Tag: Apple

When Giants Rise … Again

Blackberry 10 SDK
Blackberry 10 SDK (Photo credit: Dirk Songür)

Research In Motion (RIM) is making news for all the right reasons as of late – a sharp contrast from a short year ago. All of the reviews I’ve been reading thus far suggest that RIM’s new BlackBerry 10 is above and beyond expectations. The software technology has even been described by some as disruptive. Though the stakes remain high for both RIM and investors alike, strong prospects of a successful product launch are definitely encouraging.

Success will certainly help to re-establish RIM as a leader in a highly competitive smart phone market that they themselves created and at one time dominated. The competitive aspects of smart phones tend to focus as much, if not more, on technology than price. RIM’s BlackBerry 10 is poised to introduce radical changes to both hardware and software as depicted in the many “leaked” pictures and videos.

The number of available “apps” always seems to be a point of contention and a measure of “acceptance” by tablet and smart phone developers and users alike. Although the number of apps for the new BlackBerry 10 continues to grow at a rather astounding rate, I was even more encouraged to learn that RIM is more interested in quality not quantity.

Success will also give cause for many to reflect on RIM’s rebirth along the way. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Apple was once in a very similar position. Unlike Apple, however, there is no “Microsoft” to help RIM to get back on their feet. Perhaps, through all of this, RIM has already re-affirmed that some of life’s lessons we were taught growing up bear a greater significance on our future successes than we would have thought otherwise.

  • Focus – Strategy, vision, goals and objectives
  • Patience is a virtue – You can’t rush success
  • You have to believe it to see it – Stick to your vision
  • Don’t give up – Persistence to succeed, resistance to failure
  • No Noise – Eliminate distractions (real or perceived)

Lean execution is not a term I would use to describe RIM’s journey leading up to the launch of the BlackBerry 10, especially after missing several launch dates already and stumbling for what seemed to be months to even commit to the new launch date of January 30, 2013. However, that they even survived this past year of turmoil does say something about the culture of the company and the people who work there. The vision for the BlackBerry 10 remained as the focal point for hardware and software development despite a significant management shakeup, a substantial decrease in market share, loss of shareholder confidence, and rapidly declining stock prices.

A shift in marketing strategy and providing incentives for software developers around the globe has certainly helped RIM to promote and create what is touted to be the “next big thing” to hit the smart phone market. I think the vision, drive, and spirit to survive are the real underlying factors that sustained the company through the worst of times by focusing on what will bring the best of times. If the launch of the BlackBerry 10 is as successful as hoped, I’m sure many others will also look beyond the product and delve into the culture at RIM that brought the BlackBerry and the company back to life.

Your feedback matters

If you have any questions, comments, or topics you would like us to address, please feel free to contact us by using the comment space below or by sending an email to LeanExecution@Gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics
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Apple-opoly: It’s Not a Game

money
money (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

Some people can hardly contain their excitement when a company like Apple is thriving with sky high profits in the midst of a dismal global economy. Yet, this same excitement is seldom shared when banks or oil companies report similar results. Wouldn’t we all prefer reduced fees or lower gas prices over excessive profits from the very companies that portend to serve our best interests?

This past week a colleague forwarded an article from cultofmac.com titled Apple’s Astonishing Profit in Context. My colleague’s opinion of Apple’s incredible performance is also echoed in the article itself. Of course, I would be hard pressed to disagree with them as I’ve written many times before that “The proof of wisdom is in the results.” The following quote from the article puts Apple’s “wisdom” in perspective:

From October 2011 to September 2012 Apple made more money than Microsoft, Ebay, Google, Yahoo! Facebook and Amazon combined. In that same period, Dell, Asus, Intel, Acer, IBM, Lenovo, and HP (basically the entire PC industry) only made $19.3 billion in profit, which is less than half of Apple’s profit.

Who can argue?

Apple has effectively advanced available technologies into unique devices that have dominated several market segments including: Computers (Mac), Smart Phones (iPhone), Tablets (iPad), and Media Players (iPod). Although Apple did not necessarily “invent” the core technologies that define their devices, they did find innovative ways to integrate them to provide an extremely user friendly experience.

Hardware is not Apple’s only source of revenue as the “App Store” is yet another venue that continues to feed Apple’s bottom line. If I understand the terms correctly, Apple receives at least 30% of every App Store purchase and as Apple is quick to mention more times than not, the number of available apps is in the hundreds of thousands and continues to grow every day. That in and of itself is an incredible feat.

I contend that the level of success enjoyed by Apple has peaked. This article, “Apple Losing Lustre On Wall Street: 3 Theories Why” is one of many that have surfaced recently as Apple’s stock has plummeted over the past few days. As stated in my recent post, Apple’s Best Kept Secrets … May Be Their Worst Enemy, Apple’s products are expensive and are subject to higher rates of planned obsolescence giving people cause to “wait” before buying.

