The Apple AirPods won’t succeed

Apple AirPods are the price Apple pays for innovation.

Apple AirPods
The New Apple AirPods

The problem is that I don’t want to pay that $159 price for the new Apple AirPods.

I am a died in the wool Apple guy, as you know. I write this blog on my MacBook Air, have an iPhone 6+, two iPads (including the iPad Pro), an iPod in my car and an Apple TV connected to all the TVs in my home. Even at Stealing Share, we are Apple folks with an Apple server and Airport Wireless.

But I do have a simple complaint. Apple focuses on great design. But often, that design is more about how things look as opposed to how they work.

Apple Airpods
The Old Bluetooth Earpiece

I remember when I bough my first iPhone nine years ago and also paid for the Bluetooth headphone (not anything like the Apple AirPods). It was very cool looking and was tiny compared to competitive products. But syncing it to the phone and keeping it charged turned out to be a nightmare. I have never bought another Bluetooth product from Apple.

I won’t buy the new Apple AirPods either. Once again, they look very cool and are tiny compared to the competitor’s products. But they suffer from the same flaw as that earpiece I bought almost a decade ago. They simply won’t stayed charged long enough for me to use them.

Bluetooth headphones are common today

I travel a great deal and always take Bluetooth headphones with me. They are large, bulky and cumbersome but… they are noise cancelling and seem to last for days. Apple claims its new Apple AirPods will last for four hours between charges. That means they won’t even last a single cross country flight. They are worthless to me.

Apple AirPods
Apple packages everything with style

Apple AirPods look great

Great design says that form follows function and Apple often forgets this. I want them to be tiny, cool and simple. But I demand that they function in a way that matters to me. These have pushed the limit on smallness and Bluetooth compatibility but the technological limitations of having a powerful enough battery in such a small design is not there yet. So I’m not there yet either.

Apple eliminating the earphone jack on the new iPhone seems as overdue to me as when the original iMac eliminated the floppy disk drive and the MacBook eliminated the CD drive. I don’t need to connect a wire to my phone. But I NEED the device I use for sound and talking to last me a full day. Apple needs to be as concerned about how well something works as much as it is obsessed with how it looks.

So the Apple AirPods won’t find their way into my briefcase. Its too bad really. I would prefer to buy more Apple products but sometimes they leave me in the cold.

Samsung Galaxy 7 faces a brand hurdle

Powerful brands can overcome product failures. Is the Samsung Galaxy 7 one of those?

Do we forget when a popular product fails to meet our expectations?

What’s the one major critique of the iPhone 6? It bends. Or at least it did. Thing is, “Bendgate” is now imprinted in many of our minds, especially for those who experienced the bending.

How about those silly hoverboards? Turns out, they are catching on fire. Hoverboard manufacturers are surely climbing challenging terrain these days.

Samsung Galaxy 7
Will the Samsung Galaxy 7 survive its recall?

What about the latest news — that the Samsung Galaxy 7 has an exploding battery. Yep, the thing detonates. It’s so bad that Samsung has issued a worldwide recall of the phone. It’s pretty horrible timing for Samsung with the pending release of the iPhone 7.

It’s difficult for a brand to make the problem go away in the minds of many. For some of us, we seek out the problems — this seems to be an innate trait in many of us.

People are intrigued by a disaster. It’s why cars slow down on the highway to examine a wreck. Why TMZ lives on. Why the Kardashians hold the limelight and also why we may never forget that the Samsung Galaxy 7 battery explodes, that the iPhone 6 bends or that hoverboards catch fire.

Sometimes a brand is too powerful to be affected by product glitches.

How will the Samsung Galaxy 7 overcome its faults?

Even after “Bendgate” went down, demand for the iPhone 6 was huge. It took me a month and a half after its release to get a hold of my own.

I wonder, too, how many of those who bought and returned the Samsung Galaxy 7 will replace it with another Samsung phone? My guess is most will, but it will be a test of the Samsung brand. In the case of the iPhone 6, the brand of Apple was so powerful that people have largely forgotten about the bending.

That says something special about brand preference — that we rely upon brands that align with our precepts. Having that kind of meaningful brand is what gets those products and companies through the bad publicity. If you don’t have a brand that is preferred based on emotional triggers, then the bad news sticks.

Verizon’s purchase of Yahoo makes little sense

My first question upon hearing that Verizon is paying $4.8 billion to buy Yahoo was: Why would Verizon do that?

Yahoo has been a declining brand for some years. In the 90s, it was the search engine and counted millions among those who had an email address with the tech company. It won its battle with AOL and its future was bright.

Yahoo
The price may be cheap, but I don’t know what Verizon is getting from Yahoo.

But Yahoo never evolved after Google entered the market and took over so overwhelmingly that google is now a verb.

A better way to judge Yahoo’s downfall is to remember that Microsoft was willing to pay $45 billion for it just nine years ago. The $4.8 billion Verizon just ponied up is chicken feed in comparison.

The strategic purpose of buying Yahoo

Verizon’s overall strategy is to become a larger technology and media company rather than just a mobile carrier. It wants to count Google, Time Warner and Amazon as its competitors. Its recent purchases of AOL and the Huffington Post prove that. But it has an overall strategy that has yet to come to true fruition.

So why Yahoo? I suppose Verizon wants access to its one billion users. But AOL once boasted of those kinds of numbers. As we learned, those AOL customers were basically empty ones as they sported AOL email addresses they never used. Yahoo did buy Tumblr and brought in Katie Couric to be some sort of news anchor, for what it’s worth.

But it has been a brand without purpose. All that mishmash of what it had didn’t add up to a satisfying whole. It was a collection of disconnected parts.

Part of the reason why I wonder why Verizon would buy Yahoo is that, so far, Verizon’s collection also seems jumbled. What is Verizon going to become?

I suppose we should let this play out and see what Verizon will emerge as. But it worries me when companies grow through acquisition and not organically.

Verizon needs to come up with a brand promise that unites all its offerings. That was the problem Yahoo always had. No one could state what how its users were different than any other kind of user. It had no unifying brand.

If Verizon wants to make some sense of what it will become, then it needs to re-examine its brand. Because, right now, it doesn’t have one that will impact the market the way it should and buying companies like Yahoo don’t fix the problem.

The Verizon guy is now with Sprint

I’m surprised no one has done this before.

Verizon’s “Can you hear me now” guy has switched to Sprint in a new series of ads that demonstrate how easy it is to switch. For years, actor Paul Marcarelli was the spokesperson for Verizon, a kind of geeky everyman with big glasses who told you of the benefits of being a Verizon customer.

Now, the actor appears in a similar getup, switching from Verizon to Sprint because it’s cheaper at Sprint with the same network reliability.

I applaud this strategy on one level because I believe most brands are too afraid to directly take on competitors, which is totally bizarre considering they are fighting over market share. In my 25 plus years in this business, I have pitched brand positions and advertising that directly and powerfully take on the competition. In a few cases, clients are reluctant because it’s just too…in your face.

So, instead, advertisers like that are more comfortable with bland messaging that usually just copies the market leader. Then they wonder why they haven’t stolen any market share.

Sprint is being bold, but not bold enough.

For the few that will directly take on the competition, they are taking the first bold step in stealing market share. You must present a true choice among the competitive field, something you can’t do if you are not positioned directly against competitors.

But there’s another factor. We live in an age in which we are all subject to thousands of messages a day. Just on the marketing side alone, a logo on the pen you use is a message. And that doesn’t even include all the things you read and see that are not advertising messages. The number of messages coming our way daily is mind-boggling.

As humans, however, we have learned to block out certain messages because they don’t apply to us. That means advertisers have to be bolder to be heard. Directly taking on the competition is one way of doing that.

The Sprint strategy with Marcarelli doesn’t go all the way, though. Its message still basically comes down to lower price. That’s not an overly emotional message.

Instead, Sprint should take on Verizon with Marcarelli that takes a more emotional bent than the usual messages everyone else uses. If it did, then Verizon would certainly hear Sprint now.

Xiaomi phones are coming to America

Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone maker, just announced that it has acquired a few patents from Microsoft as it prepares to enter the US market for the first time.

Xiaomi
Obstacles await the entrance of Xiaomi phones in the US.

In case you missed it, Microsoft announced last month that it was exiting the smartphone business, which all but kills Nokia phones for good – an acquisition that cost Microsoft north of $7 billion.

This new effort by Xiaomi is an attempt to both siphon any remaining value out of the Microsoft patents as well as stave off some potential patent infringement in the US. Remember, some Chinese companies don’t always play by the same rules as everyone else when it comes to patents and intellectual property.

The deal also allows some Xiaomi devices to come preinstalled with Microsoft’s office apps.

Is the time right for a Xiaomi phone in the US?

For Xiaomi, it’s as good of a time as any to enter the US market considering the recent sluggish sales performance of the iPhone. But the reality here is that the US market has two entrenched brands with very loyal consumers already: Apple and Samsung. Breaking into the US market, especially with a phone that’s been called an iPhone clone, is going to be exceptionally difficult if not impossible.

I can’t go so far as to say it can’t be done. But let’s take a look at the power of brand in the smart phone category. In 2015, Apple, Samsung and LG accounted for a shade under 94% of the US smart phone market sales. (This is even with a powerful brand like Google, which owns Android, in the market.) Now Xiaomi, a Chinese brand with all that baggage for the US market, will try to break through.

The only possible way Xiaomi can break in is with its brand – it will have to mean something more than the brands of Samsung and Apple, more than the Galaxy and iPhone. It won’t be able to get more distribution than Samsung and Apple. It may be a lower priced option but that could only mean cheap. Even though some of Xiaomi’s devices will have some features and performance advantages, they’ll pale in comparison to the consumer loyalty enjoyed by Samsung and Apple.

Good luck, Xiaomi. You are going to need it. But if you don’t want to rely just on your luck, give me a call.