Stories and Legends

An unfortunate side effect of a celebrity like Steve Jobs getting sick is that a huge number of us are collecting stories to go into articles and books that would mostly show up after he passed. I ran into two new stories I hadn’t heard before last week, and one of them was rather juicy and eventually tied into the “iPad.”

I also chatted with Best Buy who is, at least to me, the best chain of stores at which to buy consumer electronics and tech goods. I interviewed them last week and they have some surprises coming soon.

In addition, I hung out with the Panasonic Toughbook folks and, since I was working on a piece that concluded that the perfect notebook was likely a blend of Toughbook and Mac concepts, this couldn’t have been timelier. My goal for 2010 is to get someone to build my perfect notebook.

We’ll close with my product of the week: a navigation service that runs on the iPhone (and eventually other phones) that is kind of a combination digital CB radio, ad-hoc freeway social network, and traveler’s life saver called “Aha.”

The Growing Legend of Steve Jobs

Like those of a lot of famous people, stories of Steve Jobs often likely get “enhanced” as they are spread from person to person. I heard two new ones which are probably working their way into a future books and articles. Good Morning Silicon Valley and the Sunday Times used the term “productive narcissist.” The two articles last week focused a bit on the uglier parts of Steve’s personality and questioned whether some things about Steve and Apple were excessive, particularly in light of the poor guy who seemingly was forced to commit suicide to protect an Apple secret. Some additional drama was added as Apple tried unsuccessfully to kill the stories and wasn’t at all happy about “The First Rule of the Exploding iPod Club.” Yes, Christmas did come early for me this year.

The first was on how Steve Jobs Dr.-Jekyl-and-Mr.-Hyde-interviewed (a process where he first attacks and demeans an applicant then impresses them enough to take the job) the soon-to-be new head of his support organization in very roomy shorts, no undershorts, and a shirt that had much of his lunch on it. Evidently, he did the interview with his legs on the desk, forcing a view on the interviewee that was both disturbing and memorable. After getting the job and having to lay off much of his staff, the now new Apple employee ends up in front of the remaining support employees reporting to him in an auditorium trying to raise morale. Steve Jobs drops in (I’m hoping with underwear) and proceeds to tell the audience they are fu—– brain dead.

In fact, that’s pretty much all he says over and over again (his Mr. Hyde side). The strange part is that after he leaves, this new manager says something to the effect of “gee, my morale is much better now” — and you know what? His folks were suddenly loyal to him and laughing with him at Jobs’ expense. Jobs is either incredibly brilliant or incredibly lucky, probably a little of both. I still wouldn’t work for the guy, though. (I can now picture a line item on an Apple executive’s job history that says “saw Steve Jobs’ junk” as a status symbol and suddenly feel really sorry for Apple’s head of HR. Sometimes it’s the little things …).

The other story, which is even juicier and newer, is how Steve Jobs got Best Buy to force Microsoft to stop showing the new competitive Apple ads. Supposedly he gets some folks in the office and says something like, “Watch me make Best Buy my bit–.” He proceeds to call up Best Buy (a call to Microsoft by a flunky only had the Microsoft folks laughing hysterically; coincidently, they actually have the top video on the Web at the moment), saying that if Best Buy doesn’t kill the ads, Apple will put them on allocation with the new iPad. Best Buy agrees, and Steve tells the room “watch this.” He then suggests they need to run an ad showcasing a Best Buy employee switching a Windows user to a Mac. Well, you’ve likely seen the Best Buy ad yourself. And that is allegedly how Steve Jobs made Best Buy his bit–. I do think this story has likely been enhanced in the telling, but it does kind of sound like him.

To the PC OEMs, Best Buy is like King Kong, the monster they can’t control. If this story is true, Best Buy is also Apple’s pet. And that is how to build a legend.