Waking Up The Competition

Many would suggest that there is no competition when it comes to Apple’s products and, to some extent, there may be some truth to that. The question is, “What really sets Apple apart from it’s competitors?” I contend that a key component of Apple’s success is driven by their exclusive integration of the iOS operating system into virtually all of their devices. When compared to the number of competing companies selling electronic devices based on the Windows and Android operating systems, we quickly learn that Apple is the sole proprietor of it’s core hardware / software environment and the current court battles with Samsung strongly suggest that Apple wants to keep it that way.

In other words, while there are a number of competitors in any given segment, Apple has no direct competitors that manufacture computers using their operating system thus allowing them to command the price at which their devices are sold. In this context, Apple can determine it’s own price points, void of any threat from a competing manufacturer. From a financial perspective, Apple’s strategy to stay the course is a huge success – at least it was until now.

Image representing Windows as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

The wisdom of Apple’s strategy to integrate hardware and software is perhaps a lesson learned by Microsoft as they too have joined the tablet race with the introduction of the Surface RT and soon to be launched Surface Pro. There is, however, a very stark difference. Whether Microsoft intended to become a tablet manufacturer is open to debate but Microsoft did not exclude or attempt to prevent their competitors from developing devices based on the Windows operating system. Microsoft certainly intentioned to develop a hardware environment that will best reflect the capabilities and performance of the Windows 8 operating system.

Competition inspires innovation as manufacturers attempt to earn a bigger share of the market with more differentiating features and ultimately lower prices. As a result, margins are strained on Windows 8 devices and competing products using Google’s Linux based Android operating system among others. Unlike the exclusive Apple-opoly market, consumers continue to reap the greater benefit of an open competitive market in the “non-Apple” world.

There is indeed a price to be paid to sustain a company that attempts to maintain an exclusive monopoly in the market place. I contend that Apple has more to lose and very little to gain as competitors continue to define and differentiate themselves in their applicable market segments.

The “App” Store – Remember Your Roots

Chart showing downloads and available apps on ...
Chart showing downloads and available apps on the app store over time, since the App Store was opened in 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If Apple’s devices are the cash cow, then the App Store is the cash calf. As mentioned above, Apple’s take is 30% of every App Store purchase. For a developer, losing 30% for the opportunity to sell an “app may be a great deal but … to a company like Microsoft, nothing could be further from the truth. Presently, Microsoft is subject to the same “App Store” rules of engagement as any other developer and this has now become a major point of contention between the two companies.

When it comes to Microsoft, Apple’s memory seems to be lapsing. In 1997 Apple (very much like RIM) was struggling to stay afloat and Microsoft’s Bill Gates stepped in to bail them out. It seems this gesture of goodwill has waned as Apple has subsequently grown to become a monopoly of it’s own making. In the world of Windows, Microsoft’s Office suite is unparalleled and I suggest the same can only be true in the world of Apple.

It appears that relationships between people still matter in the world of business and we can only wonder if Steve Jobs would feel differently about giving Microsoft a break in the App Store. Clearly, Apple would be a different company – or not exist at all – without the injection of Microsoft’s support as announced on August 6, 1997 at Mac World Boston. As Steve Jobs himself said during the conference:

“We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.” – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs encouraged the audience in this video to “think differently”. Perhaps those who have succeeded Steve Jobs have forgotten (or never had the opportunity to remember) what it was like all those years ago when they were struggling to just to stay afloat. If there was ever a move to burn bridges with a once “rival turned ally”, the app store’s rules of engagement is one of them.

The Extremes

Remember RIM and the BlackBerry? They too have an exclusive operating system and hardware platform that at one time lead the smart phone segment by storm. The BlackBerry Messaging (BBM) service between BlackBerry devices is second to none and now includes BBM voice calls. Apple’s iPhone was a major disruption to both hardware and software as we knew it, offering users a substantially improved experience with available technologies. RIM’s market share and stock prices decreased dramatically for failing to introduce fresh, innovative technologies in a timely manner. Whether RIM’s OS10 can reignite the passion for their products and the profits in kind remains to be seen.

So hopefully what you’ve seen here today are some beginning steps that give you some confidence that we too are going to think differently and serve the people that have been buying our products since the beginning. Because a lot of times people think their crazy, but in that craziness we see genius and those are the people we’re making tools for. – Steve Jobs

Today, RIM is in a place where Apple once stood. Unfortunately for RIM, there is no rival stepping up to bail them out. In today’s world, rivals simply wait for their competitors to fold or file for bankruptcy before swooping in to reap what’s left behind. It is unfortunate, but as time will tell, consumers who are left with empty pockets will soon part ways with companies that choose to monopolize a market that serves the best interests of their shareholders and the bottom line.

