Mario Sundar's Speakeasy

Twitter's 1st evangelism comms guy, Linkedin's 2nd PR guy. These are my thoughts on tech, public relations, and life.

America is to Apple as China is to…

These were some thoughts I shared on Quora recently on the topic of countries and brands, around the July 4th weekend. The question asked was around what it means for a country to have a brand and if so what brand was China’s? Inevitably my arguments revolved around (you guessed right): Apple.

To me, much like everyday brands associated with products, a country too has a brand value commensurate to the set of values associated to its core identity.

To me:

America is Apple. The monarchy can be represented by IBM, Microsoft and Google over the years.

China is Walmart.

For a brand to stand the test of time (in a world with choices), the brand proposition should be based on core values that are ideals people aspire towards, and are not necessarily product related nor can they be commoditized (think Xerox).

With regards to America and China: America’s brand value will always remain – freedom. Apple (under the guidance of Steve Jobs) ably portrayed themselves as the brand that stood for freedom against the tyranny of IBM.

Check out the quintessential 1984 Apple Ad (embedded above).

Apple had a shot at becoming the super-power only to see them relegated once again as a rebel force with Microsoft taking the crown. Even now (despite their leadership) they can still be portrayed as battling the institution called Google.

Apple’s brand values will always remain freedom, innovation, and design. And, if they steer clear of it, they’re bound to fail (as they did under a non-Jobs leadership).

On the other hand, as Ashton Lee explains in his answer to this question, China’s brand proposition today is of low cost, cheap goods, much like Walmart is today. These are not values that are necessary aspirational. That said, post-Olympics, the world has started perceiving China differently, and time will tell what direction their brand will evolve towards over time.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Apple iTunes, meet your nemesis. Spotify.

Spotify is to Apple iTunes music as Google is to Newspapers. Oh, yae! Game on.

Let me explain… 

Today, Spotify — the much talked about music service from Europe — finally surprised everyone by actually launching in the US and I had a chance to give it a spin. Spotify reminds me of Rdio (a similar music service I really liked) and is the second coming of Napster from bad boy entrepreneur, Sean Parker. But this time it’s legit (yes, music labels are on-board this time), and boy, what a ride this is gonna be.

There’s a new Kid on the block, iTunes. Spotify.

For starters, let’s talk about Apple Ping.

In the history of my Apple usage, there are two services that I’ve been completely disappointed with and they are: MobileMe (cloud service) and Ping (iTunes Social) or “the Suck” as I call it.

I’m not gonna rehash my dislike of Ping, but as a product it sucked and for a company as awesome as Apple (especially in the music space), it was a huge letdown for users that Jobs and team just didn’t get social.

Enter Spotify.

How it works.

Now Rdio had done this before but Spotify is better in some subtle ways so I’m gonna focus this review on Spotify alone. Frankly, these guys have nailed the freemium model: There’s just enough for everybody in every pricing tier. I’m a free user and I don’t see myself upgrading anytime soon (unless if they start limiting the hours of music I can listen to, like they did in Europe). Here’s a breakdown of what each group of users get.

Even the pricing is great. I easily see myself moving to the $5 / month tier very soon if I find myself listening to a lot more music on Spotify. Chances that I’ll get there are high because of the desktop app that indexes my home music and the more I use Spotify to discover new music, the more it becomes my default music listening app. More on this in just a second. But, this desktop app is sheer genius and is the biggest difference with Rdio (which is completely web based and follows a similar pricing model).

And, if I get to the $5 mark, chances are I’d be curating a lot more playlists and then bam! I’ll want to move up to the $10 / month tier when I’d like to sync my playlists with my iPhone / iPod. The reason it works is that most people have a gazillion songs but then you usually end up listening to your favorites over and over again. While not all of us are gonna curate a bunch of playlists, I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to create one that plays top-of-mind music for you or find ones curated by your friends that you can subscribe to.

It just works.

For new users, the ramp-up is seamless, quick and the streaming of music is instant. Yes, this is a peer-to-peer service and the technology behind the streaming is peerless. Your user interface is broken down into three parts (See pic above):

A. Search and find new music, get recommendations from friends (Inbox)

B. Index and search your own music

C. Curate playlists (that you can share with your friends and take with you on your mobile music player)

It’s got cool friends.

Now, this is where it gets really cool. Imagine Facebook meets Spotify. Now that Facebook has changed the landscape of social gaming, they will obviously look into the next frontier that lets them scale to a billion users. What’s more social than entertainment. And, if you thought music was important to you, think of the Bieber crowd (just check the top 10 songs on iTunes — its driven entirely by that audience) that’s growing up with the instant gratification mindset — this will be the tool that lets them get any music when they want, where they want it and most importantly that their friends deem cool.

