Monday, January 21, 2008

I feel sorry for Steve Jobs. Seriously.

As I mentioned earlier, I felt that CES was a bit underwhelming this year, and that like lots of folks, I was eagerly looking forward to Macworld. Since I'd never attended Macworld, I wasn't entirely certain what to expect; knowing how much buzz recent Steve Jobs keynotes have generated, I was expecting the show to be as buzz-heavy as Jobs' addresses.

I'm sure that I'll be pilloried by the Apple fanboy crowd for this statement, but I was pretty underwhelmed by Macworld, too. If you're an Apple fan, work with me. And if you're not, stick with me...I have a point.

Macworld made me no promises. Whatever expectations I had for the show were created entirely in my own mind, based largely on Steve Jobs' ability to generate buzz. So, if I thought Macworld didn't deliver, it didn't deliver solely based on the fact that I didn't have a realistic expectation going in.

Anyone who's been in sales or marketing learns at some point in their career (the earlier the better) relevant metrics for promise and delivery. Over the years, I'd like to believe that I've pretty well learned to underpromise and overdeliver. Setting a realistic customer expectation is oh-so-important from a credibility standpoint, both as individuals within an organization, and as an organization as a whole.

If I was disappointed by the show, well, it's not the show's fault--Macworld didn't promise me a free Mac, a free iPhone, or exhibitors giving away winning lottery tickets. *I'm* the one who had a given expectation that wasn't met, through no other fault than my own.

Well, guess what? Lots of folks have criticized Steve Jobs (and Apple) for his announcements (or lack thereof) this week. AAPL is down ~10% from Monday's close, based largely on the fact that Tuesday's keynote didn't deliver anything as earth-shattering as the iPhone. The bummer from Apple's standpoint is that Jobs didn't make any promises on which he underdelivered. In fact, he didn't make any promises at all--which is responsible for at least some of the stock sell-off, I'm sure. As a guy who was away from the cult of Mac for 13 years, I'm amused by the number of Mac rumor-mongering sites which try to read the tea leaves in terms of Apple's product direction. Heck, back in the late 80s, all we could hope for as Mac users was getting a coffee mug from giving a good tip to the Mac the Knife column in MacWeek (a.k.a. MacLeak).

I have to laugh at some of the items people are dissing Steve Jobs about for not announcing. I mean, c'mon people...who in their right mind would build WiMax into a laptop right now? There's precious little infrastructure in place to support WiMax, so giving up a socket to a chipset which would be utilized by some tiny portion of users would be silly. Is that a risk a Lenovo or a Dell could take? Sure--they could do so in order to both demonstrate some Apple-type chutzpah and to appeal to their corporate customers. But, Apple doesn't need to do the former, and they have (as a percentage) few of the latter.

But if you look at what Apple *did* announce this week, people should be every bit as excited from a consumer standpoint as they were about the iPhone, maybe more so. Why? Well, Apple threw down the gauntlet with the introduction of the iPhone; we as consumers are already benefiting from the imitators, some of which look like decent handsets in their own right. Billboards on both sides of 101 are lousy with ads for devices trying to be the next iPhone, even though I'm sure their usability pales in comparison to the iPhone. We'll see exactly the same thing happen as the Macbook Air pretenders hit the market over the next six months.

Ironically, having the chance to hold the Macbook Air in my own hands at Macworld confirmed for me that even though it's a lust-worthy item, I wouldn't be ordering one. I've been holding off buying a new laptop the last few months, solely based on what Jobs would announce in his keynote. Hmmm...a 12" or 13" Macbook Pro? That would've been worth the wait. But, a slim and sexy machine with an 80 gig hard drive and a whole bunch of missing ports? Not for me. Do I feel disappointed that I didn't get what I was hoping for? do so many analysts, stockholders, and Mac fans. But, I highly doubt anyone in those three groups are abandoning Apple or questioning their support of the company.

Nor am I. I left Macworld, drove down to the Apple store in Palo Alto, and bought a black 13" Macbook with a 160 gig hard drive and 1 gig of RAM (and a full complement of ports and a SuperDrive). Next stop was Fry's, where I paid $100 for 4 gigs of RAM (rather than the mind-boggling $850 premium Apple charges you to go from 1 to 4 gigs of RAM). 10 minutes after getting home, I had a machine that was exactly what I was looking for, for less than the price of the (under-kitted) Macbook Air.

And you know what? That's okay. If the Macbook Air isn't right for a lot of folks in version 1.0, we can wait till 2.0. When Air 2.0 ships, I'm sure I'll be kicking myself for having bought this particular Macbook. Also, who's to say that a DuoDock-type dock for the Air isn't right around the corner, but wasn't ready for primetime? You wanna talk about the *perfect* application for an ultra-wideband docking station? The Macbook Air is it.

But I didn't expect Steve Jobs to announce a UWB dock, just as I didn't expect him to announce the very cool Time Capsule, or the equally cool refocusing of the AppleTV as AppleTV Take Two. I didn't go in with unrealistic expectations, although I would've liked to have seen a 12" Macbook Pro. I came away from the show a little underwhelmed, but I wouldn't exactly call myself bummed.

Most importantly, I still ran out and gave Apple my money, which is the biggest vote of confidence a consumer can offer. Not that Steve needs any more cash, but he has mine, and my sympathy.

For a guy who tries like heck to not set any customer expectations prior to his keynotes, he was hung with the tag of underdelivery this year, even though he promised nothing.

For that, I feel sorry for him...even though he did win a Crunchie.

1 comment:

  1. You make some very salient points, but the one that struck the strongest chord was near the end, where you mentioned the old DuoDock (I still have a couple).

    There is a company who has been making 3rd-party docks for a while, and they even make one for your new MacBook (in black, yet!) here

    So, my bet would be that the BookEdnz folks are already working on plans for an AirDock, even if they are still waiting to get their hands on one. Look for that announcement around March or April. (There, I've even started another MacRumor! ;-)