Lessons Learned

Value is Not Market Share – In the delicate ecosystem of finance and business, the underlying theme is the perception of “value” for the consumer, the company, and it’s shareholders. I commend and praise Apple for the design and quality of their hardware with few exceptions although I have expressed my dissatisfaction with the frequency at which these devices change. As for their software offerings, I am also somewhat underwhelmed, at least from a business perspective. As for connectivity, Apple provides a seamless bridge between devices with unparalleled ease.

However, knowing that up to 40% of the purchase price is gross margin, the question for Apple devices still remains, “Does the price reflect the true market value?” Fundamental economics would suggest that the value of a product or service is determined by the price the consumer is willing to pay. I contend that in a society based on capitalism, competition will yield a price that better approximates the true value of a product or service.

“Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” — Andrew Grove, co-founder Intel

Competition = Innovation – The Windows 8 and Android operating systems give us a greater appreciation for how real competition can lead to innovative hardware and software technologies at lower prices that benefit consumers versus those that ultimately aim to benefit shareholders. RIM’s new BlackBerry 10 reaffirms the inertia that exists within a company where only two options exist – to survive or die. With that inertia, we now see momentum building for the unveiling and launch of another new and innovative solution in hand held devices from BlackBerry.

Hansei / Reflection – Success can be both a blessing and a curse. Too few companies take the time to reflect on their history to appreciate their current state of affairs. Very few companies like Apple can claim to have risen from the ashes to become a self sufficient world renowned icon. However, in their wake, Apple’s success has also led to a certain “ego” or culture of arrogance that suggests “nothing can stop us now.” As we consider the current court battles with both rivals and allies, it’s difficult to discern which is which.

Collaboration = Mutual Successes – Success is seldom the result of one person’s effort and typically the result is greater than the sum of its parts.

We can choose to fight for the current state to preserve “what is now” or we can – in the words of Steve Jobs – “think differently”.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Transition Versus Change – 2013

Change Management
Change Management (Photo credit: larry_odebrecht)

The time between Christmas and New Year’s eve is one of transition as we consider the events that occurred over the past year and prepare for the new year ahead. Experts are sure to present their annual summaries and will also attempt to “predict” what may be in store for us in the year to come. As lean leaders we also recognize the necessity to make and take the time for introspection and hansei (reflection).

Lean is by definition a perpetual transition from the current state to an ideal future state as we understand it. As our culture and technologies evolve, we continue to open doors to more opportunities and perhaps an even greater potential than first imagined. As such, we seek to advance our understanding as we pursue our vision of lean and it’s scope of application.

Lean is often described as a journey. While the vision is clearly defined, the means for achieving it continue to evolve and, as we’ve stated many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution.” From a lean perspective, the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle challenges us to consider every change as a temporary state where each subsequent iteration ultimately brings us closer to realizing our vision.

Recognizing that we are in a continual state of transition should give us cause to embrace the ideology that the nature of change can only be viewed as a temporary condition. True resistance to change should only occur when the vision itself is compromised. Similarly, the absence of a clear vision is also cause for resistance. We contend that where the purpose or vision remains constant, the means or the methods of achieving it – incremental or disruptive – are more readily adopted.

The “Change Curve” presented in the diagram above clearly suggests that the commitment to change progresses from Leadership to Change Agents and finally to the End Users with each “group” requiring an increasing span of time to absorb and embrace the change accordingly. A potential for frustration and resistance to change occurs when the next iteration is introduced before the change that precedes it has been adopted and “experienced”. For this same reason and as suggested in our post, “Apple’s Best Kept Secrets … May Be Their Worst Enemy“, companies (including Apple) must be careful to manage the frequency at which change occurs to avoid frustrating employees and potential customers in the process.

The absence of change or lack of evidence that change is coming is and should be cause for concern. Research In Motion’s (RIM) continued delays in releasing the BlackBerry 10 (BB10) resulted in lost confidence from investors and share prices dropped sharply in return. RIM’s attempts to “talk” through the company’s strategy and the future of the BlackBerry could not sustain their one time dominance of the smart phone market. Thankfully for RIM, the BlackBerry, slated to launch on January 30, 2013, is receiving raving reviews as a high quality next generation smart phone. Only time will tell if too much time has passed to win people over.

Lean leaders recognize that real change begins in the hearts and minds of every stakeholder and is a pre-requisite before any physical changes can occur. A learning organization embraces the concept of “transitional” thinking where each change represents the current level of knowledge and understanding. Where perpetual learning occurs, transitional thinking ensues, and subsequent changes mark our progress along the journey.

As we look forward to 2013, we thank you for your continued support and wish you the best of successes in the New Year ahead.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Transparency – Is There An App For That?

