Apple and Oracle – Are We Suckers or What?

It looks like Ellison got tired of being chastised for reporting too much salary during Oracle's decline, and it appears he smartly fixed the reporting part. I think that is incredibly creative, but I'm surprised that no one bothered to look up what an executive chairman actually does. I guess you only see what you want to, and folks wanted to see Larry stepping down.

“There’s a sucker born every minute.”

What’s kind of funny about that famous quote is that there is no record of P.T. Barnum ever saying it, and there’s a lot of evidence he was too smart to have done so. Whether Barnum made the observation or whether those words were uttered by any number of con men instead, the fact remains we are often excessively gullible.

After watching members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology debate climate change last week, I’m not finding this at all endearing. Jon Stewart aired video clips on The Daily Show, showing some of the committee members making arguments that would embarrass a 5th grader — and then, of course, he demolished them.

I should point out that there really are some valid arguments against climate change — like the models are crap, and we aren’t getting warmer globally but can’t seem to explain why — but Congress doesn’t seem able to find them.

Granted, I personally think we should get crap that will cause cancer out of the air anyway, but what the hell do I know? It just looks like both sides are more interested in winning the argument than in actually saving the human race — and I do mean both sides.

Two things that have been in the news recently are Apple’s issues with the iPhone — and how folks are again brushing them off, even though they increasingly show a growing endemic problem with the company — and Larry Ellison’s stepping down at Oracle.

Why this last? you might ask. He didn’t step down — he added a second salary, er job. You’d think that part would be the bigger news in a company that just took its credit line up to nearly US$10 billion and that has been under pressure for paying Larry too much — but who listens to Oracle stockholders? So I figured I’d try to set the record straight this week.

I’ll close with my product of the week: the Blackberry Passport, which, for the right user, could be far better than the bendable iPhone 6.

Apple and Perceptions

Apple lives on a cloud of positive perceptions. It’s supporters believe the company can’t do anything wrong. Even when the unique Steve Jobs passed and was replaced by the goat who did all the jobs Jobs hated, those supporters lauded the move.

Now let’s say you had an amazing race driver and a great mechanic and a unique car designed specifically for that race driver and the result was a winning streak that was legendary. Now let’s say the race driver retires and the mechanic steps into the role. What are the odds that he or she will be able to do as well? Virtually zero.


Yet with Apple, which had nearly gone under when Jobs wasn’t running the company, the identical thing happened, and most didn’t even seem to notice the change — and that was after we saw something almost identical go very badly at Microsoft.

Recall that when Antennagate happened, Steve Jobs had been on leave dealing with his illness. When he came back, he cleaned house. He was not a happy camper. He demanded high quality, and god save you if you were an Apple employee and didn’t provide it.

With Antennagate, the problem was that the designers put the antenna in a bad place. When you held the phone a certain way, you often couldn’t get a signal. As problems go, this did seem a bit overblown — but Apple was positioning the iPhone as an elite device, and Jobs knew how important perceptions were. He clearly had a fit when this problem surfaced.

Now, fast-forward to this week. Arguably, the iPhone 6 — since the iPhone is the foundation of Apple’s image and profit — was the most important launch of the year. Unlike other phones in its class, it uses aluminum extensively, because it is both cheap and light.

The light part is OK, but a premium phone should never be seen as using cheap components. Suddenly, the more expensive iPhone looks more cheaply made than the cheaper Samsung. (Samsung is having a field day).

That speaks to brand image — something Jobs defended aggressively.

On top of this, the OS Apple released was buggy. That was strike two. Then it was patched with an even buggier version of the platform. Instead of making things better, the patch made them worse and had to be recalled. That’s not a premium experience and likely also damaging the brand.

Now folks should conclude there is something seriously wrong at Apple, but it still seems like Apple can do no wrong, which suggests that even though Steve Jobs has passed, his reality distortion field lives on. With the current product issues, though, I expect Jobs is looking down and having a WTF moment.

Ellison’s Head Fake

Earlier this week there was a firestorm at Oracle. It seemed Larry Ellison was abandoning his job as CEO and stepping down to the job of executive chairman and CTO. This would be like President Obama saying he was stepping down from the job of president to be the head of the executive branch of government and also secretary of state.

What folks apparently didn’t understand is that an executive chairman is a CEO who is also chairman of the board. It is a full-time position, and there is no position higher in a company. Larry not only would still run Oracle, but also would do the CTO Job, and that had me wondering, WTF?

Times must really be hard when a guy that makes more than $67 million a year has to take a second job — granted, that’s only if he actually has to do that second job.

Larry had been under a lot of pressure because of his high salary, and he needed a way to take the pressure off. Given his Hawaiian Island acquisition, which hasn’t been going well, he needed more. (Ellison actually took a pay cut last year due to Oracle’s poor performance).

So he effectively added a second salary, and the folks who report to him are in charge of setting it. You typically don’t have to report a CTO salary, since it is more of an advisory position. It looks like Ellison got tired of being chastised for reporting too much salary during Oracle’s decline, and it appears he smartly fixed the reporting part.

I think that is incredibly creative, but I’m surprised that no one bothered to look up what an executive chairman actually does or question how a guy in his 70s was going to justify holding two very highly paid full-time jobs. I guess you only see what you want to, and folks wanted to see Larry stepping down. I imagine when they figure out they’ve been hoodwinked, they’ll be pissed.

Wrapping Up: Perceptions

We often are manipulated to see what others want us to see, or we simply refuse to see things we don’t want to see. If you’ve watched the hearings on Capitol Hill on climate change and know anything about science, you likely have concluded the government is run by idiots.

The fact is, these people aren’t dumb — they are simply being very selective about the information they accept because their world view, no matter how wrong, is more important to them than the survival of the human race.

This is all just a reminder that we are easily fooled — and when we are most easily fooled, it’s often because we want to be. Eventually, AI may step in and save us from ourselves — that’s the hope. The fear is that AI will step in, discover we are the problem, and eliminate us. Now there is a pleasant thought to start off the week.

Product of the Week: BlackBerry Passport

Product of the Week

The Blackberry Passport is a strange-looking phone. There is nothing in the market quite like it. Instead of trying to be a mini-tablet, it tries to be a mini touch notebook, which only makes sense if you use your phone professionally.

Granted, that is what the company that likely is paying your smartphone bill hopes you’ll use it for, but instead we got enamored with videos of cute cats and entertainment, and forgot that old work thing — even though that’s what pays the bills.

What folks seem to forget is that when the iPhone launched, folks weren’t buying screen phones because they hated screen keyboards. They were used to typing when driving, and they were afraid that if they did that with a screen phone, they’d have an accident and die.

Well, somehow, Apple convinced us that living wasn’t that important, and now we have tons of screen phones, a lot fewer living people, and laws that prevent us from texting while driving. Isn’t progress grand?

Anyway the Passport is designed for professionals. It has a real keyboard, and you can blind type on it — but typing while driving is still illegal. It is more secure, it doesn’t turn into the mirror image of your butt if you put it into your back pocket, and it is far more distinctive than an iPhone.

BlackBerry Passport

It now uses the Amazon Appstore, which gives it more apps, though some do need a little work to properly fit on the unique laptop-like square screen. One interesting thing is that if you spend the time learning the phone it is actually faster to use (with predictive typing) than any screen phone you are likely to have.

Its documents, spreadsheets and the new Bloomberg stock trading are app much better. If your job depends on a phone, then the Passport is likely a choice you should consider, and it is my product of the week.

Rob Enderle

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends. You can connect with him on Google+.

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