Sunday, August 21, 2011

If at first you don't succeed, quit

PC World has a great article about wby Windows PCs are having so much difficulty competing with Apple's MacBook Air. When the Air was first released, it was an overpriced, underpowered novelty that sold well to Apple fanatics, but poorly to everyone else. Jason Cross, the author of the PC World article, points out that Sony had a notebook computer, the X505, that was about as thin and light as the Air, in 2003. Dell had the Adamo, and then the Adamo XPS, starting in 2009. None of them sold well, because they were all very expensive, and the Dell models had the additional drawback of poor battery life.

Both Sony and Dell abandoned the ultralight segment, but Apple continued to press on with the Air, despite poor sales. The fourth-generation Air, released not long ago, is widely acknowledged to be the "must-have" laptop of the year, combining extremely small size and weight with a fully-usable keyboard, excellent performance and a competitive price.

I bring this up in large part because of HP's announcements last week that it would discontinue its webOS-based hardware and maybe, sometime, get rid of its PC business. HP could have decided that it needed to be in the mobile business for the long run, and with webOS, it already had the best tablet operating system next to iOS. Instead, it abandoned the mobile business, and has signaled that it has no commitment to the PC business, either. Sony and Dell took the same approach with their ultralight notebook businesses, and Dell is moving in the same direction with tablets. Sony has two tablets ready to launch, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the company pull back if they don't sell well, either.

Apple demonstrates that success requires long-term commitment, but it's not just Apple that has that attitude. Microsoft is legendary for working on products until it gets them right; the saying for years has been that Microsoft doesn't get it right until Version 3. If Microsoft had quit after Versions 1 or 2, there wouldn't be Windows or the Office suite--in fact, there probably wouldn't be a Microsoft.

HP's own top management acknowledges that mobile computing is the future, but it gave up on mobile because its first tablet didn't make a big splash in its first 60 days. That's incredibly short-sighted thinking. Does HP seriously believe that there's no place for mobile computing in the enterprise market? Instead of having some control over its destiny in mobile, HP will be forced to partner with other companies and adapt its systems to their offerings.

Success requires time, effort, and the willingness to fail in order to learn. If you don't have a long-term commitment to be willing to fail on the way to success, you shouldn't even start. Do something simpler, like building clones of other people's PCs, or clones of other Internet companies. You'll still probably fail, but it won't require any creativity or risk.
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