Microsoft Surface 3 vs iPad

For the first time in a long while I am intrigued by a piece of technology that doesn’t have an Apple logo.

Sure, I’ve written about the Pebble watch with high praise recently and even proclaimed my desire to own Neil Young’s Hi-Def music player, Pono.

But this bit of lust almost feels like I am cheating on Apple.

That’s because my infatuation is with the new, Microsoft Surface 3.

Could this hurt the iPad?
Could this hurt the iPad?

The iPad hasn’t been revolutionary for a while.

The iPad Air 2 and subsequent iPads seem to be in a bit of a holding pattern. Not really improving drastically from model to model. Thumb recognition is nice and all, but it’s not reason enough to upgrade immediately. Is it for you? What’s been nice about the mediocre iPad upgrades is that I don’t feel tempted to buy a newer iPad. I can hold onto my current model for a while. It’ll do just fine.

This mindset, unfortunately, is problematic for Apple. Since it appears that it’s nearly maxed out with what the iPad can do, less and less people are buying them. Numbers don’t lie.

And so, when I see what appears to be a well-designed hybrid machine in the Surface 3, which also costs just as much as an iPad, there is the promise of a ripple in the market. The Microsoft Surface 3 vs iPad war may not come out completely in Apple’s favor.

The Microsoft Surface 3 meets business needs.

For as long as I can remember, I have wished my iPad would completely fulfill my business needs. A streamlined keyboard (because I can’t standing tapping away on my tablet screen) and a track pad or mouse (all of which the Surface Pro 3 has). I want a plethora of convenient options designed to work seamlessly with my device. Options so good that maybe, I could say goodbye to my laptop.

Instead, when it comes to the iPad, I have to buy all sorts of third-party parts that only partially work well, and worse yet, don’t aesthetically add to the beauty of the device. Why would Apple allow this to happen?

These days, when I look to the Surface 3, I see everything I want in a hybrid tablet, options, sadly, I can only hope the iPad would introduce.

The tablets of Amazon fail to catch fire

Should Amazon even offer a tablet?

A few weeks ago, Amazon announced a new line of tablets: the Fire HDX 8.9, 7, 6 and Kid’s Edition, as well as an updated E-Reader that Amazon is calling the Kindle Voyage.

I’m telling you these names for one simple reason — I anticipate you, like many of us, were just as unaware of the names of any of these Amazon products as me. These five new devices hardly made a blip on anyone’s interest radar because the brand architecture makes little sense. What’s the difference between them all?

What should Amazon do to sell this?
What should Amazon do to sell this?

That’s quite the opposite of the frenzy surrounding the new iPhone line and potentially updated iPad (slated to be introduced this Thursday) or the Samsung Note 4 or Galaxy Tablet. These products are on most everyone’s radar because, in part, their architecture is easy to understand.

This is not the case with Amazon.

In addition, Amazon has its hands in a bit too many cookie jars. Yes, the company has mastered the online retail experience, offering nearly everything you want (including its expertise). Yet, offering an abundance of mediocre tech devices on its main stage is unnecessary.

Take the Fire Phone, for instance. Amazon had high expectations for the device. The company set the bar high, pricing the device just as high as the iPhone 5S and Samsung S5. Yet, the public didn’t see the Fire as an equal. To date, the device has sold around 40,000 units prompting Amazon to quickly lower the price to 99 cents.

I wonder how many failed devices it will take Amazon to wake up? I’m reminded of the phrase: “Because you can should you?” No, unless Amazon adjusts its brand so it is a brand of services not products. Right now, that’s how consumers see its tech products, as simple delivery systems for its services.

If Amazon wants to be a brand about products that you hold in your hand, then a brand adjustment is needed to gain permission. And get rid of the crazy brand architecture.

Apple in the years since Steve Jobs died

Apple is still transitioning since Steve Jobs died in 2009

It has been a few years since Steve Jobs died on 5 October 2009. Remembering that made me think about the loss we all suffered that day. But, I also started to think about our larger relationship with the Apple brand that Steve founded so many years ago.

Steve JobsApple is still going through that transition. It has not yet found the emotional footing despite a consistent focus on great design and ease of use. Like many of you, I have bought a new Mac, iPad Air, and pre-ordered my iPhone 6 Plus since 2009. Certainly my interest in what Apple continues to produce is still there. But my love for the brand has diminished ever so slightly. My hunch is that yours has as well.

Apple has a big hill to climb. Maybe the Mount Everest of brand peaks.

