Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Would Apple Do If Providers Don't?

There's been a lot of hooplah and unrest over Apple's recent decision to take 30% off the top of all subscriptions to digital content (the language of their T&C implies that it's not restricted to "print" media, but also music, movies, etc.) purchased via iOS Apps.

Google promptly countered with OnePass, a move that will certainly appeal to content providers. Of course, Google doesn't have Apple's footprint in the tablet market (although Android currently ranks #1 in terms of smartphone operating systems), but if any of the budding hardware manufacturers can hit the market with a good device that doesn't cost more than the iPad, things could get interesting.

A friend of mine recently took a job as a Product Manager at Redbox, the company that puts those giant red  machines ("red boxes") in grocery stores that vend DVD rentals at $1 each. It's the alternative for people who either don't know about Netflix or who prefer physical media and tangible devices to all those online thingamajigies.

Apparently Redbox is interested in entering the streaming business; throwing their hat in the ring with Netflix, Hulu, Apple, and Amazon. I asked him what the biggest hurdle to offering a streaming solution was, initially expecting him to talk about getting the technical infrastructure set up, etc. His two word response: "The Content".

Licensing streaming rights from production houses is rapidly becoming a very expensive proposition. He told me that Netflix recently renewed a multi-year streaming deal with a major production house, and they paid roughly 10 times the amount of the previous deal. Production companies are catching on that there is money to be made in the online streaming business. That makes entering the market for newcomers a challenge; you have to have deep pockets to play that game because content is king.

Reflecting on this, I have to wonder if the same condition is true for devices like the iPad. Let's hypothesize for a moment that in response to Apple's 30% cut and requirement that there can be no promotions available anywhere (including direct B2C!) that undercut the price offered via the Apple App Store, the major content providers simply opt-out. Thanks, but no thanks.

Imagine that Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, The New York Times, et. al. decide to yank their iOS applications and instead offer mobile app content exclusively to non-Apple devices. Would then the iPad still be such a "magical" device if all you could do was play Angry Birds, check your email, and use iOS Safari to browse the web? If the key content providers decided to play hardball with Apple, what do you think Apple would do?

This also potentially affects game developers too. What if someone downloads the Farmville app and creates their account via an iPad. According to the new T&C, 30% of all purchases will go to Apple. For every bag of premium seeds and FV cash you buy, Zynga loses $0.30 on the dollar. That's a HUGE cut in revenue.

Like with streaming video, is the content what makes the mobile market run, or is it the "magical" iOS? I suspect it's the former, although I suspect Apple believes it's the latter.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Start of Something Productive

About 2 years ago, I was in the middle of a Project Management sequence at UC Berkeley Extension when I got the news. My employer would no longer be sponsoring employee education. While I understood the rationale; we needed to run a tighter ship and offering tuition reimbursement was deemed a luxury the company could no longer afford. Fortunately for me, employees already enrolled in a program/course were eligible to complete them; the policy change would only affect requests to reimburse new programs and/or courses.

During one of my SVPMA meetings last year, a 5-day Product Management course was advertised for the UC Berkeley Center for Executive Education. It sounded great, except for the $6,000 price tag. If only I was still eligible for reimbursement. Alas, you can't catch every ship that sails; you can only try to catch the ones available to you.

I now have two Product Managers reporting to me, and I often wish that our reimbursement policy was still in place so that I could encourage them to enroll in local programs to further their education and professional development. Then I got to thinking; why don't I offer some courses?

Strike One: I'm not a professor. Strike Two: I'm not exactly a 20-year product management veteran with an MBA and a published book. However, just because the count is 0-2 doesn't mean I should sulk away from the plate believing that I can't put my bat on the ball. So last week I stepped up to the plate and delivered the first of what I hope will be many informal Product Management classes not only to my direct reports, but also to another PM on our team in addition to my boss, our CTO.

I'm taking input from various sources--books, the web, my professional experience, etc.--and merging it all together into a program that covers not only what we do and why we do it, but what Product Management means as a holistic, professional approach to business.

Just putting together my first set of notes and presentation materials was exhilarating. I hadn't done something like this for several years; when I last trained technical writers and QA staff on the fundamentals of user-oriented documentation and modular writing. And while my first session didn't end with my colleagues standing in ovation shouting "Oh Captain, My Captain!", it was truly rewarding to be able to provide what could not otherwise be afforded.

Access to great teachers, facilities, networks, and mentors is often difficult to come by. Although I make no such claims of being "great" in this capacity, I felt that I owed it to my team to step up and give it a shot. At a talk at Laney College in Oakland, Cornel West said that people ought to stop waiting for the messianic leader they are hoping will come and save the day and instead realize that "you are the leader you are waiting for". Thanks for the inspiration Cornel, and here's to what hopefully will be the start of something truly productive.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Lot of Yammering & Chattering Goin' On


In case you haven't noticed, Chatter.com went live (strange, considering that they took out an ad on the front page of Monday's WSJ with a date that indicated February 6, 2011).
This is Yammer's Page

This is Chatter's Page

Notice how similar it is to Yammer? I even read in an article today about Chatter and how they are calling it "Facebook for Business"; a ripoff of Yammer's claim of being "Facebook for the Enterprise" (which itself is just a marketing piggybacking on Facebook's name).
Yammer, not sitting idly, launched a very clever Youtube video in retaliation:

I haven't seen this much of a direct assault since the "No Jive Talkin'" camaign. OK, that was a shameless plug for Clearvale, I know.