Best Buy

Coincidently, I did interview Best Buy last week, and one of the things I asked them was whether this Apple story was true. (I left out the “bit–” part because I didn’t want to get them too upset with me). They said not really — they said that they hadn’t realized the Microsoft ads would be this upsetting to Apple and had asked Microsoft to stop them; when Microsoft said no, they then ran the Apple switcher ad to balance the message and give Microsoft an incentive to stop. They did say they were excited about the new iPad and that they thought it would kick the Kindle’s butt. Both stories fit the facts, but which one do you think is closer to the truth? We may have to wait for the “book” but the first story is by far the more fun to tell. But take both with a big grain of salt, as the truth likely lies someplace in the middle.

Best Buy, which is actually my favorite retail electronics store, has some interesting plans in the works. To showcase the new Apple product, the Sony eBook Reader and other coming products in this e-book class, they will be setting up a section devoted to them and could do a great deal in regard to making e-books real and taking the initiative back from Amazon (who just happens to be my favorite online vendor). I agreed the new Apple iPad could hurt the Kindle, but I’m not as sold on the Sony e-book reader (which will anchor the section) — Sony just doesn’t get the ease-of-use thing yet.

The thing I’m looking most forward to, however, is a new gadget section, which will be like a Sharper Image inside of a Best Buy. I really miss Sharper Image and all the cool stuff I used to find in their stores; unfortunately I’ll likely now spend more money on Best Buy. Like I needed another excuse.

Toughbook vs. Mac

I think of the Panasonic Toughbook F8 as the polar opposite the Apple MacBook Pro. The Apple is long on promise and very pretty, but it is built by the same ODMs (original design manufacturers) that build HPs, Dells and most every other product that sells for hundreds less and only seems reliable because Apple is expert at covering up problems like those that came out of the Black Hat and the exploding iPod/iPhone stories. The Toughbook is generally built by Panasonic, hand-crafted inside and out, and they are designed to meet or beat military standards. If every Vista laptop ran and held up like a Toughbook, the Mac vs. PC ads wouldn’t have made sense. They aren’t particularly attractive, and this is the notebook people use if their lives depend on it, because Toughbooks are used by soldiers, law enforcement and firefighters, whose lives often do depend on them.

I’ve often thought it might be interesting to compare Toughbook buyers to Mac buyers, because I’ll bet they are vastly different, and given that Apple is much larger, I also wonder if our choice doesn’t say a lot about us. Is it more important to feel safe or to be safe? Are we too fixated on shiny and not attracted enough to trustworthy? I think it is unfortunate that for most of us, what is outside is more important than what is inside, and I often wish, and I include myself, that were not so.

Product of the Week: The ‘Aha’ iPhone Application

Product of the WeekSometimes, I see something that seems so obvious I wonder why I didn’t think of it. Aha is such product, and it is free for the iPhone (hard to beat free).

Aha Mobile

It is a navigation application, but unlike the others, it doesn’t take you to someplace you tell it — it suggests places to go. It looks ahead of your direction of travel (ever searched for a place to eat only to have your GPS system point miles behind you?) to suggest places to stop. You want the cheapest gas price ahead of you, you want a place you’d like to eat on your way to your destination, you simply hit a button and your iPhone will suggest where you need to go.

It is designed to allow near eye-free operation, so it isn’t as distracting as a typical GPS system, and it is also intended to work with a GPS system, not replace it. I’m not yet sold on the idea of an iPhone as a turn-by-turn navigator because you can’t both use the phone and navigate at the moment, and a dedicated GPS system simply works much better (and they are relatively inexpensive now). For instance, the TomTom application costs $100 for the iPhone, and you can get a refurbished Tom Tom GPS for around $100, which is what I did. Aha also notifies others of traffic events (don’t you just hate it when you get caught in traffic for an hour, jump off on surface roads, and find out that a quarter mile later the traffic actually broke up?).

The Aha (pronounced “Ah Hah”) was built to be kind of a crystal ball for things on the road ahead of you, sort of a digital CB (for those that remember Citizen Band radios, “Breaker, Breaker we’ve got a convoy!”) slash ad hoc freeway social network device. It’s cool, its free, and used correctly, it will get you fed and where you are going faster, so Aha is a natural for product of the week.

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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