Never Accept the Inevitable!

December 30th, 2009

You just know that the iPod had to be a failure. Why? Because the tech press and some alleged industry analysts said so over and over again, year after year. Every time another manufacturer came out with a competing product, it was dubbed the “iPod killer,” although those products soon faded from the scene. Certainly that was true with every version of the Microsoft Zune. After all, it was Microsoft. How could they build a product that wouldn’t take over a market?

This is not to say the Zune was and is necessarily a bad product. But something about it seems forced rather than a natural evolution of design, perhaps the consequence of using committees and PowerPoint presentations rather than depending on sheer human inspiration to build a new gadget.

Of course, the so-called experts didn’t realize that all of the digital media players before the iPod arrived actually never caught on in any meaningful way. They were all difficult to use, with obtuse interfaces from hell, and file downloads were agonizingly slow. Indeed, I reviewed a couple for an online publication and couldn’t find a single product I’d actually use for more than a minute or two after the review process was over — that is until the iPod arrived.

Even after the iPod sped to the top of the market and remained there, the iPhone was greeted with derision from people who should have known better. After all, how could Apple possibly compete in a highly-saturated market with which they had no experience whatever? Against RIM, Windows Mobile, giant Nokia?

Again people who should have known better failed to realize that the nascent smartphone market had lots of unrealized potential, particularly for consumers. The existing products were well suited for the enterprise, but not for people who wanted easy access to their online stuff. Consider why the iPhone consumes tons more bandwidth than the competition, which means customers are actually using them for downloads and other heavy-duty online chores rather than just email and occasional Web surfing.

That the iPhone continues to do exceedingly well despite the arrival of contenders with Google software and friendlier BlackBerrys is a demonstration of how Apple had figured out what other companies couldn’t begin to understand.

Once again, the alleged iPhone killers seem to be designed with bullet points. If the iPhone doesn’t have a feature, add it, or just imitate the ones present as much as they can. So much for actually building a better mousetrap.

So we have two instances here where it was absolutely inevitable that Apple was destined for abject failure, yet they succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, even beyond their own sales projections in many cases.

That’s why so many are now betting on an Apple tablet to be another barn burner. How could it miss in light of Apple’s previous successes? Indeed, although I’m still looking for a reason to buy one, maybe I’ll be convinced in the end, if only for the promised e-book capabilities. Just last night, I was reading an old science fiction novel on my iPhone, and certainly the page navigation process was simple enough. I was even pleased to discover that, while I hadn’t launched the freeware application in question during the previous year, and then on a older iPhone, it opened right on the last page I had been reading when I last quit the app. Nice work, but I still prefer regular paperback books.

Moving on to the PC world, it does appear that Windows 7 will do well for Microsoft and that tens of millions of customers who avoided Vista will upgrade, although the horrendous installation process for XP users represents a huge miscalculation. Moreover, Microsoft’s ad campaign is utterly pathetic. When I am not skipping past those ads on my DVR, I have to wonder sometimes if they are selling an operating system or someone’s note-book computer. Explain to me why the moron depicted in the ad seems to think that, because the PC incorporates a few basic functions all PCs possess, it was somehow customized just for him or her. Truly pathetic!

Well, at least Microsoft is selling mostly to the business world, where the corporate purchasing agents don’t pay attention to lame ad campaigns — or shouldn’t. I would also seriously question whether any of those TV ads managed to persuade even a small number of individuals to upgrade to Windows 7, or even buy a new PC.

In any case, typical of recent Windows upgrades, Microsoft apparently hasn’t made any headway against Apple, which continues to shine in nearly every product category. Arriving in the same month as Windows 7, the new iMacs, for example, have become a major success story in Apple’s current quarterly sales figures, based on what has been published so far.

2010 will be a truly fascinating year for Apple, regardless of how well that promised tablet computer sells should it be released as expected.

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6 Responses to “Never Accept the Inevitable!”

  1. westech says:

    Microsoft is a huge mature company that makes a lot of money, and they are bent on keeping the status quo. Their business is mature and their major effort is to defend their territory. In short, they are running on momentum and don’t know how to manage change. Every move they make is aimed at short term profits. That’s why they stuck with subscription music when it was apparent that people wanted to own, not subscribe. People regard big as being better, so Microsoft can do no wrong in their eyes. They are like GM was fifteen or so years ago. Also US Steel. Also the major railroads. It almost seems inevitable that when companies become very large and their businesses mature they become bloated, over structured and circle the wagons.

