Steve Jobs and never giving up hope (and rocking it until your last days)

Two things are clear to me with Steve Jobs and his death: He never gave up hope, and knowing that he was dying lit a fire beneath him that fueled incredible creativity.

Even if Steve knew the end was near, his actions showed that he never gave up hope. He presented plans for a new Apple campus just a few months ago. He moved forward with plans for a new home as well.

This is why I was surprised to hear of the news of Steve’s death. I figured if he was really sick, he still wouldn’t be spending his time presenting building plans to the Cupertino City Council. Surely, someone else at Apple could do that.

Steve was still occasionally going into work as well. He even did the Keynote at this year’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference, just four months before his death.

I thought that he had merely come to terms with the fact that he would never have the energy to be a CEO again. Being a CEO is beyond a full-time job. It’s long hours and lots of stress, especially if you want to be a wildly successful CEO like Steve.

A lot of people spend years and even decades in poor health. In reality, Steve didn’t know how to half-ass life. He didn’t know how to slow down and not work towards his life goals.

He presented his plans for a new campus for Apple to the city council because he cared so much about that new, one-of-a-kind campus and building, and he wanted to make sure his vision came to reality. The new Apple campus won’t be completed until 2015 at the earliest, and Steve knew at the time that he would probably never get to see it. But he wanted to make sure it was done right. Steve built things that will last long after he is gone, and he wanted to make sure that they those products, buildings, ideas, ideals, etc. were good long after he was gone.

I have to believe part of his working until the end was that he never gave up hope. Even if there was a 95 percent certainly that this was his last year, you never know. And so while many people would wallow at being taken from this Earth too early, in knowing that their final days were probably not far away, Steve kept up hope and kept working at building products and ideas that he believed in.

I can’t imagine Steve sitting in an in a recliner watching TV as his health slipped away. That wasn’t who he was. He was a fighter until the end.

Indeed, it appears that knowing that his time was limited lit a fire beneath him. The iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, iCloud, iOS, Macbook Air and the resurgance of Mac OS and Mac hardware happened after his cancer diagnosis. He ran Apple like a man who knew that if he made a big mistake, it might be the last thing people remembered him for.

We all know that we’re going to die. But we don’t understand it. That’s what keeps us pushing things into the future. That’s what keeps us in jobs that we don’t like. That’s what keeps us from living the life we really want.

Steve Jobs, his actions and his incredible Stanford graduation speech have taught me so much about how to live life. How to love life. And that today, not 10 years from now, is when you should love life.

Go watch Steve’s Stanford graduation speech. Live life. Love life.

Run wildly through life. Make a dent in the universe.


You don’t have to use social media for your business, especially if you’re rude to customers

Whiz Tech Cafe in St. Louis, Missouri put on a clinic the other day on how not to use social media.

A comment about the cafe being too loud at night led to a bizarre and inapproiate exchange between the person running Whiz Tech Cafe’s social media account and a person who lived a floor above the cafe (the cafe is located in downtown St. Louis in a mixed-use building). This exchange quickly spread to more people and became a trending topic. You can see the full exchange here, but below I’ll put a few gems from @WhizTechCafe:

@TabithaKMeyer Its called part of downtown living maybe you should consider suburban living or get a loft that is not on the 2nd floor

@TabithaKMeyer WHO DO U THINK U R?? YOU STARTED WITH THAT IS Y NO ONE LIKES U N THE BUILDING SO DO NOT TELL ME WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE!!

That’s just not how you handle customer service on social media. Even if a customer is negative towards you or your business, you have to handle it with grace, especially since these exchanges are public. This feels like a teenager responding in anger and not a coordinated marketing and customer service experience.

Would a company honestly act like this in an advertising campaign or over the phone? Of course not. It’s unprofessional and frankly embarrassing.

Social media can be a great way for businesses to advertise, connect with customers and keep people updated. Social media has yielded a lot of success stories for local business. But you need a strategy, especially about how to handle different situations that may arise.

At the end of the day, you do not need to be on social media. If you or your business is not going to take social media seriously, and realize that what you’re doing affects your brand, do not go on social media. Figure out your goals with social media, have a written strategy and make sure everyone that touches your social media accounts knows how to execute that strategy in all situations.

