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On the Fence with Apple

Apple.  It seems like they are the darling of the technology world.  Just this week, they announced the iPad — the next thing that will revolutionize our world.  Apple is a very divisive company.  People either love them or hate them.  The lovers are passionate and evangelical.  The haters are passionate and focused.

Until recently, I was a hater.  I have been on the PC platform since my first PC in 1984, with one 5.25 floppy drive, since I couldn’t afford the 5 MB (yes MB) hard drive. My resolve broke down when I saw the iPhone.  Here finally was a phone that I could use as a single device for all my needs.  The fact that it could sync with Outlook and keep all my music and run apps was (pardon the pun) beautiful music to me. So last June, when the iPhone 3GS was announced, I overcame my trepidation and bought the phone.  I really love the phone.  It is easy to use, rock solid, has the huge App Store and just works well.  Yes, of course, there are things that I wish it could do, like multi-tasking and more detailed profile settings, but in general I am pleased with my iPhone purchase. I am still not on the Mac bandwagon.  That is going to take a whole lot more magic.

The Apple store is another great story.  I love the Apple store.  Everyone in the store is enabled to make a your customer experience the best.  Want to buy something?  Any Apple employee can make a sale — no waiting on line; heck they will even email a receipt to you. The Genius bar is terrific for solving problems.  You get the feeling that everything that they do is focused on you.  I can’t think of another retail environment that makes me feel like that, with the possible exception of Disney (topic for another blog post).

But, while Apple can make you feel like the smartest consumer ever for choosing to work with their products and their people, it seems to me that in their own way, they also treat you like the stupidest consumer.  How can that be?  Well, they severely limit the types of applications that developers can offer.  Somebody reasonably smart can write a solid profile manager for the App Store, but Apple won’t allow it because it violates what they think should be available. How about a way to automatically expand text typed into an input field — something like tyvm should be able to be automatically expanded to Thank you very much?  Both of these features are standard on the competing Blackberry platform, but even if someone wanted to write these applications, Apple would not allow them.

It gets worse.  Say you lost your iPhone charger.  How much would you expect Apple to charge you to replace it?  Remember that the 8 GB iPhone can be bought for $99. According to Apple website, they want $29.00 for the replacement.  30% of the purchase price for a power charger?  That is crazy.  Yes, I know that you can find a third party charger almost anywhere for $10 or $15, but what does Apple take us for?  Here is an even worse case. The iPhone allows you to store movies for remote watching.  No problem, unless you want to plug your iPhone into your home television so that you can watch on the big screen.  Then you can buy the video cables from Apple for $49.  Too rich for your blood?  OK, find some third party cables and buy them for $10.  I did.  When I hooked them up, the picture showed up on my tv for about 2 seconds then went blank.  I got a message that said that since I wasn’t using the approved Apple cables, they had disabled the video output.  Remember that I did get a picture for a short bit, so it isn’t a technical issue. Ouch.  Starting to make me feel like less of that smartest consumer ever.

They have continued these policies with the iPad.  What a wonderful media player.  But no HDMI output. Too bad that you will need a (you guessed it) proprietary plug to get video output.  Well, I am sure that it must have a USB output.  All real devices have a USB output.  Um, not so much with the iPad.  The answer is that it will be available with an accessory kit.  I have heard that Apple believes that they want to serve the non-technical crowd and don’t want to make things too complicated for that marketplace.  Well, it seems to me that the PC marketplace hasn’t done too badly by giving people options.  If only someone could develop a “gorgeous” device that was open to be customized to our needs.

I guess that my experience has shown that it is possible to be in the middle on the topic of Apple.  I love the customer service and I love the device.  I just wish that the company had the foresight to help me make this my device, at a reasonable cost.  Then I could confidently move into the ranks of the lovers.

FUD

Lately, my friends have been subject to my long and rambling diatribes about the health care situation in our country.  I felt that it was time that my readers also got to sample some of my ideas on this critical topic. Other posts I have written on this topic are here and  here.

Today’s ramble is on FUD.  In sales, if you don’t have the superior product or service, you might likely resort to spreading FUD – it stands for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.  It is a highly effective, although morally bankrupt way to try to sell your product or idea.  The idea is to make the status quo something that is so unpalatable that your customer must buy your product, no matter its qualities.  The Right has been making hay with the concept for a while and has now driven the volume of the rhetoric on the health care debate to new levels.

If you have not been personally affected by the health care issues then it is only natural that you will pay attention to the loudest voices.  But, if you have tried to get personal insurance only to be denied for no good reason or for a pre-existing condition or have been denied coverage for a needed procedure or your COBRA ran out or you were otherwise affected, you have a stake in knowing the truth.

This is a critical time for us as a nation and it behooves us to take a little time to really understand what our elected officials are trying to do. I found this article compelling to help separate the wheat from the Rush Limbaugh (and others) chaff and FUD.

Paying your dues

A couple of conversations I had lately came together for me.

I had a discussion this week with a friend about baseball.  Actually, I was doing a lot of carping about how the best paid players for the Chicago Cubs, were having awful years.  From Alfanso Soriano to Carlos Zambrano to Milton Bradley, those big contracts haven’t been working out as incentives.  This week we heard about Carlos Zambrano admit to being too lazy to do the abdominal exercises to strengthen his back. Alfanso Soriano is having problems catching balls in the outfield, is hitting below .245 and can’t seem to run out a ground ball to first, yet is still collecting on his 8 year $136 million dollar contract.

