This week's news that Google is to create a new umbrella organisation called "Alphabet" raises a question about the Google brand. Splitting the Google company out into segments may well be the right corporate choice, but does it harm the values and identity of Google?
Firstly let me mention Apple (it is compulsory on this site!). Apple's brand identity and values inform so much about what it makes, how it acts and what it says. Apple rarely call it the Apple "brand" but Jobs and now Cook frequently speaks about the Apple way and how it approaches each decision in business. Some of the recent criticism of Apple Music focussed on how the service was confusing and possibly at times very un-Apple due to the complexity of the choices and the array of services (Apple Music, iTunes Match, iTunes Store etc).
This also relates to other aspects of the company. John Gruber, recently discussing appointments to the Apple board, said that : "The company attributes its profound success over the last 15 years to the Apple Way — and rightly so, I say. I doubt Apple’s board would consider an outsider as CEO until and unless the company falters significantly and loses its way."
This idea of an Apple "way" is what I would call the brand. A brand identity does not stop at the product or service, but should extend into every aspect of the decision-making process. This is certainly true for a company like Apple, which is a lifestyle brand. Apple can be in multiple markets such as PCs, tablets, phones, watches, cloud computing because their entry and their success in that area is informed by the core Apple brand. Their approach to each category is informed by their central values- taking a beautifully designed product or service to the consumer and making it as easy as possibly to understand and use. Excellence in product execution, delivery and support crosses all of Apple's markets. Apple rarely enters new markets, but when it does it is because it feels it can contribute to this category but remain true to its values.
Which leads us back to Google. Most of the income at Google comes from search. For me, Google is a science plan. In terms of its brand, it is clinical and accessible, but not loveable. Its values centre on efficiency and connectivity and when this is applied to search or maps they are highly effective. People use Google services because it is efficient and fast, not because they have a major loyalty to Google or feel close to its values.
So when it comes to splitting out the parts which make up the current Google structure, it is rather like splitting atoms or engineering components. Many of the elements in the current Google mix sit alongside their counterparts like odd ends in a box. Google search currently sits next to Maps, Android, Docs, Glass, YouTube and Gmail. The organisation feels like a collection of odds and ends, packaged together but not sitting neatly like bricks in a home. There is no strong central brand which holds these parts together.
It may well be argued by Google that they have brand values- I don't doubt for a second that they have spent time and money on this. But the brand identity is a lose collection of ideas- being unconventional, innovative and experimental all spring to mind. But does the customer care about this? Hardly. Cutting the existing Google into pieces and calling it Alphabet matters from a corporate point of view, but the consumer will continue to search and navigate with its products, almost unaware of any change.
In the end this is due to how the Google brand sits in the heart of the consumer- a change induces a shrug of the shoulders at best, mostly people won't even notice. Emotionally the brand is something of a blank canvas, an open toolbox for new concepts and products as time passes. Breaking these pieces apart would matter to Google if its brand had been developed in the way that Apple had; but this is not the case.
So while Google can be split into its constituent parts and renamed as Alphabet due to the openness of its brand identity, the danger lies in that those parts can also be replaced by consumers and perish without the customer feeling any sense of loss. In the fast moving world of technology, Google relies on superior function to keep users interested. It certainly can't depend on loyalty or passion for its brand values.
As a children's book author, I have been considering Apple's future options for iBooks and whether they would venture into the world of Windows or Android. After all, iTunes runs on Windows PC and Apple Music will be available on Android this Autumn, so why not iBooks on other non-Apple platforms?
But when I look closer at Apple's use of iBooks, I don't see this happening. Books is an interesting side-show for Apple and it fits nicely into content-consumption on the iPad and iPhone but it's not a core business. The iBooks Store arrived with the iPad, as Apple touted the virtues of books on the iPad for consumers and in education. But it is not central to Apple's business and so does not receive the attention that say the iTunes and Apple Music stores receive.
Anyone who has interacted with the iBooks team will also know that the number of people behind iBooks is relatively small. The changes in the iBooks Store over the years have been gradual but not revolutionary.
Instead, Apple see the iBooks app as an important piece inside iOS and OS X. The benefits of the iBooks app come as part of the operating system and the user experience on an iPad, iPhone or (recently) Mac, and launching a parallel experience for Windows and Android is not something Apple will do. iBooks is key to iOS/OS X, which in turn is part of the user experience on an Apple device. The message is- if you want to experience the iBooks app, buy an iPad, iPhone or Mac!