For a small business like Whiz Tech Cafe, I’d recommend using social media to interact with customers, for providing info about the cafe (location, hours, menu), for customer service and to market the cafe. Part of that marketing would be to provide valuable information to loyal customers such as specials, new menu items, special events, etc. The other part would be to post photos and other content that would keep the cafe in the minds of its customers and to try to get new customers.

At no point would I recommend going off on anyone on Twitter. Yes, the original tweet sent at Whiz Tech Cafe was not the most polite, but this was not an appropriate response. In fact, no response may have been the best course of action.


Thoughts on the Netflix split (and about Qwikster)

Today Netflix split into two separate companies — Netflix for streaming and Qwikster for DVDs through the mail.

This won’t just be two separate names, but will also involve users going to two different websites and managing two separate queues. It’s a big decision, and one that frankly will probably have a rough go for awhile. Below are some of my early thoughts on it.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings had a lot to say about this decision, including his fears that Netflix wouldn’t make the digital jump:

For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming. Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores – do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business. Eventually these companies realize their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover. Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.

This was bound to happen — Whether people want to admit it or not, Netflix wants to get out of the DVD business. They also want the studios to offer them more access to movies and TV shows for streaming.  The DVD business is holding that back, while also masking how many streaming subscribers that Netflix has. Netflix has almost as many streaming subscribers as Comcast has customers. Netflix wants to hammer that home to rights holders. Netflix needs to convince studios this is because people love streaming, not because they love getting plastic discs in the mail. This divorce had to happen, otherwise the studios could argue that Netflix users really want the DVDs and view the streaming as just a nice add on. The numbers say otherwise; 10 million people are streaming only subscribers, while only three million are DVD only. The other 12 receive both.

What’s with that name? — I don’t get the name at all, and I don’t get why it has nothing to do with the business at all. Netflix was a great name from the beginning and one that showed how prescient Reed Hastings was. Reed always knew that Netflix would be about the Internet, and even when the company had a DVD-only beginning, he knew that a name like Netflix would make sense. It’s movies. It’s over the net. It’s Netflix. The only thing I can think of with Qwikster is that Netflix didn’t want anything that remotely confused customers — Mailflix, for instance — and they also don’t see this as a long-term business. If they only see Qwikster as a bridge business for a few years, how much does the name really matter?

Social media is important — Would you really name a company without securing the social media accounts first? I wouldn’t. Netflix apparently would. On Twitter at least, Qwikster is a pot-smoking parody of Elmo. Fantastic. I don’t get why this mistake was made. Does Netflix just really not care about Qwikster more than the bare minimum that they have too?

Streaming is the future — This is what people have to get. DVD subscribers to Netflix have peaked. It’s all going to be downsizing from here on out. Netflix is doing this to force people to move to that future. Trust me, you want streaming. Plastic discs suck.

Is their a future for DVDs in the mail, anyway? — The Post Office is facing major issues right now, including discussing cutting a few days of deliver. President Obama has even endorsed the idea. Netflix is utterly dependent on the Post Office for delivering DVDs in a timely fashion for cheap. Imagine no Saturday delivery. Imagine delivery only three days a week. It’s too expensive to deliver DVDs via UPS or FedEx. Would you really want to bet the future of your business on the Post Office? Netflix doesn’t. And frankly, I don’t know how strong a future DVDs in the mail would for any company, with or without streaming.

This isn’t Netflix’s fault — Well, yes, the poor way they handled this is, but Netflix wants to offer more streaming movies. They’d love to offer every movie and TV show. The studios are holding on to the past and don’t like streaming, mostly because they love it when you buy an entire movie, even when you’ll only watch it once. Netflix is doing this to force their hand. If you give up on Netflix or one of its competitors, you’re giving into the studios and their retrograde way of viewing things. They care about legacy profits, not what users want. I never root for people who don’t care about what users want. Netflix does, unfortunately things may get worse before they get better.

If one website is good, are two great? — I don’t get the two different websites thing. Yes, they are different companies, and, yes, Netflix wants to hammer that home. But people don’t want two queues. They really, really don’t want to have to rate movies twice. Netflix needs to do an API that allows for reviews and ratings to at least be transferable between the two websites. If not, this is a big usability fail. That would be very unfortunate and unfair to users.

