Apple, What Are You Up To?

appleWord comes today that Apple has applied for a patent for an “enforcement routine” that will force viewers to see commercials on various devices. And when I say force, I truly mean force.

The patent application indicates that the forced-advertisement will freeze a device until you indicate that you’ve actually read/responded to the ad (through the use of clicking a box or answering a test question). This technology would work on any device with a screen, including televisions, computers, media devices, cell phones, etc. The ads can appear at any time while the device is being used.

What the patent application calls the “enforcement routine” involves administering periodic tests of the user, like displaying a pop-up box within the ad, requiring a response (a button that must be pressed within five seconds before disappearing) to confirm that the user is paying attention.

These tests then become progressively more aggressive and difficult to confirm if a user has failed a previous test. The response box can be made smaller and smaller, requiring more concentration from the user to find and press to confirm they are reading/responding to the advertisement. There may be a need to press various keyboard combinations, enter a date, or type in the name of the advertiser as commanded, to demonstrate that the user is paying attention.

Of course, Apple does not think this is nefarious in any way. They are saying that having this type of forced advertising would allow devices to be sold for lower prices or even be given for free, and that to avoid the advertising, simply paying a fee should free up your device from the forced advertising.

This whole thing feels like a 180 turn from Apple’s usual business practices, at least in my mind. It certainly doesn’t endear me to Apple products and services, that’s for sure. What Apple, and many other businesses, fail to accept and embrace is that the business model is changing. This type of George Orwellian behavior is not appreciated nor desired by users. I have seen plenty of intrusive “free” services that only frustrate me and keep me from using them in the first place (“free wifi” in the airport, anyone?).

If you want me to “see” advertising, then make it compelling. Make me want to watch it. But the minute you start forcing me to watch it, you can almost guarantee that I won’t be buying whatever that product is. Like an elephant, I have a very long memory, and I will not forget. That can’t bode well for any advertiser’s long-term future.

AT&T Now has the Power to crush Vonage and Others!

I have been very outspoken in recent past about AT&T’s growth, primarily the BellSouth merger. While I cannot do anything about that merger except grumble internally, I can keep my eye on the anti-competitive actions of large companies. If the Internet had not evolved the way it has I would almost be willing to call AT&T a monopoly again. But in the true definition of the word I don’t think they can be classified as that.

But they are big and they own a heck of a lot of real estate both in the hard wired world and in the wireless world so an announcement today to allow customers of AT&T Long Distance that also have Cingular wireless service to talk free is what I would consider a major first strike against the VOIP operators such as Vonage.

If Vonage was smart they would start inking deals with companies like Verizon and Sprint to stay competitive. This move by AT&T is a smart one and how would not want to eliminate all of there Long Distance charges. The question is which of the remaining land line carriers will be the first to broker deals with companies like Vonage and cellular carriers to swing the entire marketplace so that all land line long distance is free so long as you are connected with partner companies.

Whose Website Is It, Anyway?

Glitzy graphics showcasing this year’s latest technological developments, surveys and questionnaires supported by product literature designed to help prospects select the models that best fit their needs or technical support FAQs and repair diagrams that facilitate self-repair and minimize the number of request for telephone and onsite technical service: which of these services is the focus of the company’s website? Maybe, all three?

Earlier this year, Jupiter Research, a division of Jupitermedia Corporation, reported, “Often there is neither an incentive for [business] units to work together to accommodate each other’s objectives, nor a governance mechanism to maximize the overall value of the Web site as a corporate asset.” “The Web [site] represents a confluence among different part so the company,” Says David Schatsky, Jupiter Research senior vice president and the author of the report.

One of my graduate business students is a senior at a well-known international travel services company. He is responsible for the proper handling of millions of dollars in corporate travel arrangements each year. During an e-business management class this year he described the company’s plan to incorporate a marketing effort designed to develop personal travel management services into the same website that currently serves only corporate clients. The chance for success in the new effort seems slight, at best, and the opportunity for incurring damage to the company’s primary niche is amply clear. So, why would a team of experienced marketers make such an obvious blunder?

The answer is more obvious than you may imagine.

When departments compete for clients’ attention, the overall corporate message can become muddled. Multiple, sometimes competing, messages are presented via single website that confuses the clients and creates an improper public image for the organization. Worse, clients may leave (both the website and corporate account) and encourage others to do the same.

Companies must be clear, from the outset, about the goal and expected outcome of the website. It is vital that clarity and buy-in from all stakeholders is created at each of the three major phases of website development: conception, design, and rollout. Senior leadership must participate in or delegate full authority to representatives who participate in the concept development and formative design processes. Cross-departmental coordination, focusing on fundamental needs and expectations, is most likely to ensure a final website product that, rather than seeming a Rube Goldberg invention, is actually a clearly-presented and crisp display of information that becomes a properly functioning business tool and creates significant return on investment.

Call for Comments
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Jupiter Research