New Marketing Strategy
New Marketing Strategy (Photo credit: Intersection Consulting)

Trust lies on the threshold of transparency. As leaders we are cognizant of the perceptions created by our words and actions beginning with the very vision that inspires them. We continually aspire to earn the trust and respect of those who choose to pursue the vision with us. We also recognize that we may quickly undermine those efforts and lose the support of our team when our intentions are not aligned in kind.

Organizations struggling to embrace and integrate change into the fabric of their culture may also find themselves lacking transparency, integrity, and ultimately trust. The world is not as it is but how it is perceived and the same is true for leadership. It is now common place in many companies to use 360 degree reviews as part of the performance appraisal process to better understand how we are perceived by our leaders, our peers, and those reporting to us.

In a parallel context, we as customers rely on the integrity of the companies that serve our needs in the form of products and services they provide. We expect, with a certain naiveté, that the company’s best intentions are to ensure that we are satisfied with our purchases. We want to trust that our needs, not those of the company, are first and foremost when we part with our hard-earned cash to pay for the solutions they have to offer.

Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!

– Walter Scott, Marmion (1808), Canto VI. Stanza 17

Perhaps I’m being a bit petty but I have a pet peeve when it comes to the marketing strategy for some apps in the App Store. It’s the typical and annoying marketing strategy replete with hook, line, and sinker to push sales and up-sell consumers. Here’s just one recent example and the thinking that follows:

Hook: Editor’s Choice, 2012 App of the Year, (Productivity). A product doesn’t just become an editor’s choice. Clearly, there must be some value in the app to be considered for such an honour considering the incredible number of apps in the App Store. One would also expect that the “editor’s choice” would be echoed by the community of people who have used the app as well.

Line: It’s FREE. What could be better than a free app? Especially the very one that happens to be the “Editor’s Choice” and the “2012 App of the Year.”

Sinker: Of course, we quickly learn that nothing in life is free. This is especially true in this case where the app’s “Essentials” will cost you $6.99. Yes, they can be purchased at our discretion, however, they almost become immediately necessary for the app to be truly useful.

I am sensitive to the fact that many people will question whether something is really free and have often considered charging a nominal fee for the free OEE templates that we offer from our downloads page and the sidebar “box” widget. Copies of our offering are downloaded every day, around the world, free of charge – no strings attached and no obligations. Many have asked me why and I simply relate to them the story of the difficulties we endured when we tried to take OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) to the next level. While our solution is simple, our intentions are to impart the knowledge we gained to allow others to educate and make informed decisions for themselves.

App Reviews

I didn’t mention the specific name of the app referenced above or the name of its developer but, if you’re a frequent visitor to Apple’s App Store, you’ll be able to figure it out fairly quickly. Does the app function as advertised? The short answer is yes but, in my opinion the free version hardly qualifies for the endorsement it received. Evernote and DropBox seem to bring more to the table, especially where cross-platform functionality is becoming a more predominant feature of today’s core apps.

Some of the reviews state that the price of the upgrades are a concern and the cash value of the app is of greater benefit for the developer than the product is for the user. Fortunately, the price and necessity for these apps is discovered in a relatively short period of time. There is likely to be a tipping point where the time vested in a project would increase the need or desire to purchase the upgrades. Of course, not everyone takes the time to submit a review and I’m quite certain that enough negative reviews will prompt an upgrade to wipe the slate clean.

Tell It Like It Is

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not opposed to companies making money, however, I don’t have much time for those with a “hidden” agenda. If the benefits outweigh the price, then clearly state the cost structure of your product or service. The process of discovering otherwise is somewhat underhanded and perceived as deceitful.

The bottom line: People who discover and realize they are being taken for a ride to the greater benefit of the owners and the leadership are less likely to buckle up and join you on the journey.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Apple’s Best Kept Secrets … May Be Their Worst Enemy

English: A ridiculous line of people waiting f...
A ridiculous line of people waiting for the iPhone 3G outside of the Apple Store on 5th Ave. between 58th St. and 59th St., NYC, July 12, 2008. I was not in the line. pictured: the Apple Store entrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the roles of leadership is to instill and foster a culture that embraces change and empowers the team to improve. This call for change is also echoed in the Plan-Do-Check-Act or PDCA cycle that serves as a typical model for driving continuous improvement in many organizations. In this regard, Apple has clearly demonstrated their commitment to develop and improve their existing products.

As I’ve written many times before, “There’s always a better way and more than one solution.” From the outside looking in, Apple appears to embrace this thinking too, as evidenced by the unveiling of the new and much rumoured iPad Mini as well as announcing a number of significant upgrades to their existing product lines.

