The Steve Jobs Leak: Another Stroke of Brilliance?
Aug 4, 2008 4:00 AM PT
It's been an interesting week. As if to prove the point of last week's column, Steve Jobs used his impressive skills to trick a New York Times reporter he didn't like into giving him a clean bill of health. This was brilliantly done, and there are some real lessons here that dovetail with last week's piece.
The Wall Street Journal got wind of a secret project at Dell to possibly take the music lead away from Apple, but not necessarily the device lead, making it kind of interesting.
Finally, Microsoft made public a secret experiment that showcased a product code-named "Mojave" that could outsell Apple's Leopard -- and apparently is vastly better, to many, than Vista.
I'll conclude with my product of the week: a Facebook-like site that seems to embrace some Disney-like protective properties.
Steve Jobs Skills
No one that has read any of the Steve Jobs unauthorized biographies -- or, particularly, the Inside Steve's Brain book -- should doubt the guy is brilliant at manipulation.
Last week, Steve had a big problem: People were becoming too focused on his health, and he needed to turn that focus off. His people tried to do this at the analyst conference by trying to get the analysts and reporters excited about unannounced products, but that didn't work. So Steve himself stepped in and contacted reporter Joe Nocera. You should read what resulted.
Ask yourself why Steve would call a reporter he clearly didn't like, call the guy names, and then ask him to keep a secret? Could it be because he didn't want him to keep that secret? Was he laying the groundwork for a result that would be more credible and resonate farther when the intentionally leaked message was -- and for the most part, it was -- published?
If the leak turns out not to be true, he can now say he was either misunderstood or the reporter was not telling the truth. Given Jobs' history of secrecy, the reporter is kind of screwed. I mean, who would you believe? A reporter, or the guy who doesn't share anything insisting he didn't share very personal medical information with someone he clearly doesn't like?
Can't you just picture Jobs saying, "I don't even tell my wife about my health. Do you really think I'd call that moron and gush out my secrets? Maybe it was Fake Steve Jobs that called him -- ask Dan Lyons."
Brilliantly done. He burns someone he doesn't like and takes his health off the table.
Dell's Reimagining of Digital Music
It sounds kind of Zen to say the way to beat Apple is to ignore Apple. The MP3 player market, while dominated by Apple, has just a fraction -- albeit a large one -- of the phone market's potential. This suggests that the way to beat Apple is not to go after Apple customers but to go after those who don't currently use MP3 players. That's actually a bigger number -- and that was the way Apple beat Creative Labs and Rio in the first place.
What Dell believes, and I agree, is that folks don't want to spend lots of time managing music -- they just want to listen to it. The fact that few refresh the music on their iPods is a clear indicator that there is untapped potential here, even with iPod owners. The market appears to be looking for something more flexible, more automatic, and more focused on enjoyment than on individual music purchases.
The leading non-iTunes music services -- Sirius/XM, Pandora, Rhapsody, Slacker and Amazon (note: no Dell partners have yet been announced) -- all provide advantages over iTunes. Still, none makes it easy enough to move between services and the various channels and devices people want to use to consume music.
Sonos probably does the best job of moving between some these services today, showcasing how to build a better product. They dominate their admittedly smaller home music segment as a result. (In my opinion, Sonos has the best whole house affordable music solution on the market. Kaleidescape may be better, but solutions typically cost over US$100K).
The key to success is not the device (though to avoid the Zune mistake, if there is a device, it had better be small, cool and inexpensive), but the cloud-based service. It has to provide more choices among better services -- while containing complexity and creating a great user experience -- to be successful. It can be done; we'll know in a few months whether Dell can do it. I'm not sure I'd bet against Michael Dell.
Mojave: The Power of Perceptions
Microsoft just began showcasing its Mojave Experiment. I think it proves the point I made last week and further emphasizes why good marketing is important. What is fascinating about this is that they took a bunch of people who clearly had strong negative opinions of Windows Vista, but had never actually seen the product, and presented them with Mojave: the new and improved Windows.
The participants got really excited about this new offering -- you can watch a number of fascinating videos -- and virtually everyone could hardly wait to buy it. One woman who seemed to speak for most, gave Vista a 0 but Mojave a 10, on a scale of 1 to 10. These are people who would clearly line up to buy Mojave but wouldn't touch Vista with a 10-foot pole wearing hazmat suits and bulletproof vests.
In effect, what they did was showcase how you would market Mojave successfully. What they demonstrated was that if the marketing were done right, people would line up to buy it. Boy, were the participants surprised when they found out Mojave WAS Vista.
Although there are several lessons here, two really jump out at me. One is that the Vista brand is badly damaged and may be unrecoverable. These people hated the product based only on its name, and that showcases what can happen to any product if a company doesn't aggressively market it -- and allows a competitor to disparage it for nearly two years without a challenge. The way Microsoft stirred a powerfully positive reaction was both by selling the benefits AND by concealing the name.
Two, focus groups are a good way to find out what things about a new product folks find exciting. They can help define both a product launch and a sustaining marketing program (and, yes, both are essential). Microsoft has a hot new agency and a $300 million war chest; let's see if it understood the lessons of the Mojave Experiment. If it did, the product that was Vista could still be very successful. Oh, and it already significantly outsells Leopard, though, clearly, Apple is having a very good year.
Product of the Week: Sampa, the Secure Facebook
I remain impressed that Disney can go so far to protect children and still have one of the most powerful sites, in terms of traffic, on the Web today. Its efforts online go farther to further its brand than any other company I've ever worked with or for (I'm an ex-Disney employee).
A new product I was shown, called "Sampa," seems to embody some of the same ideals. It not only provides a secure place to put your Facebook-like materials, but also offers a much stricter level of security to protect your content and your privacy.
This is just one of the many startups I see springing out of the Silicon Valley every year, but I'm a strong believer in protecting the privacy and safety of the family. Given how often children are targeted, a product that allows some controlled sharing of information with trusted third parties seems the right thing at the right time and, as a result, Sampa is my product of the week. And it's free.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.