Tagged : United States

Google vs. Apple

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today it’s time for part two; “Google vs. Apple”.

Second stop, Silicon Valley, California. It’s the place where companies like Google, Apple, Facebook and thousands of small technology startups have their headquarters. Since I’m interested in technology and use Apple and Google products every day, I decided it would be great to visit these two companies in their real Silicon Valley habitat.

Apple

Apple is well known for its vertically integrated products. It is impossible to (legally) install an app on my iPhone without using the Apple App Store. And their operating system (Mac OSX) only runs on Macbooks and iMacs only. They simply want to be in control of everything. The same applies to their Cupertino headquarters at One Infinite Loop.

Outside, the grass is mown with greatest precision, bushes and flowers are aligned perfectly and the building looks very ‘introvert’. Apple is in full control. Nonetheless, it was possible to go inside and take a quick look at their courtyard.

The same desire for control is apparent here. The courtyard is designed with ‘oversight’ as purpose. There are not trees, no hidden corners, there’s nowhere to ‘hide’ for its employees. But at least they tried to make it look a bit more fun by adding the parasols.

Google

Google’s next. It’s the company who brings us software like Google Search, Gmail, Chrome and Android. Their software, contrary to Apple, can be used by nearly everyone on almost any device. Google believes in an open society, which can be seen in the way they set up their Mountain View headquarters.

There are no fences to stop tourists, they even allowed us to walk among Google staffers in the courtyard at the Googleplex.

There are Google bikes everywhere. These GBikes are used to pedal from one building to another and are free of charge for employees.

Also, Google staffers can use many recreational facilities, like a volleyball court. How cool is that!

And what to think of Stan, the life-sized T-Rex skeleton that lives in the middle of the campus?

But Google definitely won the cool-factor for their headquarters when I saw the driverless Google car which drove around on the parking lot.

It will be interesting to see which of these companies will ultimately win the software battle. Google (open) or Apple (closed). Meantime, based on my visits, Google decisively won the real-world headquarters battle. But how long will their victory last?

Update: In November 2013 I wrote about the new Apple Headquarters. Click here for the article.

My next stop: Highway 1

Read part one of my USA trip here.

Exceeded expectations

My summer holiday of 2012 was a 3000 mile road trip in the United States. It was one of my best holidays ever. So, how come I never wrote about it here? The answer is simple. Since I arrived back in the Netherlands, I’ve been quite busy creating something (more on that in the future). Surprisingly, I finally found some time to write about the USA trip… Today it’s time for part one; “Exceeded expectations”.

The word ‘exceed’ can be applied to both good and bad experiences. It can refer to something that was supposed to be very bad but turned out a bit less bad… in other words, it exceeded the (very low) expectation. Or it refers to something which should be great, but turns out to be even better. In that case, it exceeds the (already high) expectation. Obviously, the latter is the best… but it doesn’t happen that often.

Fast forward to July 2012. I just arrived to San Francisco International Airport, ready for the first part of the trip. I was in awe of the steep streets, old classic houses that spread out over the many hills of San Francisco, the cable trams which move up and down these hills and a beautiful harbor with views over Alcatraz Island, which completes the already perfect picture. It’s easy to see why some say San Francisco is the most beautiful city in the world (my brother is one of them). Others say it’s ‘just’ a very, very beautiful city (I’m one of them).

As a true architecture addict, I was specifically looking forward to seeing and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. In my dreams, I made the bridge bigger and more beautiful than anyone can probably ever imagine. My expectation of this bridge was so big, that it’s impossible to meet this expectation. This meant, the moment I finally saw the Golden Gate Bridge for real, I…

[speechless]

[still speechless]

… Yep, the Golden Gate Bridge exceeded my expectation… by a huge margin.

My next stop: Google and Apple

Too close to call?

For some reason, every self respecting journalist believes the race between Obama and Romney is very close or maybe even too close to call. But is this really the case?

Some national polls predict Obama will be the winner, some say Romney has the upper hand. And all major news outlets claim these national polls really matter… But it doesn’t take long for the very same news outlets to change their mind and state that national polls don’t matter at all. Why not? Well, obviously it’s all about the twelve swing states, or were there only nine? No wait, there’re just five. How could I be wrong about that!

This means there’s only one fact left… it’s all about Ohio.

Right?!

Nope, that’s not the case either. It turns out Obama has a solid 5% lead in this state.

Most people know it’s virtually impossible for Mitt Romney to get to the needed 270 electoral votes without Ohio. This means… wait for it… I can now officially project Barack Obama to win the 2012 elections and continue to be president of the United States.

“A great department store… if it was 1995”

“They toured me through some of the ‘new’ JC Penney stores. I closed my eyes and realized this is a great department store… if it was 1995.” It’s a pretty bad thing to say about a store. And it’s not just anybody who said this. No, it’s JC Penney’s own CEO, Ron Johnson.

I guess things must be really bad when your CEO says these kinds of things about your own company. This leaves me with two questions. 1) Who is this guy and 2) what should a great department store look like?

1) Who is Ron Johnson?

He’s the guy who pioneered the concept of the Apple Store and the Genius Bar at Apple. Under Johnson’s direction, Apple’s retail stores achieved a record level of growth, exceeding a billion dollars in annual sales within two years of their debut. Last year, he left Apple to join JC Penney, a US department store, as its new CEO. He wants to achieve the same with JC Penney as he did with Apple.

I think it’s safe to assume this guy knows something about business and retail. And, more importantly, he knows what to do in order to turn JC Penney into a great modern department store. That leaves us with question two.

2. What does a great department store look like?

Huge assortments and one-stop shopping – Many ‘experts’ are confident the current retail model is broken. Physical stores will be replaced by online versions. Within years, all we do is shop online. Jonson disagrees. He quickly points out people thought the same when Apple launched the Apple Store. Which turned out not to be the case.

Physical stores are still the primary way people acquire merchandise, and he thinks that will be true 50 years from now. Ron Johnson sees no reason why department stores can’t flourish. They can be people’s favorite place to shop. They’ve got all these strategic advantages like the lowest cost of real estate, exceptional access to merchandise and scale to create enormous marketing power. Besides, people like stores with huge assortments and one-stop shopping. It’s just the way departments stores look, their lack of imagination and the way they engage customers.

Specialty stores – When people want a great product, they visit specialty stores like H&M, Nike or Zara. Shoppers are done with wading through “an endless sea of racks.” This is not just true for JC Penney. It’s a larger industry trend. Based on research about American’s shopping habits, it’s clear that specialty stores work. “In a world where the product we want is just a key-word search away, we’ve lost our tolerance for complexity,” Johnson said.

That’s why JC Penney’s plan includes creating 100 specialty stores within the department stores. The move expands on what Penney has already done, creating store-within-a-store areas where sales per square meter are three times higher than the average of the rest of Penney. Within four years, all department stores will be completely redone.

Main street and Town Square – The sea of outdated merchandising fixtures from the 1980’s will be replaced by a hundred specialty stores, essentially creating a small town. Just like any town, this means a street is needed. And that’s exactly what Ron Jonson created when he imagined the Main Street concept. Main Street will be the aisles that guide you around the store, passing all of these specialty stores. This Main Street showcases trend-right brands and so called experiences. The comparison with a local town doesn’t stop here. In the center of the store there will be a Town Square. What will this Town Square be? That’s still a secret. All we know is that Johnson said it contained “truly innovative thinking” and will be revealed in 2013.

Just like Apple

While analysts think these changes are a “revolutionary approach to retailing” and “it will have other retailers waking up,” I think you could have seen these changes coming months ago. Because this approach to retail is essentially the same as Ron Jonson did when he pioneered the Apple Stores a decade ago. And Johnson freely admits he’s ‘stealing’ Apple’s floor plans from its retail stores.

Apple stores are split in two, Johnson explained. The “Red Zone” is where customers discover new products and the “family room” is where returning customers come to learn something new or fix their products, like the Genius Bar. This obviously is very similar to the Main Street and Town Square concept he imagined for JC Penney.

“It seems like change takes place over night, but it really doesn’t,” Johnson said. “Something I learned while at Apple is ‘Every journey begins with just one step.'”

new years eve at times square new york city

Happy New Year!

It’s cold and you can’t see a thing. Nonetheless, a million people visit Times Square on the last day of December. And this year was no exception. They see the famous New Year’s Eve Ball descend from the flagpole atop One Times Square. In 2008 I was there too. It was great. I did see the famous ball and the fireworks. But it was a long and cold wait…

Anyway, Happy New Year!