However, as the late great management guru Peter Drucker stated, “There is no business without a customer”. When we consider the numerous and diverse range of brand advocates a business may have, we also realize and understand that customers are very much a natural extension of the business itself. In this context, I contend that Apple’s best kept secrets may just be their own worst enemy.

Timing is Everything

From a leadership perspective, transparency, respect, accountability, integrity, and trust are just a few of the defining traits of a lean organization. The vision must be clear and understood to ensure that decisions, goals, objectives, and actions are aligned accordingly. Unfortunately, as customers, we can only rely on “leaks” and “rumours” to learn of Apple’s hidden agenda and attempt to plan our purchases accordingly.

While Apple may be lean at its core, I can only wonder how much waste is generated at the consumer level. Each new product introduction is met with a host of people ready to replace their existing devices with the latest and greatest technology Apple has to offer. It begs the question, “How many people can actually afford to keep pace with the current rate of change?”

In this regard, continuing to release new products at an ever-increasing frequency is quickly becoming a deterrent for people to “buy now.” The decision to purchase is offset by the potentially greater benefit of waiting just a little while longer. I contend that this is where Apple’s strategy may soon fall short. I’m not endorsing Samsung here, however, this Samsung Galaxy S3 ad has captured the point we’re making here:

Effective leadership understands that the timing for change is as critical as the change itself. If change occurs too frequently, people will abandon their efforts to embrace any of them knowing that another is already in the making.

Chasing the Dream

This television commercial, first aired during...

As a public company, Apple is subject to tremendous market pressures to maintain its record-setting trend of higher returns for shareholders and also serves to fuel a shorter cycle of new product introductions and upgrades. This rapid injection of perceived “new” technology is equally offset by higher rates of planned obsolescence.

While some of the changes announced were much-anticipated, especially the iPad Mini, the 4th generation iPad was a complete surprise – at least it was to me. Was the release date of the 4th Generation iPad so obscure that a 3rd generation product release was required only seven short months ago?

I have become increasingly concerned over the frequency that change occurs, especially when they directly affect my pocketbook. Frequent changes leave consumers little time to absorb them and their significance is rapidly diminished by the next generation of products that follow. From a lean perspective, the PDCA cycle encourages incremental improvements to – or within – an existing process or system and this is the consistent, fundamental flaw in Apple’s product development cycle:

Existing devices cannot be upgraded.

The majority of recent changes introduced by Apple are hardware related including the release of iOS6 as a necessity to support the new offerings. The new A6X chip, an integral part of the new iPhone 5 and the recently announced 4th generation iPad, offers twice the speed and twice the graphics performance over its predecessor, the A5X chip. Hardware changes of this nature are rarely an after thought and keeps me wondering why Apple was so compelled to release the 3rd generation iPad only a few short months ago.

Loyalty, Trust, and Making Amends

Many consumers are advocates of the Apple brand and their loyalty implies that a certain element or level of trust exists. With this in mind, the changes introduced by Apple carry an even greater significance as this trust is tested with each step that Apple takes. The decision to purchase an Apple device is as significant as the price tag it carries – they are expensive. Apple clearly understands this and created the new iPad Mini to bridge the price gap in kind, although it too carries a hefty price tag.

For Apple, change may be the norm but, for consumers it’s not always that simple. Apple clearly recognizes that consumers want the latest and greatest product offering available. The questions to be answered here are two-fold:

  1. How much are consumers willing to pay for a new device? and,
  2. How OFTEN (or how soon after) are they willing to purchase its successor?
Apple I at the Smithsonian Museum
Apple I at the Smithsonian Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In light of these recent announcements, a third and perhaps even more important question begs to be asked, “What is the relevant lifespan of my new device after purchase? The 3rd generation iPad’s core chip technology became obsolete in as little as 7 months from the date it was introduced and the relative value is sure to decrease even more rapidly with each generation that follows.

As mentioned earlier, the A6X chip was an integral part of the iPhone 5 and it is highly likely that integrating it into the 4th generation iPad was a known “next step”, long before the 3rd generation iPad was even released. I would suggest that the new iPad Mini, also built on the A5X platform, will also be short-lived as an A6X upgrade or even a retina display can’t be too far behind.

A company as large as Apple must have a product development plan and I challenge the ethics of a company that would knowingly lead consumers to purchase a “new” device that will become obsolete before they even take it out of the box. To make amends with recent buyers of the 3rd generation iPad, it has been suggested that Apple plans to offer free upgrades if their product was purchased within a certain time frame prior to the announcement of the 4th generation iPad.

I’m not opposed to any company that can make a profit, especially in today’s economy. However, Apple’s profits are borne by consumers who remain hopeful that Apple may actually provide a product that can deliver real value. It is peculiar and concerning that consumers are almost too anxious and willing to abandon their current devices for the “next best thing” as though their existing devices fell short of meeting expectations.

