Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Worked by Jobs

Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple seems at once cooler and smarter than most any other CEO in corporate America. For someone rather geeky, he has a strong (and profitable) sense of style, exhibited by every product put out by Apple since he returned to the helm. Even his new product presentations are hip and handsome, the last of which was followed by a performance by Wynton Marsalis, the most stylish jazz-man of our day, who himself remarked sincerely, "Nice presentation" before jumping into 15 minutes of un-watered-down jazz.

During the previous new product presentation, Jobs and the CEO of Motorolla introduced the Motorolla Rockr, which was the first mobile phone to run iTunes. The phone held a very limited number of songs, which according to Walter Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal, was because Apple demanded it. Apparently Jobs didn't want the Rockr to be so successful that it actually competed with his iPods, as Motorolla probably made the lion's share of any money the Rockr made. It seemed Motorolla was desperate to get a piece of the iPod magic, and was willing to take a sour deal for it. And it seemed Jobs was willing to string them along, perhaps in order to use the new product as limited-term trial-run for a future iPod-phone combo of his own. If that is so, his plan seems to have worked, because the Rockr sales have been dramatically disappointing. The Rockr's controls are also really fiddly according to Mossberg; so fiddly that Jobs himself pressed the wrong button when trying to demonstrate to the audience one of Rockr's special features. Maybe his fingers were too used to those engineering masterpieces, his own iPods. Or maybe, just maybe, he did it on purpose.

It reminded me of the co-branded Hewlett Packard/Apple iPod a couple years back. There was literally nothing special about the HP/Apple iPod other than that it said "HP" on it, which to my estimation was a drawback, given that Apple's brand appeal was so much stronger. It seemed like a desperate reach by the flailing CEO Carly Fiorina, who has since been forced out of HP. And indeed, the plug was recently pulled on the HP/Apple iPod venture after, again, disappointing sales. While I don't know the intricacies of the deal, I'd wager that Jobs drove a hard bargain and got something out of it, even though it failed (perhaps HP shouldered the manufacturing costs), and that HP, just like Motorolla, was willing to sign up just for a piece of the magic.

Hopefully the tech sector will come to realize it's not about "the magic", and that Apple's success comes from innovation, smarts, and style. If Motorolla and HP got played by Jobs it's only their fault for trying to piggyback on his market mojo instead of trying to develop their own.


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