There is more than one way to lead in the smartphone industry, and China is at work on all of them.
No longer content to copy foreign products. China is developing brands to compete with Apple and Samsung. Xiaomi is known as its answer to Apple, and Huawei and ZTE, the equipment companies, have moved into handsets. Read more
Howard Wilkinson, former manager of Leeds United, knows about pressure: “No offence to captains of industry but even a FTSE 100 chairman can postpone a board meeting. A manager can’t postpone a football match and every match is a shareholder meeting, [sometimes] in front of 88,000 people.”
Many years back, an American friend who was visiting London from New York remarked on the odd way in which people were walking around with blocks of plastic held to their ears. “Why don’t they just use normal phones?” she asked.
What is the Finnish for “I told you so”? That is how plenty of Finns – including a large number of ex-Nokians, swept out in successive restructurings since Stephen Elop took charge of Nokia in 2010 – will greet news that Microsoft is to buy the mobile company’s handset and services business.
It won’t make any difference to them that Nokia has an increasingly important telecoms equipment business, NSN, which guarantees a future to the rump of the company. Since the radical strategy shift of the mid-1990s, when the timber-to-tyres conglomerate refocused on its fledgling telecoms operation, Nokia has been identified with home-grown phones. But a second coming under Finnish ownership for the country’s best-known consumer brand turned out to be impossible: its future will now be dictated from Redmond not Espoo.
This outcome, or a version of it, was already in the air in early 2011 when I visited Nokia’s headquarters to look at the challenges facing Mr Elop. His decision to leap from a “burning platform”, as he called it, into the arms of Microsoft as software partner for its smartphones certainly ruled out other options, such as using Google’s Android or a home-grown operating system. But a full takeover of the phones business by the US company was not inevitable.
Four elements have conspired to make it happen. Read more
Steve Ballmer. Image by Getty.
No chief executive wants the company’s shares to jump sharply on the news that he or she is stepping down.
Pent-up relief, however, was the reaction to Steve Ballmer’s decision to retire as Microsoft chief executive within a year.
It has been a long time coming. Mr Ballmer has struggled mightily since becoming the boss in 2000 to keep Microsoft at the front of the computing and software industry, but has allowed it to be eclipsed by Google and Apple. Read more
Industries are in flux. Google’s driverless cars are waiting at the intersection of internal combustion and search engines. Payment companies such as M-Pesa, Stripe and PayPal are testing the locks on banks’ safe deposit boxes. Samsung, Apple and Google’s Android have put BlackBerry and Nokia on hold. If you are the chief executive of a carmaker, financial institution or mobile phone maker and you are not yet worrying about the blurred edges of what was once a clearly demarcated border between sectors, you are lost.
About a year ago I was in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights, gazing down at the Golden Gate Bridge from one of Larry Ellison’s many spectacular homes. The Oracle chief executive wasn’t there – he had lent the house out for a reception. In any case, he would be the last person to apologise for enjoying the fruits of his success. But the view from technology executives’ balconies is getting stormier. After banks and bankers, could they be next to feel the sting of a populist backlash?
In saying AG Lafley is “uniquely qualified” to lead Procter & Gamble – again – Jim McNerney, the board’s presiding director, somewhat understates the case.
Not only was Mr Lafley one of P&G’s most successful ever leaders between 2000 and 2009, he has literally written the book on how he achieved the corporate turnround – Playing to Win, co-authored by Roger Martin and published this year. But the record of chief executives who return to the top job is mixed: while there are benefits to bringing back the former CEO, there are pitfalls too. Read more
As Larry Page, Google’s chief executive, launches a new music subscription service and the company’s share price continues to climb, it’s worth nothing what a success he has so far been in the role – despite the doubters, including myself. Read more
No doubt, if Microsoft reverses course over Windows 8 – for instance, by restoring the familiar “Start” button to the opening screen – it will provide abundant fodder for the writers of business school case studies.
