First of all, I'll admit that I've been writing a bit too much about Apple these past few weeks. It's probably due to the excitement surrounding Macworld, but it's also because of the value I place on the success of the Apple brand.
Apple is a model brand in the way that its customers identify with and love it. They're a loyal bunch and more are being created every day thanks to the success of the iPod.
Apple sold 4.5 million iPods in the fourth quarter of 2004 - an increase of 525% over 2003. The company also posted profits of $295 million dollars. (Nice job, Steve & Co.)
Another not-so-trivial number is the amount of Macs they sold in Q4 2004 - over 1 million.
Apple's success is arguably based on their appreciation for beautiful design, usability and simplicity. In a recent interview, Steve Jobs referred to a committment to "excellence" as a key driver of success and the company's ability to make complex technology simple.
They're an innovative company - few would contest that. But, for all the innovative, well-designed products and financial success at Apple, they've also created a marketplace made up of thousands of equally innovative well-designed products.
For instance, just look at the market for "protection" of Apple Products. The products themselves are so beautifully designed, that their owners go to great lengths to keep them safe from harm. (When was the last time you saw someone love their Dell that way?)
I call this marketplace The Apple Economy.
This marketplace consists of smart (and sometimes not-so-smart) marketers who find niches and fill them, OR they find ways to improve upon once stale products.
You can find these smart marketers in both large companies (Belkin, BMW, Zero Halliburton) and in young upstarts (incase, Griffin Technology, Timbuk2, iSkin) and the volume of products and sales they generate is astounding. They've learned to capitalize on the love of the Apple brand.
As an example, look at the companies making specialized, Apple-inspired cases designed with the Powerbook in mind:
- Tom Bihn
- Willow Design
- Waterfield Designs
And that's just in the category of Powerbook cases. There are other interesting, unexpected products for the Powerbook. I have a Powerbook Screen Protector for my 12" Aluminum Powerbook.
At first glance, it might seem a bit anal retentive to even own one of these things, right? However, for those in the know, it's essential. See, the Powerbook is designed to such exacting specfications, that the screen touches the keyboard when the lid is closed. The problem? Oil from your fingertips can rub off onto the LCD and permanently damage the screen.
Voila! Another market opportunity. This little piece of thin leather sells for $14.
And we haven't even talked about the market for iPod accessories. There are myriad cases, cassette adapters, FM transmitters, car chargers, speakers, external batteries, microphones, car mounts, radio integration kits, cables, headphones, remote controls, belt clips, arm bands - the list goes on and on.
You can see many of these products in the iPodLounge Buyers Guide.
A model company that leads the market in innovative aftermarket Mac and iPod products is Griffin Technology. The company refuses to make trivial products - they're always delivering products that are levels above the rest of the market.
Take the SmartDeck cassette adapter for the iPod. Plenty of companies make cassette adapters targeted at iPod owners. Most of them think that just creating one in "white" is an innovation and they charge $20 for this "improvement".
Griffin invested in the development of a cassette adapter that interacts with the iPod on an intelligent level so that when you turn off the cassette player, it pauses the iPod. Press "fast forward" on the cassette player and it scans the audio file on the iPod. You get the idea.
The price for this piece of innovation? $24.95. (Available in white, of course.) They'll fly off the shelves.
Now, not including the market for Macintosh software (since every platform has its third-party software developers), what do you think the market for aftermarket Mac and iPod products could be? Millions? Billions? As much as the market for iPods themselves?
Probably, although it would be difficult for the casual observer to divine accurate numbers.
What's next in The Apple Economy? Well, Apple just announced two new important products: the iPod Shuffle and the Mac mini. The obvious product introductions might include:
- Various cases for the iPod Shuffle
- A carrying case for the Mac mini. Think about it: this machine is so small, you could carry it back and forth between your office and home, connecting it to a monitor mouse, keyboard and power supply in each location.
- A "dock" for the Mac mini. Because if you carry your Mac mini back and forth between two locations, connecting those external devices each time becomes tedious and inconvenient.
- "Risers" for the Mac mini, so you can place the unit under your display.
