Personal Computers

iPod Success, Lenovo’s Harry Potter, Affordable Memorable Gifts

Before starting, I think it appropriate to pause and remember one of our passing friends. Cnet’s James Kimpassed last week, and in an industry often defined by over-bright superstars with bad people skills, he was a true hero who was well-liked and respected by all who knew him.

Giving his life for his family, he left us with the memory of what he was and the selflessness of his last noble act. The world is dimmer with his passing, and he will be deeply missed.

The holiday season is upon us, and that often allows time for a little deep thinking, particularly given current events, about what is important and what we should be focusing on.

Still, we can’t forget about shopping, as much as we would like to, so we’ll end with some unique gift suggestions. First, I’d like to provide my own perspective on the success of the iPod and what it would take for anyone in general — and Lenovo in particular — to achieve similar success.

iPod: Success vs. Abusive Management

Steven Levy just published a well regarded book on the amazing success of the iPod; we posted a very well-writtenreview of this book late last week. This review discusses the incredible heavy lifting that was done to make the iPod a success and what a horrible people manager Steve Jobs is.

This last resonated with me because I know a lot of ex-Apple executives, and not a single one, when asked, has ever wanted to return to Apple — though all thought their experience there was incredibly valuable.

There are a lot of successful companies that don’t have abusive managers, with Google and a younger Microsoft both good examples of what can happen if you are focused, take care of your employees, and execute well.

Now, I really don’t like abusive management, I particularly don’t like the implication in the review that abusive management works. However, even I can’t gloss over the fact that Steve’s hands-on management style has created a serial line of great, industry-dominating products.

However, I actually don’t think it was the “abuse” side of Steve that made the iPod successful. It was his incredible focus on excellence and making sure people were held accountable for the results of their efforts.

Large companies seem to breed folks who are expert at managing expectations and dodging blame. They will have massive numbers of meetings, often without agendas or minutes or measurable accomplishments.

Executives delegate to managers, who delegate to employees who have little authority to actually accomplish anything. In these large companies — and you know who you are — so much time is spent talking about doing things that few things actually get done. When something fails, it is painted as a success by restating goals below the actual execution.

Excuses are common. They often are good excuses, but companies that succeed overcome problems — and excuses are generally problems that overcome companies.

Apple does the impossible — and while it looks like magic, it is simply the result of not allowing excuses to get in the way of excellence. This doesn’t mean executives have to micromanage. Rather, they should actually take the time to understand the target market and customer, and ensure that those working on a project are focused more on results than on how they appear to their own managers.

I get the sense that way too managers simply don’t take the time to do the job, and that way too many companies reward that behavior.

Being successful is incredibly hard work, but there is nothing like what success can do for the morale of an organization — let alone the perks.

Perhaps a better overall example would be Hewlett-Packard’s Mark Hurd. He appears to have a very similar focus on results and staying engaged, but does not have the reputation for employee abuse. Under his leadership, HP has passed Dell and improved sharply in almost every major way.

So, I think the lesson that should be taken from the iPod story is not that abuse is required for success, but that good management and leadership skills are a better path to company and product success than good skills in corporate politics, expectation management, blame avoidance and meeting attendance.

Lenovo: There Be Magic

One of the questions that sits in the back of my head: What if Apple and Microsoft had become broad partners? What if in the early days they had followed Bill Gates’ vision instead of separating, and Apple had licensed the OS to Microsoft — or in the ’90s, when faced with the new OS choice, Apple had chosen Microsoft instead of Unix?

Historically, most PC makers have taken what Microsoft has given them and put it on relatively generic hardware largely based on Intel — and then complained they can only differentiate on price.

Recently PC makers have strayed from Intel and discovered that AMD can provide a differentiating alternative — or Intel bargaining leverage — and companies like Gateway, Dell, Toshiba and HP are starting to push the performance limits.

Only one company is making a significant investment in software as a differentiator, though, and that is Lenovo. In addition, its products generally have the best performance, reliability and battery life in their class. Unfortunately, they are just, well, a little dull.

However, that’s Lenovo U.S. — Lenovo China has some really interesting stuff, like a PC that kind of looks like the Baby brother ofHAL, the star of“2001 a Space Odyssey”. It has a light in the middle of a twist control that you could use to change power modes from low power to automatic, to performance, and the light would change color with every mode.

Lenova China has anothersmall form factor machine that kind of changes personalities as you open a full-lengthswinging door to expose the drives.

It even has an XPS-likegaming machine.

For laptops, Lenovo China is offering aCoke co-branded PC that is red and looks hot, and the company has one of the coolest smartphones on the market in its product portfolio.

I think it could create something that would have the heart of a ThinkPad, with all the great capabilities of that line, but the looks of a Lenovo, and it could actually set the market on fire.

With the right combination of focus, product and execution, Lenovo might be able to answer my question: What if Apple and Microsoft had partnered more broadly? If just to satisfy my own curiosity, I hope the combined company eventually is able to find its Harry Potter and create the magic it appears capable of conjuring.

Hot Affordable Gifts

Let’s close with some gifts that are a bit more affordable than my last set.

I believe in unique gifts that folks treasure for long periods of time. So, each one of these has a unique aspect that should help create both the sparkle and memory you are looking for.

Pimp their PC:Smooth Creations will take your laptop, desktop or iPod and turn it into a piece of art. You’ll have to figure out how to get it away from your loved one for a week or so, but when it’s done, it looks amazing.

I had them take myDell XPS M1210, which is a hot product that looks kind of dull, and they turned it into ahead turner. You can put this in a card as an IOU, which could be really handy if you put off shopping too long or want to avoid the lines.

LED Digital Pictures: Pictures make great gifts, but coffee table books tend to be forgotten. LED-lit LCDs are the panels of tomorrow. Only the very expensiveSony Qualiahas them in TVs today, and only one digital picture frame currently has them.

Pandigital makes an 8-inch version. You can preload it or send it with a flash card with pictures on it — or put pictures you’ve just taken on it after it is opened. Around US$180 atAmazon and other locations.

Custom Wine:Depending on how much you buy, this is actually very reasonable. You can have wine shipped with labels with your pets or loved ones pictures on them.E-mail Pete Ellis Windsor Vineyards or call 1-800-289-9463 X 5236. It’s good wine; I have several cases, which is why I’ll likely not be driving over the holidays.

With the controversy surrounding my calling theHD DVD format the winner a few weeks ago, I thought I’d end up pointing out what is arguably the best value in a player that will play regular DVDs on a 1080p HD set.

TheOppo Digital DV981HD costs $229, and — until you are ready to make the move to either HD format — uses a high quality Faroudja processor to up-convert to a gorgeous image. Not personalized, but still stunning.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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