When Steve was alive, the brand was personal for me. I felt that I had a personal relationship with Steve. In my need to brand my every purchase with my desire to self-define, I bought into the brand of Steve. I took pride in the company (Apple) that I believed help define me and trusted that my loyalty to Apple was a reinforcement of my trust in Steve’s vision. In fact, it was my personal identification (however egotistical that may seem) with that vision that made it personal (Read about how we use brand to identify ourselves here). When the rumor mill spun with news and myth about Apple’s next big thing I felt a little of the brand’s glow. When the stock climbed in value it was not just my stock portfolio that grew, so did my sense of justification with my branded loyalty.

If you asked me to state Steve’s vision bad then, I probably could not do it justice. It was enough for me to trust his vision and acknowledge that it was bigger than my poor power to describe it. Apple and Steve Jobs were one in the same to me then.

Today, the successful and growing brand is less complicated for me. Steve is gone. Sure I coveted the iPhone 6 Plus but not in the same way I needed the iPhone or the original iPad. I wanted the iPhone 6 for many of the innovations and updates but not for the emotional need to feel I was part of the Steve Jobs mythology. I really like the brand but I no longer love it. I miss the emotional tie to an individual vision and no corporate culture has ever been able to replace that intimate connection.

As a Brand man, I probably think more about this than the average guy. But I wonder if you think differently than I do. I would surly appreciate your opinion in comments. Did your connection with Apple change after Steve’s death? Do you have the same confidence in the brand that Steve elicited? Are you as excited to hear what’s next from the highly competent folks like Jonathan Ive or Tim Cook?

I’m still an Apple man. But if I only feel the brand’s vision is about a product rather than an idea, I expect that my fervor will continue to wax and wane.

BlackBerry Failed. Marketing lessons to be learned from BlackBerry.

BlackBerry Failed. What can we learn from their mistakes?

By Tom Dougherty

Blackberry changed how business phoned.
Blackberry changed how business phoned.

The world truly changed in 1999. We saw Europe introduce the Euro, the tragedy at Columbine, the world was dealing with Kosovo and SpongeBob SquarePants debuted. But the world also saw a revolution in communication – one that, for better or for worse, changed everything.

Research In Motion introduced the BlackBerry

The first BlackBerry was the 850 and it was little more than a two-way pager with email and some limited HTML functionality. However, it could not be used as a phone. It did, however, give users something they had never had before: an “always on” connection that allowed users to synch with Microsoft Outlook.

In the early days, the 850 was not even yet called a BlackBerry and it was only available to enterprises. Neither of those factors detracted from its desirability. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was a status symbol. The person using it felt like they had made it. The 850 was the epitome of a brand reflection.

I say that becuase brand is really the reflection customers see when they use your product or service. It is the emotional connection people have with things and RIM had a product that elicited such an emotional response that people became addicted to the device.

RIM owned some very valuable emotional territory. It owned innovation/technology. It owned status. It owned first. It owned prized emotional ground that should be held on to as vigorously as possible.

Blackberry failed to change. They overestimated the golden handcuffs
Business thrives on simplicity

And for nearly a decade, RIM appeared to do just that. RIM grew significantly. From 1999 to 2007, RIM/BlackBerry’s stock price went from about $1.50 to a little north of $230 at its peak, a 15,233% increase. It was the darling of Wall Street and the envy of businesses the world over.

The 850 turned into the 950 and the 950 turned into the 957, which stood for 15 years as the iconic BlackBerry design – large screen with the unique keyboard below. They were defining devices in mobile technology but there was still no BlackBerry that you could use as a phone. In order to make a phone call, you still had to have a different mobile phone with a separate agreement.

In 2002, BlackBerry gave us the ability to use data and voice on the same device. The BlackBerry 5810 was born, complete with an ear bud that you used if you wanted to make a call. The 6810 and 6820 came not long after that, the ear bud was removed and allowed the user to make normal calls. Keep in mind that BlackBerry is still really only for enterprise use at this point.

In the next few years, BlackBerry models showed up with color screens and RIM even created a new form factor geared towards the consumer market with a new keyboard system called SureType that combined two letters to a single key. Eventually, the Pearl, perhaps BlackBerry’s second most influential device after the 957, was loaded with a camera, color screen and even a trackball. This was the height of BlackBerry and also marked the beginning of its death spiral.