But is the comparison with Coca-Cola’s famous 1985 marketing U-turn, when it brought back “Coke Classic” following a consumer backlash against its “New Coke” recipe, correct? Read more
Having now read Tim Cook’s letter of apology to Chinese consumers, I think the Apple chief executive has rather deftly achieved his objective – a public act of contrition – without admitting that his company did anything wrong.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s translation, he says:
We are aware that a lack of communication … has led to the perception that Apple is arrogant and doesn’t care or attach enough importance to consumer feedback. We express our sincere apologies for any concerns or misunderstandings this gave consumers.
This is at best an apology for creating a misperception, rather than for discriminating against Chinese consumers, one of China Central TV’s accusations. Read more
Depositors of banks in Cyprus now fear they have less money than they thought while US corporations have plenty of cash to hand – $1.45tn and rising, according to Moody’s. But whose money is it, anyway?
Horsemeat scandal leaves severe cracks in Tesco's reputation. Getty Images
Tesco has defined the limit of mutual responsibility for supply chains. Having inquired into the provenance of beefburgers that contained horsemeat, it has dumped Silvercrest, its supplier of frozen burgers, essentially for deviating from the list of Tesco-approved meat suppliers.
“The breach of trust is simply too great,” said Tim Smith, the UK retailer’s technical director, in a statement. (The owner and founder of Silvercrest’s parent told the FT earlier this month it had been “let down” by its own suppliers.) Read more
BlackBerry phones by RIM. Getty Images
We are about to find out whether Research in Motion can re-establish itself as a serious competitor in the smartphone world, or will go the way of Palm and others, crushed by Apple and Google.
Judging by alleged leaked photographs of the new BlackBerry London phone that will run BlackBerry 10 software, it seems as if RIM has gone through the full five stages of the Kübler-Ross grief model in response to the iPhone, arriving at “acceptance” and abandoning its illusions.
Having initially protested that few people would want a smartphone without a physical keyboard, and continuing to display a lot of anger and resentment, RIM has changed its management and adjusted to the world as it is. Read more
Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky introduces a new tablet computer. Image by Getty
The unexpected departure of Steven Sinofsky as head of Microsoft’s giant Windows division has some inescapable similarities to that of Scott Forstall, who ran Apple’s mobile software. Read more
Apple's iPad Mini
Who wouldn’t have wanted to be a fly on the wall when Apple’s senior executives were discussing pricing of the new iPad Mini? At $329 (£269 in the UK), the relatively high price now appears to be making investors nervous.
What would Steve Jobs have done? Overpricing of the original Macintosh computer – conceived as a $1,000 machine, which increased to $1,995 because of Jobs’ tinkering with the design – was one of the first big disagreements between Jobs and John Sculley, then Apple’s chief executive.
As Walter Isaacson writes in his biography of the late Apple founder, Mr Sculley’s decision in 1983 to add a further $500 to the price and charge $2,495, to help pay for the huge launch and marketing push, made Jobs furious: “It will destroy everything we stand for,” he said. “I want to make this a revolution, not an effort to squeeze out profits.” Read more
Here’s a quiz: which large US corporation calls itself a “devices and services” company?
b) General Electric
d) Microsoft Read more
The outcry over Apple’s switch on its new operating system and iPhone to its own mapping technology rather than Google Maps strikes me as more serious for the Cupertino wizards than past glitches.
There have been widespread complaints over Siri, the voice-activated artificial intelligence application in the iPhone 4GS and now iPhone 5. But Siri is at least an optional extra, while maps are now a key product feature of smartphones.
The trouble is that Apple is playing catch-up with Google over its mapping technology – it switched to its own information service because it felt that Google was favouring Android phones, leaving the iPhone vulnerable. Read more
Apple $60m settlement with Proview Technology of Shenzhen, the manufacturing city in the Pearl River delta, to gain undisputed control of its iPad trademark, shows how tricky controlling intellectual property in China remains.
China is still stuck between its official policy of moving to more innovation and protection of intellectual property and the sketchier reality on the ground. It remains very easy to buy knock-off Apple phones and components in the Pearl River. Read more
Microsoft’s launch of the Surface, its belated rival to Apple’s iPad, brought an interesting declaration from Steve Ballmer, its chief executive, as reported by the FT:
“We believe that any intersection between human and machine can be made better when all aspects of the experience – hardware and software – are working together,” said Mr Ballmer. Read more