Apple leverages speculation, sensation for iPad launch

27 01 2010

Leading up to Apple’s highly-anticipated announcement of its iPad today, virtually every technology and consumer news outlet had produced preview stories. Now that Steve Jobs has confirmed the news and ushered the media into a reviews frenzy, we can extract a few communications lessons about what Apple did right to garner so much attention for a late-to-market tablet device. (For more of a business perspective, I highly recommend reading Michael Gartenberg’s Engadget post.)

1. iPhone success helped  insert Apple into early, competitive tablet coverage. Times Online’s Dominic Rushe and James Ashton had this to say after CES: “TWO years ago, Apple dominated CES by doing nothing. All the chatter was about the imminent launch of its iPhone after the show. This year Apple did it again… The company has said nothing, confirmed nothing, even iSlate’s name is really speculation, but once more Apple was the talk of Vegas.”

Erica Ogg of CNET reported, “A tablet or slate computer from Apple was basically all anyone wanted to talk about [at CES], and it’s not even a confirmed product yet… Apple’s managed to turn the attention of the entire tech world away from tech’s biggest stage without actually doing or saying anything.”

Although Kindle, Nook and a slew of tablet devices have been in the market (Kindle was announced in May 2009), Apple has been able to dominate competitive coverage for months because of its iPhone legacy. The iPad was positioned as an extension to the success of the iPhone, and that only perpetuated the anticipation.

2. Apple let leaks do the talking for them. “Trusted sources” were frequently referenced as sources for news leaks on blogs and in social media, which kept the buzz alive. Reporters and bloggers were reaching to the depths of patent filing and long-lost interviews searching for clues. Everyone loves a treasure hunt, and Apple let the media chase after its own X on the metaphorical map.

On the evening before the announcement, McGraw-Hill’s CEO confirmed that his company has been working on content distribution for an Apple tablet, saying, “We have worked with Apple for quite a while… The tablet is going to be just really terrific.” The leak created another news cycle ahead of the event and only increased the anticipation and fever for Apple.

3. Apple maintained product secrecy. Notice how no preview story ahead of the event featured an Apple spokesperson. Apple never commented on the tablet rumors. Apple’s partners (with exception of McGraw-Hill) never commented on the device. Considering this was probably the most media-hyped announcement since the iPhone, there was a lot of pressure on a lot of people and companies in the know. However, the Apple ecosystem kept the calm before the storm and never put itself in a scenario that compromised the secrecy of the product announcement.

4. Apple delivered a worthy launch event. All eyes were on Apple last week. “iSlate,” “iTablet,” “#apple” and “Apple Tablet” dominated Twitter trending topics ahead of the event. Every major news outlet with access live-blogged or live-streamed the event.

Considering Apple shared the same news day as President Obama’s State of the Union address, the media attention was that much more impressive. And now we know, finally, that we can stream future State of the Union addresses on an Apple iPad.


Apple starts with ‘App’

23 01 2010

This week we were assigned to read a September 2008 Seeking Alpha article on application marketplaces. Much of what was speculation at that time has become true. Every major mobile operating system now has its own marketplace for consumers to purchase applications on their devices. This is a good thing for consumers, who can purchase applciations to extend the capabilities of their phones, as well as for carriers and phone makers who have new revenue opportunities.

However, now that the field has been leveled and applications are available to all, the quality of applications and application marketplaces have become a key part of the consumer purchasing decision when considering phones and carriers. From this perspective, Apple has set itself apart from the pack. Whereas Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Google have had to offer new application storefronts, Apple has an advantage by servicing consumers via the world’s top digital music store, iTunes.  Their credit cards were already locked in. All Apple had to do was add on the App Store.

How successful has this model been for Apple? Check out this infographic created by GigaOm. Some of the numbers included in the graphic:

  • 130,000+ apps available
  • 4.8 apps downloaded in December per user
  • 280 million app downloads in December

These numbers are staggering.

