Interesting post: Amazon Just Beat Apple to the Classroom, on Gizmodo. I’ve been following ebooks and textbooks for more than 10 years now, expecting disruption. Textbooks are obsolete. It should have happened years ago. And there’s a lot going on now, but classrooms are still the same.
In this one, post author Brian Barrett starts by quoting himself from a few months back after Apple presented an iPad solution to classroom learning and textbooks. Brian said then:
Let’s be clear; this is indisputably the future. What we saw today is what our classrooms will look like once iPads are far cheaper, once digital textbooks can be handed down as easily as physical ones, once teachers of every subject have several educational material options to choose among. For now though, it’s important to remember that “new” and “different” always come at a premium. One that the vast majority of us can’t afford.
Brian says that’s as true today as it was then, but …
But look at how Amazon’s offerings have grown since then. A backpack-friendly 7-inch tablet for $160 (and E-ink technology has progressed enough that you could probably make due with a $70 entry-level model). A Kindle eTextbook service that’s ballooned to over 200,000 titles, with generous return policies and cash-saving rental options. And a platform ubiquity that ensures no kid gets left out, regardless of what device he or she owns
And then this, on Whispercast:
But today’s announcement of its Whispercast technology seems to solve problems Apple hadn’t even thought of.
Whispercast is a free service that serves as an umbrella for many, many Kindle management features, but most of all it provides the kind of centralized control over devices that are a luxury for businesses and a necessity for schools. Content distribution, social media and purchase blockades, password protection, document sharing; there couldn’t be a more teacher-friendly checklist.
Sigh … I guess that’s good news. But it’s sad, at least in some ways, that control, blockades, and protection are barriers to better technology in schools. I can see why — lawsuits, fanatics, porn, bullying, and so forth — but still. Damn.
(Complete aside: I like the lead from a writing point of view. Here’s Brian’s first sentence from today’s post:
On a freezing, cloudless day last January in New York, Apple presented to the world its vision for the future of education.
The freezing cloudless day has nothing to do with the rest of the post, but it’s an interesting start.)
Two interesting milestones: a note last week that Ebook Sales Surpass Hardcover in the U.S. coupled with the fact that digital music overtook physical media for the first time in 2011, something I expected since 1998. In both cases what surprises me is not that it happened, but how long it took. And what interests me is who makes the money on timing these trends. Because it sure wasn’t the first mover.
I posted about this in Who Makes the Money on An Inevitable Shoe Dropping earlier this week on the gust.com blog. I was an early adopter in both these markets. I bought the Rocket eBook Reader in 1999. I bought the Diamond Rio mp3 player in 1998. Both products were first movers, innovative leaders, but they were brought out well before the right time. Both were discontinued years ago. And, I think but can’t prove, both were business failures.
What does this tell about first-mover advantage? The ebook reader finally took off roughly 10 years later when Amazon.com and Apple converged on it with hardware and content. The mp3 player took off just a couple of years after the Diamond Rio.
What happened? The tipping point happened. And the first-mover advantage didn’t. Why not? What do you think?
Whoops. It suddenly occurred to me: the old Mac-Windows rivalry is dead. There goes a bit of industry history.
It used to be fun, back in the old days, when it mattered. If you’re old enough you’ll remember the famous 1984 Macintosh ad. I was generally forgiven by the Mac zealots for my weakness for Windows, but only because I also used Macs and recognized their superiority. My Mac friends treated my sympathy for Windows systems as a forgivable flaw in my character.
I used to tell this modified version of an old joke:
Somebody dies and goes to heaven. On arrival, St. Peter gives him the quick tour of the place. As they go through heaven from place to place, they look at the mall, the school, the park … and they keep seeing a high wall on one side or the other. Finally, the new arrival can’t resist asking: “What’s with the wall?” St. Peter Answers: “That’s where we keep the Mac users. They like to think they’re the only ones here.”
I like Apple. I consulted with Apple from 1982 to 1994. Apple loaned me an Apple II in 1983 and a Macintosh early in 1984. I wrote the first book laid out on an AppleLaserWriter (at least according to me and McGraw-Hill Microtext, the publisher). As a consultant to Apple, I worried as Windows started to effectively imitate the Mac — not that it was as good, but it was good enough to fool a buyer in a store. And it was personally painful to me when the Windows system so dominated business computing, the late 1990s and early 2000s, that we (temporarily) dropped our Mac business plan product. We really had to. By 2000 a Mac product was costing ten times more than Windows to develop, and its market was about ten times less than Windows. Business is business.
By 2004 my computing was all Windows. And at that point my computing was all Windows. It wasn’t torture. Windows worked. I use a computer to get things done, and Windows did. I may have still preferred Mac, but hey, business is business.
And then the Mac came back. We saw them first in airports, the MacBooks, silently gaining strength and visibility. Then there was the iPhone, and more MacBooks. And then the gorgeous new iMacs. I taught an entrepreneurship class at the University of Oregon from 1998 through 2009. In the beginning all my students had Windows laptops. By the end, 80% of them were on Macs.