Music could be Facebook’s next Photos app. And, Facebook’s 750 million users gives Spotify a way to grow their audience globally, rapidly. No wonder Zuckerberg deflected Jobs’ reality distortion field when Jobs met him around the time Ping launched on using Facebook Connect within iTunes.

It replaces iTunes.

As I mentioned earlier, the genius with Spotify is that it becomes the default way I interact with my music (since it indexes my music, it becomes the user interface with which I search and stumble upon new music). What happens next? I will start using iTunes less. It took me seconds to start using Spotify as my default music player. Seamless.

Much like Google became the way you found news rather than going to the New York Times website. Spotify will become the place you find music vs. going to iTunes. Kinda like what iTunes did to the music store.

This is a generational shift much like social is today. iTunes will be around for a long while, but the next generation that gets Facebook will find Spotify (through them), and will not know what iTunes was and Apple won’t know what hit them.

Should Apple worry?

Hellz yae. Obviously, Apple’s investing in building our cloud services (Steve Jobs showed off his new data centers at the last keynote he did) but this is more than just storing your music on the cloud and taking it with you (don’t get me started on that — you still can’t sync your music via Wifi on iTunes — Spotify allows for that as well).

This is about how you find your music. In no other industry does social recommendations matter more than in music. Apple’s music future (much like Google’s today) will one day depend on social and they better prepare for that day, now.

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Filed under: Best-of, Spotify, , , , ,

Will Apple or Steve Jobs ever blog?

Chuq von Rospach, a former Apple employee, writes of the inner workings of one of my favorite tech companies on the planet and it’s most famous employee – Steve Jobs. What drew my attention however, was his reference to the possibility of Apple entering the corporate blogging arena.

Many readers of this blog will remember the posts I’ve written over the past years on such a feasibility (What would Steve Jobs blog?), as I explained the benefits of such an action, the good and bad of Apple’s earlier attempts, etc.  (see scorecard here). Chuq’s post reaffirmed my belief that Apple has a blogger ethos but also confirmed my suspicion on why Jobs may never blog.

I always lobbied for more discussion, more disclosure, more transparency. That’s not always compatible with Steve’s focus on controlling the message. When Steve was fighting to restructure the company and keep it relevant, that control really was necessary. Today, I believe it hurts more than it helps, but there are signs that Apple is slowly opening up and starting to move in these directions. Don’t expect Steve ever to blog, though. But maybe his successor will.

That said, I believe Jobs “blogs” when he comes up with his famous web memos that are eagerly dissected by the insatiable “media”. By reaching out to his target audience (users, press, etc…) only when necessary (4 times thus far) vs. starting a blog (which would require a minimum weekly post), Jobs has yet again avoided the pitfalls that many CEO blogs fall into – setting high expectations and failing miserably owing to the nature of their CEO position.

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Filed under: Business Blogging

Apple’s anonymous blogger tells all?

Oh, Apple! As a complete lover of all things Apple and a (once) frustrated MobileMe user, I’ve agonized over the MobileMe saga which started with their lame attempt at corporate blogging, continued with the MobileMe’s terrible performance, my personal experience using MobileMe and ended when they prematurely closed the “corporate blog” and redirected all questions to their forum – not a bad idea.

A couple of days ago, Dan Lyons (a.k.a FSJ) penned this post on a more recent post (ostensibly from an Apple employee) titled “Why we fail and (will continue to fail)“. Dan writes:

A deep source at Apple assures me that this blogger is indeed a MobileMe person, and the big failure she’s talking about is the MobileMe launch, though she never actually says so in her blog. It’s worth noting that she’s not really apologizing for MobileMe’s suckage. Instead, she’s saying that fuck-ups are the nature of corporate America. Also worth noting is the headline: “Why we fail (and will continue to fail).” That’s not exactly confidence-inspiring. Money quote: “The predictable fallout ensued, with a dressing down by our CEO, followed by the usual finger pointing and finally ending in removal/demotion of some members of the senior management team. ”

hmm… interesting…

Filed under: Business Blogging

Apple’s MobileMe Corporate Blog R.I.P

This would probably go down in the history books as the shortest lived corporate blog ever. Looks like Apple started a blog to tide over the crisis that was brewing with MobileMe. One that I’d hoped would be the start of a deeper engagement with the blogosphere, but alas, t’was not to be.