They should also be intimidating to competitors. Even with Google’s massive marketing campaign for its new phones, including the Nexus One and Droid, it has yet to come up with an applications answer for Apple. Surely, quality apps on any platform will win consumers compared to a quantity of sub-par apps. Apple has both. This application market dominance is appealing to consumers, who have flocked to AT&T and the iPhone in droves.

It’s no longer about the phones anymore, it’s about the experience. The mobile industry should realize that, for now, applications are driving that.

Mobile donations are making a difference in Haiti

14 01 2010

Today I donated $10 to the American Red Cross to support the catastrophe in Haiti by texting “Haiti” to 90999. It was that simple (See actual screenshot at left).

As of a tweet this morning (Jan. 14), the Red Cross has already raised $3 million dollars through this mobile donation method.

Mobile phones have already been a prominent way of reporting the event, but they also provide a powerful, scalable way to collect the necessary financial support to aid relief efforts.

According to a NY Times article, the texted donations are being handled by a company called mGive, which started the campaign in a joint effort with the State Department and the Red Cross on Jan. 12. The $10 donation I made via mGive will be charged by my carrier, AT&T, which will relay the donation in full to the American Red Cross. mGive typically charges a licensing fee for its software platform, $4 to $1,500 a month, but has removed all fees for this fundraiser.

Unfortunately, CEO Tony Aiello says it typically takes up to 90 days for the charity to receive the donation, but the mGive is trying to expedite the process with carriers to get the money to the Red Cross as soon as possible. So while it feels immediate to make the donation, the impact of the donation is felt long after hitting “Send.” Hopefully this process will continue to improve.

In another mobile fundraising campaign, Haitian-born musician Wyclef Jean is urging people to donate $5 to his charity organization by texting “YELE” to 501501.

Mobile donations are getting massive support, too. The AFP reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the rounds of six morning television news shows where she urged Americans to make 10-dollar donations by cellular telephone.

“If you wish to help, you can text Haiti — H-A-I-T-I — to 90999,” she said on NBC’s Today Show.

Additionally, the White House has endorsed the mGive mobile donation as one of three key ways Americans can assist Haitians.

I am impressed by the support mobile donations have received from top US officials, and am even more impressed with how Americans have embraced mobile donations as a primary resource to provide financial aid during a crisis. I encourage you to make a mobile donation and help those in need.

Even in the Android/iPhone era, carriers dominate

11 01 2010

The launch and availability of Google’s Nexus One smartphone last week reinvigorated the dialogue about how phone makers are changing the carrier model in the United States.

This is far from true.

Google offered the Nexus at competitive, subsidized prices with contracts with TMobile for $179 (or Verizon and Vodafone soon), and “unlocked” (without carrier contract) for $529. The unlocked offering was a pure marketing play to exploit Apple’s exclusive contract with AT&T, but it’s not unique. Nokia smartphones are also offered unlocked and at high price points in the United States, and every other phone, including the iPhone, is offered at subsidized prices with no contract.

Google didn’t break away from the carrier model, it reinforced it by offering the Nexus One with three carriers off the bat (whereas most phones only launch with one carrier) and selling the unlocked Nexus One at a high price point, driving customers to want to save money upfront with a carrier contract.

What has changed is that the marketing of phones has shifted from carriers to phone makers. Credit Apple. It has reinvented revenue opportunities by offering iPhones through Apple Stores and selling applications through the App Store. It has also shown that a focused phone maker can produce a better, focused marketing campaign for a single phone than a carrier can for its portfolio.

But this too benefits the carrier model.

The service contracts (Read: revenue) for the iPhone reside with AT&T, and operators supporting the Nexus One, whether it be the subsidized or unlocked phone require contracts. Apple has bought no spectrum, nor has Google, and until they do they will not be able to offer service for their phones.

Google and Apple have positioned themselves as thought-leaders and innovators over the past year, just like Microsoft and Palm did five years ago, and like their predecessors they haven’t changed the carrier service model – they’ve only supported it.