Now Serving … Shareholders

I am convinced that Apple’s primary interest is shareholder satisfaction at the expense of consumers by convincingly giving cause for consumers to part with their hard-earned dollars in pursuit of the “Next Big Thing.” In summary, the secret to Apple’s fortunes lies in ever shorter product cycles and even more frequent changes that give rise to increased product turnover, increased revenues, significantly higher profits, and ultimately higher returns for shareholders.

As we pursue our own lean efforts, we must be cognizant of the perception created when the need for change is driven by an agenda that is contrary to the vision of the company, namely, that of the shareholders themselves. You may recall the “noise” surrounding the valuation of Facebook’s IPO and shareholder concern over the process of creating and generating revenue. Even more profound (and to be applauded) was Mark Zuckerberg’s statement that Facebook intended to make money through the IPO to make Facebook even better – it was never Mark’s intention to make shareholders rich at the expense of FaceBook users.

I am always more than a little concerned when the influence of the stock market is greater than the vision that brought the company there in the first place. RIM serves as an excellent example of a company that has managed a fine line with shareholders to make leadership changes while still pursuing the release of the much-anticipated next generation BlackBerry 10 Operating System. While the changes announced by RIM were very well received, failing to provide a release date caused stocks to decline even further. Despite their announcements of cuts to the workforce, they have remained committed to pursue the next generation hardware and software. Time will tell how the market responds now that RIM has announced a January 30, 2013, product launch.

The Next Step

iPad in Subway
iPad in Subway (Photo credit: beatak)

With many thanks to Steve Jobs, Apple certainly deserves credit for shaping how we use computers today and Apple’s ability to create consumer frenzy for “What’s Next” is to be admired. Though Apple cites rapidly changing technology as the reason for its frequent product changes, I would challenge this statement as evidenced by the seemingly lower rates of change from Apple’s competitors.

On the whole, I find Apple’s products to be of high quality – though not without flaws – and extremely overpriced. The new iPad Mini and protective cover retail at $330.00 and $45.00 respectively and serve as just one example where the price far exceeds that of it’s nearest competitor. To make matters worse, a power adapter that should cost only a few dollars to manufacture retails at almost $30.00. Apple’s sales are staggering, however, their margins on sales are even more so.

I fully appreciate the craftsmanship of the Apple product line. The machines at all levels are exceptionally crafted and the user interface – at least on “touch” devices – is to be commended. However, from a software perspective, I have yet to see a serious professional suite that rivals that of Microsoft Office (Home or Professional). The release of iOS6 did nothing to improve my experience with Apple’s existing hardware or software.

The number of available “apps” is literally overwhelming and continues to grow at a daunting rate. Although many are either free or relatively inexpensive, finding an app that meets your needs can be a real challenge. I find many apps are overrated, lacking depth beyond the simple and individual functionality they provide. As a result, I tend to gravitate toward those apps (Evernote, Dropbox) where the scope also extends to competitor products as opposed to Apple specifically. As the major players continue to define and refine available hardware platforms, the App market may still be too fresh to establish the real dominant players in certain core segments.

Rather than waiting for a truly significant product upgrade, Apple has been too fast with too many incremental product changes that may leave some consumers suffering buyer’s remorse, feeling alienated, or worse – betrayed. Although RIM may be too long in the making of its BlackBerry 10 Operating System, Microsoft’s major Operating System releases are typically far and few between too.  Certainly Windows 8 has taken the market by storm with full touch screen integration for desk top, lap top, and ultrabook computers.

Perhaps the questions to be discerned are, “How soon is too soon?” and “How long is too long?” If it hasn’t been determined yet, there must be a “Goldilocks” cycle that’s just right: worth the wait and worth the money.

In Conclusion

I contend that Apple has succumbed to a greater concern for shareholders to sustain market share at the expense of customer trust and cash. To maintain their share of the market, they have taken their suppliers and competitors, namely Samsung, to court and seem compelled to pre-empt any new product announcement from their competitors with an announcement of their own – ready or not.

Apple provides a high quality premium priced product. Yet, as I look at the tools I have at my disposal (no pun intended) – a Mac Mini, iPhone 4s, and a 3rd generation iPad – I am underwhelmed by each of them. With all of the attention to detail that Apple seems to mind, I can’t help but wonder why something like the on-screen keyboard doesn’t reflect the current shift state of the keys – like my PlayBook does.

I have already heard rumours that a new iPhone 5s may be available in the first quarter of 2013. If memory serves me correctly, that should be just in time for RIM’s launch of the new BlackBerry 10 Operating System and the launch of  Microsoft’s Surface Pro. Of course, despite the rumours, who knows what or when the next surprise will be. I’m sure it will be sometime soon.

