OPINION

The Steve Jobs Leak: Another Stroke of Brilliance?

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.”

Already Nocera is being showcased as the bad guy, and Steve’s health is no longer in question.

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).

Dell’s effort has Zing, a technology company it acquired a while back, at its core.

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.


16 Comments

  • "Actually you may want to look up Ethics. I’m not convinced disclosure rules apply when you aren’t selling a security or advocating a product."

    Actually you might want to take a class on ethics. Disclosure rules? Are you serious? How about morals? A sense of right and wrong? If you check your dictionary you might find under ethics:

    the moral correctness of specified conduct

    ——-

    "However, had you clicked on the second link in the piece you would have had the disclosure you’ve asked for, given it provided the background for the entire section I thought everyone would want to click on that link."

    I suppose if this had been in a newspaper you might have a disclosure that says:

    "See page C48, Column 6 for a treasure map where I’ve hidden a document of any company I have a relationship with."

    I’ve been a tech writer for over 8 years and I’ve worked in technology for 16…and I’ve always disclosed any relationship I had in anything I had written…not simply buried it in a link. Even blogging at ZDNet it was made very clear that we could cover anything we liked as long as we disclosed any relationships we had with said company.

    My job as a reader isn’t to research you…but it is the job of the writer and the publication to clarify any relationships they may have with a company or organization. You know that…so stop deflecting your blame onto us. I find it hilarious that you blame the reader for your own mistake.

    • Professional codes of ethics forbid conflicts of interest.

      When one cannot eliminate the conflict of interest by recusing one’s self, then the conflict of interest can be mitigated … but note that "mitigation" is not "elimination" … through disclosure.

      The key here is that disclosure is not a simple binary "yes-no" (concealed). It is a question of adequacy for the reader to immediately recognize the situation and its implications.

      This means that the golden standard is proactive and consistent disclosure. In simple terms, this means an explicit disclosure statement is literally included within *EVERY* article, story or piece.

      Anything less than this invokes a ‘slippery slope’ that then increasingly questions the adequacy for the failure to adequately disclose.

      What this means is that a URL link alone generally fails this test for adequacy, because it is not sufficiently obvious (unless explictly highlighted as a relevant disclosure *issue*)

      This also means that something "not concealed" elsewhere is grossly insufficient, because it is not the reader’s responsibility to go track down every possible affiliation of the writer. The ethical standard is adequacy, which pragmatically means "sufficiently overt".

      There is some room for compromise in terms of disclosure predicated on no relevency. However, this is a hypothetical observation that does not apply to this specific case because the affiliation was highly relevant to the topic.

      What is absolutely clear is that a failure to proactively disclose when there is a clear conflict of interest and clear relevancy is absolutely and unequivocally unethical.

      The only question then remaining is if it was also criminal, and/or sufficiently serious enough for a Board of Professional Practice and Ethics (BPPE) to strip that individual of his professional licence or credentials.

      Of course, in other areas, there are no formal statutes, regulations, laws or professional guidelines. As such the motivation to act ethically is based on the damage failure will cause to one’s professional and personal reputations.

      Personally, I’ve suspected for some time that Mr. Enderle was a dishonest individual, and his failure to disclose … and subsequent attempt to deflect and tap-dance … merely proves it.

      Since Rob is also probably just whoring for website hits, the recourse lies elsewhere.

      • Agree with agraham999 100%. It is not that the report looked improper to me, it is indeed improper and not ethical. Your report gives a positive review of an upcoming product and/or a service ("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."), but fails to disclose your involvement in the project or any compensation as a footnote to the article. You even failed to link to the WSJ article in your reply. I AM sorry to see you left it as an exercise for the reader. And your editors failed to point that out, if they were aware of your participation.

        • Actually you may want to look up Ethics. I’m not convinced disclosure rules apply when you aren’t selling a security or advocating a product.

          However, had you clicked on the second link in the piece you would have had the disclosure you’ve asked for, given it provided the background for the entire section I thought everyone would want to click on that link.

          Definition of Ethics: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics

          It would be interesting to know, given you didn’t click on the link, where you think the bias now resides.

  • It seems that you can’t refrain from these kinds of articles where you push your latest monetary endeavor without letting everyone know that that is what you are doing.

    I see some of your responses, and they are clearly inadequate.

    Proper policy is to reveal your ties, paid or not, at the beginning of your article. The fact that this isn’t being required shows why blogs aren’t really journalistic in value.

    Even apart from that, you attempt to stir up matters that are way beyond your understanding.

    It’s too bad, really, if you stuck to what you knew, you might have something of value to say.

