I am indebted to my friends at the Enterprise Irregulars, for the links in this piece. The IE’s, if you didn’t know, are a rag tag group of certified smarties who know all kinds of stuff about the greater tech industry and I am flattered that they let me hang out with them.
The aftermath of the verdict from the patent infringement lawsuit between Apple and Samsung initially generated more heat than light. But the last few days have made up for the light that failed to emanate from the weekend’s id fest and Armageddon prediction Internet confab.
Reuters is running an interesting story about Apple CEO Tim Cook and Larry Page of Google keeping the hotline open — you really need to be a child of the 1960’s to fully appreciate this metaphor. Suffice it to say that it is the origin of the little red phone. But also, there was this really interesting post at ZDNet by Jason Perlow about Samsung and Google’s collective need for a new dress.
I particularly recommend Perlow’s article because, while the idea of product dress might seem weird to some people — especially those who take issue with the look and feel aspects of the Apple suit — it might interest you to know that product dress is a legal term.
Without giving away Perlow’s point, let’s just make the observation that the classic Coke Bottle, which has nothing to do with how the stuff tastes, is part of Coke’s dress and its IP, as much as its secret recipe. Only Coke has Coke Bottles, for a good reason. So go read that article.
My point here, other than giving a shout out to the IE’s and trying to enlighten others, is that Apple might have, at least momentarily, hit on the only look and feel for mobile devices that will ever be widely accepted. Tapping, swiping, pinching — things that come natural not only to the members of our Genus but also our Family and, who knows, maybe even our Order — might be so hardwired into our beings that coming up with an alternative might be a waste of time. Holy $%^& Batman that might mean that Apple could end up owning the mobile UI and someday soon be in a position to make a few pennies on every Samsung or HTC device running Andriod for ever.
Believe it or not, such an outcome would not be unique in the annals of business or manufacturing. It might have something to do with cross licensing (I know, but don’t confuse it with dressing mentioned above). That’s when more than one company asserts ownership rights to an invention that each came up with the old fashioned way (you know, R&D?). But rather than fighting about it for years, the two (or more) companies come to terms, some money and possibly other patents are traded and then it’s back to business.
The best example of this is the car industry. Car radios, V-8 engines, automatic transmissions, how heating and air conditioning systems work, how the controls are set up and lots more, all have patents and if all cars look more or less alike in some basic features and functions, it might be because their makers went to the same patent swap meet. Yes, patents expire so don’t go looking to fund the fifth generation grand kids college even if you have lot of patents.
So this brings us back to Larry and Tim and the hotline. May we be informal for a moment and simply refer to each other using first names like they do in the music biz (Elvis, John, Paul, George, and especially Ringo; but also Bono, Sting, Eric and many others)? So, Larry bought Motorola (early car radio patents, BTW) at least in part for its stable of patents to ward off just the kind of suit that Tim’s company is making famous in the mobile industry (Tim should file a patent! hahaha!). And Larry, Tim and their minions are keeping the lines of communication open as they say.
What are the odds that the verdict put the discussions into high gear and that there’s an informal-formal patent swap meet happening out in the Valley between these principals? Nothing would surprise me but I think that if both sides remain reasonable and use their inside voices and big words, that there will be an announcement in the not too distant future that they’ve struck a deal.
If so, the deal would create the stack of the decade. Just as Wintel described a stack of Windows OS and Intel chips that made the personal computer; or as LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP for cloud application servers, some standard that combines Mobile/Google/Android/Motorola/Apple might emerge from all this chaos for mobile devices.
Let’s see, MOGAM? MOGA? GAAMMO? AGAMO? AAM? AA? Who knows, naming might be the stickiest part of the negotiations that aren’t happening on the hot line at the moment.
There is a very good article in the current issue of Vanity Fair (with Alec Baldwin on the cover) about Microsoft. In “How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo” Kurt Eichenwald recounts the failures and bad decisions of the company’s “lost decade” a time overseen by current CEO Steve Ballmer.
If you are in this business you can probably recall at least some of the major inflection points related to missed opportunities and in-fighting that cost the company its market leading position. I thought it was just me, but Eichenwald even compared Microsoft to Detroit auto makers and their past glory. For good measure he ends with a long quote from Steve Jobs’ biography about the difference between having a sales or ops guy running the show and having a product guy in charge. Sad. Worth reading.
According to the article, Microsoft’s stock has barely budged over the last ten years while other tech companies flew by — Google, Facebook and of course Apple. In one recent quarter iPhone alone made more money than all of Microsoft.
The article quotes Ballmer saying he wants to remain at Microsoft till 2018 but I don’t think the company can wait that long. The article also implies that Ballmer might be a smart pick to break the company up and to take the legacy products into the sunset while more product oriented people try to salvage the core of innovation, if it still exists.
Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, “Ballmer was the second person after Roberto Goizueta to become a billionaire in U.S. dollars based on stock options received as an employee of a corporation in which he was neither a founder nor a relative of a founder.”
Ten years of stagnation can’t be sitting well with Wall Street. What will it take to orchestrate a palace coup?
Peter C. Whybrow, M.D., is a neuro-psychiatrist and director of the Semel Institute for Neuorscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, or at least he was when he published American Mania: When More Is Not Enough in 2005. In the book he quotes numerous economic thinkers and writers from the last 300 years including Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) and Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) as he analyzes how we behave in modern business.
Whybrow’s book is definitely relevant today though it was researched just before the social explosion of the last half decade. But that perspective gives added weight to his observations of humans as social beings before we became economic actors.
Whybrow’s chief assertion is that Homo sapiens evolved on the savannah as highly social creatures living in small hierarchical groups that provided mutual security (both protection and food), emotional support and served as a repository of knowledge. The time between when we lived in those small societies and today is infinitesimal in evolutionary terms and thus, one of his conclusions is that the human being performing as an economic actor today is virtually no different intellectually or emotionally from our ancestors on the savannah.
One of the big differences today is our communications reach. Small groups of our ancestors were about the size of a soccer team or an army platoon and communication was face to face. Social media may hugely increase the size of one’s intimate community, but it does not change our social approaches or approaches to intimacy.
This is all highly important when figuring out optimal uses of these new technologies in business. To a high degree, businesses and individuals have very different reasons for approaching social media. Businesses see it as a nearly frictionless way to “meet” customers and possibly sell something. Regular people may just want to hang out and hook up. In other words individuals seek community and for many of the same reasons that our ancestors aggregated.
We all know that modern social communities enable people to compare notes about vendors, products and services as well as to provide support for many of the vendor conundrums customers face in the marketplace. Of course, people also approach the internet and its social communities in their new incarnations as Homo economicus but one should not assume that.
Given that slight misalignment of reasons for engaging in the social sphere, vendors are well advised to tread carefully when leveraging social communities for commerce. Two new books by respected thought leaders in the space offer their wisdom and advice for trading in this brave new world.
In The Like Economy: How Businesses Make Money with Facebook, Brian Carter presents a primer on marketing and selling through Facebook. While Carter does a good job covering the basics the feel of the book is like reading some marketing 101 treatise moved to social media. The assumption seems to be that this is a tool more or less expressly for business, all other considerations not withstanding. You can read self-help styled chapters like “FaceBucks: Five Ways Businesses Achieve Profits with Facebook” and “How Not to Fall on Your Face: Six Mistakes That Block Facebook Profitability”.
Carter’s approach is all business, which is fine, provided the reader has already understood that social media is not exclusively about marketing and sales and that people can turn you off like a light. Carter recommends many tactical things you can do to optimize your sales and marketing efforts but I would have preferred some nod to the need for listening to customers or sponsoring real community give and take that may not be directed toward buying the next shiny object but to answering questions about the current one. In other words blending in with the natives, so to speak.
A more rounded approach comes from Chris Brogan in Google+ for Business: How Google’s Social Network Changes Everything. At first glance, it’s funny that both authors seem to have a need to state in direct terms why the social network, which is their subject matter, is the first-best-and-only one for the assignment. Perhaps it is an artifact of the publisher the each uses, Que. While we’re at it, the cover designs aren’t that different either. But I digress.
What’s useful, to me, about Brogan’s effort is the more holistic approach he takes to commerce on the Web. Brogan starts at the beginning indirectly reminding us about some of our savannah heritage with sections like “Businesses Are Made of People, Connections Before the Sale” and How You Appear to Others.” Most important there’s a whole chapter on Circles, those aggregations of community members that have like reasons for being in some kind of a relationship with you to start.
There’s more too, like Chapter 8 “The ‘Warm’ Sell” with sections like “Attention is a Gift” and “Make It About Them”. I could go on but if I had my druthers Brogan’s approach, regardless of the social network I choose, would be my preferred way of getting the job done.
Like Carter book though, I would have appreciated it more if Brogan had managed to insert a bit more of community away from the sales process into his offering. In the future of Web commerce, I doubt companies will have one community for service and another for sales and marketing. It’s all becoming one and some of the best marketing can come from listening to and understanding a customer’s problems or issues especially if you can turn that issue into a need. Each book is missing a discussion of the new role of the community manager and a bevy of people whose job is to listen and administer the communities. Regardless of how frictionless this kind of commerce is, it does require work.
I think the more we regard the community as something with roots on a real savannah, the more successful we will be in the new cyber savannah.