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Review: Jony Ive by Leander Kahney

I don’t usually find books about Apple to be quotable. There are certainly some interesting anecdotes and observations but few appeal to the analytical mind. The popular books on Apple have tended to cover what close watchers have already known and are thus compilations with few revelations.

This is not the case with Leander Kahney’s book on Ive. It certainly is the best compilation of detail on product development at Apple during the Ive years (and some time before.) Moreover, it’s also filled with choice insights into the process of development.

This process-orientation is what makes the book stand out for me personally. There are character observations and personality intrigues but they are not the main focus or ambition for the author. Rather, as befits the book’s subject, there is an exposition of detail about how things are done. It’s not a complete exposition–nor can there be one–but it goes much further than any other Apple book I’ve read.

For this reason I found myself tweeting quite a few quotes from the book. Here are some examples:

“In a company that was born to innovate, the risk is in not innovating. The real risk is to think it is safe to play it safe” – Jony Ive

“Scott Forstall wasn’t allowed to visit. His badge wouldn’t even open the door.”

“Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation” - Steve Jobs

“I have seen buildings where, as far as the eye can see, you see machines carving, mostly aluminum.”

“I do not want any of my guys thinking about cost. They should not care…that is not their job”

“The thing is, you could transplant me and this design group to another place and we wouldn’t work at all”

“they wanted to give PowerPoint presentations, but Jobs quickly banned them. He saw PowerPoints as rambling and nonsensical”

The book mostly follows Ive’s career with chapters covering most significant episodes chronologically, however there are deep dives into the “how” rather than just the “what” happened. There is a hint of causality rather than correlation between events and outcomes.

For example, there is a mesmerizing description of the actual Apple design studio even though it has never been depicted in any public photo or video or diagram. There is a great attention paid to manufacturing and materials, as indeed there should be if talking about Apple design (but not necessarily if talking solely about design in general.)

There is an amazing revelation of the existence of the “ANPP” or the Apple New Product Process. This process directs the “extreme detail [for] every stage of product development”. The presence of such a “giant checklist” implies a degree of process and rigor which is in contrast to the “heroic” effort that prevails in popular folklore about how Apple develops its products.

If there was one disappointment it was that I felt as if half was missing. The half which would tie the dots together and see where they might lead. But that’s perhaps too much to ask for what is essentially a biography of an individual rather than a company.

Nevertheless, for anyone interested in the process of innovation that remains Apple’s principal asset, Jony Ive, The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products by Leander Kahney is available at the iBookstore.

The billion dollar hobby

During the latest shareholder meeting Tim Cook revealed that Apple TV sales were above $1 billion in the last fiscal year (ending September 2013). The company later clarified that this figure includes device and content sales.

This poses a problem. In previous statements the company cited device (unit) shipments rather than value. The statements made to date suggested that cumulative volume of 3rd (current) generation Apple TV totaled 6 million units as of January 1, 2013.

The following graph includes an estimate of quarterly Apple TV sales based on comments made to date.

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 3-2-8.07.43 PM

As there were no additional comments during 2013, the “Billion Dollar” quote is all we have to go with for the year.  The problem with trying to separate content from hardware is complicated by several factors:

Horace Dediu drops in to chat on MWC 2014

It’s a good thing Horace Dediu got ready to start our Mobile World Congress #MWC14 tweetchat #IBMMWCChat on 2/24 a few minutes early – because as usual, the dialogue took off fast and went full steam ahead for an hour. Here is our basic topic list (ordering is mine, chat was slightly different)

  • Android Commoditization
  • Nokia,
  • Microsoft and Google
  • The OS, The Platform and the Ecosystem
  • Tizen
  • Wearables
  • Monetize This
  • The Operator Challenge
  • Nest again
  • The odds and endings

Read Tweet transcript here: Horace Dediu @Asymco drops in to chat on #MWC14 | Electronics industry.

The Critical Path #112: Business Model Diversification

We examine Facebooks acquisition of Whatsapp: What’s being acquired? Resources, processes or values? We also begin a look at The Capitalists Dilemma.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #112: Business Model Diversification.

Nokia welcomes Android developers

Barcelona, Spain – Today at Mobile World Congress, Nokia unveiled five new affordable handsets including a new family of smartphones debuting on the Nokia X software platform. Based on the Android Open Source Project AOSP, and backed by Nokias deep ties with operators, the Nokia X platform gives AndroidTM developers the chance to tap into, and profit from, a rapidly expanding part of the market.

via Nokia welcomes Android developers; expands global developer footprint with momentum across Lumia and Asha » Nokia – Press.