Apples MobileMe News & Support Pages

Apple's MobileMe News & Support Pages

Not for long but let’s look at what alternatives Apple has undertaken while they closed the blog. The semi anonymous blogger David G. writes in the oh-so aptly titled last post – MobileMe Final Post!

Instead, we have redesigned the MobileMe Support page so it’s clearer and has an enlarged area, now in the upper right hand corner, to report on system status.

In addition we’ve created a new place for regular posts about all parts of the service, including enhancements, updates, explanations, fixes, support announcements, and other news as it arrives – MobileMe News

Was that the right thing to do? Absolutely Right! As I’ve said before when asked about the necessity for a corporate blog. You don’t have to start a corporate blog just for the sake of doing it. Looks like Apple’s providing two great resources for their MobileMe users with the News and Support pages – why do they need a corporate blog?

Here are three simple questions you ask yourself before you start a corporate blog:

1. Why am I starting a corporate blog? What are the goals?

2. Where are my users?

3. What’s the internal and external corporate culture?

Obviously in this case, Apple was in crisis management mode, which is an obvious reason many corporate blogs start, but it doesn’t look like there were any long time goals for the blog. And, once they had moved past that awkward phase looks like they have worked on a longer term solution. As long as the contents of the News and Support page are search engine indexed well, I think it’d serve the company, their current and prospective users well indeed.

Alternative solution: If your company is facing a crisis and you need to keep your users informed while you get your forums and other user communication systems up and running. Use Twitter. It’s far easier.

60 More Days Free MobileMe

In related News: Apple has extended their free trial of MobileMe to another 60 days, although, I haven’t received the offer. Maybe I wasn’t included? hmm… Only time will tell.

Filed under: Business Blogging

Apple’s MobileMe Blog and Service still doesn’t cut it

In the growing up world of corporate blogging, Apple’s MobileMe blog still doesn’t cut it, reflecting a malaise that’s endemic with the service. Did you see how I incorporated high-sounding words into that sentence when I could have just said their status blog’s still lame! 🙂

MobileMe status 2 weeks after their blogs last post

MobileMe's status 2 weeks after their last post (Source: Ars Technica)

Jokes apart, when I first blogged about Apple’s foray into corporate blogging, I outlined 5 reasons why that was a step in the right direction as well as three reasons it sucked. Let’s see where they stand on those three fronts:

1. Anonymity of the blogger – Thumbs up

While they’ve teased their audience with the first name of the individual blogging (David G. anyone?) the blog is used as nothing more than a twitter status update – hence the name (MobileMe Status blog).

2. Have a regular face associated with the blog – Thumbs up

Thus far, all three posts have come from David G. So they have cultivated a sense of consistency in their social media communication thus far, with the last post coming on July 29 (almost 2 weeks ago). This is definitely NOT a well maintained blog.

3. Allow comments. Take feedback – Neutral

Yep. No progress on that count. However, they have Apple support forums that bear the brunt of user feedback, so I don’t expect the blog to duplicate this effort.

What’s not a good sign, though, is David C. of Ars Technica reporting that things are NOT getting better with the service:

It has been a hair under two weeks since Apple deemed MobileMe’s now-infamous mail woes a thing of the past on the MobileMe Status blog. Nevertheless, error messages like the one above and a healthy new Apple support discussion thread seem to disagree.

And, there’s no new post that either preempts or follows-up the error messages with a real-time story. Wonder what David G.’s gonna do next? To blog or not to blog, indeed.

Summary: Apple’s doing its best to deal with the user fall-out with the MobileMe issues they’re faced with. While their forums do the job they were created to do, their MobileMe status blog isn’t updated with the right information. Great intent, but poor execution on the corporate blogging front. Disappointed.

Read the saga of Apple’s foray into corporate blogging in my own words below:

1. Apple’s foray into corporate blogging is – Lame!

2. My experience creating a MobileMe account

3. Steve Jobs’ admission that MobileMe sucks

Or, read about my Apple history here: once you get past the “Why does MobileMe suck?” tweets you’ll get to see my real self 🙂

What should Apple do to communicate better with their fanatic users?

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Filed under: Business Blogging

Apple’s foray into Corporate Blogging – Lame!

It pains me to say this, as one of Apple/Steve Jobsbig admirers, but it’s true. I have always been pretty vociferous in my attempt to get Apple blogging in an official capacity. I’ve always felt that blogging should originate from a need to communicate and converse with your legions of users and NOT as a crisis management tool.

