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Apple: Less Hype, Better Products Wed 03 Feb 10

The company needs to focus more on solid marketing and product development.

WizardOfOzApple's long anticipated launch of the iPad became a rather interesting twist in the Apple/Steve Jobs saga, and it may signal a shift in the future of Apple.

After all the hype and hysteria of the iPhone roll-outs, everyone was expecting true magic. However, despite Jobs' proclamation of the iPad being "magical," the general response was a rather dismayed, "That's it?" It was something of a letdown as Apple fed our expectations and did nothing to dampen all the speculation.

It reminds me of the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and her friends stand quaking with fear in the great hall intimidated by the billowing flames, booming voice and majestic presence. Only when her dog Toto pulled open the curtain and exposed Oz as a mere mortal did reality sink in. The Wizard's exhortation of "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain" was too late. His secret was out. And so it may be for Jobs and Apple. However, in the end this could be beneficial for Apple.

Jobs' position as the Wizard creator and marketer of technology seemed secure and took on mythological proportions with the iPhone and was expected to continue with this latest product. The Onion, a satire newspaper and Web site, did a piece suggesting that Jobs forgot about the announced iPad launch date and had to stay up all night to put something together, ultimately gluing nine iPhones to a cafeteria tray.

The thing that makes satire work is that it contains an element of truth or believability. In this case, we could almost believe that if Jobs had glued nine iPhones to a cafeteria tray he really could have marketed it as a great new product. Given the hysteria the iPhone generated, it's not too hard to imagine the Apple faithful proclaiming the cafeteria tray iPad a great success.

Alas, the emperor has no clothes. People are starting to look at things more critically and thoughtfully.  eWeek.com recently had an article, "10 Reasons Why the iPad Would Fail Without the Apple Logo" reasons included Apple's marketing machine and Jobs' star quality. While these may be sufficient to prevent a product from being a dismal failure, they are no longer sufficient to make it wildly successful.

It is interesting to ponder how this shift in perspective has happened. Maybe it is the fact that Jobs is fighting cancer and we now see him as a human being rather than a god. Perhaps it is the rash of competing products, which have many of the same features or a different mix of features that present viable options for the consumer.

Maybe it is the unfortunate choice of the name iPad, which became a great source of jokes, many having to do with feminine hygiene products. It's hard to maintain your position as a god when people are making fun of you.

For whatever reason, Apple is now at the point where an Apple logo and a Jobs presentation aren't enough. Apple's apparent long-term strategy has been to develop a cult-like following around the Apple hype and Jobs. I suspect that Apple believes that when Jobs does eventually pass on, the company would simply take a three-day vacation and wait for Jobs to resurrect himself so things can go on as they always have. Not a very solid strategy.

If Apple can't bank on its marketing machine and a Jobs imprimatur to guarantee success, what will? The old standards of great marketing and good product design, that's what. The good news is that Apple is already pretty good at it. The iPad is a good product, but not a great one. Very few products are great at their inception. The iPod and iPhone weren't but have gotten better as the product lines have developed over time. This is the way it is for most products, and no doubt, this will happen with the iPad.

The iPad is a good product but not a great one.  Very few products are great at their inception.  The iPod and iPhone weren't but have gotten better as the product line has developed over time.  This is the way it is for most products and no doubt this will happen with the iPad.

The iPad isn't the best product of its type. There is no best. If you are an avid book reader and not interested in a lot of other applications, a Kindle is probably best for you. If you are an occasional reader of books and periodicals and want other applications, an iPad may be best for you. 

Good marketing can help consumers formulate and solidify the selection of what is best for them. If you look beyond the hype, I think you'll see Apple's marketing can be pretty good. The Mac vs. PC ads are great examples. The company really can get its message out when it wants to.

After the dust settles and Apple analyzes why the iPad launch wasn't what it hoped for, I hope the company will conclude it's time to re-focus on true marketing and product development rather than hype and pandering to a cult. Hype and cults are not the keys to long-term success or growth, marketing and product development are.

Like the lyrics in the song "Tin Man, " Apple may find that "Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn't, didn't already have".

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

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