It’s worth remembering the distinction between operating systems, platforms and ecosystems.

Today’s announcement is consistent with the declaration of Nokia is engaged in a “war of ecosystems.” Note that this is in contrast to “a war of platforms” or a “battle of operating systems” or a “competition of devices.”

Devices are commoditizing, operating systems are commodities and the Android platform is a commodity. Value will not be captured in any of these technology modules. Ecosystems are another matter. It’s where Facebook (and its acquisitions) reside. It’s where Google lives and it’s where iTunes has been for a decade.

Nokia’s adoption of AOSP as an operating system is consistent with the ecosystem strategy set forth three years ago, and is also consistent with Microsoft’s competitive strategy.

Which is why I believe Microsoft is not only comfortable with this development but had agreed to it over a year ago when work on this initiative was already well under way.

Asymcar 10: Asleep at the switch

The orthodox vs. the unorthodox: Tata, Tesla and Toyota. Why might an asymmetric competitor lose and a symmetric competitor win?

We begin with Tesla and Apple. We continue with aluminum vehicles and re-visit information asymmetry as Horace exploits it to buy a Mercedes on eBay.

We talk about car APIs (Aux input jack and ODBII) and much, much more.

A brief discussion considers the perils of endless line extension up and down the market, perhaps fueled by financialization.

This is a good one.

Asymcar 10: Asleep at the switch | Asymcar.

Sponsor: Campaign Monitor

Designing emails that look beautiful, render perfectly and drive strong response is increasingly difficult. That’s why Campaign Monitor compiled the top 100 emails of 2013 into a free eBook, alongside tips on design and content. The Top 100 Email Marketing Campaigns eBook features brands like Fitbit, SmugMug, Panic and includes:

  • Highly performing newsletters with open rates of more than 50%.
  • Examples of great layouts & responsive designs.
  • Emails that go against best practices and still drive top results.
  • Campaigns that saw open rates improve by 20% after A/B testing, and more.

Check out the free eBook at campaignmonitor.com/top100.

Campaign Monitor makes software that lets you create and send beautiful emails. Today more than 800,000 designers, agencies, and amazing companies across the globe rely on Campaign Monitor to manage their email marketing.

The price is right

One of the axioms of hardware business is that prices fall over time. The consumer price index for personal computers and peripheral equipment from 1998 to 2014 is shown below:

CUUR0000SEEE01_Max_630_378

The price index suggests that prices for computers should be 54% of 2007 levels. Charles Arthur illustrated this on a global basis using a separate set of data.

The data shows that the weighted average selling price (ASP) of a PC has fallen from $614.60 in the first quarter of 2010 to just $544.30 in the third quarter of 2013, the most recent date for which data is available.

Airshow London, Wednesday Feb 26, 2014

We will be conducting our 8th Airshow event in London next Wednesday, 26 February 2014.

Airshow

The purpose of Airshow is to:

  • Understand how data can be used to persuade through an appeal to logic as well as through empathy.
  • Understand the basics of “data cinematicism” including the techniques analogous to cinematography and direction.
  • Understand story development techniques including how to facilitate the audience’s entry into the story.
  • Learn how to build a cinematic presentation.

The method we devised borrows heavily from the techniques of cinematography and screenwriting to impart meaning to the audience beyond the literal words spoken or images shown on screen. These techniques are demonstrated with “feature presentations” and then deconstructed in interactive lectures. Throughout we also weave Aristotelian rhetorical tips and present from the Asymco repertoire of stories.

Few seats remain. Discounted registrations are available for readers of this blog, and students.

A margin of error

Prior to Apple’s earnings report I read at least one article suggesting that the most important indicator to watch was Apple’s margin. I suppose this was due to a recent decline in margins from a peak gross margin of 47.4% in Q1 2012 to 36.7%.

As the graph below shows, margins began to recover by Q3 2013 and are nearly on par with year-ago levels.

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 10.32.50 AM

The guidance for the present quarter is a gross margin between 37% and 38%. This would imply a flat q/q GM line (blue line above.)

This is not quite catastrophic.

To better understand margins, it helps to compare them with other companies. When Apple reached that peak of near 50% gross margin I noted that such a level was higher than Microsoft’s and Google’s. The irony being that Apple was nominally an (implied) low-margin hardware company while Microsoft was an (implied) high-margin software company and Google was an (implied) high-margin internet services company.

Here is the picture with the last two years added: