The Mythical iTV: Steve Jobs’ Marketing Magic Is Still Alive And Well At Apple

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Image representing Steve Jobs as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Another day, another rumor that an Apple television may be coming.

Another recycled rumor, in fact. The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that China’s Foxconn, a major Apple supplier, is helping Apple test some prototypes for a large-screen television set. That follows similar (OK, identical) rumors a couple of days ago, last August, last May, and last December saying that Apple was enlisting Chinese suppliers to create an Apple TV set.

No surprise here, given that Apple CEO Tim Cook managed to stoke the fires of speculation last week by saying the company has “intense interest” in television. Of course, Cook himself said the very same thing last May, too.

So don’t hold your breath for an Apple TV that goes beyond the current Apple TV hockey puck. Even longtime Apple television forecaster Gene Munster at Piper Jaffray now says it won’t come before next November. And even then, it’s debatable how important a product it will be, since it’s widely assumed that Apple can’t add much to the current TV experience without deals to get access to live TV shows, or at least win the right to revamp the TV user interface to encompass the full range of pay-TV and Internet content available today. And those deals are nowhere in sight just yet.

But the new flurries of interest in the mythical machine point up something that should reassure Apple investors, at least: Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ famous marketing magic is still at work at the company more than a year after his death.

Some investors have been worried about whether Cook, by all accounts an ace operations guy but not a showman like Jobs (as no one else really is, honestly), can keep Apple’s brand as blindingly shiny as it has been for so many years now. It’s time to give Cook credit for faithfully following Jobs’ playbook: Let fans wax on about how desirable a new Apple product will be, building demand to a fever pitch so that whatever comes out is guaranteed to get unparalleled attention. Indeed, a recent survey says they’re already willing to pay considerably more for an Apple TV–whatever it turns out to be.

No, Cook doesn’t yet deserve to be considered a master marketer like Jobs. But he’s off to a pretty good start.

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Sorry, But Tim Cook Didn’t Just Announce An Apple TV Set

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Apple CEO Tim Cook doesn’t do many interviews, so it’s understandable why not one but two “exclusive” interviews this week excited plenty of interest among fans curious to know where one of the world’s most valuable companies is going next. In particular, a lot of people picked up on Cook’s comment to NBC’s Brian Willams in an interview airing tonight that television is now an “area of intense interest.”

Sound familiar? It should. Back in May at the AllThingsD D10 conference, he said television is “an intense area of interest to us.” In other words, nearly seven months later, he’s saying precisely the same thing, and no more.

That’s not the only reason to avoid getting hot and bothered about a possible Apple television. An Apple TV set presents a thorny problem for Apple, one that still has no obvious answers.

Some TV people in the know whom I’ve talked to recently say that Apple is indeed working on a television. However, it’s clear that Apple could easily have produced a television by now if Cook and his team felt that they could offer one that would provide a different, compelling enough experience to command a typical Apple premium price. Apple already makes the Apple TV streaming device, it sells monitors, adding a TV tuner would be easy, its iTunes Store and software would be a much better interface for finding TV shows, and it has developed a number of technologies in the past year or so that make it easy to shuttle video from iPads, iPhones, and Macs to a TV screen.

The fact that they still haven’t come out with a TV set is a clear sign that they haven’t cracked it, despite the late Steve Jobs’ crowing before he died that he had done just that. Indeed, many other people in the TV and tech industries can’t see why Apple would sell anything close to a television set, because it fits so poorly with Apple’s business model, its cost structure, the increasingly mobile trajectory of its product line, and even the layout of its retail stores.

In any case, an Apple TV set isn’t coming soon. Gene Munster, the Piper Jaffray analyst who has been predicting an Apple television since 2009, now says it won’t come out before November 2013–that’s right, almost a year from now.

The main problem is this: Unlike the other industries Apple has disrupted, in particular music and wireless communications, the TV business isn’t broken. TV studios and pay-TV operators are doing just fine, thank you. They have no intention of letting Apple into their henhouse, even if Apple is willing to pay the many billions of dollars it would take to get access to live TV content.

Lately, the betting seems to be on Apple making a settop box that would meld live TV for existing pay-TV subscribers with iTunes content under a more intuitive user interface, but it seems that the TV powers that be are wary even of that small step. So it’s tough to see how Apple can offer much unique in a TV set.