Once again, being Mac literate is good business. At Palo Alto Software, our LivePlan SaaS app is browser-based, operating system neutral, and developed mostly on Macs. And Mac software, and the Mac software market, are growth markets again. The app store works. Happy ending.
So now I’m almost all Mac again. I have two iMacs at home, a MacBook air, and iPhone and iPad, and I love it. An old friend. Isn’t computing great? And my Windows 7 desktop, in the office at the company, still works just fine too, thanks. It’s not good and evil, just computing.
Big squashes little. The elephant steps on a mouse and kills it, but never even notices. We stop on ants on the sidewalk without realizing.
You can probably think of a lot of these cases.
I had a friend who rode a big wave in the late 1980s with a PC-compatible add-on board that enabled a PC to send a fax as easily as printing a document. It was a huge win. Millions of dollars were made. Then Microsoft added a fax facility into a new version of Windows. Pop, crackle, snap.
At about the same time, there was a company in Canada that had a huge business selling compression software that worked with PCs. Then Microsoft bundled compression into a new version of Windows. Pop, crackle, snap.
When you’re starting your business, does “company culture” have an impact in your business plan? Do you start your “culture” when the company is small and create one that will easily expand as your company expands. How important is that type of thing as you go forward (in picking your employees, in the benefits you offer, etc)
To me company culture is something that exists only when you’re not looking. It comes up a lot in articles and stories about business, but rarely in real life. Consultants see it. It makes some things easier, some harder. It exists,and it sometimes matters, but it’s not something you can grab a hold of.
While it’s important, it’s not something you can plan on and track. As you start a new company, and more so as it grows, company culture will be formed around the decisions you make. As more people come on board, your personal role in culture diminishes, and it ends up being a lot a matter of who you hired.
Company culture isn’t what you say nearly as much as what you do. Who gets the raise or promotion, and why; what happens at the meetings; what values you respect; and group dynamics. You can influence it, but not with plans or promises, just with actions. It’s all those decisions that you make, and, quite often, things as hard to influence as the expression on your face at random times.
The best positive example of company culture I’ve ever heard of was when Eli Halliwell of Jurlique told a group I was in how he built that company around values. It’s focused on natural organic cosmetics. Eli told a Princeton Entrepreneurship Network group that the common bond among his early team members was believing in the importance of the mission. He said that made the company stronger. But he didn’t refer specifically to “company culture.” And he didn’t imply that he’d set out to do that from the beginning. It sounded like he was saying it happened naturally.
I ran into big-time company culture in the 1980s when I was consulting with Apple Computer and the team I worked with established a strategic alliance with Xerox. I traveled with the Apple group to visit Xerox headquarters in Connecticut. The two groups were very different in management style and background, even dress, and the buzzwords and phrases they used. However, it was interesting more for curiosity value than anything else. It didn’t affect the business one way or another.
So it’s there, after a while, but it’s really hard to purposely influence. And I don’t think you do much with it in your planning, simply because it won’t work. It’s a lot like parenting: it’s what you do over the long term in all those collected moments of decision, not what you say. Trying to plan company culture reminds me of coolness as explained by one of my daughters when she was a teenager.
“Dads,” she said “are by definition not cool. And the more you try to be cool, the less you are.”
You may – just a chance, not a certainty – be able to talk about it later, when it’s established. But in your business plan, the most you can do is define the values you think are important. Then try to remember them every day from then on.
What a shame. Although we all like neatly packaged stories — heroes and villains, good vs. evil, David vs. Goliath — it’s rarely that simple.
For example, late last year there was what seemed to be a great David vs. Goliath story about this inventor guy who teaches at Yale getting $625 million from Apple Computer for violating his patents. Or so it seemed to me, that is, until I read that this happened in Tyler, Texas. The world capital of patent trolls.
What’s up with that? Well you might want to read Apple Don’t Go to Court in Tyler, Texas from back in 2008. Or better yet, this description published last year by Tyler Directory, a local publication:
What happens is a company buys up some patents that they already know are being infringed upon with the express purpose of making income through litigation. These patent trolls do not wish to make something with the patent they bought but are looking to sue as many large corporations as they can.
This patent trolling makes millions and millions of dollars for these companies as well as their lawyers. Not only does the patent troll need to open up a business in Tyler or East Texas to pursue litigation here but their lawyer must be local counsel.
In this case, I’m afraid, whatever the merits of the case, the David took the Goliath to a drastically slanted playing field. You could read this 2006 piece in TechDirt on the same phenomenon. East Texas loves patent trolls.
The inventor in this case, David Gelernter, seems easy to like. He says it’s not about the money …
Before the verdict was announced Gelernter spoke to the blog BigThink about the case: “[It’s] not because of the money, but because of the deliberate failure to acknowledge work that we would have made freely available as academics. …. We’d like to see credit where credit is due.”
