by Robert Liljenwall
by Robert Liljenwall
This is no ordinary Apple launch — it’s not introducing the sixth version or the fourth version of an iPhone or iPad. It’s not a mystery as to what category this new Apple product is in: It’s a watch. Not a standard watch, by any means. But it is still a watch — but beyond any other watch on the market today, so Apple hopes.
Apple has done what Apple does best — launch new products. And they have recruited an incredible team of branding, retail, and technology experts to support the Apple Watch launch. For example, their retail division has been going through a major in-house restructuring since the Sr. Vice President Retail Ron Johnson left for JC Penny in 2012. Apple enticed Burberry’s highly regarded and electric Angel Ahrendts to come in as Sr. Vice President to head all retail and online sales efforts, which is causing the reported departure of long-time Apple retail executive Bob Bridger. To get the high-powered Ahrendts, Apple made her an offer she couldn’t refuse — more than $39 million in stock grants to leave Burberry plus, plus, plus..
To bolster their bet on the Watch, two of Apple’s key acquisitions last year was the hiring of Tag Heuer’s vice president of sales, Patrick Pruniaux in April and the head of French fashion brand Yves Sant Laurent Paul Deneveto who will work on special projects.
(On a side note: Bridger was responsible for the real estate and development of Apple’s retail operation and was key in the design and placement of Apple’s iconic, original glass staircase at SoHo (NYC) and the ground-breaking vaulted glass ceiling architecture used at Palo Alto and others. He was considered Steve Jobs’ ‘left hand‘.)
The forthcoming Apple Watch launch on Friday, April 24, (pre-orders will begin April 10) is expected to produce another record quarter for Apple, although sales estimates vary all over the field, Fortune Magazine conducted a survey last September and the analysts’ predicted from 8 million to 41 million for 2015. The average was 2.5 million per month. That blows past any watch sales record (of any type). Initial estimates from Apple was an order of 5-6 million watches.
Apple has already announced that all of their stores will be modified for the integration of “wearable technology” with the Apple Watch stimulating a ‘re-think’ on how Apple stores will be configured to sell the Watch which goes from $349 to as much as $17,000+.
What doe this all mean? It means simply that Apple put their $$ on proven stars in the luxury brand category — Burberry, Tag Heuer and Yves Saint Laurent….bringing seasoned leadership to the Apple brand. This is, indeed, an impressive array of brand talent. After all, Apple is also perceived as a luxury brand.
On the Watch technology front….Apple has opened its first new product to app developers since the company introduced the first iPad five years ago….and Apple is hoping there will ‘thousands of great apps’ by the April launch, and there are more sure to follow. The Apple Watch is not unlike other smart watches from Samsung, Google and others. The Apple Watch, however, stays connected to your iPhone so it can retrieve information, receive notifications like texts and emails, and can be patched through to make and receive phone calls as it has speakers and microphones. It’s also a fitness tracker with heart-rate measurements….it plays music….had bluetooth for earplugs and headphones…makes payments via Apple Pay and can even be a remote for connected smart-home appliances.
The software development kit released last year allowed app makers to work on creating “different” apps than would be found on other already-in-the-market smartwatches. Their complaints is that they have been given guidance along the way — some express frustration in Apple’s handling of the app market. And, oh, yes — you will need an iPhone — 5, 5C, 5S, 6 or 6 Plus. Earlier iPhones are excluded.
What about the feel, touch, look? Reviews clearly demonstrate that the new Watch is elegantly designed, handsome on your wrist, user friendly and a “let-me-show-you-my-new Apple Watch!” You can quickly imagine that Apple Watch users most likely won’t be wearing long-sleeved shirts — they’ll want to show off their new toy. This is, after all, a “luxury branded product” — and if you’re rich enough for the solid gold Apple Watch, it will be the topic of many conversations with “interested” friends, even if they’re not interested. But they will be.