I'm sure a couple of smart people in a room could riff on these ideas - and a host of others - to come up with some interesting products. (In fact, I know some who already have.) All it takes is an innovative idea, a keen sense of design, some starter capital and some business know-how and you, too, can carve out your piece of The Apple Economy.
I picked up my Christmas present yesterday night: a silver iPod mini.
What a major upgrade from my 2G iPod. Some people may find my comment about an "upgrade" to be a bit innaccurate. I mean, my 2G iPod has a 10 GB drive while the mini has only a 4 GB drive.
It's not about the drive.
See, I use my iPod not only for music and audiobooks, but I also sync my calendar, tasks, contacts and reference notes with it. It's basically my PDA.
Yes, I know I can't enter data like a Palm or Windoze CE device, but I realized years ago that I don't really need to enter data into my PDA - recording my notes on paper, then updating my calendar when I get back to my desk has become a habit and works just fine.
With that in mind, the iPod mini form factor just rocks. The form factor, coupled with the most recent version of the iPod software makes the use of this device a pleasure.
I'll sell my 2G iPod on eBay with some accessories and basically the purchase of the mini will be a wash.
When making a purchase like this, you have to take into account more than just the cost of the iPod itself. First, there's the Applecare extended warranty for $59.95 - a must.
Now, I also need a protective case (or two) and a car charger.
For my everyday case, I don't want anything bulky - I want to be able to continue to put the mini in my pocket. The iSkin seems to fit this need well.
For mountain biking. I'll need something more protective, with a clip. The Marware SportSuit mini will work great - I have the original SportSuit for my 2G.
The car charger will definitely be an upgrade. The TuneBase not only charges the device, but also acts like a mount for use while driving. It's much better than sticking it in my cup holder.
And since I can actually now take advantage of the convenience, I'm going to get the new Griffin SmartDeck which will allow me to control the operation of the iPod through the tape deck controls, which are on the steering wheel of my Passat.
There's nothing like a new gadget to excite the senses...
I'm on the hunt for some live blogging of Steve Jobs' Macworld Keynote today.
So far I've found:
- The MacMind
- Laurie Duncan from TUAW will be live from the floor
- Leo Laporte will be blogging from MacWorld. On a Sidekick. Using IRC.
- An unknown SpyMac member
- Keynote User
If you have any others, please share.
Update 2: The Mac Observer has set up a page on a secondary server to handle the load.
Update 3: The TMO site is hosed and slashnet is just groaning from the onslaught of people attempting to connect to the MacMerc IRC channels.
Seth Godin ponders whether high-end research reports can be sold online through traditional ecommerce channels, particularly in formats that are usually free. (In this case, PDF.)
This makes me wonder: is there a market for selling this content in another format? For instance, audiobooks. In case you haven't figured it out from my previous posts, I love 'em, particularly downloadable audiobooks from Audible.
Would busy executives be interested in downloading spoken word versions of recent research reports, to review while commuting or travelling? Of course, you'd have to provide a way for this audience to retrieve the diagrams and other supporting pretty pictures that make these reports compelling. However, given the controlled DRM of the Audible file format, I think the idea might have some merit.
Or, this could just be an instance where I'm blogging before having a sufficient amount of caffeine in the morning...
Regardless I'd love some feedback on this. Could it work? Would you like this kind of content in spoken word format?
Subscription or Free? Free or Subscription? That's the basic question that both the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are asking according to a Reuters article. (via MarketingVox)
The Times is considering offering more or all of its content on a subscription basis. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger is concerned that "...we're training an entire generation of readers to get quality information for free. That's troubling."
The Journal on the other hand, is concerned that their subscription based model could limit their potential for ad dollars. For instance, The Times has a audience that is 20 times the size of The Journal which The Times can turn into significant advertising revenue now that the advertising market is coming back.
As a loyal subscriber of the Journal online, I think the advertising model that The Times is using is more effective in terms of reach.
A closed publishing system limits your reach - especially in the landscape of search and blogs, which is a self-feeding system. Open publishing of news content begets blog posts which beget links which improves your PageRank, which creates more links, which provides more ad inventory, etc.
