Thursday, 21 October 2010

Nothing personal


In an attempt to grab back presence in the market, mainly in the consumer space, but collaterally in the more professional one, the guys at HP launched a massive marketing campaign a few years ago, “The Computer is Personal Again”.

It was a massive, integrated, worldwide campaign that certainly allowed HP to catch some attention and again recover some of the punch it had in earlier times, as you might have read in the above link. The main idea here was to make people understand that they could use HP hardware, mainly from the Personal Systems Group division, for their daily life.

Leaving aside stories on top execs that took too seriously the campaign motto, and engaged in fishy affairs too personally, the effect in the market was certainly notorious. HP made a good marketing job, and collected the corresponding results in its financial statements since the launch of the campaign.

Still we believe the campaign remained just that: A mere campaign. It did not fundamentally change a company that started from hardware and still is mainly hardware-based. Mark Hurd himself, as the last relevant CEO for the time being, based his strategy in being “the infrastructure leader”. This was not at all in synch with all the personal messaging, was it?

It appears that in fact, there is really nothing personal in the HP strategy. And the problem with this is that a significant part of the available IT hardware these days and in the near future is really going to be truly personal.

In a world where being online permanently gets more and more relevant, people will demand devices which suit them upfront. Not that a device is capable of whatever feature you could imagine and the user has to change his habits and customs to adapt himself to it. Not that much that manufacturers define how the world is going to be, but more how much manufacturers are able to offer a product and its services which are adapted to what the customer already knows he could do, and the way he wants to do it.

Smartphones, for instance, are today more powerful than PCs from five or six years ago. And you can carry them in your pocket. You can even do things with them you could not dream about with your old desktop unit 10 years ago. For an increasing number of people, they are their main tool for daily life: From work to personal purpose, entertainment or planning vacation. They store very private data, as their wallets or purses would. Is there anything more personal for someone than his own wallet?

Once you have quite a variety of operating systems, hardware manufacturers and telco carriers that fundamentally do not differ much from each other (including prices and fees), customers will choose the combination of device, operating system and carrier that makes it easier to just start to use the device, or that allows the easiest customization to tailor the end product to each individual, even letting him choose the color, texture and shape of the case!

Just look to the automobile industry. When mass production started in the times of revered Henry Ford, he got the famous question: “May customers choose different colors for their car"?”. And he made his famous reply: “Yes, as long as it is a Ford, a model T, and black”. At that time, all the possibilities around a car (a black Ford model T was a finished product) were beyond imagination, and features that today we take for granted in the simplest car did not yet exist in the most visionary pioneers of that industry. Today, when it comes to buying a car, the set of options and accessories sometimes reaches the volume of a pocket dictionary. Even the guys making the Mini (quite popular in Europe for decades) claim today that there are not two Minis alike. The idea being “your Mini is unique because you are unique”.

The guys at Apple, from the very moment the first idea sparked in Steve Jobs’ mind have always applied the same principle. From what the customers wants, from what the customer would like to have, from how the customer would like to use the product, they make all the way up to the components they might need to build the product, and as well to the how to build the unit. Moreover, the product would still not be released until it really was the most perfect item (by design, by quality, by functionality) that could be produced within the industrial environment of the time. Jobs’ himself is famous for being a perfectionist close to hysteria.

As an example, we might quote iPhones… An iPhone is basically an iPod Touch (a definite winner, a conqueror of users’ hearts) that gets telephone capabilities after it has proved a success. Symbian and Windows Mobile have been designed as phones that afterwards were to have added email, music, multimedia capabilities. Precisely the opposite approach.

Apple took a successful product and added valuable features and functionalities customers would be glad to pay for. When making their first calls with iPhones, they already knew how to use the device, and setting it up was a matter of seconds. Windows Mobile and Symbian devices were forcing users to adapt themselves to the smartphones they supported. No wonder that Apple fans are rather unconditional fans, and do not worry much about the product cost premium.

This is HP’s issue: How can you claim your product is personal when you are asking your customer to do what Microsoft Almighty allows you to do the way Microsoft Almighty forces you to do it?

To be personal again means that your device (notebook, tablet, smartphone…) has to be as unique as possible, and that, once the OS, hardware and carrier layers are put aside for a moment, can only be achieved with the right AppStore: Broad variety of developers and applications, easy to use kind of thing. And this matter, not being easy for a guy like Windows7 Mobile, will certainly be a major challenge to HP, no matter how good or bad WebOs is (judge by yourself).

We believe the market will be personal. For everybody, and this includes HP. And being personal will take more than millions of dollars spent in nice fonts, nicer ads, and some celebrities of the moment. Nothing personal, but you cannot afford having nothing personal.

Léo, hurry up!!!!


Disclaimer: The historical references to the tragedy of World War II used in this post are exclusively intended for educational and illustrative purposes. No comment herein should be understood as any kind of support (political, social, cultural, even military) to any of the parties involved in that conflict. References are made at high level, objectively, and from a pure historical perspective.

In particular, we would like to apologize Léo Apotheker, as he is explicitly mentioned for heading HP as corporation. We acknowledge that, given his family’s background in those years (as has been published), he may be particularly sensitive to anything related to the events that struck the worlds the way they did.

In late 1944, when the USAAF and the RAF dominated the Western and Central Europe skies almost unopposed, they suddenly had to face a new kind of aircraft. Something really revolutionary, something based on what for them was, in the best case, a lot of paperwork from physic theoreticians. It took some time for them to realize what they were up to.

As it soon was to be painfully realized, Germany had finally made it for the so-called “secret weapons” that would change the tide of the war, and deliver, according to German propaganda of the time, final victory against the rest of the world. We talk about jet propelled fighters, from which the top representative probably was Messerschmitt’s Me262 Schwalbe (“Swallow”).

Interesting to note that Swallows were the most technologically advanced piece ever. Best specs, every single flight established a new aviation record. British or American pilots would not even actually “see” the enemy, so fast and high it flew. Virtually undetectable, thus. It was never defeated in the air. The only way Allies found to beat or capture enemy units were on ground (lack of fuel and/or pilots) or by pilot defection to the Allied lines.

It is very probable that had had the German Air Force a couple od hundreds of these aircraft as early as 1940, Great Britain would not have won the Battle of England, Russia would have surrendered, and the US would have never entered the war in Europe.

The plane came. But is was too late. In fact 1942 started with Germany strong enough to be likely to win the war, but when it ended it was obvious to all the world but Germany that the war was lost for them. It was just a matter of time.

Best quality, best features, best design, best performance, maximum possibilities. A clear winner on paper, useless as a bottle of shampoo for actor Yul Brynner, because of several reasons:

First, it came too late. Germany was exhausted by late 1944, alone and surrounded by all the biggies, up to their home gates: the USA, the UK, the USSR, and representation from another forty-something nations from the free world. Clear dominant positions in the European skies of the big three.

Second, Germany lacked pilots. La crème of the German war pilots was already dead by then, or promoted to commanding ground posts, or dedicated to classical (ie propeller) planes. Even if part of the human force were to be transferred to jet units, there was no time nor resources for proper training.

Third, fuel was as scarce as ever. With no actual physical sources in the remaining areas controlled by the Germans, the little fuel available was synthetically produced, extremely expensive, and normally given priority to ground units trying to hold both the Eastern and Western fronts. Even worse, in some cases it went to other so-called “secret weapons”, like flying rockets V1 and V2.

Fourth, the German High Command made some key “positioning” mistakes, without clear guidance, or targets for those units. Clearly designed as fighters, they were eventually as much used as bombers, reconnaisance units and even transports.

HP has recently presented its WebOS 2.0.

Going through the details, one must admit it is impressive. A clear winner. Léo Apotheker has quite a number of reasons to feel well about this indeed. BUT:

First, would this not be too late? HP has spent fortunes on its former Smartphone line.based on dear Windows Mobile-no-matter-what-version, and the “secret weapon” is supposed to seek its place in skies which are heavily dominated by Android, IOS4 and eventually Win7 mobile (or Symbian, for the matter…).

Second, you need pilots to make the maximum of the units potential. You need apps… and app developers, call it trainers if you’d like. The “enemy” has them by the hundreds of thousands… and upping every day.

Third, the fuel these devices need is as well scarce. App developers will develop apps that are demanded, and demand for a new thing has to be created first. Back end R&D and strong support plus consultancy as well needs to stand behind, as ground personnel is needed to keep the planes in the air. All this to keep the right focus, not diverting priorities to other bombastic stuff that might in parallel happen to appear (storage, networking, software, whatever).

Fourth, Léo & Staff have to make sure positioning is right, and customer segments are addressed correctly. Corporate, Consumer, both? Tablets, smartphones, both?

Hurry up, Léo… but make sure the brains that you are putting in here should not oversee the basics.

Footnote: This post is dedicated to a good friend of ours that has the potential of the ME262 of the time, but every now and then gets confused about her own strategy and positioning to achieve goals. Differently from the original ME262 case, this person should understand that in this case, three years do not necessarily mean it is too late; even if it is not being yet realized, like Germans say, “Ende gut, Alles gut”…