Only time will tell how long Apple can continue to keep customers “Chasing the Dream.” As for me, like a number of Apple’s recently resigned Apple executives, that chase is over.

Until Next Time – STAY lean

Vergence Analytics

Microsoft – Scratching the Surface

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is always a better way and more than one solution

This certainly seems to be true in the tablet world as Microsoft unveils one of its own – the Surface. Taking a note from Apple, Microsoft has integrated hardware and software into a unique solution that is sure to compete directly with the iPad.

From a lean perspective, I can’t help but admire the evolution of electronics to become ever smaller and ever faster than the generations that precede them. While the Surface is Microsoft’s debut into the tablet market, it has much to offer as a strong contender to Apple’s iPad. Microsoft may be a little late coming into the tablet game but perhaps their timing is appropriate. Apple has played their cards giving Microsoft the opportunity to be “second but better”.

Although reviews are mixed, I’m encouraged by the initial product offering from Microsoft.  From the outset, there are a number of physical features that immediately set the Surface apart from the iPad such as an integrated keyboard and cover, a pop out “kick stand”, and included stylus. Windows 8 appears to be the operating system that will dominate both the Surface and the PC desktop / laptop environment in the near future. This pairing offers a much more flexible data storage and transfer solution than is available in competitor products.

You be the judge

Rather than describe the Surface, you can judge the Surface for  yourself as presented in this “teaser” preview video:

The full keynote presentation by Microsoft appears in the video below:

The Price of Ownership

Although pricing has not been stated explicitly, Microsoft suggests that it should be in line with other tablets and netbooks already available on the market.  Hopefully it will be cheaper than it’s intended competitors. In Ontario, Canada, Apple’s 64GB iPad retails at $895.00 and, after buying your case, keyboard, and stylus, the cost to “start-up” your iPad can easily swell to over $1,100.00 after taxes and the purchase of a few “useful apps”. The price of an iPad is not all-inclusive. It is worth noting that the iPad requires an additional line (phone number) on your cellular plan and, since data is all “in the cloud”, your monthly data usage rate is sure to rise as well. Even RIM‘s (Research in Motion) PlayBook tether option is admirable as a cost-effective solution as it “co-exists” with your BlackBerry SmartPhone.

The need for dominance – “apps”

Apple boasts that over 500,000 apps are available for the iPhone and the iPad. From a consumer perspective it is virtually impossible to evaluate all of the “apps” that are available and finding the one that will do what you want is even more daunting. Most reviews are brief or there is insufficient data collected to provide an effective rating. It could be argued that apps are relatively inexpensive so the financial risks or exposure for an error in judgement is minimized when choosing an app.

Apps for other platforms are growing in number, however, they are still far from approaching the scope of Apple’s app store. Now that Microsoft’s Surface has been introduced, app developers are sure to find themselves wondering which platform is deserving of their time and effort.

I suggest that a need for core dominant apps exists – much like the wars that ensued between spreadsheet and word processor developers of years past. Today, anyone with a computer, time, and a desire to code can develop an app. Apple certainly makes it easy by providing all the tools you need to get started including a fully integrated programming environment. With tools at everyone’s disposal and a small price for admission, it is no wonder that so many apps are available.

Microsoft may very well be the contender to develop real “useful” apps that will truly make tablets even more relevant for business just as they did with Office 2010 for the desktop. Microsoft Office can be found on virtually every computer I’ve seen in business and there are very few exceptions.

The Wait Begins

We’ll have to wait and see what happens in the tablet market. For now, it appears that Apple finally has a true competitor that may be cause to stimulate even more innovation going forward. It is also worth noting that Google just released the Nexus Android based tablet to compete with Amazon’s Kindle. All of this is happening as RIM (Research In Motion) is struggling to stay afloat. Some may even say, “It can only get better.”

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics

BlackBerry or Bust?

WIND branded Blackberry Bold 9700
Image via Wikipedia

Leadership

Leadership can make or break any organization whether it is business, government, or even a sports franchise. I felt compelled to cite this quote from a column titled “Iconic teams tumble from penthouse to outhouse” as published in the Toronto Star (20-Jan-2012):

And while all have found different routes to the bottom, they do have one thing in common: ineptitude at the top. Find a meddling owner or inept general manager and you’ll find a franchise in trouble.

“Pro sports franchises are first and foremost businesses,” says Richard Powers, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “The same problems that get businesses in trouble are what get sports teams in trouble.”

Clearly, to be successful, organizations require effective leadership. For this same reason, a successful lean initiative must be driven from the top leadership of the organization. I discussed this on our Lean Road Map page suggesting that without executive leadership, the program is certain to fail.  This sentiment is also confirmed in “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” by Jeffrey Liker and Gary Convis:

That’s because these problems were in fact leadership problems, not lean process problems. They were a stern reminder that all the investment in lean process in the world will not yield the expected outcomes if it is not accompanied by lean leadership throughout the enterprise, including corporate support departments.”