The only thing we know for sure is that whatever Apple comes out with in the TV realm, it won’t be what many people are expecting–because many people are expecting and hoping that TV will revolutionize the medium. Viewer demand and Apple innovation notwithstanding, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

LIVE: Apple Launches iPad Mini Starting At $329

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

We’re about to hear about Apple’s latest must-have product, so far dubbed the iPad Mini.

Whatever it’s called, it’s sure to shake up the already dynamic market for tablets. In particular, the rumored 7.85-inch iPad Mini could, depending on its price, instantly provide potentially crushing competition for Google’s Nexus 7 and Amazon.com’s Kindle Fire tablets.

You can watch the livestream of Apple’s event, which also is rumored to include a new MacBook Pro and a full-sized tablet updated with the latest Lightning connector and other features, on Apple’s site, at least on Safari-equipped PCs and iPhones and iPads. There are plenty of other people, including Forbes’ Connie Guglielmo, tracking every word and movement of Apple execs, so what follows here will be strictly the highlights from the livestream.

Just before the 10 a.m. Pacific start, panning cameras are following the crowd of journalists filing in to the California Theater in San Jose. … And we’re underway as CEO Tim Cook takes the stage, first to provide updates on the iPhone 5.

* There are now 200 million iOS devices out there.

* 300 billion iMessages have been sent, 28,000 per second.

* There are now 700,000 iOS apps, including 275,000 iPad apps.

* 35 billion apps have been downloaded from the App Store.

$ 6.5 billion has been paid out to Apple developers.

* Apple announces a new version of iBooks that features continuous scrolling and is better integrated with iCloud. You can also tap on a passage or quote and share it with friends on Facebook or Twitter.

Now on to the Mac. He says it has been outgrowing the PC market by about seven times in the past year, and has outgrown it for the past six years. It’s now the No. 1 desktop and No. 1 notebook in the U.S. “But we are not standing still. And we’ve got some really great stuff to show you  this morning.” Cue Phil Schiller, who notes that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best-selling Mac.

* And so, as expected, he shows the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s three-quarters of an inch thick (or thin), 20% thinner, and weighs only 3.5 pounds, almost a pound lighter than the previous one. And four times the number of pixels in the Retina display–twice as many as a 52-inch HDTV. Flurry of new specs, chip, etc. “PowerNap” updates email, etc. while the computer is asleep.
Oh, the price: $1,699. It starts shipping today. MacBook Air starts at $999, Pro at $1,199, Pro with Retina $1,699.

Next, a new Mac Mini starting at $599. “You knew there would be something named Mini in this presentation, didn’t you?” he coyly asks.

And one more Mac thing: a new IMac. Yup, it’s ridiculously thin–only 5 millimeters, 80% thinner than the last one (though with a bulge in the middle of the back for, well, the computer. Almost looks like a stand for a real computer. “The most beautiful Mac we have ever made,” Schiller coos.

How did Apple make it that thin? “Isn’t it something how something new makes the previous thing instantly look old?” he notes, thus summing up neatly Apple’s business model. No optical drive is one reason it’s thinner. There are 27-inch and 21.5-inch models. They’re also up to 8 pounds lighter than the previous iMacs.

* Another new thing: The Apple Fusion Drive. It has 160 GB of flash storage with a 1-terabyte or 3-TB hard drive, fused into one drive. The point: You can use the flash storage for much faster access and the disk drive storage for stuff like movies you don’t need constantly.

Cook’s back with more news. Apple has sold its 100 millionth iPad, in just two and a half years.

* He also intros the new version of iBooks Author. Feels like a breather for the main event, and indeed, Cook goes back to the iPad.

* And so Schiller comes on to intro the fourth-generation iPad, which has a chip that’s two times faster, for speedier graphics. Also 10-hour battery, better camera, high-speed LTE cellular data connection with “greatly expanded” coverage. It starts at $499 for 16 GB of memory, $629 for the cellular model.

* And finally–the iPad mini! Yes, that’s what it’s called after all.

Why do you need a smaller one? Hold it in one hand–that’s one reason. And really everything else, he says.

* It’s 7.9 inches diagonally, 7.2 mm thick, 25% thinner than the regular iPad. Weighs only 0.68 pounds, 50% lighter. He even compares it to Google’s Nexus 7 (“and Android tablet”), saying that the iPad mini is aluminum and thinner, with a 35% larger display area–50% larger in viewing an actual web page. 

