Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Paradox of Apple Profitablity

Dave Winer suggests that products need egos to reach and maintain their potential greatness, of course pointing to Steve Jobs as the premier example. This got me thinking about the paradox of Apple's mega-success.

What is so rare is a consistent, eternal, unyielding devotion to product excellence. That was Steve Jobs. I am pretty confident that he would not release what he thought was a sub-par product, even if he thought it could be very profitable. Who else would do this? He aimed for greatness, not merely rich-ness.

Contrast this with Bill Gates, the embodiment of Microsoft. As Robert X. Cringely observed some years ago, Bill Gates has always been about winning ("a graceless win is still a win"). In business, this translates to profitability, not excellence. No Micro$oft product is ever improved unless there is a clear line of sight to the bottom line.
None of this matters to Steve Jobs. It took me a long time to figure this out, but he is quite content with the status quo [my italics]. That's because Steve's definition of success is different from Bill's, and from that of most other people in the computer industry. Success to Steve means getting his own way. That's all. Forget about market share. It's all about longevity and personal dominance.
So here comes the paradox. I remember reading Cringely's article at the time it was written, early 2002. At that time, the status quo was: Microsoft is huge, rich and dominant; Apple is off life support, and assured of a secure, profitable niche as a boutique computer maker. 10 years later, and how things have changed.

The paradox is that Steve Jobs uncompromising devotion to excellence was eventually rewarded with commensurate financial success. All it took was patience, lots of patience. Unfortunately in the business world, that kind of long leash is unheard of, unless your name is Steve Jobs.

Netflix Karma

Like I have said, there is a lot to like about Netflix, but I will always rejoice when price-raisers are punished. I myself downgraded to stream-only immediately.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Branding is Default

I think branding is all about leveraging default behavior. Consumers would be well-advised to train themselves to have a reflexive "anti-" reaction to branding. Instead of passively internalizing a brand as the default, reflexively assume that any product involving a heavy branding investment is probably over-priced, and seek the low-cost alternative.   

In decision-making, examples of the default preference abound: Workers are far more likely to save in retirement plans if enrollment is the automatic option. And the percentage of pregnant women tested for H.I.V. in some African nations where AIDS is widespread has surged since the test became a regular prenatal procedure and women had to opt out if they didn’t want it.
A study published in 2003 showed that while large majorities of Americans approved of organ donations, only about a quarter consented to donate their own. By contrast, nearly all Austrians, French and Portuguese consent to donate theirs. The default explains the difference. In the United States, people must choose to become an organ donor. In much of Europe, people must choose not to donate.
Defaults, according to economists and psychologists, frame how a person is presented with a choice. But they say there are other forces that make the default path hard to resist. One is natural human inertia, or laziness, that favors making the quick, easy choice instead of exerting the mental energy to make a different one. Another, they say, is that most people perceive a default as an authoritative recommendation.

Friday, October 07, 2011

M$ Never Improves: Printing an Email

I have a personal list of annoying functionality flaws (not code defects) that have been in Micro$oft products forever. They are little niggling things, not showstoppers, but the failure to do anything about them, year after year, speaks volumes about Microsoft's lack of craftsmanship, and contempt for their customer. Here is one item in the list: M$ Outlook doesn't let the user specify the number of pages to print. The typical use case is that I want to print the most recent 2 paragraphs in a long, long email string. If I just hit the print icon and let it go, I will get 10 pages.

There are simple work-arounds of course. Mainly, pasting the snippet of interest into a Word doc. That's not the point, though. This is a pretty basic thing, it should have been fixed a decade ago.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Yes, Quit "Writing What You Know", So Much

I like the drift of this Salon article on why Americans aren't winning any Nobels for literature. Especially laying much of the blame on the pervasive conventional wisdom that teaches authors to "write what you know". That might be okay advice for a first work--so long as it is coupled with "and have lived enough to know something beyond the quotidian features of middle-class life shared by every other young, educated aspiring writer". A career of writing what you know becomes boring quickly.

I am thoroughly sick of books about writers--one very common manifestation of the syndrome. Apparently it is even worse in the world of poetry.