I was chatting with my friend Ian about things technical both wired and wireless and we came up with a list of things that we felt Apple had to address in order to be successful:
What is Apple doing about mending customer fences? Apple has done well in a number of markets, but it is falling down in at least two of Europe’s largest markets: France and Germany due to poor carrier relationships. I’ve seen empirical evidence of this on my recent trip to Paris: whilst Orange was advertising iPhones and these adverts maybe getting French consumers in the door they were walking out with Android devices. Whether this is a deliberate sales tactic by Orange or French consumer sticker shock is a mute point as the end result is the same. I am sure that this pattern is replicated elsewhere in the world in addition to these major European markets.
What is Apple’s strategy for its 58 billion dollars of offshore money and assets that the company can’t repatriate? One of the reasons why Apple has such a cash mountain and hasn’t been paying dividends is that the money would be exposed to America’s high corporate tax rate (it’s also the reason why Yahoo! was reportedly looking at a ‘cash rich’ deal for its Asian assets). It doesn’t make financial sense to bring it home. Apple has used a small proportion of this money to assure component supplies and buy foreign companies to aid its technological development in areas like semiconductors design and flash memory. This means that Apple has a lot of dollar-denominated funds sitting offshore.
Part of the reason why high end residential and commercial property has become popular with overseas investors in Europe’s major cities and other places like Singapore is that it is a handy way to get your money out of US dollars which carry a similar risk to the Euro – think about how much money the US owes China for instance. Should Apple have a similar strategy for currency diversification; like the offshore Reninmbi markets?
Why didn’t Apple look at fixing its broken options model? Whilst Apple has performed very well and Tim Cook has had a lot to do with that the 380 million did seem to be excessive. Is there more of a case to be made for paying someone more in money and less in options and restricted stock? Or just giving them a certain amount of stock at particular times For the average Apple employee who is vested; is the stock at its current price motivational?
The reason why Cook got paid so much once he became CEO, and why I don’t think Apple’s stock is a good motivator is that the current share price is too high for employees to get the money to exercise their share options in the first place.
What’s next after thin? Apple has gone down the route of thin or as I prefer to call it ‘size zero’ as a design language. It was interesting that Fast Company woke up to the dangers of this approach when covering CES. I’ve thought that its a bad approach to design for a while as its not particularly human-friendly.
Thin designs compromise the tactile experience:
- In order to fit components into a thinner case they need to be spread out, that is why the Motorola RAZR felt too wide when holding it in your hand
- It adversely affects battery life
- It was partly responsible for the issues that Apple had with reception on the iPhone 4
- The laptops have less keyboard travel as this takes up valuable space and it adversely affects the typing experience
- The thin designs force consumers to contemplate the fragility of their devices selling a raft of phone covers, even on supposedly tough gorilla glass surfaces giving rise to a resurgence in mobile phone cases for the first time in a decade
There is only so much room for designs to get thinner, where does Apple go from there? How does it then explain that its devices are getting thicker?
What about haptic feedback? There is probably no greater an influence of Apple on the technology sector than the wholesale move away from keyboards and other input devices to touch screens. But it lacks haptic feedback, the tactile reinforcement of an action. It’s the reason why driving a car on a games console feels nothing like driving a car in real-life. At a more prosaic level, its the feeling of depressing a key when typing, pressing a button or the slight tactile resistance whilst turning a dial.
What about a return to ergonomic design? This is a picture of my old laptop from when I was in college. I bought it at the end of 1994 with the funds from a student loan along with a plug-in keyboard and an Apple StyleWriter II printer.
It was actually designed by Sony for Apple at the time, as Sony were smart at making portable gadgets, their Walkman and Discman range of portable stereos defined portable music prior to the iPod.
If you look carefully at where the hinge of the screen meets the body of the laptop, just above the keyboard on the left-hand side you can see the top of the swivel legs that held the machine at an ergonomic 11 degree angle. Contrast this to the current and recent designs for the titanium PowerBooks through to the current MacBook Pro. They are a thin flat slab of material with buttery unresponsive keys. An ergonomic and tactile disaster zone and more importantly one that risks the users getting wrist and arm injuries through repeated use. In a litigious market like the the US this could have adverse reputational / brand consequences as well as the arguably less worrisome financial aspects.