Adding iBooks to the Mac was a nice extra but it is a different experience to using it on an iPad and iPhone. iBooks is most at home on iOS and especially on the iPad, then possibly on an iPhone 6 Plus, with other platforms such as the Mac coming at the end. Putting it onto Windows or Android is a further step away from Apple's central aim here.
In the end, while I would like to see iBooks extended out beyond iOS and OS X, I can't see it happening. With my author hat on, it would be great to reach new audiences. But as a long-time Apple observer, it goes against Apple's aims for iBooks, which is to draw more people to buy the iPad and other hardware devices.
[Note- at time of publication, the iBooks Author page still has not been updated to show that iBooks Author books can be read on an iPhone: https://www.apple.com/ibooks-author/]
Looking back at the WWDC keynote, it is worth reflecting on what was good and what was not so great:
iOS 9: this looks like a solid upgrade. It will be free, will arrive in the late Autumn, and should help to make the iPad a more work-orientated device. The changes to the keyboard, such as new shortcuts when working with text, are very welcome. So too is the idea of the virtual trackpad. The iPad can be fiddly when working with text- my Mac is always my preferred machine for letters and documents. But these changes should help. I am typing this post on an iPad because I love its mobile capabilities which even the MacBook Air can't match. But typing does take longer on an iPad, and so anything to help is welcome.
The multitasking features such as the split screen looks great, but it was a pity that it will only be fully available on a new iPad Air 2. My iPad Air 1 feels a bit left out, and this may well be the inventive to drive new iPad sales (reasonably Apple's intention, given how slowly people upgrade iPads).
OS X 10.11: also looks like a slick update, with a real focus on stability and bug fixes. I love when Apple do this as it helps all users and solves a few headaches for me when teaching about the Mac.
Music: well, that was all a bit of a mess. It has been a long time since I groaned at the style of an Apple keynote, but this was pretty bad. It seemed chaotic, long, and without a real focus. I am also not sure that the Music app and streaming service will appeal to me. I can see how people like Spotify and Apple wish to get in on this game, but I will have to see what it is like when launched. It does not seem to be something I will be paying a monthly fee for. The three month free trial is a good hook though as I will certainly take a look.
Overall the keynote was way too long, and seemed to get out of control. Tim Cook started to run on and off stage towards the end and this gave the whole thing a panicked and rushed feel. It is a pity as I really liked the early part and the main iOS and OS X announcements. When it got to the Music section I nearly turned off. But overall the announcements set out an exciting set of changes for 2015-6.
Apple's developer conference, WWDC, is coming up next week with the keynote address on June 8th. Everyone should note that this event is geared towards developers and so some of the announcements are not focussed on consumers. Instead this event normally sets out the Apple agenda for the coming year, especially in terms of software.
One of the main parts of this will be the announcements on iOS 9 and OS X 10.11. Apple have committed themselves to a yearly upgrade schedule, and assuming this does not change, we will be introduced to a preview of the next versions. Expect to see information on items like CarPlay and HomeKit too, both aimed at the developer community. Showing off the new operating systems is key to working with the developer community.
However we are also likely to see the launch of two other item- the first is the revised iTunes and Beats Music service. Ever since Apple purchased Beats in 2014 it has been expected that we would see a revised service from Apple, including a music streaming service. It may be that we see this announced at WWDC but this could also come later in the year, which was traditionally the event when iPods, iPads or iPhones are launched. I expect to see an announcement at WWDC if Apple can get agreements in place with the record labels.
Apple TV will also be updated- the announcement earlier this year that the price of the current Apple TVs had dropped to a new low seemed to be a very strong hint of new hardware to come. A new Apple TV would also sit nicely next to a Beats music announcement, with a deal with other TV network operators likely. Apple announced a deal with HBO in March.
Don't expect much change in terms of Macs; the laptops have been updated recently. I expect the iMacs to be revised later this year and so one possibility is news on revised Mac Pros, something which might be appreciated by some developers.
Another intriguing piece of info would be the Watch OS- will Apple show off changes to Watch OS and announce new features? I expect to see Apple announce changes to attract high quality Watch apps and because this is the year of the Watch and Apple will be promoting these new features in the Christmas buying season.
Overall is is likely to be a tech-heavy keynote, setting out the software and a few hardware bits for the rest of 2015.