Now I am not the fastest runner in the world, but if you were to pay me almost $105,ooo per game, I would happily run my hardest to the first base bag.  Yet on the same team, we have Ryan Theriot, a shortstop who makes $500,000 for the year, leading the team in hitting right around .300 and doing whatever the team needs him to do; sacrifice, steal a base or hit and run.

The second conversation with another friend had to do with a mutual friend who was offered a job that included base pay plus an incentive bonus program based upon the work done by his team.  Executive level job, tough job market, sexy company. But our friend was upset that his base pay was the same as the base pay of those that reported to him.

It seems that some of the folks caught up in these conflicts are laboring under the idea that they have paid their dues and are now somehow above performance evaluation.  Baseball in general has long paid for past performance with no review.  Remember Mike Hampton, hailed as the second coming of Cy Young, who was awarded an 8 year $121,000,000 contract in 2001 and has had a record of 56 wins and 52 losses over the 8 years. Not a real good investment, if you ask me.

If you get a chance, go see a minor league baseball game. Sure the skillsets of the players are not at major league levels, but watch them hustle.  Watch them listen to the coaches.  Strangely, you don’t see as many baserunning mistakes as you do in the majors.  The key fact is that the players are looking for any way to get noticed and perhaps find themselves playing with a major league club. The best way to do that is to perform, listen to the coaches and improve.

My friend needs to not worry about base salary.  If his team does well and the incentives are created with care, he will be remunerated well.

My advice to everyone is not to rest on their laurels.  Play every day as if it counted in the standings and worry less about having paid your dues.  You will do a better job every time by concentrating on the job ahead of you rather than the dues behind you.

Perfection – The Reason Why

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a Perfect Experience. While the memory still remains and my wife and I are still telling the story (talk about word of mouth marketing), I got to thinking how was that perfection made possible.  Really, wouldn’t every business want to deliver a perfect experience?  And the reality of it was that this is the first time that I can remember ever having a perfect experience.

In the comments to the story post, Cindy remarked that she believed that trust was a key component.  I think that Cindy hit the nail on the head.  Charlie trusted his team to attempt perfection each and every time.  If the team felt that they needed olive oil from the farm in Australia or wanted to try to make a new sorbet out of onions, it was no problem. There was no expense spared to ensure that the team had the right tools to allow for perfection.

Even the team that prepared the food was trusted. Contrary to what you might expect, the kitchen was not filled with culinary experts.  Sure there were some unbelievably talented chefs, but there were also a significant number of students and less experienced chefs.  They trusted in one another to do a great job.  The experienced chefs were always available to show a student how to use a new tool or perform a specific step in a recipe.  Each plate that was served was inspected by a pro to ensure that the guest’s experience was spectacular.

The front of the house staff was no less focused on the perfection of service than the chefs.  They made sure that every guest was able to enjoy their meals, from wine suggestions (a difficult chore when there are over 20,000 bottles of wine on hand) to explanations of the menu choices and ingredients used.  They were able to take guests on a tour of the kitchen and really bring the experience to life.  They made sure that all aspects of the dining experience that guests see were perfect.

The trust extended to allowing us to sit in the kitchen while the meal service was being performed around us.  How many businesses would be able to feel comfortable allowing their customers to watch every step in the creation process?  I have posted about living your life in public (like baseball players), but this is even a step beyond that.

Charlie makes no bones about the mission for his restaurant.  He wants to deliver excellence in everything he does. And he does it in an entirely unconventional way — by trusting in his team to do the right thing. Yes, you have to have the right experts.  Yes, you have to have the right tools.  But the key is to make sure that you have a clear vision of what perfection is for you and then communicate that to your team.  If you have the team, the tools and the vision, then trust is what will allow it all to come together.

Graphics, Big Idea and Economy

Graphics: I recently pointed to the Seth Godin graphics lens which talked about getting better at graphic design.  To go one better, Kristin pointed me to this site with 50 totally free lessons on graphics.

Big Idea: Ever wondered what it would take to become a blog writer?  I am living that life, but was intrigued by the manifesto posted by Chris Guillebeau.

Economy: Mike Rowe, of Dirty Jobs fame, talks about work in general in this entertaining TED Talk.

Spring Break

I will be out of touch for the next three days.  Look for my next post on Monday, April 6.  Happy Spring Break.

Marketing, Technology & Talent

Marketing: Seth Godin today talks about a pet peeve of mine.  I too, was that rational marketer, back in the day who couldn’t figure out why someone wouldn’t buy from me.  We had the best service, we were competitively priced, we had the most competent staff… Seth urges us to figure out a way to meet the irrational client where she is, rather than continue to foist our advantages at her which isn’t going to work.

Technology: Finally, another pet peeve squashed.  Consensus within the cell phone marketplace.  The manufacturers and carriers have agreed on a single cell phone charger standard.

Talent: I posted about talent and the need for repetition to create “talent” last week.  Kevin Kelly has reviewed a book called Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.  While there were a lot of interesting excerpts, the one that caught my eye talked about an art professor who graded some students on quantity and others on quality.  Guess which group created the highest quality pots?