We also discussed the necessity for lean leadership in our previous post “Lean Leadership – The Missing Link?” As we learn of Kodak filing for bankruptcy and disturbing results for RIM, we are anxious to continue our review of “The Toyota Way to Lean Leadership” over the coming weeks. Kodak invented the digital camera and failed to pursue their own innovation. Again, another indication that leadership with a clear vision for the future is pertinent to the success of your organization.

RIM and the BlackBerry

Rumors of a buyout or take over of RIM have been circulating in the media. As an owner of the BlackBerry Bold smart phone and Playbook, I’m hopeful that RIM (or some version of them) will be with us for quite some time.  More so, their survival is just as important to our local Ontario (Canadian) economy. Although there are many players in the smart phone and tablet market, Apple appears to be the prevailing competitor to RIM with its iPhone and iPad offerings. All, however, pose a major threat to RIM’s declining presence in the market.

Market Share, Price Points, and Customer Satisfaction

RIM effectively lowered prices for their Playbook product line and that’s great news for customers looking to get a great tablet. While this may help to increase market share and make the PlayBook a real bargain, this does little to appease the many people who purchased the product at full price (myself included).  The 64GB PlayBook is now selling for prices ranging from $217 (16GB) up to $325 (64GB) versus the original release prices of $499 and $699 respectively. Whether these price points are closer to reality, a means to increase market share, or a means to simply reduce on hand inventory remains to be seen.

The Product Experience

My overall experience with the BlackBerry has been relatively positive:  it works as advertised although I did keep a bottle of rubbing alcohol close by to keep the roller ball working on my old phone. The number of applications available seems to be somewhat limited compared to the iPhone and iPad, however, what I have is more than sufficient for my purpose.

Upgrading

I’m very pleased with the new changes introduced in my new BlackBerry Bold 9900. I finally get to enjoy the benefits of Touch Screen technology while the full keyboard remains in tact and an optical sensor replaces the ever failing “roller ball”. Unfortunately, this upgrade also required parting with cash that I wasn’t planning to spend:

  • The new style connector required new chargers for car and home.
  • New USB cable to connect my lap top, again because the connector style changed
  • New Case for the phone.
  • A capacitive Stylus to minimize finger prints on the touch screen.
I also purchased a Voyager Pro Blue Tooth in keeping with our “driver distraction / hands free” driving laws here in Ontario.
  • Voyageur Pro – Blue Tooth

Connecting

I also have a 64GB PlayBook and connecting with my BlackBerry Bold smart phone was relatively simple and seamless. I actually like the ability to tether my PlayBook through my smart phone and the BlackBerry Bridge software works like a charm. The 64GB PlayBook presents better value for the money than the 16GB or 32GB PlayBooks.

Smart phone software upgrades and backups are performed using the BlackBerry Desktop manager through your lap top or desk top. I found some of the applications like Twitter and WordPress did not work correctly when I first upgraded to the latest operating system, however, they seem to have resolved themselves.

Accessories

I find that accessories for the BlackBerry products are over priced and even Walmart stores carrying these products don’t provide much relief.  Here are some of the basic essentials:

Not essential but highly recommended:

Connecting BlueTooth devices (also known as pairing) is a simple task and one you’ll quickly grow comfortable with after you’ve done it a few times.
So what’s with the blog post?

The leadership of the company must embrace and deliver the vision of the company to the consumer in the form of product and service expectations. As much as I appreciate my BlackBerry products, I have also admired Apple from afar.  Steve Jobs had a great vision for the Apple product line that sees individual products now connecting in ways that were never thought possible.  While Apple retained its roots in computers (iMac) it also extended that vision to include the iPhone, iPod, and iPad. Quite simply, the Apple product line presents a complete and seamless “digital” solution through improved connectivity, portability, and technologies in general.

Steve Jobs’ vision enabled Apple to drive beyond the limits of our imagination. Few companies have excelled as Apple has to define products that we never knew we needed until they invented them. They simply didn’t refine existing products, they expanded their niche products into a wholly unique offering as only Apple could do. Coupled with connectivity options that exceeded anyone’s expectations, Apple products will continue to define and dominate the market for years to come.

As for RIM, the leadership has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons: shareholder leadership / infrastructure concerns, product valuation, and the procurement of an NHL hockey franchise.  As I finished writing this post, a link to this article appeared in my twitter timeline > Bowing to Critics and Market Forces, RIM’s Co-Chiefs Step Aside.

A decision such as this can’t be easy and demonstrates how outside influences can affect the leadership of any organization – good or bad.

Until Next Time – STAY lean!

Vergence Analytics