However, Apple has chosen the latter. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Historically, Apple has shied away from blogging (e.g. the Apple vs. Cisco name trademark issue). More recently, Steve Jobs has blogged on two occasions (here’s the green apple example). In the latest example, Mr. Anonymous blogs after being instructed by his Steveness himself. I quote:

Steve Jobs has asked me to write a posting every other day or so to let everyone know what’s happening with MobileMe, and I’m working directly with the MobileMe group to ensure that we keep you really up to date.

What?! Anyways, first things first…

Where they got it right?

1. They promise regular postings a few times a week

2. Support from the higher echelons of the company, in this case Jobs himself, inspires trust

3. Provide exclusive breaking news

4. Honest transparency

Be assured people here are working 24-7 to improve matters, and we’re going to favor getting you new info hot off the presses even if we have to post corrections or further updates later.

5. Empathy

In the 14 days since we launched, it’s been a rocky road and we know the pain some people have been suffering.

Where they got it wrong?

Alright, that’s a good first step, but good next steps would be

1. Revealing who this new Fake Steve Jobs’ blogger is?

2. Have a consistent face/person associated with the blog.

3. Allow comments, which are obviously passed on to the teams involved.

Why is this a big deal?

1. Because they are Apple? And as the company that invented and made “product evangelism” a by-word in marketing, they can do way better.

2. I’ve always lamented the fact that my favorite tech company hasn’t stepped into corporate blogging yet, especially since they have such a passionate following. This is a tiny but important step towards a fuller embrace of corporate blogging at Apple. Or, so I hope.

As is expected, the whole blogosphere has gotten itself into a tizzy about Apple’s attempted entry into corporate blogging, with some like MobileCrunch pointing out its deficiencies and rightfully praising the effort. Here’s an example of a blog done right – Sony.

What do you think Apple could have done better? Or worse?

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Filed under: Business Blogging

Oscars 2007 | Apple has everyone at “Hello”

The Superbowl for women (well that’s how some advertisers view the Oscars) had 5 technology references in its primetime telecast that just ended a few minutes ago on the West Coast. I thought it’d be interesting to take a quick birds-eye view of the technology that received sponsored and unsponsored recognition at the Oscars 2007:

1. The Apple “Hello” iPhone ad vs. the Microsoft “Wow” Vista ad

As Macworld had speculated, Apple came out with it’s simple yet effective “Hello” ad campaign at this year’s Academy Awards 2007, built around snippets of film sequences which featured memorable movie characters saying “Hello” and ending with the simple, terse, and curiosity enabling picture of the iPhone — Copy reads: “Hello”, coming in June.

Microsoft, on the other hand, blundered through various different “Wow” inducing scenarios which did nothing but confuse the viewer as to what they were talking about. The ads ended with — Wow. Microsoft Vista 2007. What am I supposed to make of it?

The 3 major reasons why the Apple ad scored a brilliant victory over the Microsoft ad

* Consistency – all ads featured the same scenes with the same ending, reiterating the message, while the Vista ads, bun(d)gled different Wow scenes that only made you wonder what this ad was all about and didn’t provide a clear answer?

* Simplicity – Apple ads are known for their simple, clear messaging and the Hello ad was no different

* Relevance – the Apple ads were relevant to the occasion (The Oscars) with sequences from films thrown into the ad, while Microsoft’s was all over the place.

All I can say is, Apple, “you had me at Hello”, while Microsoft, I’m still not Wow’ed.

Here are reviews from Scott Goldberg (Digital Media Wire) and Philip Michaels (MacWorld)

Check out the iPhone Oscars ad here.

2. The Designers behind “An Inconvenient Truth” – Duarte Design

Al Gore’s, “An Inconvenient Truthtook home 2 awards, but what is not known, is there is a Bay Area, Silicon Valley based design agency behind the stellar Keynote presentation that is at the heart of this Al Gore documentary – Duarte Design (via Presentation Zen).

Here’s some background into the technology used for the presentation:

Al Gore’s presentation was in fact using Apple’s Keynote presentation software (the same software Steve Jobs presents from) and did so for numerous reasons. Some of the videos dropped were HD, they played and scaled extremely well and was something our team couldn’t even begin to think about doing in PowerPoint! (via Presentation Zen)

Now, all I’ve to do, is add “An Inconvenient Truth” to my Netflix queue 🙂

3. YouTube reference:

YouTube was referenced by Gwyneth Paltrow before giving away the award for “Best Cinematography”, yet another sign of the company’s phenomenal growth in the past year, becoming a pop cultural milestone in the life’s of thousands of wannabe film-makers.