It’s interesting that Apple finds it necessary to compare the iPad mini to a specific rival, even if it’s unnamed. Clearly Apple has viewed it as a threat that it needs to blunt.

* So what’s inside? Apple A5 chip, FaceTime HD camera, 5 megapixel iSight camera, faster WiFi, Lightning connector, 10 hours of battery life.

* Yes, and the price? $329 for the low-end 16 MB WiFi version up to $529 for the 64 GB WiFi version. For the cellular models, $459 to $659.

Methinks that especially if Google comes out with a new $199 Nexus 7 next week and reprices the current low-end to $99–coupled with Amazon’s $159 low-end Kindle Fire–Apple may have left at least a small pricing window for those products. Or, maybe not so small. Will it be enough of a window given Apple’s customary premium (both in price and in product quality)? We’ll find out this holiday season.

Cook wraps up and that is indeed a wrap.

The Real Reason We Can’t Stop Talking About Steve Jobs

Why do we remain so obsessed with Steve Jobs a year after his untimely death?

Sure, a large part is that Jobs was a business legend who built what is now one of the most valuable companies in the world, thanks to innovative, appealing products ranging from Apple‘s Mac and iPod to the iPhone and the iPad. And he was a design whiz, a master marketer, a uniquely demanding leader, a disruptor of industry after industry, a visionary, a dreamer–any of which would warrant close attention during his life.

If he hadn’t been any of those things, and hadn’t done everything he did, we certainly wouldn’t be paying so much attention to him–least of all a year after he succumbed to the ravages of pancreatic cancer. But he’s hardly the only phenomenally accomplished CEO or company founder. So it seems doubtful that’s why many of us, from the press to Apple customers even to people who don’t use Apple products, seem so interested in the man.

I think the biggest reason we can’t hear enough is simply because, like too few other CEOs, he came across as a genuine human being–complete with all the foibles and faults that today’s corporations so often manage to scrub clean from their leaders’ images. (You can certainly argue that he was a jerk, but that this was not hidden in the least is what I mean when I say “genuine.” You knew what you were getting with Jobs.) And this is despite Jobs’s and Apple’s own hermetically sealed environment when it comes to media coverage.

Jobs was fanatical about secrecy for his company’s doings, but his outsized personality defied any attempt to keep a lid on stories of how he operated as a leader, a friend, or even a subject of a random encounter. Plus, he was an inveterate storyteller himself, someone who seemed constitutionally unable to keep himself under wraps. It’s a lesson to business leaders that, while you have to deliver the goods, it also helps your company to show that you’re not just a talking head.

And so on this day when so many people are looking back at Jobs, his legacy and his life, here are a few places to indulge another look at the legend and the man:

* Longtime tech writer and Forbes staffer Connie Guglielmo’s magazine piece on Untold Stories About Steve Jobs.

* In an accompanying piece with videos, friends and colleagues reminiscenses about Jobs.

* A collection of stories on Quora, some from well-known tech figures as well as others who had personal contact with him.

* My own Five Small Stories About Steve Jobs from a year ago.

Read the rest of the list of story collections at The New Persuaders.

How Steve Jobs’ Laughable Early Apple Ads Evolved Into Today’s Marketing Marvels

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

To look at Apple’s classic advertisements, from the stark, bold “Think Different” campaign to the playful “Get a Mac” series to those minimalist silhouetted iPod ads, you’d never guess that early Apple ads were so–not to put too fine a point on it–awful.

On the one-year anniversary of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs’ untimely death, we scrounged up a baker’s dozen of early Apple ads in the accompanying photo gallery for your amusement and edification. They’re print ads in particular, since it was pretty early days to be advertising computers on television. Still, most them wouldn’t be recognizable as Apple ads if not for the name and early logos.

They weren’t especially worse than other computer ads at the time. Maybe they were even marginally better. But they were anything but special, let alone cool.

What’s interesting is not just that Apple’s early ads look so depressingly conventional. It’s that a few of them revealed flashes of Jobs’ future marvels of marketing. Once Jobs got past the initial “speeds and feeds” marketing imperative during a time when Apple was really just one, albeit prominent, competitor in a sea of pre-Windows, pre-Mac personal computer makers, he began to develop an eye for brand marketing that few companies in technology or any other industry have since surpassed.