  • This is classic. He’s killing two hack birds with one stone. First, he’s explaining how yet another company will defeat Apple despite there being absolutely no track record of said company’s competence in the area.

    Plus we have the bonus treat of verifiable proof that Enderle is on the payroll of said company AND he’s not disclosing it. WOW. It just confirms what all of us with a brain have known for years. This guy is a pay-for-press quote-spewing shill and a liar that dishonestly passes off company PR as independent "analysis".

    And since when does Michael Dell have an experience of note in user experience, software or consumer services? He doesn’t. His company’s claim to fame is a walmart-style cost cutting supply chain story in which they have touted how LITTLE they spend on R&D and ultimately how little they bring to the table beyond low prices. I wouldn’t bet on this effort being anything other than another also-ran. If Microsoft can’t crack the iTunes nut, Dell has no chance in hell.

    But, if Dell is paying Mr. Enderle to go around spreading their PR FUD under false pretenses… mission accomplished. If they’re expecting him to have a clue how to compete with Apple… they’re screwed. This hack fundamentally doesn’t understand the nature or competence of Apple Inc. Never had. Never will.

  • Enderle wrote: "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."

    "brilliant at manipulation" HAHAHAHA!!!!!

    He’s an innocent tweety-bird compared to you Enderle.

    C’mon now!…you didn’t get to be #1 in the Microsoft shillosphere for nothing!

  • As per the other comments. Rob if you serve as a consultant or advisor or whatever you cannot as a journalist write an opinion piece. This is really inappropriate and obviously not at all worthy of consideration. Michael Dell said for Apple to shut down and give the money to its shareholders, said coloured computers were silly, before introducing them himself, and has seen his company lose ground attaining only crappy profit margins. Don’t bet against him? Why would you bet on him? He has sacrificed profit and innovation for marketshare. Back to you. A reporter/journalist should be unbiased or give full disclosure. You do neither. Shame on you, again.

  • If you wondered down here and wondered, what the heck, and are interested in some background. Suggest you read "True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post Fact Society".

    Excerpt here: http://machinist.salon.com/feature/2008/03/18/true_enough_excerpt_2/

    You’ll note that my piece isn’t on Dell’s project which isn’t done yet but on how you might create a successful offering. Even I don’t yet know what Dell is going to bring to market.

    My involvement had been reported by both the WSJ, see link above, and here (see link below).

    http://www.technewsworld.com/story/64000.html

    But the point is that the Apple publications moved aggressively to discredit my even implying Dell might be successful. Look below:

    http://macdailynews.com/index.php/weblog/comments/18073/ (look at the sidebar and the bottom, who do you think pays for this site?)

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-13509_3-10006096-20.html (they are actually part of CBS)

    Recall that Apple has folks they hand pick to do reviews.

    http://www.tgdaily.com/content/view/38318/128/

    I really don’t think people fully grasp how long Apple’s arm is, no other company has this level of market manipulation available to it.

  • >> sorry this looked to you like it was improper.

    Your article did not "look" improper, it WAS improper. Your argument that the WSJ had already publicized your linkage to Dell is self-serving.

    The kind of people who would be aware of the WSJ article would also be aware of your well-earned reputation as a shill and thus take what you wrote with an enormous grain of salt. The less-informed, on the other hand, might read your article and think there might be some validity to your statements, unaware that you and Dell agree because you are consulting with them on this very product. This article should have been marked as an advertorial.

    That said, I can’t decide is which is the bigger mystery: 1) what happened to the editorial judgement of TechNewsWorld (who must have been aware of your relationship with Dell, seeing how it was "fully disclosed"), or 2) what was Dell thinking when they hired you as an expert.

  • Your logic behind the fact that neither you, nor Tech News World, disclosed the fact you are consulting with Dell is that another paper did it, so you guys don’t have to?

    It’s irrelevant that other outlets mentioned it. To not disclose your connection with Dell’s music player and then talk up that project in optimistic terms doesn’t sound all that ethical.

    Quite frankly, how could one trust this website or your analysis to report things accurately if facts like these are being left out of the reporting?

  • Disclosure doesn’t mean that the information was out there some where. It would be like saying that because the IRS or SEC was informed about the project that it was disclosed. People reading this can’t be expected to have read the all articles that show your directly paid and indirectly paid biases.

    You are not a journalist you are a lobbyist. How about you change your profession officially? Or you could clean up your act.

  • It isn’t our job to track down which projects or companies you consult with. If you write something about a project or company you are involved in you must disclose it…even if you aren’t a "journalist" but pretending to be one. It is called ethics. And…you know that.

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