Fix the narrative

Apple had their quarterly financial call today – which once again revealed record-breaking revenue and profit. The new Apple Watch, which has been the subject of many “Apple’s new product is failing” stories, is easily extrapolated to have almost a billion dollars of revenue.

Microsoft also released their quarterly financials today – a loss of over $2 billion (largest MS loss ever) after a tremendous $7.6 billion write-down for the Nokia purchase as Nadella continues to undo the last few years of the Ballmer era. The Surface (please ignore the $900M corpse of Surface RT behind the curtain), 2 years old and at revision 3, generated less revenue than the Apple Watch by at least $70 million.

And yet the news coverage, outside of “Apple fanbois”, approaches it as though Apple still teeters at the edge of oblivion. That the Apple Watch is a failure for generating “well over” $952 million. And that Microsoft is just temporarily embarrassed, even after writing off more than $15.7 billion for bad decisions in the last three years.

Is Microsoft “beleaguered”? No, not at all. I live in Redmond, after all. Satya Nadella is doing the right things, and these corrections are expensive. The energy as I walk past groups of Microsoft employees is different, more upbeat, in the last year. But Microsoft is still behind; they failed to “get it” for years while the landscape changed around them, and now they’re trying to become a much different company than they were.

Is Apple dominant? Largest market value in the world. 92% of phone handset industry profits, regardless of market share. The only PC vendor actually growing sales, and owner of a market (iOS devices) that is more profitable than the entire PC industry. But. Apple doesn’t have the industrial enterprise lock-in that Microsoft has with their licensing and Enterprise Agreements. Apple still targets the consumer market – their buyers are their users – and lives and dies with that market. Looking at the growth in the Chinese market for Apple’s sales, I wonder what would happen if that economy crashes.

So what’s my point? Simple – it’s more nuanced. Apple hasn’t been the “beleaguered” company they once were for well over a decade. Microsoft is not the dominant force they used to be. And both companies are significantly different creatures, with different markets, different focuses, different strengths, different weaknesses.

If you’re in the tech media and want to talk about either of them, throw out the 90s and the 00s – as comfortable and click-bait easy as that narrative might be.

I look forward to it

“Any anyway, that’s not the plan.”
“There’s a plan?”
“Don’t know yet, haven’t finished talking.”

– Dr Who, “Flesh and Stone”

Blame the Stick

Spring of my freshman year at university, I took a 100-level art course. Black and white, charcoal and ink and collage, very basic stuff. The instructor tried – with varying success – to inspire his students. Admirable for a survey course at a state school.

One fine day, we were working with brush and ink. Our teacher became more and more frustrated as we hunched over the paper and tried to make fine, controlled movements when he wanted broad, bold strokes. Finally, he’d had enough.

“Everyone! Put down your brush. Pick up your pad and your ink bottle, and come outside!”

He marched us out to the front of the building, which faced the tree-lined quad. “Find a stick about as long as your arm,” we were instructed.

Once everyone had their stick, he nodded and gave us our orders. “Hold the stick by one end. Now, dip the other end in your ink. This is what you’re painting with.”

Our dismay must have been obvious. His glee came through in his voice, “Anything that you don’t like, blame the stick. Now paint.”

* * *

This story comes back to me when I find myself, or others, getting hung up on perfection. When the desire to be Insanely Great on the very first iteration prevents me from getting a single thing done. When nothing seems as good or creative or elegant as what inspired me.

That’s when I’m reminded of a spring day, painting with crufty twigs.

Blame the stick. Now paint.