Overall, the design and technology appear to be moving to the top of the ‘approval ladder’ from technologists who have followed this wearable technology sector and actually had one on their wrist. The Apple Watch uses haptic feedback via what it brands a “taptic engine” that feels like more advanced and subtle vibration. It also has a force-sensitive display: press harder, and it will do different things. This could mean more advanced types of notification buttons, or control input. Apple’s newest MacBooks use this same combination of “force touch” and haptics to simulate clicking, and it’s astonishingly effective according editors of CNET.
At this point, there are many unanswered questions — is the 18-hour battery life real or fiction? Will apps transform the watch beyond what competitors are already offering? Does it make the iPhone better? Will it be easy and fun to use as Apple wants it to be? Will it stand on its own merits?
Time will tell. — RJL
by Robert Liljenwall
It’s OK to scratch your head over this one. Fat Point Brewing, a Porta Gorda, FLorida, craft brewery, posted pictures of cupcakes and beer to its Facebook page on Monday, March 16, announcing the release of its Car Bomb brand — “a milk stout fermented with Jameson Whiskey oak staves and Irish creme flavor,” which was to be served with Car Bomb cupcakes in honor of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Surely, someone — obviously, not a history major — forgot about The Troubles, the nationalist and religious conflict in Northern Ireland that began in the late 1960s and ended in 1998 with the Belfast Agreement. More than 3,500 people died during the three decades of turmoil that included detonating car bombs. The Fat Point post’s Facebook comments started out innocuously with fans asking about the brewery’s hours and the beer’s availability. But Tuesday afternoon they took a turn. Brand lesson: If you can’t say in front of TSA, you better not use it as a beer label. – RJL
by Robert Liljenwall
Pasadena has always been a technology center in an “old sort of way.” Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology are two venerable brands – institutions that continue to lead space research and produce Nobel Prize winners and provide the nation’s top-ranked scientists. Pasadena is also home to the Art Center College of Design, which continues to be a world leader in graphic, industrial and automotive design, and creative arts. And there has been a surge in Pasadena in recent years of startup high-tech firms such as EarthLink, eHarmony, Idea Lab, and more than 300 other notable high-tech companies in the past several years.
Pasadena’s ‘brand’ has always resonated well throughout the world because of its beautiful neighborhoods and civic assets, including the world-famous Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, nearby Huntington Library and the restored “Old Pasadena” – a booming retail, dining, and entertainment center now ripe for its next phase – infusion of trendy high-tech entrepreneurs who want these amenities close by. In short, Pasadena is a great place to live and work.
Pasadena hasn’t always been “top of mind,” however, for high-tech startups compared to other California tech havens such as Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, which is a relatively new concentration of high-tech firms in the coastal corridor stretching from Santa Monica through Venice to Playa Vista. Silicon Beach is a brand that has ‘stuck’, and it attracts techies who love to be near the beach, palm trees, the strand, and soak in the California sunshine. The area epitomizes the best of California for many. And with nearby Hollywood, entertainment-oriented tech firms thrive in this focused community. It would seem that Silicon Beach has a hefty advantage.
But this is going to change. Enter David Sacks and Rising Realty Partners who have joined together to create an “answer” to Silicon Beach. Starting with a quiver full of technology and environmental assets, Pasadena is perfectly positioned to exploit new opportunities being created by these two visionaries. They are confident they can make an appealing case to entrepreneurs who want what Pasadena has to offer – an intellectual, high-tech, high-energy culture along with its traditional community values that attract a young, upward mobile entrepreneurial elite.
Partners with pedigree brands
David Sacks brings a pedigree high-tech startup background to this venture. Sacks was the first chief operating officer for PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion, and the founding CEO for Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion. He has an eye for successful startups as an early investor in Facebook, Inc., Twitter, Uber, Space Exploration Technologies, Palantir, Houzz and Airbnb. He knows how young entrepreneurs think and what they want.
Rising also has a gold-edge brand as well – headed by CEO Nelson Rising, former CEO of MPG Office Trust, and a senior partner for Maguire Thomas Partners. And he served as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. His son, Chris Rising, serves as chief operating officer and has a strong background in investment management and hands-on project management. He is supervising the Pasadena project. RRP also has a reputation for preserving and restoring older, historical
“First of all, while we’re starting off with three century-old buildings as the cornerstone of this new technology center, we’re insuring that these buildings will have the most advanced fiber network available. We’re also making Wi-Fi available to the nearby public park so that our tenants can work in a variety of nearby locales and still conduct business,” stated Chris Rising, president of Rising Realty Partners. “We know that tech companies prefer access to the highest speed Internet services, and we’re providing 10GB fiber for every office.
“But we also know that young entrepreneurs are attracted to older, restored office environments that have been popular in San Francisco, Austin and Seattle. We’re preserving the original facade and brick-wall interiors,” he said. Office sizes will range from 5,000 sf to 15,000 sf. But it will be the intangibles that make this venture a success: “We’re looking to group together spirited, ambitious high-tech entrepreneurs who share the passion for a new vision in a complex that breeds successful ventures. We’re here to support their quest to achieve their startup goals. And we’re willing to provide below-market rates to these startups,” Rising said along with other superior support services.
This landmark buildings – known historically as the Pasadena Plaza – were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the heart of Old Pasadena, which until the late 1970s, was the rundown section of the city. But like many cities across the United States, commercial and retail visionaries came into Pasadena in the early 1980s and restored many buildings – whole square-block sections – which attracted national retailers, specialty shops, fine restaurants and theaters. The area is one of the hot spots in Southern California today.
So why is this an intriguing brand and technology story?
This is a classic brand case of “old” versus “new.” Pasadena was and is considered “old money” – the original founders of the city came from Indiana in the 1800s with their strong, conservative work ethic and Midwest values. They created a master plan based on classic European cities – large civic plazas, wide thoroughfares, and provided for a variety of large estate and smaller residential parcels. Ask anyone what they think of Pasadena, and for those who have been here, they ‘love that city.’
The LA business elite settled here, too – such as the Chandlers, who published the Los Angeles Times, and most of LA’s prominent lawyers and bankers made their homes in the idyllic neighborhoods of Pasadena and nearby San Marino. The Wrigley’s and Gambles built their winter homes in Pasadena. And, of course, there was always the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game … still iconic brands after more than 100+ years.
Old Pasadena is not unlike other re-inventions going on in other American cities but the partners know that the city holds some outstanding trump cards – CalTech, JPL and Art Center, plus a growing tech sector. To Silicon Beach, Rising and Sacks are saying – Hold on! We have something to offer high-tech startups that is as good – if not better – than what you’re going to get in Silicon Beach. What Rising brings to the table is development and management expertise that is critical to building a critical mass of the ‘new’ tech that is driving the rapid expansion of startups. Sacks brings the necessary mindset of what is “new tech” and the challenges of starting a high-tech business. Together, they intend to be very competitive and give these fledgling companies the added expertise of their experience.
“Our strategy is to not try and steal firms from Silicon Beach. We’re after the many young companies who are looking for help. Innovate Pasadena is one of the strongest community-centric organizations that is providing a broad range of startup services and support to these entrepreneurs. We’re an integral part of that initiative,” Rising said, who is a member of the Innovate board. Innovate conducts a broad spectrum of education and networking programs every month in Pasadena.
One last thought … transportation hub advantage
Rising had one last observation that bears watching. He aptly noted that California is the automobile manufacturer’s best friend. Nobody takes public transit. “But not anymore,” he stated. Ridership on the expanding network of Metro Rail is growing steadily every year … the Gold Line stops just steps away from the new Rising/Sacks project, and is being extended eastward. Santa Monica will soon have an extension of the Expo Line, and this is where young, hungry entrepreneurs are using these days – it’s cheap, and it beats crawling on the freeways. Rising fervently believes that the high-tech firms of the future will want to be next to public transportation hubs. “And we’re practically sitting on one in Old Pasadena,” he said with a smile. “Pretty soon, one can take public rail transit from Pasadena to Silicon Beach. Who would’ve thought?” – RJL
MS Office comes to your iPad
by Robert Liljenwall
The announcement happened March 27, but it has been in the works for months. Microsoft Office is coming to iPad. I already knew this: I learned about it a week ago – while ‘camping.’ My Airstream was parked next to another Airstream in Northern California, recently purchased by a just-retired Microsoft executive. We got friendly, and I told him that I would not get an iPad until it had Microsoft Office, one of my major objections to the tablet world. (I have a MacBook Air, which I love). He then informs me “… that’s going to happen in the next two weeks!” “You’re kidding?” He said it was decided that “Microsoft has to be where our customers are … and they’re on iPads, and so we have to be there, too!”
We at BTN have always felt that Microsoft was too narrow-minded in refusing to allow Apple to have the Office suite – it was a strategic decision to drive customers to Surface, their tablet version. But it clearly wasn’t working – Surface sales have always languished, and while it’s very versatile, it never had Apple’s panache and the new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recognized that if must deliver services to both businesses and consumers wherever they are, especially on mobile devices.
The new Office Suite app will be live for free on Apple’s App Store immediately, but for creating and editing content, you will need an Office 365 subscription, which their Home Subscription costs $9.99/month or $99.99 a year. The expected revenue for Microsoft is estimated at $1.4 billion, which outweighed any risk to Windows.
So, the Microsoft brand has somewhat righted with its iPad move. Microsoft has been trying to make it in the non-Xbox world of hardware with phones and tablets, but it continues to struggle. A recent study showed that Apple and Samsung have now just about crushed any attempts from others in the smartphone and tablet business. So, Nadella may just be on a roll to adjust Microsoft’s focus to the services business.
Always, there were tensions between Microsoft and Apple, stemming from the Bill versus Steve battles from the early days of the PC development in the late 1970s. Microsoft swiftly grew to soaring heights, leaving Apple in its dust. But Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple when it needed it in 1997 to integrate Microsoft Office into the Apple line of products, which provided Jobs the boost he needed for selling computers.
Apple has not provided any sales projections yet – but BTN will keep you posted. Hmmm … time to go shopping? – RJL
by Robert Liljenwall
Hollywood is the best at self promotion — and the March 2 broadcast (NBC) will be one long “selfie” of how to create a major global event in honoring one’s self. Make no mistake, the Academy Awards is an annual trek that all of Hollywood points to — sort of an Olympics held every year, not every four.
There are 25 Oscars being handed out during the three-hour broadcast and a new host this year — Ellen Degeneres, the popular day-time star on NBC. In the audience will be all of the nominees, looking their finest after parading down the Red Carpet, which has now become a mini-show in itself — another “fashion selfie” where the emphasis is on “who” was the designer, plus who gets “best and worst dressed” awards from fashion “experts”. Guys need not apply.
The Academy has nine movies up for Best Picture this year — American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street. And of course, Meryl Streep (August: Orange County) is nominated, again, but Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) wasn’t. Christian Bale and Amy Adams (American Hustle) are back again, as is Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine). The collective ‘wisdom’ is that 12 Years A Slave will be Best Picture, although Bruce Dern’s Nebraska gets a lot of support, too. Gravity is also extremely popular with prognosticators, too. We shall see.
The “selfie” has now become a part of our daily lexicon — the ease of taking one’s picture and broadcasting it instantaneously across multiple platforms (Twitter, Facebook,YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, etc.). The only real challenge is to make sure your arms are long enough to do your “self” proud. It does take some practice.
I’ll be watching. Will you? - RJL
Part II — Post Selfie Awards coming Monday, March 3