4. MySpace Reference:

Another mini-reference to MySpace, by host Ellen Degeneres in the middle of some light banter with Hollywood heavyweights Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg. Yet another social networking company that has carved out its image in the minds of millions in the past couple of years.

Did you notice any other references to technology at tonight’s Oscars 2007?

Feel free to share.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Larry Ellison on Apple: circa 1997

Flashback: In 1997, Apple was mired in questions surrounding it’s future, unsure of its footing within the computer industry and counting down its days of glory. In the words of Sir Wikipedia:

On July 9, 1997, Gil Amelio was ousted as CEO of Apple by the board of directors after overseeing a 12-year record-low stock price and crippling financial losses. Jobs stepped in as the interim CEO and began a critical restructuring of the company’s product line.

At the 1997 Macworld Expo, Steve Jobs announced that Apple would be entering into partnership with Microsoft.

Here’s the 38 mt. video of that MacWorld Keynote 1997 that started it all:

Two things to note in the video —

On Business Strategy: Between 14.23 mts and 18.26 mts, Jobs plays a taped presentation of the new board of directors discussing what Apple’s strategy should be. I found these quotes of Larry Ellison priceless, keeping in mind, how uncertain Apple’s future at that time was and how prescient his words seem on hindsight.

Larry Ellison (Chairman/CEO, Oracle):

I think Apple needs to worry less about competing with Microsoft and worry more about doing things that are different; that’s back to innovation, its back to creativity, its back to vision.

Apple is the only lifestyle brand in the computer industry. It’s the only company, that people feel passionate about. The important thing is to build products that are wonderful, or as Steve would say “build insanely great products”

And that insanely great product was a tiny little music player that changed the way we listened to music.

On Leadership: It’s easier to be a leader when things are fine than when things are in the doldrums. When Steve Jobs made the presentation in 1997 (above video), he was returning to the company he’d helped found, after being ousted in a coup in 1983. Steve’s comeback was an attempt to stem losses at Apple in ’97 amounting to $ 1.6 billion.

Adding to the tension was a satellite presentation by Bill Gates announcing a partnership, which was booed (31 mts into the video) by the Macolytes in the audience. You’d do well to watch the final part of Steve’s sugar-coated reproach, which will go down as one of the best impromptu responses ever:

Where we are right now, we are shepherding some of the greatest assets in the computer industry, and if we want to move forward, we have to let go of a few things here: we have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose, OK? We have to embrace the notion that for Apple to win, then Apple has to do a really good job.

And, boy did they do a REALLY good job or what?! Let me end with a quote from Jobs on being ousted in 1985:

You have probably had somebody punch you in the stomach and it knocks the wind out of you and you cannot breathe. The harder you try to breathe, the more you cannot breathe. And you know that the only thing you can do is just relax so you can start breathing again.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Why Apple needs a blog | the iPhone Mess

Quick update: Apple bullies bloggers, again!?


I’ve forever been a strong advocate of corporate blogs and am happy to see the increased number of corporate blogs. However, one of my biggest questions in recent times has been why Apple and Google, shy away from blogging. Probably, because they don’t find the need for evangelism owing to their enormous buzz? Maybe. However, it is moments of crisis/controversy that highlight the need for a blog.

Anybody on the planet would have stumbled upon Steve Jobs stupendous iPhone presentation last week, which bordered on perfection. However, what’s drawing more recent attention is the controversy surrounding the iPhone trademark, which Cisco claims it owns since 2000. While Apple’s official stance has been via traditional PR:

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling called the Cisco lawsuit “silly,” adding there are several companies using the term iPhone for VOIP products, and Cisco’s trademark is “tenuous at best.” (Source: WSJ, via BoingBoing)

Cisco’s response has been via a blog like press-release/commentary put forth by Mark Chandler, Cisco’s SVP and General Counsel:

I was surprised and disappointed when Apple decided to go ahead and announce their new product with our trademarked name without reaching an agreement. It was essentially the equivalent of “we’re too busy.” Despite being very close to an agreement, we had no substantive communication from Apple after 8pm Monday, including after their launch, when we made clear we expected closure. What were the issues at the table that kept us from an agreement? Was it money? No. Was it a royalty on every Apple phone? No. Was it an exchange for Cisco products or services? No. (Source: Cisco blogs)

The tone is informal, yet wordy. Was it ghost-written? I dunno. But it sure has a blog-like feel and given the fact that it’s technically coming from the general counsel himself, it definitely is a step in the right direction for the corporate blogosphere.

Round 1. Cisco.

As for Apple…

Do you think their response on a blog vs. official PR really matters?

Filed under: Business Blogging