For the next 2 minutes as you read this blog post, please try to forget about Apple the product company and instead focus on Apple the retailer. Two years ago, Apple undertook a worldwide roll out of iPod Touches to its store associates. These devices came wrapped in a sled adding a 2D bar code scanner and credit card swipe capabilities to the hardware lineup and enabled store associates to perform mobile POS transactions anywhere in the store. Ever since the retail industry has been playing catch-up with retailers like Lowes, Gap, and Home Depot recently following suit with respective rollouts of mobile POS functionality to their store associates.
Today Apple raised the bar. Customers in the US can now use their own iPhone 4 or 4S in conjunction with the Apple Store app (one of my favorite mobile shopping experiences and complete with a fresh update) to scan the bar code of most in-store products and perform a self-checkout. The feature, called EasyPay uses the iPhone’s rear-facing camera to scan a product bar code with payment occurring via a simple authentication to iTunes, just like any other in-app purchase. The core difference is that Apple is now allowing in-app purchases of physical merchandise, albeit restricted to Apple at this time. Once payment is complete, the customer simply strolls out of the shop showing their digital EasyPay receipt to a member of staff as they exit. Time will tell if EasyPay results in any increase of in-store fraud for Apple, but for the consumer that knows what they want the convenience of EasyPay is crystal clear.
HP made the right decision today to keep the Personal Systems Group. Beyond the reasons cited, supply chain and sales synergy and expense of spinning out, it's also crucial for HP to remain in the market for personal devices, which is entering a period of radical transformation and opportunity. The innovations spawned first by RIM with the BlackBerry, followed by the transformative effects of Apple's iPhone and iPad are beginning to ripple into the PC market. Apple's MacBook Air and Lion operating system, combined with Microsoft's Metro interface for Windows 8 herald the beginning of a transformation of personal computing devices. By keeping PSG, HP has the opportunity to innovate and differentiate in the PC market that will move away from commodity patterns.
For vendor strategists at vendors of all sizes, one of the lessons of HP's decision is that consumer businesses are becoming more relevant to succeeding in commercial products for end users. During the announcement call today, CEO Meg Whitman talked about the importance of "consumerization" in winning business from enterprises. I heartily endorse that view and look forward to sharing a report soon on how consumerization is changing commercial product development.
Do you think consumerization was a part of why HP kept PCs?
What effect do you think consumerization will have in IT markets?
Those of us who work in the field of customer experience are especially hard hit by the passing of Steve Jobs. He symbolized the power of experience — how much a great experience can transform a product, a business, an industry, and even our daily lives.
Do you remember personal computers before the mouse, how you bought and listened to music before iTunes and the iPod, or how many animated films you watched in theaters — with or without the kids — before Pixar?
Steve Jobs even changed the way many of us think. If you own an iPhone or an iPad, you’ve probably found, as I have, that you don’t bother to memorize very much anymore. Why should you when you can dig up facts anytime, anywhere with just a few taps on a touchscreen?
Now please don’t get me wrong: I don’t idealize the man. For one thing, many people contributed to the success of everything I just mentioned. And not all Apple experiences are perfect, and Jobs didn’t succeed at everything he did (remember the NeXT Computer?).
But to go cynical is to miss the point, or more specifically, the point of view — the one that makes Jobs an icon for customer experience professionals. He put it out there when he famously said, “You've got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology — not the other way around.”
Frankly, “the other way around” is how most companies still operate. Not just technology companies but firms in every industry. Someone has an idea (maybe great, maybe not), and that turns into a product or service in the marketplace. The customer experience that results is whatever it turns out to be.
Today, Apple’s product strategists revealed their newest premium smartphone: the iPhone 4S. Just like the 3GS at its introduction, the 4S relies on a leap in processing power and a new interaction paradigm but eschews technology upgrades upon which product strategists building Android-based devices rely today, such as LTE and behemoth screens.
Apple’s new iPhone lineup provides a complete portfolio of products, from the premium 4S in memory configurations up to 64 GB, to the 8 GB iPhone 4 which will allow all of Apple’s carrier customers (including new partners Sprint and KDDI in Japan) to offer a mid-tier iPhone. Apple’s product strategists have opted to add an entry-level option for its GSM-based carrier partners by maintaining the 8 GB iPhone 3GS.
With the iPhone 4S, have Apple’s product strategists designed a product that will maintain Apple’s leadership in the high-end smartphone battle? Forrester believes so — even though Apple chose not to include features that its competitors use to command a premium position, including:
The name of Apple’s event today “Let’s Talk iPhone” indicates where much of the news focus is — on the new iPhone. But that focus distracts vendor strategists from understanding the deeper implications of Apple’s advances in online services and user experience.
Apple’s iCloud is an important new software platform and service that will integrate Apple’s customer experiences across their iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and Mac products. This first version creates a personal cloud experience of the individual’s work, personal, and purchased content being seamlessly available across all their Apple products, in contrast to the fragmented experience of Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. Beyond music plus contacts, calendar, and email, Apple is supporting iCloud push in iMessage, Safari’s Read It Later feature, and push distribution of photos. Be sure to watch Apple’s iCloud concept video — that really conveys the personal cloud idea.
The Siri feature is the beginning of a new user experience built around context that will eventually create a much more personal, intimate experience for using all of Apple’s mobile and Mac products. Both of these offerings will have enduring impact beyond the latest model of the iPhone. Though only supported today on the iPhone 4S, I believe it is the beginning of a new form of interacting with all mobile devices and PCs. Voice control and input have not been widely used despite long-standing offerings from Nuance and Microsoft’s Tellme, though they do have strong adoption in specific segments. Apple’s integration of the user’s context will make the experience compatible with mainstream users.
First off, let me say this: I hope that Steve Jobs' health improves, and that he comes out of whatever challenges he's going through in the best of health. He's an amazing, visionary leader of a dynamic company -- and he's also a person with a family. Let's all wish him well.
While famously a CEO, Steve Jobs is also, it should be known, a product strategist par excellence. He's clearly been involved, in a deep way, in the development of Apple's product ideas, product designs, business models, go-to-market strategies, and responses to competition. These are the job responsibilities of product strategists. In his (and Apple's) case, product strategy has risen to the very top of the organization.
Product strategists of two different flavors are wondering how they might be affected by his resignation as CEO (and concomitant request to become chairman):
Product strategists who compete with Apple. Product strategists at companies like Microsoft, Google, Samsung, HP, Dell, HTC, and similar firms wonder if Steve Jobs' change in role might benefit them. They actually shouldn't wonder: His departure from the CEO spot won't benefit them -- not for a very long time, at least. Apple's product development road map stretches into multiple years ahead and has been shaped both by Jobs and by the organization he built. Jobs' departure won't affect Apple's product portfolio, quality, or competitiveness for a long time -- if ever.
This week, the iPad app world is frantically sorting through some recent changes in its environment. Last Monday, Apple quietly altered its app approval policies in a way that will make publishers much happier. Specifically, Apple has relaxed control over whether apps can access content paid for outside of the App Store’s purchase APIs. The company has also allowed publishers to price however they want, both outside and inside of the app.
In the same week, FT.com released a subscription-based HTML5 web app intended for iPad users that bypasses Apple entirely, giving the publisher its own path to market that does not depend on or enrich Apple directly. The coincidence of these two events is not lost on most of us industry observers and is the topic of a Forrester report issued by my colleague Nick Thomas last Friday. In it, Nick explains why the FT’s move is probably the first of many such moves by the most recognized publishers, even with Apple’s newly announced policy reversal.
But while publishers figure out their next steps for their content apps, there’s one app that no one is talking about but I believe everyone should have their eye on. It’s the Amazon Kindle app. This app violates even Apple’s revised policies and will soon face a day of reckoning when Apple's June 30th deadline for compliance comes up.
I don’t claim to know Amazon's plans, but I will claim to tell Amazon what it should do:
That's right, I said eReaders. True, it looks like a tablet, runs like a tablet, and delivers a lot of the value that tablets deliver, but the Nook Color's 1.2 upgrade (which is actually a step up to Android 2.2; don't let the numbers confuse you too much) is really a foreshadowing of the future of eReaders, not the future of tablets.
First, the facts. With the new upgrade that will be gradually pushed out to all existing Nook Color devices for free over the next few weeks (or you can download now at www.nookcolor.com/update), the folks at B&N have added some very useful features: an integrated email client, Flash 10.1 support, a curated Android app store (see sidebar), and an improved user experience through a myriad of tweaks. These upgrades make the Nook Color look more and more like a tablet, with a very attractive $249 price point to boot.
Must the iPad now cower in fear? No, not really. Because even at this price point, the Nook Color remains a smaller, less powerful tablet than the iPad. And as we've seen, the range of competitors coming in after the iPad's territory are coming in at higher prices with more powerful features (for example, last week I dropped $529 for an LG G-Slate from T-Mobile with 3D video camera and 4G data plan). The tablet market is gradually moving into higher-power features, not lower-power experiences.
This is Peter O’Neill and I had a very busy Forrester Marketing Forum last week in San Francisco: two presentations (well, two halves, I suppose, because I was the co-presenter) plus dozens of one-on-ones with Forrester clients. While I would have preferred to talk about differentiation in the customer lifecycle, the theme of my first Forum presentation and my most recent report, the incorporation of social media into the marketing mix continues to be the hottest topic for most tech marketers. It was exciting to be able to share our brand new Tech Buyer Social Technographics data which has just come in. BTW, the level of social media activity in European buyers is still ahead of American buyers – I will be presenting the European data in my planned Forrester teleconferences on May 9th: once in German for local clients, prospects and press; and once in English for other Forrester clients.
Today, Amazon announced the Amazon Cloud Drive. I think it is the first salvo in a series of steps that will lead Amazon to compete directly for the primary computing platform for individuals, as an online platform, as a device operating system, and as a maker of branded tablets.
Much of the attention is going to the Amazon Cloud Player, announced at the same time, which enables customers to stream music stored in Cloud Drive – Forrester’s Mark Mulligan blogged about that for Consumer Product Strategists (Amazon Beats Apple and Google to the Locker Room). But the general purpose design of Cloud Drive, combined with the long-term opportunities for personal cloud services, lead to a really interesting set of possibilities and insights into Amazon’s long-term strategy for Vendor Strategists trying to sort out the technologies and players of next-generation personal computing platforms.