I have been playing around with the faces on the Apple Watch and so far I have settled on four favourites:
Simple : Chronology : Colour : Utility (below)
Having tried out a few of these and having tweaked them using the customisable options, it does seem that there is so much more that Apple can do here. Most of the faces above are quite similar and there does seem to be limitations on the design due to the battery life. For example, there is no way to choose a different colour background. So if you attempt to recreate a watch face from another manufacturer (such as the example below from Seiko) you will be out of luck:
Presumably a blue background would mean more battery power as the whole face would need to be lit in colour and this would reduce the number of hours that the Apple Watch would last. But as the Watch develops and the batteries improve this will surely be an area which Apple can develop.
Also when it comes to the face, it will be interesting to see if third parties will be allowed to have information displayed, such as a news headline at the bottom of the screen or a to-do item from your favourite reminder app. There are even parts of the Apple information which cannot appear here- one example is heart rate. For now you can only add time, world clocks, date, activity, battery level, moon phases, stopwatch, alarm, weather and stocks.
For now customising the Watch face seems limited and this is due to battery concerns. But it does mean that there will be a huge range of options which Apple can add in future updates or in the next generations of the Watch.
There are lots of third-party apps for the Apple Watch but many of them are simply an extension of the iPhone and have not thought out the Apple Watch design and screen.
Of the apps that I've tried so far, the best are the BBC News and Due. Due is a reminders app which is neatly displayed on screen and fills a gap given that the iOS Reminders app is not available on the Watch. It does what it should without giving too much clutter and provides simple notifications when a reminder is due. It is clean and unobtrusive and a useful example of a Watch app. BBC News also provides a few pieces of information with the current headlines and a short summary.
On the other side there are lots of quite useless apps, merely extensions of the iPhone version. Most of the Twitter apps don't make sense on the Watch- they seem to be there as a way to claim they have a Watch app, but with little functionality.
After my first 24 hours with the Watch, here is a list of likes and concerns so far:
- I bought a sports watch with the black rubber strap and it is very light and comfortable to wear. I gave up wearing a watch about 8 years ago and have been surprised at how unintrusive the Apple Watch feels on my wrist
- it looks good- a little thicker than my dream Apple Watch (!) but very neat and sleek
- I have been pleasantly surprised on how fast I have learnt the OS. I was expecting it to be more complex, probably due to the reviews I had read. But having watched the Apple videos in advanced, I have used the Watch without having to search for answers online. This may not be everyone's experience; I think it depends on expectations
- the packaging is a work of art, and the UK/IRL charger plug is brilliantly thought out
- my favourite parts of the OS are: the customisable clock faces, messages and answering calls!
- after 24 hours the battery stands at 40%. This is better than I expected. My iPhone battery is also higher at the end of the day as I spent less time using it- a lot less!
- the heart rate sensor is very interesting but I'm not sure I trust it just yet. A few readings were out of the general pattern for say an hour, and for no apparent reason. I am either doomed or the sensor can produce the odd glitch and we need to focus in the average. But overall I think it is a great health addition
- I like the activity features and how the Watch bugs me to be healthier. The prompt to stand up and move around may not be everyone's thing, but I like it
- best third party app so far- 1Password. A useful app where you can store a few crucial bits of info
- the best non-core Apple app has to be Remote- controlling my Apple TV from my wrist is very cool
- I thought that the charger would have a stronger magnetic attraction to the back of the Watch. It's not a major problem but I did find myself reattaching it a few times to be sure it was charging
- I'm not 100% convinced by the need for the Friends button- it might be somewhat handy, but a dedicated button for this? On the issue of buttons, I seem to be using the digital crown far less than iwas intended. Both buttons for me are a last resort
- not being able to reply to an email is disappointing. There may be very good reasons why it's not available as an option, but it seems like a gap in the features. I know this will disappoint some users
- I wish I could remove or hide some of the built-in apps to make the remaining apps on the app screen slightly larger. Right now those icons hover between usable and fiddly
- Siri has been almost good. But, for example, if there is a mistake in your message, you have to cancel and start the message again. It is not as effective as Siri on the iPhone
It will take a few days for me to have a fuller view on the Watch and how I will incorporate it into by daily routine, but so far it has been very useful. Plus it has kept me away from my iPhone and has saved time by allowing prompt responses to messages and quick reading of emails.
A big question for Apple Ireland In 2015 is- where will they decide to sell the Apple Watch (aside from the official Apple Online Store)?
There appears to be three choices:
In terms of presentation, it seems likely that they will go for the first group, but limit it to those with the space and staff to deal with sales. With 38 versions of the Watch, it seems likely that the Watch Edition will be a special order product and stores will focus on the more main stream versions: the Apple Watch Sport and the Apple Watch.