It all sounds good to me. Except then he went and set up an office in East Texas, pretty damn far from Yale, to sue in East Texas patent troll heaven.
But wait — is he wrong to do what optimizes his chances to win? After all, if I owned a patent, and I wanted payback from a large company, I’d go to East Texas with it too. I’d do what makes me most likely to win. But I’ve seem some horrifically unreasonable patent troll lawsuits win money. That, in my opinion, is money for nothing. And I assume the lawyers get huge chunks of it too. It seems ugly.
It’s not like I don’t know how to read around this, but with all the slickness of the iPhone, why allow this simple error? The high for the day is 92 degrees when the current temperature is 100 degrees? Isn’t that just sloppy?
There is no computer language that doesn’t have an IF- THEN clause capable of making this look good. Call the high temperature that was there when we started the day H, and the actual temperature A. I don’t program iPhones but whoever does has the ability to do this:
If A > H, then H = A
Which would replace the 92 with the 100. Why not? Wouldn’t that look better? What bothers me is my own in-my-mind related if-clause:
If a logical error like this one, as obvious as this one is, shows up in this obvious a place, what’s going on with the system software in the core?
Software does have its production values, and it’s not like Apple Computer doesn’t have the resources. My guess is they’ve decided to let us keep the predicted high as a reference value, so we can compare it to the actual. Still, is it just me?
I’m writing this post from a hotel in San Francisco, using my new 3G iPad (propped against the wall on the desk) and an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
This was supposed to be a quick trip, Friday to Monday, helping my youngest daughter move from Palo Alto to San Francisco. It was going to be a lot of work, leaving not a lot of time for blogging, browsing, or email. And the iPad, although not as useful as a normal laptop, is so much more fun. And I’ve already done one week-long trip carrying both the iPad and a MacBook Air, which felt like some sort of ironic defeat of cool new technology. So I decided to do this one with just the iPad, no laptop.
Here are some random discoveries I’ve decided to share:
The iPad is irresistibly entertaining. Maps, apps, videos, books, and I haven’t even got a single game, but it’s still that entertaining. I’m not sure it’s a business tool, but it’s definitely a delightful travel companion.
The battery life is sensational. It really does last like 10 hours.
The Bluetooth keyboard turns this iPad into an acceptable writing instrument. I’m a touch typist (does anybody use that phrase anymore?) and I almost think with my fingers on the keyboard. The iPad built-in keyboard is an acceptable compromise for data input and quick emails, but I need the tactile feel of the keyboard to write. And it fits in my backpack well enough.
I wish they’d add a Bluetooth mouse. I’ve read about somebody setting up a mouse to go with the keyboard to turn the iPad into a small laptop; but that required jailbreak and I don’t have the heart to do that with a brand new iPad.
I love the 3G. Usually I buy the $10-$15 per day Internet connection in the hotel, it’s a business expense, so it’s a no brainer. But because of the moving work, I didn’t even get back to the hotel until past 8 p.m., and I intend to leave first thing in the morning. So with the 3G I saved my company $12.95. My daughter’s new apartment doesn’t have the Internet connection set up yet, but with the 3G, we were still able to browse the Web for information.
I’m running into a lot of problems with the Safari browser on the iPad. A lot of things don’t work well. For example, in a previous hotel I needed to scroll a window of text to accept the hotel’s conditions for free wireless. On a laptop, it would have scrolled the text to the end and popped up a button to click for acceptance. The iPad wouldn’t scroll the window, so I couldn’t get the free Internet. Flash-based maps (and there are a lot of them) don’t work. It can be frustrating.
I love the pricing of iPad apps. I’m amazed that people complain about paid apps. The Apple word processing, spreadsheet, and slide deck apps are only $10 each. Mind mapping is $6. Guided navigation for $30. Lots of free apps. As a software entrepreneur, it scares me. As a user, it’s exciting.
The entertainment value, meaning the pure fun of iPad videos and books and apps and such, is unmistakable.
For real business, a laptop is better. The iPad doesn’t have multi-tasking, and doesn’t have a keyboard.
Conclusion: it’s a lot of fun. But it’s a luxury item, not a work tool.
I love it: now when I buy a Kindle book from Amazon.com, I can have it on my iPhone, my iPad, my Mac laptop, my Windows laptop, my Mac Desktop, or my Windows desktop.
This makes me feel like I really own the book. If I have a spare 10 minutes, just about wherever I am, I can read the book. It’s great usability. Great convenience.
And I love the business strategy implications. By making Kindle books available on every possible hardware device, Amazon chooses not to reserve them for people who buy the Kindle hardware. Is this a sacrifice? Helping competitors? Does the iPad make the Kindle less desireable? Yes? Does having Kindle books available on the iPad mean Amazon.com will sell more Kindle books? Yes.
On the long term, Amazon wins because it focuses on what it does really well. Kindle books become the standard. It’s called focus. And strategy is focus.