Qwikster won’t be around long — Either Qwikster will be shut down in five years or it will be sold. The name is not related to Netflix at all. It will have a separate website that as far as we can tell won’t integrate with Netflix. Netflix wants to get completely out of the DVD business too. In addition, Netflix cared so little about this move that the choose a name that was a pot-smoking muppet parody on Twitter.

I’ve already gone streaming only — I want everything to be streaming. The only way to get to a world where everything is available to stream in HD is for the market to speak. I’m done with plastic discs. I suggest you do the same.


How do you use your iPad for work?

We’re doing our next show on how we use our iPads for work, which apps we have and how our iPads are set up.

We’d love to hear from you too. What are your top five most used apps? How does or doesn’t the iPad enhance your productivity? What kinds of apps and features would you like to see?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below or send me a message on twitter @pwthornton.


Apple doesn’t make big acquisitions, but they do make small, important purchases

Every time you hear that Apple is rumored to make a big acquisition of a company like Barnes & Noble or AMD or Sony or Adobe or whatever other huge company, just read this story about all the companies that Apple was rumored to purchase but never did:

For years, Apple has confounded the rest of us by not buying things that it should clearly be buying. Not purchasing other well-known companies is so core to Apple’s strategy that it must have a whole department devoted to non-mergers and un-acquisitions.

Apple does purchases companies and many of them have been key acquisitions for Apple. These acquisitions, however, are rarely big name, and they aren’t the kinds of acquisitions that Wall Street analysts or glib tech columnists predict. These are purchases or smaller companies that have specific skills and talents that can help Apple improve products or create new ones.

But let’s get back to the ridiculousness of many of these takeover rumors: Why would Apple want to buy Sony, a company that wants to be like Apple, but consistently can’t execute or get any of the details right? Sony has become a third-rate Apple wannabee with no direction. Apple buying Sony would be like one of those movies where the attractive, popular jock goes out with an artsy, homely girl as some sort of penance or charity thing or something (not one of those hot artsy, geek ladies).

Apple was once rumored to buy Adobe, markers of Steve Jobs’s most hated product, Flash. That tells you how silly these rumors are. I can only assume that these rumors have two origins:

  • Uninformed tech columnists trolling for pageviews and discussion. These people care more about stirring up trouble than sound analysis, and they seem to have very little understanding of Apple’s historical purchases.
  • Trouble makers on Wall Street looking to drum up the value of the company that Apple is rumored to be purchasing, so that a few wealthy clients can make a bunch of money off of false rumors and hope.

Apple makes small, targeted purchases that help them bring new products on line or bolster existing products. Take a look at a few key acquisitions by Apple:

  • Apple purchased NeXT in 1996. NeXT was Steve Jobs’s old company, and while the software and hardware of NeXT was advanced beyond Mac OS or Windows, NeXT was not a successful company. NeXT’s OS became the foundation of OS X. It took five years for OS X to hit the market, and it wasn’t until late 2001 that OS X was ready for primetime (and this version was still very early and not near the caliber of OS X today).
  • In early 2008 Apple acquired fabless chipmaker PA Semi, which had been working on creating powerful, low power computer chips. PA Semi helped give Apple engineering talent that would help Apple create its own line of powerful and low power chips.
  • Apple purchased streaming music service Lala in late 2009. At the time this purchase was largely assumed to be for engineering talent to help Apple setup its own streaming music service. That may or may not still be in the works, but it seems safe to say that Lala’s engineering expertise and cloud experience will be a big help for Apple with its upcoming iCloud efforts. I believe what we are seeing with iCloud this Fall is just the beginning of what will become of iCloud.
  • Apple purchased fabless chip maker Intrinsit early in 2010, a company that developed technology to accelerate ARM chips. Apple has used ARM chips in the iPhone since the beginning, but Intrinsity’s engineering helped them create the A4 and A5, which have helped Apple distinguish their products from other ARM licensees (ARM chips power all smartphones and modern tablets, but there are different variants of these chips based on ARM’s reference designs). PA Semi and Intrinsity were both smaller fabless firms that have helped give Apple the ability to create ARM-based chips that are unique from what other phone and tablet makers use. Almost all other phone and tablet makers use Nvidia’s Tegra lines, Samsungs Snapdragon lines or Texas Instrument’s OMAP lines of ARM-based processors. Apple’s chips have stripped out everything that Apple has deemed not necessary (and helped save power and space) and have also focused heavily on 3D performance for video games and other applications. While Nvidia is a 3D graphics manufcatuer by trade, Apple’s A5 is about twice as powerful as the Tegra 2 when it comes it 3D performance.
  • Apple purchased personal assistant app Siri in early 2010. Siri is a voice-controlled app that finds stuff on the Internet for users. Users can use natural commands such as, “send a taxi to my house” and Siri will help complete that task. It’s really cool technology that could help take iOS, particularly on the iPhone, to the next level. Siri’s technology is most likely being rolled into iOS and will help Apple create better voice command features (perhaps the biggest weakness of iOS) and help Apple compete better with some of the strengths of Android.

