Dell’s suggestion that Apple shut down and return cash to shareholders.

Another interesting FT article by Philip Delves Broughton that captures the author’s ambivalence towards Steve and explores the inscrutability of both Apple and Steve.

Christopher Bonanos on the man who inspired Steve Jobs. Is it any surprise that it is hard to distinguish who said these words (Jobs or Land).

“Market research is what you do when your product isn’t any good.”

“The bottom line is in heaven.”

Guy Kawasaki who had the good fortune to work closely with Jobs describes what he learned from Steve. Includes this gem about market research and focus groups at Apple.

The Apple focus group was the right hemisphere of Steve’s brain talking to the left one.

Please read the whole thing.

One of my favorite blogs, The Monday Note had two interesting posts, one from Frederic Filloux and the other from Jean-Louis Gassee. Filloux captures what one can learn from Steve’s handling of Apple. What really stands out to me are two attributes: focus (#1) and Apple’s handling of money (#6) on Filloux’s list. These two are kind of related. IMHO these two characteristics differentiate Apple from the rest of the pack. Having the discipline to focus on only a few things and resisting the temptation to deploy that huge arsenal of cash on things such as acquisitions is no non-trivial challenge. Very few companies if any can pull that off. Neither is the willingness to spend whatever it takes to ensure that the chosen products are perfect. It is no coincidence that there are no committees at Apple. It will be interesting to see if Apple the organization continues to have the courage to make these kind of decisions without an all-powerful founding-CEO at the top. Robert Sutton at Work Matters had an interesting post a few weeks ago on signs to watch out for at Apple.

As Gassee says Steve’s genius was that he understood that computers and computing devices needed to act like extensions of the human mind and body in a way that few others even to this day understand. The machine had to be humanized before humans could fall in love with it. Every Apple product is designed to produce an emotional reaction and connection. That’s why there are so many in the cult of Apple. As Nicholson Baker in the New Yorker says the grand piano has left and will be sorely missed.

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Written by Varma Chanderraju

October 10, 2011 at 5:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

More On The Acquisition

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A couple of interesting things related to acquisition have emerged in the past couple of days.

Google had to significantly raise the amount it offered to get the deal done. From the reports it looks the negotiations took a lot longer than earlier reports seemed to indicate. Also contrary to earlier speculation that only Page and Jha were involved in the negotiations it appears that Rubin was the instigator. One can never under-estimate personal dynamics. After all, Rubin and Jha have had a close and fruitful working relationship for a while, going back to Jha’s days at Qualcomm.

Andy Rubin, who oversees Google’s mobile operations, made the first contact with Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha, in early July according to the documents. Later, Google CEO Larry Page and Nikesh Ahora, the company’s chiefbusiness officer, entered the talks.

After nearly a month of confidential discussions, Google offered $30 per share in an Aug. 1 letter to Motorola Mobility’s board. At the time, Motorola Mobility’s stock was hovering around $22 per share.

Motorola Mobility rejected the first bid and asked for $43.50 per share on the advice of Silicon Valley investment banker Frank Quattrone of Qatalyst Partners.

Google then suggested a price of $37 per share before finally agreeing to pay $40 per share on Aug. 9.

Google paid more for MMI than it has paid for all its previous acquisitions put together ($9.1B).

Sanjay Jha stands to gain around $66M when the deal goes through. Dan Maloney stands to gain around $16M.

Jha was hired by the old Motorola in 2008 to be co-CEO and guide its cellphone unit to independence. When the split from the rest of Motorola (now called Motorola Solutions) finally took effect in January, Motorola Mobility’s board granted Jha enough stock and options to give him 1.8 percent of the company, when fully vested. The grants are supposed to vest over several years, but they will vest immediately if the company is sold.

Written by Varma Chanderraju

September 14, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Without Equal

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Not surprising that news of Steve Jobs resignation as CEO of Apple is reverberating throughout the blogosphere. Lot of thoughtful, heartfelt and touching tributes to someone that’s being hailed as the most successful industrialist of the modern computing era. Sorry Bill, you might have to settle for the most successful philanthropist title. Getting back to Steve Jobs, he is indeed one of a kind and deserves all the accolades that are being heaped on him. In awe of what he has accomplished and the impact he has had on the industry. Shudder to imagine a world without Steve and his inspiring creations.

