Questions I have about Apple’s business | Apple 业务挑战

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.

Product design

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.
Sony D-250 Discman
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.

What I’m reading | 我在读什么

I ended up sleeping a lot of the time during Christmas so my reading suffered. Here are the books that I am currently reading.

My Rugged 211 by Minoru Onozato – To be honest with you I am more leafing through this than avidly reading it for reasons that will become apparent. Onozato-san is editor-in-chief of Free&Easy; a Japanese style magazine that has been a driving force since the late 1990s in Japanese style circles. The magazine focuses on European and American work-wear and former fashions. This is one of the reasons why Japan is the home of brands that look to bring authenticity into their clothing from reproduction brands like Buzz Rickson, Iron Heart and Sugarcane to the likes of Neighborhood. It’s this movement that made Sperry Topsiders and Red Wing boots popular again – Hoxton was a johnny-come-lately to these trends.

In the same way that i-D magazine, Paul Smith, Shawn Stüssy and Vivienne Westwood were held dear by the Japanese fashion industry during the 1980s and early 1990s; Free&Easy shares a similar role in western stylists today. My Rugged 211 is a trip into Onozato-san’s wardrobe: my rugged actually means fashion staples for what Stüssy called Burly Gear: everything from vintage Ray-Ban classes and US Air Force service shoes to items from street-wear brands like Tenderloin. A lot of it is the clothing equivalent crate-digging for vinyl record fans. I have been surprised by the amount of Ralph Lauren that he liked.

Like the fashion items that Onozato-san outlines, My Rugged 211 is easiest ordered from eBay and costs about 60 quid.

The Quest by Daniel Yergin. The Quest is a sequel to his history of the energy sector The Prize which is the de-facto account of the oil and gas industry gracing the bookshelves of pretty much everyone I knew in the industry. The Quest picks up the story from the break up of the Soviet Union onwards. Providing an in-depth view of the events around this helps to explain recent history from before and through 9/11. Its a big dense book and it is compelling but slow-going.

Energy is linked to world events because it is the glue and the building blocks of our modern world – from the circuit board of my laptop to fueling the air cargo flight that brought my MacBook Pro in from the Foxconn factory in Shenzhen.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson. Reamde is the latest book by Neal Stephenson – its relatively uncomplicated cyberpunk book more akin of William Gibson’s recent work than Stephenson’s closest work Cryptonomicon. As with most of Stephenson’s other work it pulls in the reader. More on this once I have finished it.

New Rules for the New Economy by Kevin Kelly. Alongside the Wired reprint pamphlet Encyclopedia of the New Economy by John Browning and Spencer Reiss were probably some of the best books written in the late 1990s about how the interest was going to change things. New Rules for the New Economy is a book that I like to revisit now and again to take stock of things. Part of the reason is that Kelly was smart enough to put in caveats around his discussions of those changes which people tend to forget, like a former American colleague of mine who used to berate anyone whose clients wouldn’t put the budgets into social media as giving into scarcity thinking rather than plenty thinking like it was a demented new age mantra to ward off evil spirits.

Of course the tone of the book needs to be taken with a pinch of salt; it has a Gilderesque sense of boundless optimism that infused American writing from the end of the cold war until 9/11. It also failed to take account technical issues of network build-out, the limited capacity of wireless spectrum and buffer bloat; or the developing world’s desire to give over legislative powers to the media industry lobbyists and attempt to strangle the ‘net. Regardless of these issues it is a great read, and out of all the books, the one that I am making the most progress on.

Links of the day | 在网上找到

European banks: Room for manouevre | The Economist

PR pros are talking about Mark Cuban today | Articles

Jerry Yang Has Left the Building; Resigns From Yahoo, Alibaba Boards | mocoNews – interesting. The thing to watch is what Yang does with his shares. He could dump them on the market, still be well off and sink his critics in a sea of red

ARM’s stiff upper lip trembles at Chipzilla’s Medfield | ExtremeTech

Tech Industry Buys Itself a Mouthpiece – love the way Gawker skewers PandoDaily

Turn Off Your Phone to Quickly Eliminate Stress

Seal Plastic Bags with Aluminum Foil and an Iron

Rands In Repose: A Design Primer for Engineers

The downsides to digital – Consumer Focus

Kantar Media Acquires CIC, Wants to Hear More Word-of-Mouth Insights From China | Tech in Asia

Daily NK – Search Engine ‘Expertize’ Attacked – Korean research casts doubt on the value of Q&A service answers

Saab Owners Take to the Streets – the brand still has equity, if, someone can make Saabish cars (as well as having a Saab badge on the front). One of the big issues is that the brand went away from what Saab is

Robert Scoble – Google+ – What +Hillel Fuld doesn’t know about Windows Phone and its… – interesting to see Scoble flaming the Windows Phone

Unpopular EU Proposal: ‘Made in Germany’ Label At Risk – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Why the video pros are moving away from Apple

Large spike in visitor traffic to 3 of my sites all from same person/source – Google Groups

Zappos coughs to HUGE data breach • The Register

Willpower Part III: How to Strengthen Your Willpower and 20 Ways to Conserve It | The Art of Manliness

Saudi equities: a lifting of the veil? | – opens up market to direct institutional investment

Shaolin Kung Fu Monks: Photo Essay – awesome thanks to Rachel for sending this to me

I, Cringely » Blog Archive » Siri may infringe old Excite patents – Excite’s vector model of mapping but its likely to be close to being out of patent

Beyerdynamic velour pads: new life for Sony MDR-7506 or V6 headphones :

CES trends

Early January means CES in the tech calendar as the media gives its full attention to the consumer electronics sector. With some 2,600 exhibitors there was a lot of news coming out of the event. But I was more interested in some of the more macro trends that you could see from the coverage and hear from friends that attended the event. Here’s my three big things:

Size zero design – Motorola was responsible for move towards size zero design and Apple has turned it into a must-have design feature in smartphones and computers. It was only natural that up and coming young Turks like Huawei with their Ascend P1 smartphone should demonstrate their technical prowess with the current thinnest phone.
Huawei-Ascend P1-smartphones
I also found it interesting that Fast Company wrote an article pointing out the design rabbit hole that size zero design is for device manufacturers and consumers. Pretty good, and only almost two years after this blog (^.^)

Austerity designs – a general observation from a couple of the people I knew had gone to CES was that manufacturers generally had a lower average ticket price on the items that they were displaying. There was less aspirationly priced items than in previous years, probably as manufacturers look to deal with the current economic climate. CES products are not only about drumming sales for the coming year, but also setting the tone for a next few years ahead. This pricing strategy indicates that many of the manufacturers probably aren’t expecting a huge economic bounce back in the West.

Smart everything – one of the things that struck me about CES is the way that technology was been shoehorned into every facet of life  from the car, to the wall thermostat and the wall plug. The only thing is I am not convinced that the electronics will last as long as the useful life of the car or the electro-mechanical Honeywell wall thermostat that would have been used previously. Secondly do you really want your home heating or your car dashboard to need rebooting every so often so that it keeps working?

I like: Roxy Music – Love is the drug (Todd Terje disco dub)

The people at Vinyl Factory have a great knack of creating  great audio recordings of desire and this is no exception.
Roxy Music - love is the drug
A classy dance floor-friendly edit of the Roxy Music classic on a 180g slab of vinyl means that you will have a great recording that will give an excellent reproduction without losing the punch of the bass which happens with digital club tracks. However, it isn’t cheap at 15GBP this is the kind of eye-watering price I would usually expect from a Japanese import. Get yours here.