Of course, if The Journal moves to an open model, that gives me an additional $6.95 each month to spend at the iTunes Music Store... ;)
Google changed its policy regarding affiliates and their ability to market via Google AdWords.
Beginning later this month, only a single ad from a single affiliate will be visible for a product or service alongside a company's own advertising. This will be based on the affiliates Ad Rank. Google said that it will "improve relevance".
While I might agree with their point concerning relevance, it more grossly effects 1) the revenues of top affiliates and ; 2) the companies who rely on those affiliates to generate sales.
It was affiliate marketing guru Beth Kirsch that brought this to my attention. According to Beth, it's possible for a top affiliate to generate millions of dollars in revenue for the companies they represent - and possibly create millions for themselves - through arbitrage. Read her take on it here.
It's going to be interesting to see if companies go to the mat for their affiliates and lobby Google on their behalf. (Which might prove fruitless, anyway...)
The only challenge? Getting my calendar and contacts onto my iPod. So far I've found a couple of options.
The first is from AppleScripter Paul Berkowitz. Paul has created two scripts for this purpose: the aptly named "Sync Entourage - Address Book" and "Sync Entourage - iCal". Both are shareware and each cost $19 which includes lifetime updates and bug fixes.
The second is iPod It from ZappTek which costs $14.95. I'm unsure if that includes updates.
Right now I'm trying out Paul's scripts. The iCal script worked perfectly and I'm in the middle of an Address Book sync. My guess is that it will work fine, too.
Update: It also worked perfectly.
That said, iPod It may be the winner, even though I haven't tried it yet.
Here's my thinking:
Paul's scripts require three steps: 1) Sync Entourage with iCal; 2) Sync Entourage with Address Book; 3) Sync iCal and Address Book with the iPod.
iPod It performs a sync in one action AND it will also transfer Tasks, Notes and Email. Plus, it's GUI is a lot friendlier than Paul's AppleScript installer. Finally, it's less expensive ($14.95 vs. $38).
ZappTek also makes iPod Launcher - automated iPod detection software which integrates completely with iPod It. So, you never have to remember to sync your data again: each time you plug in your iPod, it automatically syncs with Entourage. Very cool.
So, providing I'm happy with the results, a purchase of iPod It and iPod Launcher will likely be in my future.
Update: Or not. I found some inconsistencies with the calendar sync.
For instance, it has today's 10 AM appointment listed three times in my schedule. I think it has to do with the classification of the event.
iPod It imports calendars based on their category. For reasons yet unknown, it has my 10 AM appointment listed once in each of my "Work," "Other" and "Weather" calendars. (I chose to sync weather reports, too.) So, when I view "All" calendars in a single instance, the calendar event shows up three times.
I'll have to see if I can make some adjustments to get it functioning properly
Is this some new type of blogging about your food consumption? Uh, no. (But I had a deep dish pizza and a salad, if you care...)
Sometimes, the only way I can get into writing is to get out of the office. Right now, I'm working on-site at a client's offices and the best place to eat and write seems to be Pizzeria Uno. There's no wi-fi, but I find that being disconnected helps keep me focused on the topic at hand.
So, in addition to responding to email and writing articles, I can squeak in a couple of things I've been meaning to post - all while managing to eat a decent meal.
(Note to self: Next time, put your Powerbook away before you eat the saucy pizza...)
Stemming from the manifesto came a book of the same name (which I'm listening to now) and from that comes Locke's book, "Gonzo Marketing". Gonzo Marketing delves more deeply into the concept of helping corporations acquire what he and his manifesto-writing brethren refer to as "Voice".
Voice is about the unfiltered tone, manner and humanity of individual conversations happening on the Internet and the participants within them. He insists that corporations don't have "Voice" as they are faceless, soulless, non-human entities. For the most part, he's right.
He postulates on ways for corporations to acquire Voice, but also ways for them to exercise their Voice in relevant communities of interest on the Internet, and how this participation contributes to their bottom line. He also delves into the financial aspects of this community participation through a not-so-traditional model of "underwriting."
It's a short (2.5 hour) audiobook and well-worth the mind expansion. It's also available as a book.