The Mobile Category

Mobile devices were in a rapid stage of evolution. Features were being added and removed on the whims of consumer taste and RIM found a set of features that really met the needs of the emerging consumer mobile phone market at time. Additionally RIM had strong brand equity in the BlackBerry name and people, both consumers and businesses, coveted its aspirational brand.

But here lies the problem. In a changing market, stasis often means death. Things are only aspirational as long as people see them that way. In BlackBerry’s case, there was a duty to protect that emotional high ground that it didn’t fulfill.

BlackBerry saw itself only as a producer of mobile phones and forgot to protect that high emotional ground with a brand that said why their mobile phones were important.

Its success was due only to being first to market with a highly innovative product. The 2006 launch of the Pearl, which allowed the brand to be enjoyed by everyone, was really the last innovation for BlackBerry in mobile devices.

From that point on, BlackBerry played defense. It rested too heavily on what it thought was its impenetrable enterprise business. BlackBerry thought it was untouchable. Even in 2003, as other device companies were entering a rapid stage of innovation, BlackBerry’s co-CEO Mike Lazaridis quipped, “Camera phones will be rejected by corporate users.” It was not until 2006 that a camera was added to a BlackBerry.

Companies whittled away BlackBerry’s market share with brands like the Nokia and the Palm Treo, which brought us the first color displays (before the abovementioned Pearl) and firms like Motorola and LG began to change the mobile phone into a stylish accessory.

Carl von Clausewitz wrote in On War, “If we are really waging war, we must return the enemy’s blows… the defensive form of war is not a simple shield, but a shield made up of well-directed blows.”
Business is very much like warfare and, if an enemy continues to come after you, they will eventually wear you down.

At this point, BlackBerry’s responses were always just that. Blackberry simply responded to new features by competitors by simply aping them. It was at this point when BlackBerry lost its emotional high ground of innovation because it became known as a fast follower.

Then came the iPhone.

Overnight, the mantel of innovation was ripped away by the iPhone. More importantly, Apple had uncovered an emotional intensity that trumped them all, simplicity. Given the rather complex nature of smartphones at the time, simplicity was not only welcomed, it was embraced. So much so that people waited in lines for the iPhone.

Blackberry failed to match iPhone's Cool factor
iPhone Changed the game again

The brand promise of simplicity for the iPhone was further solidified by its stunning innovation. Jim Balsillie, the other co-CEO of BlackBerry, said of the iPhone in 2007, “in terms of a sort of a sea-change for BlackBerry, I would think that’s overstating it.” All emotional intensities that made BlackBerry popular over the course of the past eight years (with the possible exception of the keyboard) were voided by a single product launch that did not take eight years to blossom.

Reeling from impact of the iPhone, BlackBerry again tried to “add that feature” in the form of the BlackBerry Storm. But instead of a volley across the bow to Apple, it was really a flag of surrender.

So what are the lessons here? What can we learn from BlackBerry?

First off, BlackBerry was and always will be the founding father of the modern mobile phone. Some may argue that the addition of an operating system and the full panel touch screen with the iPhone is the true ancestor, but RIM, now BlackBerry, started mobile device companies on their current course. But here lies the first lesson:

In innovative industries, staying the course is a dangerous proposition.
Consistency and stick-to-it-ness are great attributes of a brand. Often, these attributes make the difference between a brand that succeeds and a brand that fails.

But when your brand is based on innovation, you are always chasing the newest innovation and are doomed to fail. BlackBerry needed a brand promise that was emotional in nature and not dependent on features.

If you have the luxury of being first to a market, you must defend that position with all of the resources at your disposal.
This is related to the first point but not a restatement of it. Being innovative does not mean you have to be revolutionary at each step. As a market leader, you have brand equity that allows target audiences to believe you own innovation. (Read how being first in a market is not guarentee of success)

This is the crux, however: a company that does not possess expertise to continually innovate must either find it or buy it. The best news is that most people have no idea if an innovation is purchased or developed internally. BlackBerry had access to sufficient cash and resources to purchase forward-thinking talent and companies.

Again, however, a brand that was focused on an emotion would have allowed customers to remain loyal despite other innovations. When your brand is about innovation, you have taught customers to always seek out the newest innovation.

CEOs must have a pragmatic view of the business environment and articulate that view to the public, shareholders, and employees.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but Balsillie and Lazaridis, the co-CEOs, had substantial influence in the organization and made it seem, at least publicly, they did not believe they ever had a problem. Even ex-CEO Thorsten Heins believed that tablet computers would not last.

