The line of machines behind Apple

Apple’s advantages aren’t just its marketing, shine, or anything at all fancy. Apple is top-notch at boring supply chain management. Check this article on  ‘How is it that Apple is able to beat every single table vendor on price?’

Apple with its industrial manufacturing purchasing power is buying up the machine makers. In our flattening world, it’s about about scale, optimization and eyeballs. Glitz drives our eyes and hearts, but Apple’s power is driving the far-eastern supply chain. Glitz and power combined are a force to be reckoned with. The competitors have been falling like dominoes.

Today, the world’s supply chain, after the raw materials, starts in Asia and largely China. These manufacturing companies have changed the industrial marketplace in the last decade or two. But has China gotten too rich?

They been so successful and profitable that they are no longer the value provider. China’s Foxconn is now investing in Mexico as today’s NY Times article show. This flows with what I’ve been thinking lately and a buddy of mine in cell phone components tells me that they have started moving some operations to Mexico. Mexico is not cost competitive yet, but it is value competitive now. Some of their values:

  • communicate within a similar time zone
  • quicker and cheaper to perform site visits and checkups
  • shorter turn around time, shipping delay or time to market

Basically it shouldn’t be a lowest-cost analysis, but a value proposition.  Many companies have tried and bought into the off-shore fool’s gold and failed. While there are successes too, it’s fair to say that more fail to find value than succeed in lowering their overall cost and getting actual value. Some reasons for failure to out-source:

  • difficulty in communication and setting priorities
  • slow turn around to changes and time to market
  • quality problems

As the recent and horrible crisis in Japan has shown, supply chain management needs to be a key consideration for companies. In the future with an equalizing world-wide middle class and especially looking at some of our advantages, America again will become a manufacturing power when it comes to the value equation.

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innovating innovation and/or marketing geniuses

Innovation may be the word most people use to describe Apple. Microsoft on the other hand, isn’t usually described as innovative – They’re rather a fair to middling marketing plan, and more successfully solid product planning. It’s almost beauty vs. brawn.  In the opinion of many engineers, Apple’s greatest innovation, the GUI was a copy.

In fact, it’s hard to think of a real Apple-created innovation. The Mac GUI started with Xerox; the iPod wasn’t the first music players – just the prettiest; Palm actually beat the iPhone to market; the iPad – a sleaker Blio? the concept of tablets could be considered old school.

But… Apple’s marketing is genius.  This is not news – but in our scramble to load a song on our iPhone, create a masterpiece, or touch a story with our kids on the iPad, it deserves some reflection.

Innovation highlights include:

  • the concept of disposable imachines; creating a market by tightly managing production to just under consumer demand;
  • rolling out the ‘new’ version imachine before we’ve learned to use the old one;
  • bridging art with tech – imachines that perform amazing feats AND look good
  • making imachines that are truly human-interfacing, responding to our touch or shake;

So, we stand by our microsoft machines because they work. But today’s world is increasingly about the i (not me) looking good, no matter how well you work – and in that world, Apple innovates.

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Just another reading machine

Ebooks are all the rage now. I worked @ Kurzweil Technologies on the Blio ebook reader software application that runs on many platforms with plans to run on more machines. Kid’s books were really cool on the Blio, since the software could read out loud to you while highlighting the current word like a sing-along bouncing ball.  Bouncing Balls

Even Apple is pushing the iPad as a book reading machine. Like the Blio, Apple has some great apps for kids that even respond to the reader’s touch.  It can be difficult to discern app from book, but the discerning is fun.

Apple and Kurzweil have also been producing a different kind of eReader for a lot longer. They’ve both been on the forefront of reading for the blind, and providing usability on computers and machines to those who are normally left out.

The tablet and iPad readers use a lot of power because of their screen technology. The eInk readers with their long battery life seem to be winning the ‘device’ game. The Blio wasn’t a device, but free software with a bookstore(s). The iPad is more like the Blio software, where the device has to be charged almost daily, rather than weekly as typical of the eInk readers.

There’s a benefit to both, where eInk is low power the tradition LCD screens are much more brillant and colorful. Personally, my idea for the ultimate tablet is two sided. One side with eInk and the other color LCD. Innovation is still coming to reading machines.

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Anyone for a game of imonopoly?

There are a couple of interesting items to note about today’s announcement of Apple and RIM’s part in buying Nortel remaining patent portfolio for $4.5 billion. 

imonopoly money?


One, Apple leads the article, solidifying imachines’ stance that they are the industry leaders – no matter the device or machine, software or hardware, they lead the pack. Microsoft gets 3rd billing in this article, despite their previous hold on our desktops, and world domination of spreadsheets. Google was shut out of the game because of money. Apple – not so much. They don’t have money issues, and they don’t make spreadsheets, they want to make them faster – with LTE.

Two, they are leading or creating evolution – in this case buying LTE or long term evolution patents, the next step in wireless access and downloading. They’ve realized in a lull of new machines or products, you can sell speed and access – in this case internet/downloading – to your customers. This isn’t as sexy as a new nano, ipad, or imac, but it sure makes those machines sexier. We want our stuff and we want it faster – at least I do.

Apple’s innovation is being challenged by engineers, but I don’t think that ‘software’ is where they innovate. Sure, they’ve created the icloud, iOS 4, and some beautiful music, film, and art apps, but their real sweet spot is innovating marketing. It’s realizing or creating what the “next” anything will be, buying the patent for it, maybe tweaking the packaging, creating the demand, managing the production perfectly, creating the expectation, and then rolling it out.

Their forte is making machines into devices, and making us want them.

They take the geeky code and patents, and put them in these wonderful little packages that we can move with our fingers, have cute names,  let us bring our media world wherever we go, and now…. get there, wicked fast!

There’s room for all kinds of innovation. Apple’s probably working on an app for that…

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Never leave home

betcha you’ll want one of these.

no more looking for the #$*&ing remote control – it’s already in your pocket.

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Innovation and resources

As a society, lately we’ve tossed aside America’s true innovations in factories, machines and automation. If America is anything it is about hard work, productivity and yes, innovation. But we can’t ignore any leg of the triangle or the tripod will fall.

Our success in the future lies in returning to American manufacturing prosperity. We can do it. We have the machines, the ideas, the knowledge and the hard work required. We also have a competitive advantage in resources with new oil and gas finds. These new energy sources are going to be a key aspect of our return to a manufacturing powerhouse.

For America to remain strong we must innovate at all levels, we are often blind to this. This has been especially true of those leading from Wall Street and the VC community who’ve been pushing work off-shore. The work always flows to the low-cost provider, but it really should flow to the highest-value provider and this is where US innovators in products, manufacturing and finance need to focus.  To survive as the economic power we’ve been, we need to innovate in the factory and with machine builders.

In industry and especially manufacturing, PCs are in play a lot more often than Macs. But it’s time for Apple to innovate beyond the consumer glitter and start putting the oil on and polishing up their machines.

Here come the imachines!

Posted in Industrial, Machines | 2 Comments

Where is this guy now?

Flash, archeologists discover video of man’s evolution from machine to device…

p.s. I hope he was paid in Apple stock.

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hit up pongr

Yet another way to use your imachine aka ipad/iphone.

Get more stuff & have more have fun…

Check out pongr – Apple’s already there 🙂

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Machines make a kinection

KISS Principal

Keep It Simple Stupid

Apple’s real innovation is Steve Job’s attention to detail, elegance, Occum’s Razor/KISS or as attributed to Einstein.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

Apple’s forte is also a beautiful marketing sense and – like Microsoft -brute force solid product planning.

Sometimes innovation flows the other direction and while the prevailing is opinion is that Apple innovates and Microsoft copies, it’s not always true.

Take the Kinect Sensor for XBox, it’s not just about games. Hats off to Microsoft for delivering not only a valuable addition to their gaming machine, but true innovation at an very affordable cost.

Engineers everywhere have rejoiced and hacked. Kinect hacking excitement  convinced then M$ to open up the closed product, to allow innovation from all directions. Again, hats off to this new M$! This is the dream and this is what lights an engineer’s fire. People are using the Kinect to control machines, to make new user interfaces. The box is open and the challenge is in there.

We engineers invite Apple to take their innovative machines beyond just a rhetorical device.

What can you offer next?

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A looking glass into the machine

The iPad wasn’t really anything new, but it sure has lit a fire as if it’s something new. Basically, it’s a tablet computer or just a fat iPod Touch. I mean do you remember the Dynabook or Memex? Yeah, definitely an old idea!

As corporate applications move up into the cloud … ummm … web apps, we don’t really need full computers, we just need a web browser. That’s where Google’s headed with Chromium/Chrombook and the iPad captures this imagination and runs with it on its sexy look and feel.

Every new platform needs its killer app. For the PC, it surely was VisiCalc and then word processing and desktop publishing kick the can a bit further down the road. Tablet computing will need one to, perhaps that’s the browser? Perhaps it’s only a window into other machines.

I think the excitement is as a looking glass. A view into a distant place.

One of the first corporate applications of note is’s Sales Cloud. I mean, what more can a salesperson handle does a salesperson need?

Another example is for IT guys is VMware vSphere, like what else do these uber-geeks do before bedtime? Uh yeah, there’s that, but after that what?

These looking glass apps are using the tablet as window through our information conduits into other iMachines.

Posted in General, Machines | 6 Comments