Take a close look at these early ads, and you can see that Apple’s evolution to the pinnacle of brand marketing happened not in a straight line, but in a sort of punctuated equilibrium that parallels the gradual maturing of computing itself. At first, PCs were for hobbyists interested in performance and features, and the ads reflected that. But as the machines began to sell into the millions, Apple’s ads began to emphasize how they were “the computer for the rest of us,” as the first Macintosh ads called them.

That first one for the Apple-1 in 1976, rivetingly entitled “A Balance of Features,” was appallingly amateurish. The ad, released only a few months after Jobs and Steve Wozniak showed the prototype at the Homebrew Computer Club in SiliconValley and incorporated their company, was stuffed full of technical features in a way that’s unimaginable today. For instance, the ad touted the ability to attach a keyboard and monitor to allow “the efficient entry and examination of programs in hexidecimal notation.” Who knew?

There was even a misspelling in the first line, a sign that Jobs’ famous perfectionism hadn’t quite kicked in yet. …

Read the complete post, including a photo gallery of the ads, at The New Persuaders.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy Apple’s New iPhone 5

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

We’re just hours away from what will certainly be one of the most massive hypefests of the year: the introduction of Apple’s newest iPhone. Even without the benefit of Steve Jobs to add that extra touch of magic reality distortion to the proceedings in San Francisco, the entire tech world will see a plunge in productivity for several hours starting at 10 a.m. Pacific while they watch and chew over the launch of what is all but now confirmed to be called the iPhone 5.

* Update: Catch Forbes’ liveblog of the event here. And here’s Apple’s own announcement.

No doubt Apple will sell a ton of the new iPhones. Indeed, though I find this hard to believe, iPhone sales could even add a big boost to this year’s Gross Domestic Product. Diehard Apple fans, and there are millions upon millions of them, won’t be able to resist lining up at Apple stores the night before they become available to be among the first to buy the latest and greatest iPhone.

But you shouldn’t be one of them. Here’s why I think most of you–not all, but most–would be better off not buying the new iPhone:

* It probably won’t be revolutionary. I know–blasphemy! The many leaks of what the new one will look like and the way it will work indicate the new iPhone will, of course, be thinner and faster and sport a bigger screen. So what else is new?

And think about the last time. The iPhone 4S had Siri, the voice assistant that was supposed to revolutionize the way we interact with devices and, oh, by the way, kill Google search. It did neither (though ask me again in a few years, as Siri no doubt steadily improves).

Anyway, let’s face it, smartphones in their current incarnation may not get much better fundamentally. As Steve Shankland at CNET recently pointed out, we’re in an era of incremental refinement more than revolutionary change. At some point, Apple may well come up with yet another product that actually resets the standard for computing and communication devices. But by all reports, the new iPhone isn’t that product. Simply put, you don’t need to own this phone.

* There’s always a risk that something won’t work quite right on the new model, leaving you with buyer’s remorse. Apple’s better than most at avoiding this sort of thing. But remember that faulty antenna in the iPhone 4 two years ago? Update: One word: Maps.

* The older iPhones are still great. Even though some reviewers criticized Apple for touting a machine that didn’t provide many advances, such as a larger screen, the iPhone 4S last year still was widely seen as the best iPhone yet, and still the best overall on the market.

* You will get several of the benefits of the new iPhone just by installing iOS 6–for free. No big screen, no fast LTE data, of course–two biggies, to be sure. But you won’t be left with lagging services like you do with many Android phones that can’t upgrade to the latest OS.

* The older iPhones are also cheap–or free! For one thing, used iPhones are flooding the market as people get ready to buy the new one. Last month, Sprint Nextel and even Apple itself discounted the iPhone 4S, and it doesn’t stretch the imagination to think that when the new model appears, prices for older iPhones will fall across the board. When the iPhone 4S came out, the iPhone 4’s price fell to just $100 and the 3G model was (and still is) free with at AT&T contract. If the pattern holds, doesn’t a free iPhone 4 sound pretty sweet?

* Update: Yes, it does sound sweet. The new iPhones will cost from $199 to $399 depending on the amount of memory, but the 4S will fall to $99. And the 4? With a two-year contract, it will indeed be free.

* If you go with an older model, you can also save bigtime on service plan costs. If you go with a prepaid carrier such as Virgin Mobile or Cricket, you have to pay more for the phone, but over a couple of years, their lower-cost data plans save hundreds of dollars. It’s not clear whether similar deals will be offered with the new iPhone, but it appears unlikely at the outset–so your only way to get those savings is to go with an older model.