    Apple, on the other hand, was forced to change and they have learned to manage change better than any other company I can think of. Their focus on product excellence is amazing, and their ability to define what a product really needs to do to be successful is outstanding. Their detractors keep expecting them to fail, and really don’t understand why they don’t fall on their faces with each new product they introduce. Apple may yet become another dinosaur, but not for many years with the present leadership.

    If Apple does come out with a tablet you can be assured that it will have some features which will be game changers that most of us have never thought of.

    I, for one, like to read magazines and newspapers on my computers, but I find it difficult to do so on my iPhone. A tablet seems to be a good idea to me.

  2. Andrew says:

    I owned and used a tablet PC and while it was less than perfect, I did recognize many advantages to the format. Vista added workable handwriting recognition, but took away stability (I sold my tablet long before Vista SP1).

    I would be very interested in revisiting the tablet form factor with either an Apple tablet or one running Windows 7. This promises to be an exciting year indeed.

  3. BrianP says:


    Remember when Mr. Jobs said something like “what they were good for besides surfing the Web in the bathroom.” Reference here for that quote.

    Consider also that he has said that he doesn’t like one purpose devices, and the fact that he killed the Newton. To me that says that he has considered the smartphone market carefully. “We don’t know how to build a sub-$500 computer that is not a piece of junk,” Jobs said during an Apple earning call in 2008. Reference for that here. To me, this means it will be more like the Air laptop than the iPhone. They probably will include some amazing hardware feature like a virtual keyboard or maybe even a projector. For Mr. Jobs to love it, it has to be original like the Cube was. There is going to be something that will make you say “Man I need one of those, it would make my life easier.” Maybe they perfected speech recognition?

    I think it will be in the $500-$900 area and it will do most laptop functions. It might even be a laptop in a new form factor. Whatever it is, its going to be the result of a long period of gestation. Something new for MS to copy!


  4. […] on the Apple Tablet First Gene Steinberg here then me. […]

  5. DaveD says:

    Before Steve Jobs came back, Apple made boring Macs. Apple under new leadership in the late 90’s began to put design into use as one of the selling points. The black PowerBook G3 Series and the bondi blue all-in-one iMac were head turners. With the Mac models attracting more buyers and Mac OS X in the works, Apple turned its focus on the next thing, the music ecosystem. Apple brought it to the Windows world while continuing to improve the Macs and Mac OS X.

    So many articles have been written about a mythical tablet-like device and not a word from Apple. If there is such a product or products, I want Apple to make me buy one. If it will make my world of media access easy to use unlike the clumsy-looking Tablet PCs and hassle-free. An “Xpad” would be on my buy list in addition to a MacBook Pro. About Windows 7, I don’t care and have been on the Windows for years. I have made great strides to become Microsoft-free and can easily see the light at the end of the tunnel.

  6. David says:

    I really struggle to use my iPod touch for things like reading and looking things up on the web because the screen is so small. Even if I could read the microscopic print of most web sites as rendered on the device it would still be frustrating because most sites aren’t mobile friendly and thus much of the layout is off the edges of the screen. Last night I tried to look up a song I heard on a New Year’s TV show, but after 10 minutes of typing on the tiny virtual keyboard and pinching and scrolling in an attempt to read the search results I ran down to the basement to my Mac and had the answer in 30 seconds.

    I know there are eyestrain problems with reading from a backlit screen, but the current state of my eyes makes it easier to read from a screen 3 feet away than either a screen or a paper book in the palm of my hand.

    I’m not likely to buy the tablet if it only provides me with a larger display version of my touch because the touch was only $200 and the tablet is likely to be 4-5 times as much. Even if it has a number of Mac capabilities I’m not likely to buy one because the even more capable MacBook already occupies that price range. Finally I’m still a desktop person. I simply don’t have need for the mobility of a laptop and I’d much rather get the superior specs of an iMac for the same price.

    I’m not representative of Apple’s target market so their tablet should sell really well.

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