Walt Mossberg at AllThingsD nicely sums up the reasons Steve distinguished himself

He did it because he was willing to take big risks on new ideas, and not be satisfied with small innovations fed by market research. He also insisted on high quality and had the guts to leave out features others found essential and to kill technologies, like the floppy drive and the removable battery, he decided were no longer needed. And he has been a brilliant marketer, personally passionate about his products.

Add phenomenal smarts, intuitive design sense, refined aesthetics, absolute conviction of vision, unflinching focus on simplicity and extraordinary capacity to inspire those that work for you and you begin to understand how he accomplished what he did.

WSJ has also compiled some of his quotes at this page. There are some great ones in there including some that are worthy of framing.

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Better advise will be hard to come by. Profound words from an extraordinary human being. Thanks Steve and wish you the best of health.

Written by Varma Chanderraju

August 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Apple, Design, Innovation

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Design With Your Gut or Data?

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John Lilly recently wrote a great post about something that’s been hotly debated in the design and tech product development community in general: should designers rely on their artistic intuition or should they defer to the dictates of data. There was a popular post that made the rounds a couple of years ago, penned by a designer who quit Google citing (according to him) Google’s propensity to veer towards data-driven design as one of the reasons that he couldn’t operate effectively at Google. John offers some great advise on how one can attempt to resolve the tension between intuition-driven design and data-driven design. He says

In other words, you should always design the product you think/believe/know is what people want — there’s a genius in that activity that no instrumentation, no data report, no analysis will ever replace.  But at the same time you should be relentless in looking at the data on how people actually use what you’ve built, and you should be looking for things that show which assumptions you’ve made are wrong, because those are the clues to what can be made better. We all like to see all the up-and-to-the-right happy MBA charts, and those are important. But they don’t help you get any better than you already are.

Please read the whole post, it references a couple of quotes from Bob Sutton and Guy Kawasaki that I really like. John’s advise is relevant to product innovation in general, high-tech or not. Relying on data derived from usage of existing products and experiences of existing customers is important and can help with incremental innovation. However it is not of much use when the goal is to come up with something that is truly disruptive. Companies should absolutely make use of the state-of-the-art analytics and business intelligence tools that are available today. However they also need to understand the limitations of that approach and learn how to balance that with right-brain thinking and the ability to empathize with prospective users. One needs to go beyond data-mining to create products that are capable of attracting non-consumers.

Written by Varma Chanderraju

August 23, 2011 at 10:12 am

Posted in Design, Innovation

Tagged with , ,

Why MacBook Air Reigns Supreme

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Jason Cross over at MacWorld takes a shot at explaining why none of the PC manufacturers were able to lay claim to the ultra thin laptop market despite delivering ultra thin models to the market years before Apple did with the MacBook Air. Jason believes the PC manufacturers did not try hard enough with their product lines and threw in the towel too soon. He is right to point out that the the PC manufacturers should have persevered despite lukewarm market response to their introductory versions. It is always hard to have the courage to stick with a product line when the short-term market indicators are telling you otherwise. Technology vendors cannot always look at short-term market signals as reliable indicators of long-term market direction. You can look to the market for clues on incremental innovation but not necessarily for disruptive innovation. You are on your own, especially when you are trying to create a new market segment. It was important for vendors to tease out that the market response was weak because of the price and the low initial demand was not a knock on the overall value proposition of a ultra thin and lightweight laptop. Those that firmly believed in their vision and the value proposition of ultra lightweight laptops would have stuck with the pursuit of that vision and would have arrived at the incremental innovations necessary to fix the most glaring feature liabilities such as low battery life.

However that’s not what happened with the PC vendors. They either shut down entire product lines or did not invest enough to make meaningful improvements in the product lines. Apple in the meantime addressed the challenges quite creatively (case-less SSD, unibody design, packing more lithium-polymer for longer battery-life etc) and delivered a product that quite rightfully gave them the bragging rights and the lions share of the market. Apple is finding it hard to keep up with the demand for Macbook Air. Good problem to have. IMO, this does not mean that the PC vendors could not match Apple’s innovation. Quite the contrary, I suspect they would have arrived at similarly creative solutions through sheer persistence and it’s twin brother: serendipity. Lesson learned: good things happen to those that stick with the program, especially when you strongly believe in the long-term vision of the product and the value it creates. Of course, figuring out when to stick with it and when to cut your losses and run is not a science and not something that can be easily distilled into a formula. That’s where visionary leadership, intuition honed through experience and sometimes sheer maniacal doggedness come into the picture. As long as Steve Jobs is at the helm that’s one area where Apple clearly has the edge.

Written by Varma Chanderraju

August 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Apple, Innovation

Tagged with ,

Post PC Era

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Perhaps a lot of skeptics saw this coming but I for one did not anticipate that HP would capitulate so soon in the tablet space. Perhaps my affection for the elegantly designed WebOS clouded my judgment. Clearly HP’s management team and board believes they don’t have what it takes to compete in this space and decided to cut their losses. I am big believer in experimenting and failing fast but that has to be balanced with the knowledge that in certain businesses it makes strategic sense to persist and wade through the troughs. In my opinion, the potential size of the tablet-market is one such business. It takes time and patience to build an ecosystem. It doesn’t happen overnight. WebOS had the potential to blossom into an appealing app development platform for developers. It needed the right kind of nurturing and perseverance from its custodians. As Dieter Bohn put it, WebOS was the little OS that could have. Alas, HP couldn’t provide WebOS what it needed.

On a related note, here is a Steve Jobs quote from an article in today’s Chronicle where Steve is talking about what the other tablet manufacturers are doing. He nails it. Consumers, especially the mass-market that is interested in tablets doesn’t care a hoot about cpu speed or any other raw hardware characteristics that manufacturers routinely harp about in their campaigns. Their positioning couldn’t be more wrong.

“A lot of folks in this tablet market are rushing in and they’re looking at this as the next PC,” Jobs was quoted as saying at the unveiling of the iPad 2 in March. “The hardware and the software are done by different companies. And they’re talking about speeds and feeds just like they did with PCs.

“And our experience and every bone in our body says that that is not the right approach to this. That these are post-PC devices that need to be even easier to use than a PC. That need to be even more intuitive than a PC. And where the software and the hardware and the applications need to intertwine in an even more seamless way than they do on a PC.”

So if seamless and intuitive experiences are what its all about then vertically integrated manufacturers like Apple stand a better chance of getting it right. Of course there is an element of Steve talking up his own book but nonetheless there is truth to that. However, that’s not the whole story. If that was the case you would expect HP to have had more success with its TouchPads. As HP acknowledged in their announcement one of the reasons HP backed out of this market was their inability to grow the app ecosystem around WebOS. Another persistent problem that HP (and before that Palm) had was their uninspiring and frankly  sometimes poorly designed hardware. Yes, the battle fronts are mostly on the software side these days but you have to complement the software with at least reasonably spiffy if not inspired hardware.

So broadly speaking those that wish to compete in the tablet space need to think about the challenges

  • Intuitive user interfaces and seamless integration of hardware and software that results in great user experiences. Trickiest to get this one right. Requires a wide range of skills and ability to fuse insights from multiple disciplines.
  • Robust application ecosystem that can attract large swaths of developers. This is an increasingly difficult task as there are only so many platforms that individual developers can give their attention to. They are going to prioritize platforms that provide the biggest market exposure and those that support them with the best tools.
  • Large IP arsenal to defend yourself in the all-out IP wars that are only going to get even more nasty as the stakes go up.
  • Ability to leverage investment in adjacent sectors (mobiles, netbooks, laptops) to gain an edge in the tablet space.

At this point, Apple is best positioned on almost all these fronts followed by the Android vendors. Microsoft/Nokia and RIM have been thrown a lifeline with HP’s exit. Hope they make the best use of this opportunity because as a consumer I like robust competition. Monopolies and duopolies are not in the best interest of consumers and will inhibit innovation and choice.

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Varma Chanderraju

August 19, 2011 at 8:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Software Patents

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Here is a thoughtful, well-written and informative article on why the industry might need software patents. Mike makes a strong case for how software patents encourage innovation and offer the protection necessary for startups to survive. Mike offers a viable and reasonable solution for dealing with the most severe problem plaguing the software patents system today: patent trolls. He also puts all the noise around patent warfare in the right perspective. The situation with the imperfect yet necessary software patent system we have in place now reminds of the Winston Churchill quote about democracy “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” Patent system, is far from being perfect and in need of some serious reform but scrapping it all together will create more problems than it solves.

Follow the link to the Paul Graham essay on software patents and read the ensuing discussion with the readers. One informed reader wrote that it supposedly could take up to a million dollars to seek world-wide (or at least the most significant markets) patent protection. That’s a staggering cost if you are a fledgling startup.

Written by Varma Chanderraju

August 16, 2011 at 10:31 am

Posted in Innovation, Startups