* You may have fewer unlimited-data plan options with the new iPhone. Verizon and AT&T have ended their unlimited-data plans, so that’s not new. But on existing phones and contracts, they’re grandfathered in, a significant reason to think twice about an iPhone purchase that would require you to switch carriers. Sprint may offer an unlimited-data plan, but that means switching carriers if you’re not already on it.

* There are–yes–other smartphones out there. Android phones such as Samsung’s Galaxy S III, and even some Windows 8 phones such as Nokia’s Lumia 920, get rave reviews. …

Read the complete, Apple fanboy-inciting post at The New Persuaders.

Five Reasons Apple May Not Dare To Sue Google

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From my Forbes.com blog The New Persuaders:

Now that Apple has scored a decisive win over Samsung in its smartphone patent trial, the big question is whether the maker of the iPhone and the iPad will go after the real enemy: Google. The search company is the maker of the Android software underlying Samsung’s and many other companies’ mobile devices, after all.

But a direct shot at Google looks unlikely at this point for a variety of reasons:

* Apple’s schoolyard bully strategy of going after the legal weaklings like Samsung worked like a charm, so it’s likely to continue going after hardware firms such as HTC and the now Google-owned Motorola Mobility, rather than Google directly. There are many other cases involving those companies, as well as Samsung, around the world–plenty to keep Apple busy, especially now that it has such a clear victory to build upon.

Indeed, patent expert Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents, a persistent Google critic, thinks Apple is more likely to go after Amazon.com first. As Mueller told Fortune’s Philip Elmer-DeWitt: “If I were in Apple’s shoes the next company I would sue is not Google, but Amazon, which has an even weaker patent portfolio than Google and sells large volumes of Android-based devices with a subsidies-centric revenue model, which is even more of a threat to Apple’s margins than Google’s advertising-based model.”

* Other hardware makers may now decide to settle with Apple, ratcheting down the need for Apple to go after Google. Analyst after analyst notes that with the clear loss for Samsung, the leader among Android device makers, other firms may decide it’s not worth continuing a fight they now seem more likely to lose.

* Apple looks less likely to win a patent infringement case versus Google. For one, Google itself mostly makes only software, and although its Nexus S device co-branded with manufacturer Samsung was identified by the jury as infringing Apple’s patents, it’s the only one and it’s not clear whether a single device provides a strong case for a separate suit. (It’s also not on Apple’s list of Samsung products it wants banned from sale.)

What’s more, Google doesn’t charge hardware companies for using Android, relying instead on ad revenues derived from Android device use, so there may not be much for Apple to sue about. Finally, let’s not forget that Android existed well before the iPhone came out–in fact, Google bought the company that made it in 2005, two years before the first iPhone. That doesn’t guarantee that whatever Google has done with Android since then is on firm patent ground, but it doesn’t seem a stretch to cast doubt in a jury’s collective mind that Android is simply copying iOS when Android the company clearly predates the iPhone.

Not least, Google has pockets deep enough to counter whatever legal threats Apple throws at it. Indeed, this ruling could well galvanize Google’s mostly passive efforts so far to protect Android hardware licensees. Apple may get all it wants from going after hardware producers, given that Apple makes most of its money from hardware itself.

* Apple has already gotten what it wanted from Google with this ruling: the likelihood that Google will have to change aspects of Android to avoid infringement, potentially reducing the competitiveness of Android devices. As Needham & Co.’s Charles Wolf writes: “Google will be forced to design workarounds of the violated software patents, which was the intent of Apple’s lawsuit, not the monetary award. These workarounds are likely to materially degrade the Android user experience relative to the user experience on Apple’s iOS operating system.”

* Google itself may start talking with Apple about some kind of way to avoid litigation. Wells Fargo Securities’ Maynard Um told investors in a note today that the $250 million or more that Apple could get in licensing fees from Samsung–not to mention additional fees from other device makers that may settle or lose in court as well–would be significant enough for Apple to be worthwhile. Add Google in there, and it may be a cash flow Apple can’t resist. After all, it apparently already offered a royalty deal to Samsung, whose rejection led to Apple’s suit.

One might wonder why Apple would feel the need to deal. …

Read the complete post at The New Persuaders.

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