However given that Apple have done deals with fashion stores in the UK, such as with Selfridges, it is likely that they will hand pick some other stores for the ranges, including the Apple Watch Edition. Selfridges offer a try-on appointment service and this could be replicated in Ireland. But my guess is that they will choose these links carefully and not all resellers will have this offered to them.
Today you can walk into many stores to buy an iPod, Apple laptop, and iPhones are sold in a variety of network carrier stores. But the Watch is a different category and the presentation of the Watch is (and should be) of paramount importance to Apple and its brand.
On April 10th, Apple started to take orders for its new MacBook laptop. This muddied the waters slightly as they already had two ranges of laptops for sale. So how do you choose the right laptop for the task in hand- here is a run down:
MacBook: this is the new range and comes with very set options: all have a 12" Retina Display and there is a choice of two chip/storage options and three colours. The colours are gold, space grey and silver and the two chip/storage options are 1.1Ghz chip/256GB or 1.2Ghz chip/512GB (there is also a custom-built option of a 1.3Ghz dual-core Intel Core M chip, costing around 150 extra).
The MacBook is aimed at the traveller, student and people who want to prioritise weight and small size over power. The MacBook is Apple's thinnest laptop and is very light at around less than 1kg.
The MacBook is not the fastest laptop but most users would notice little difference between a MacBook and MacBook Air when using everyday apps.
The MacBook also comes with only one port- a new slim USB-C port which is smaller than a standard USB. You can buy Apple adapters to add external devices if you wish but this laptop is aimed at wireless users. This is a perfect laptop in the age of iCloud Drive, Dropbox, AirPrint, Bluetooth and WiFi.
I see this as the future- this will be the point to which Apple will head with the MacBook Air range. There are relatively few choices with the MacBooks (choose bigger or smaller storage/chip speed, and then pick a colour) and this matches the buying experience when you go to purchase an iPhone or iPad. This is a great mainstream laptop and we expect to see lots of these be sold in 2015.
MacBook Air: this is still the default laptop for many people as it has most of the lightness of the MacBook, but has a wider range of ports with USB, Thunderbolt, audio and MagSafe 2 power. There is more flexibility on screen sizes with a choice of 11" or 13" displays and you can customise a MacBook Air to come with a 512GB SSD drive instead of the standard 128 or 256.
The MacBook Air is the middle choice- they stand between the ultimate lightness and portability of the MacBook, but are smaller (and slower) than a MacBook Pro. For people who need to plug in their printer or iPad and aren't ready to choose the minimal ports of the MacBook, the MacBook Air is a safe choice.
MacBook Pro: becoming more of a specialist choice, the MacBook Pro offers more processor and graphics power options, along with larger screens- 13" or 15". MacBook Pros come with 128, 256 or 512GB of storage and some allow an upgrade to a 1TB SSD drive. These are the fastest Apple laptops but the top 15" costs twice as much as the top of the line MacBook Air.
If you need a bigger screen, lots of power, extra storage and the extra ports, this is the beast for the professional video editor and power user.
In 2015 we see most people going for a MacBook Air. The lighter MacBook will appeal to many of the busy business travellers, a students, and home users who don't need to connect extra devices. The MacBook Air is cheaper and so will suit many homes and users on a budget, plus the extra few ports will mean that it will be a safer bet for those who say "what if I nee to connect my...".
But I expect to see the MacBook Air phased out towards the end of 2016 or 2017, with the MacBook taking its place.
The MacBook Pro is the only option for those needing the bigger 15" screen and for people who work with power hungry apps (photographers, video editors, website and graphic designers, etc.). The new MacBook Pros are a lot lighter than a few years ago and come without a Superdrive (except for a legacy version which is still old). For most users, the MacBook Pro does not hit the mark, due to its extra weight and the higher price.
If Apple are to keep their traditional two laptop line-up, expect the MacBook to drop in price next year and to slowly take the place of the MacBook Air, with the MacBook Pro keeping is role as the all-powerful, professionals choice.
Looking forward to starting this book. I always found the Walter Isaccson biography to be one dimensional and fixated on what made Jobs seem different- unusual and abrasive. But to have built a team at Apple which stuck around for years, there must have been more to the man and he seemed to be more of a draw for talent.
Given how Apple executives have contributed to this book, it seems like they are attempting to reset the clock and retell the story from the start.