The biggest purchase Apple ever made was NeXT for under $500 million. I severely doubt Apple will be looking to make a huge blockbuster purchase of a strong established brand anytime soon. How do I know? Apple has never done it before, and they have been wildly successful by making small, targeted acquisitions.

Look for Apple to make more purchases of companies like Intrinsity and PA Semi. As Apple goes deeper into producing its own unique processors that fit Apple’s specific needs, they’ll need more engineering talent and R&D. Apple has gained a clear advantage in the mobile processor space by creating chips that do exactly what Apple wants it products to do, rather than building products around what other company’s processors can or cannot do.

Also look for Apple to make more targeted acquisitions of companies and products that will help them build out iCloud and iOS features. These small acquisitions add up and helped Apple deliver better products.

The next company Apple purchases most people will probably never have heard of.


Colleges no longer offering landline phones in residence halls

Rotary Phone in Ti Couz

Landline phones in college dorm rooms are quickly becoming one of those moments in time that will be featured in period films decades from now.

Being a freshmen in 2011 is a much different experience than 1952. Back then writing letters and the occasional phone call (most likely on a shared phone within your dorm) were your main forms of contact with the outside world. Now almost all college freshmen have cell phones, Skype and other phone services that allow them to call anyone at anytime.

There was a time when students had to line up to make calls via landline phones if they wanted to talk to family or significant others back home. In later years, freshmen were greeted with a landline phone and a phone call calling card when they came to campus. Just 10 years ago that was the primary way many students contacted their families back home.

But today landlines don’t make sense for most people, especially wired college freshmen. A landline phone is significantly worse from a usability experience, and that’s the primary reason that people are getting rid of them (and who needs two numbers and two bills anyway?). Try to imagine a time when your phone wasn’t something that was always on you, but rather someone that was tethered to a wall in your home.

Students can use cell phones, voip services such as Skype and other options. Better options. Cheaper, better, more usable. That’s the march of technology.

But that’s not the primary reason schools are getting rid of them. Why spends thousands or more on something that non one uses?

Landlines cost schools a lot of money, and hopefully this money can be put towards better uses. Case Western Reserve University, a small university of under 4,500 undergraduates, will be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by getting rid of landlines in dorms. Bigger schools could be saving into the millions by cutting landlines. $18 dollars a line can add up quickly(and that doesn’t include setup costs and other IT costs):

It cost CWRU $18 per phone line per month, so discontinuing service saves roughly $280,000 a year, said Alma Sealine, director of housing.

I would question why a school hasn’t made this switch yet. Why would you keep offering a landline?

$280,000 a year is something that could be put towards improving other aspect of colleges IT. Most colleges still have email systems that are significantly worse than Gmail (how about Google Apps for all?). Maybe better online learning systems. Maybe just pocket the savings.

What do you think colleges and universities should do with these savings?


Come Google+ Hangout with us before we record our show each week

Every week before our show we host a Google+ Hangout preshow that anyone can join, give feedback and help shape our show.

We use this preshow to go over what we want to talk about, get some early thoughts out and get feedback from listeners. This is also a great time for listeners to suggest show topics and give feedback.

The whole preshow is very informal and people are welcome to come and go as they please. If there is enough demand we might host some smaller preshows at night on Google+ where people can suggest show topics and discuss issues that they care about.

Typically we have this preshow in the early afternoon on Wednesdays, but sometimes we have to change the schedule. We both tweet out and post on Google+ about the hangout before it happens. You can find us on these networks: