Brand identity: What's in a name?

What's in a name? that which we call a roseBy any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title

Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

The issue of naming is not as arbitrary as Shakespeare would have us believe. A name brings nuanced meaning, bringing with it the cultural associations the name carries. Sometimes, there can be positive and negative meanings associated with a name.

Consider Apple. In the computer and business world, it is associated with design andengineering, and a close attention to detail. In the music world, Apple is associated with the Beatles. Going back a bit further in history, apples have played an important role in society, perhaps most notably with Isaac Newton and his discovery of the laws of gravity.


Apples also have a dark side in history, such as the cyanide laced apple with which Alan Turing took his life. Other occurrences in mythology, such as Snow White's apple, confirm this dual nature.

How then do we determine the meaning associated with a symbol? Are all apples symbolic of science or poison? Hardly. With every symbol, the way in which it is used reinforces a preferred meaning. With Apple, Inc., the slogan Think Different emphasized Newton's scientific genesis. Through time, this has been amplified through increased innovation. Alan Turing Memorial

Not every brand has the history of the apple, however. Many more are built upon the names of their founders. Ford, Dell, and Toyota are all family names. Even Walmart derives it's name from founder Sam Walton. In each case, these brands developed their own identity, without relying as heavily on prior associations.

How should you brand yourself? While in the past, this blog was hosted at, I have decided that a change was in order. Why was I working on a different brand when I could be building my own identity? This blog is now hosted at the fresh and minty After all, that's who I am.


Steve Jobs: In Memoriam

Steve Jobs at the WWDC 07

Steve Jobs passed away October 5, 2011. It came as no great shock, as he stepped down earlier this summer due to terminal illness. It came as no great shock, but with a great deal of somber reflection. Steve Jobs helped us Think Different.

In my youth, I never really had much exposure to Apple Computer. The first 19 years of my life were spent with PCs. I ran with DOS 3.3, then later Windows 95. By the time Windows 98 was released, I was running Linux, probably RedHat, SuSE and later Debian. Macintosh was easy to make fun of back then. After all, where was the command line? Why did their computers have a single mouse button? I had heard that the memory management was behind the times. If an application crashed, it could take down the whole system. These were the days of Classic Macintosh, right around the time of the first great transition from the Motorola 68K processors to ARM.

The phrase "Think Different" certainly applied to Macintosh, but it wasn't really clear why being different was a good thing. Then Steve Jobs returned to Apple, and everything changed.

The iMac and the first iBooks were colourful machines, bringing life and energy back to the dull beige of computing. One of my friends at the University of Waterloo had one of the Blueberry iBooks, and introduced me to the first beta releases of Mac OS X. Built upon the technologies of NeXT, it showed a new way forward in computing, which combined the power of a Unix kernel with the graphics of the Mac interface.

Under Steve Jobs' leadership, Apple launched several new innovations in computing. The Mac Cube was largely seen as a failure today, but its heritage lives on in the Mac Mini, a smaller device.

During this time, Apple drove changes in technology. The iMac G3 was the first computer to drop PS/2 ports and floppy drives in favour of CD drives, USB and FireWire ports. The MacBook Air has continued this transition by removing not only the DVD drives, but also removing the ethernet ports from its most recent models.

Apple has continued to innovate, bringing iTunes, the iPod and the iPhone to computing. With Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple continued to redefine the way we think about computing.

Steve Jobs also changed the way people think about presenting great ideas. His keynotes are famous for what is known as the Reality Distortion Field. Apple's presentation software is named Keynote because it was designed for his keynote speeches, which were carefully practiced stories around a product release.

Steve Jobs popularized a narrative form of presentation, backed up by slides containing images and short words or phrases he used to emphasize key points of his story, rather than paragraphs of text to be read aloud. Steve brought charisma to the role of CEO.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes.

The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward.

Maybe they have to be crazy.

How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?

We make tools for these kinds of people.

While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve, you changed the world. Because you were different, the world is a better place. You will not be forgotten.

Kindle Fire: What Amazon Got Right

Kindle Fire

Amazon's recent launch of the Kindle Fire, priced at $199, and the entry of the low-end Kindle at $79 is a very interesting strategy.

When Apple launched the iPad in 2010, it built upon the architecture and infrastructure of the iPhone, which launched in 2007. Even the iPhone built upon the success of the iTunes infrastructure which supported earlier iPod models. Amazon is likewise dealing from a position of strength, building upon the technology of the Kindle ereaders, and Amazon's existing delivery and hosting infrastructure.

Amazon ships much more than just Kindle books. The Amazon MP3 store has been an iTunes competitor for several years now, and was the first to offer music without Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology. Amazon now also offers instant movie downloads as rentals or purchases, as well as Android application sales. Amazon offers a comprehensive alternative to the Apple iTunes infrastructure, and the Kindle Fire is another key part of this strategy.

The next key step of the Kindle Fire's introduction is how Amazon differentiates this new tablet from the iPad. Like several other tablet manufacturers, Amazon is launching a smaller 7 inch tablet. While this form factor is not unique (the BlackBerry PlayBook, the Samsung Galaxy Tab, and the HTC Flyer all fit this size), Amazon has also cut the price point for the Kindle Fire. At $200, it is clear that Amazon is entering the low-end of the space, not directly competing against Apple at the moment.

When you consider the HP Touchpad fire sale in August, where a drastic price cut finally saw another tablet outselling the iPad, there is clearly a market for a lower-end tablet. One where Apple isn't actively targeting.

If Amazon can successfully lay claim to this part of the market, you can expect to see future attempts at Amazon launching into the higher upscale market that the iPad now claims. One thing is for certain, Apple is watching Amazon very closely.

Amazon may have a razor-thin margin on the Kindle Fire, but the important thing to note is that it will drive sales to the Amazon store, where the real money is made. Just as Apple takes a 30% cut on sales on the Apple App Store, I expect Amazon will take a healthy cut off anything sold through their online store, while at the same time depriving the Apple economy of sales.

Amazon sent a clear message to other tablet manufacturers: This time, amateur hour really is over.

Thirty Percent

As Apple has recently started selling subscription services to applications on their iOS App Store recently, renewed discussion of their business practices has hit the internet. With the rejection of Sony's bookstore application, word is that Apple is demanding that all applications which sell content available on the iPad or iPhone must

  • Allow the sale of the content through in-app processes, using Apple's payment framework.
  • Allow Apple 30% of the sale from in-app purchases
  • The price of the content from in-app purchases must be less than or equal to any sale price outside of the app, such as through websites

Now, I haven't seen any documentation from Apple talking about this, I'm mainly repeating what I've read on other blogs.Now, I'm not entirely sure. Maybe there is content available for sale for which a 30% margin hit is actually possible. This is not always going to be the case.

Book publishers, especially those in niche markets, may be represented in the App store by a common provider. For academic books of a specialized nature, large reference tomes can easily reach into the hundreds of dollars. I don't have any evidence of this, but I rather doubt that there is a 30% cut available to these applications in the first place, let alone that much available for Apple. While sales activity of a $500 electronic copy of a 32 volume print set may not be high, I highly doubt that the application provider is getting a $150 cut. I also really don't see how Apple can justify this much of a cut.

What's the answer? Apple has made their right to control which applications are allowed on their devices quite clear. While my examples are niche sales from a niche market, and certainly isn't representative of the market, I believe that it does show how their policy, if applied blindly, fails to work in all circumstances, and likely hurts consumers, as these application developers will either need to remove their application from the store, or else increase the prices for all.

What service is Apple even providing for these applications? They're not hosting the saleable content. They're basically just processing the charges, duplicating an infrastructure that preexisting software companies already possess.

Does Apple deserve 30% of these sales? I really doubt it. Do they deserve something? I can't really argue against something, but I think it needs to be fairly minimal, and should likely cap at a determined price point. A $500 resource sale likely shouldn't result in much more than $15 to Apple (3%) rather than $150 (30%).

Writing with the iPad

The iPad can be one of the most frustrating devices to write with. It also has the potential to be one of the best, under certain circumstances. I've had the device for a few months, and in this time, it has been used primarily to consume media. It's quite easy to load TV and movies from my MacBook, and there are a number of addictive games, such as Plants vs. Zombies, and Angry Birds available. The web browsing experience is a little lacking. Pages take longer to load than expected, and the cache is small. Switching tabs in the mobile browser often results in a fresh request to the server, adding extra delays. I've found that on some websites, scrolling just doesn't work.

As the iPad doesn't support flash, many of the richer web experiences, as well as numerous flash games, don't work. While I can certainly appreciate the processing requirements of flash -- I often disable flash on the desktop -- the fact remains that there is a great deal of content, including puzzle games, only available in flash.

The on-screen virtual keyboard is functional, though awkward to use. I believe that there is a special place in hell reserved for those brilliant engineers who inflicted the iPad with the horrendous auto-replace functionality. Without tactile feedback, one is forced to watch where your fingers are typing. Because I'm watching my fingers, I'm often not watching the little popup dialog elsewhere on the screen, warning me that the system is going to replace the awesome word I just typed with nonsense. Maybe it actually corrects far more than it wrecks, but the experience can be frustrating.

Still, the keyboard is functional, especially for short notes and emails. Where it is entirely unsuitable is for longer writing sessions, or for speed. Forget about using the virtual keyboard for in depth course notes. Try and type as little as possible in these situations. You're lucky if you can get down meaningful point form notes.

Until the iOS 4.2 update, I had been able to connect a USB keyboard to the iPad using the camera connection kit. While the system claimed that the device was unsupported, it still performed admirably. With iOS 4.2 however, the hardware handling has changed, and the iPad no longer recognizes USB keyboards. I suspect Apple has adjusted the USB voltage, or something else of that sort.

As such, I purchased an Apple Wireless Keyboard, which uses bluetooth. Thankfully, this keyboard is much smaller than the older USB keyboard I had been using, and better still, the bluetooth functionality allows me to charge the iPad while typing. Pairing the keyboard with the iPad is simple, and the keyboard is only slightly wider than the iPad itself. With the keyboard, my typing speed should be about the same speed as on a desktop system. Also with the keyboard is the quick ability to cancel an autocorrect suggestion by using the escape key. As such, it becomes much easier to allow the autocorrect to fix words you misspell, while avoiding any undesired changes.

One clear advantage the iPad provides when writing, is the single-task nature of the iPad. As the iPad only presents a single window, it enforces a single-track mentality. There are no bouncing dock icons, no web browser or twitter to distract you. Just you and your text editor, unfiltered. Much better for concentrating on writing.