A company that claims to be innovative should have leadership that has vision. Good employees absorb vision and want to execute it. Part of it is cult of personality (see: Steve Jobs) but most of it is sweat. The power of any brand, BlackBerry included, gives the organization reason for being. If the leadership does not convey it at every step and in each interaction, it is really meaningless and fodder for any company in a position to take it.

Brand arrogance is one of the worst things that can happen to any brand.
All of the above mentioned lessons result from this one: all brands, no matter how big, iconic or influential, can fail. When a brand thinks it is above the fray, it will almost always land below it. BlackBerry thought it could simply copy features of other providers, keep its keyboard and everything would be fine. It thought its customers would still aspire to use the BlackBerry. Everyone wants a BlackBerry, right?

At this point it is doubtful that the BlackBerry device business lasts much longer. It stood for innovation, taught audiences to seek innovation and, when BlackBerry became a follower, it became emotionally irrelevant.

The company began to shift toward services such as the popular BlackBerry Messenger on all mobile operating systems, allowing users of its BlackBerry Enterprise Services to manage both BlackBerry and non-BlackBerry devices within an organization’s network. But they are too little too late.

Connection Is The Key To Winning The eReader Battle

iPad. Kindle and all the other eReader battle foes

By Tom Dougherty

eReader battleA while ago I decided to join the 21st century and buy an electronic book reader. It felt like a simpler solution to carrying War and Peace, Moby Dick and Les Miserables on every plane trip. (As I think about it, can Ulysses be very far off?).

The decision tree in purchasing one is interesting because it taps into one of the most emotional currents running through today’s marketplace: The desire for all of us to be connected.

Here’s how the Kindle and its competitors relate to that.

There are four main products to consider: The Kindle, by Amazon, The Reader by SONY, and the Nook by Barnes and Noble and the Apple iPad. Research demonstrated that they all seemed relatively similar. Some used E Ink, had a screen size that was relatively the same and had a few features that were different but seemed unimportant for me. I chose an iPad because I only wanted to carry with me one device.

In the end, I did not buy the Kindle, not because I thought it was inferior but because I thought that Apple and Amazon had the about the same content available.

Truth Has Nothing To Do With It

How interesting considering Barnes & Nobles claims to have more titles than Amazon. That is, the one with the strongest brand promise is the one we believe controls the most content.

ipad hero eReader battleThe iPod re-wrote the book on music. It was simple, small, reliable and, because it was from Apple, cool. But the real coup de grace for the iPod was iTunes. Apple owned the content. Therefore, having an iPod meant that you were “connected.” Same holds true for the iPad.

Apple also re-wrote the cell phone book with the iPhone. Consider this: Is the AT&T 3G network as large as the one from Verizon? Who really cares?

Ask any iPhone owner. The recent Verizon TV spots – “There’s a Map for That” – does not get an iPhone user to switch. It’s defensive marketing: An attempt to stop the bloodletting of Verizon users who want an iPhone.

What made the iPhone such a roaring success was, once again, the content. In this case, that was the Apps. Apple had the Apps, and, the ability to get them meant – you guessed it -“I was connected.”

All of the content in iTunes is important because it feels as if we are making a rational decision based on the availability of “stuff” that makes our purchase decisions seem smartest.

That perception, though, is only a rationalization of usefulness and where it gets its power.

Get to The heart of It

A ruling precept – a belief that drives behavior in today’s world is our desire to feel connected. It’s the reason why Facebook and Twitter have become so alive in our world. We want to feel connected to books, a group, to just about anything. Because being seen as connected, even if it is a feigned connection to being modern and hip, it is a least as important as any real and technical benefits – and, in fact, can be the rational reasons we tells ourselves why we purchased something.

eReader battle plansIt would be a benefit for all of us to think in terms of this connectedness when developing brands and products. It is obvious from past experience that having content to support the brand is important. But what is really crucial is the understanding of the reason why you control that availability of content. It needs to serve the brand’s purpose of showing that the end user is connected.

If you think this is an overstatement, consider the Apple iPod. Apple continually made smaller and more inconspicuous. This was a product benefit that the consumer wanted. They wanted to have more music and video in a smaller and lighter device.

But the brand knew that the user also needed the means to show the world that they were “connected.” Therefore, Apple created white mini-headphones that came with every iPod. Even the advertising was designed so that the monochromatic images had one violator — the stark white head phone cables. It was a sign to the whole world that while my device was not visible, my personal brand was – and I am connected.

(Read more about the Kindle here)