What would a search page created by Apple look like? Comparing Google, Microsoft and Apple brands via their fonts

Over the weekend I began thinking – having read the excellent analysis over at SFGate about how Apple used Sony’s initial strategy to focus only on the very best products – about Apple and Google and Microsoft, and particularly their logos.

Logos? Logos.

A quick word first though about that SFGate analysis, which bounces off Alan Deutshcmann, who wrote the (also splendid) Second Coming of Steve Jobs.

Deutschman sees Jobs as having some uncanny similarities to Sony’s founder — not Akio Morita, who was Sony’s CEO and public face, but his elder partner Masaru Ibuka, the proprietor of the original radio repair shop that evolved into the electronics giant and, during its rise to market dominance, the company’s chairman and the architect of its philosophical foundation.

“Ibuka was really the heart and soul of the company,” says Deutschman, who wrote about Sony’s elder statesman in his most recent book, “Walk the Walk.” “He was the one responsible for Sony’s sense of purpose. This was a company that was launched in a Tokyo that had been leveled by firebombing in World War II, that had experienced the kind of destruction associated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and whose residents were facing homelessness, hunger and desperation. And yet Ibuka laid out a mission statement for Sony that was aimed at changing the world.”

That statement was simple and to the point: “Sony will be the company that is most known for transforming the global image of Japanese goods as being of poor quality.” It defined Sony by what it would not do — make bad products — making it something of an omission statement, if you will.

Note how you could apply precisely that same logic to Apple. Indeed, one of the big things that Jobs did on returning to Apple was to chop the list of products from 15 to four (and only three of those actually released).

By way of example, Deutschman tells the story of how Sony entered the color TV marketplace, noting that in the Sixties, when color TV was going from 3% to 25% of the market, Sony was one of the few electronics companies that didn’t sell a color model. “People were telling Ibuka, ‘You have to come in to this market, everyone will take your market share,'” says Deutschman. “And Ibuka refused, saying, ‘No, we will only do great products. We will only do high quality goods. We will only do breakthrough technology.'”

As a result, the company found itself in a precarious financial situation, losing out to its primary rivals — until it came upon the aperture-grille technology that Sony unveiled in 1966 as the core of the Trinitron TV. A full 25% brighter than its rivals, Trinitron became the best-selling color TV for the next quarter century.

That’s very interesting.

Now, the next thing I wondered about was: what would a search page created by Apple look like? It would have lots of things left out. It wouldn’t hassle you with adverts. It would try to be simple, and only have what it needed. In fact, it would look rather like… the Google search page.

Which then got me thinking about the fonts that those two companies used. Below is a picture of the Google logo as it is, and the Google logo created with an approximation of Apple’s Garamond font (which it used for the “Think Different” campaigns in the 1990s and on).

However, you have to work out which is which. And which is which? (No cheating by looking at a Google page, of course.)

(In case you’re interested, Google actually uses the Catull font.)

On to other things. Microsoft uses Helvetica in a bold italic. I haven’t got exactly the right version on my system, but it’s close.

Would you think differently of the other two companies if they used the same style for their logos? Does Google seem more Google-y because it uses a particular font?

Finally, Apple has begun using the Myriad font, which is a sans-serif font – think of the adverts for iPads all over the place. Again, I don’t have the exact typeface, but I’ve got something that’s an approximation. How would you think of these companies if they used these fonts?

Recall that one of the course Steve Jobs did when he had half-dropped out of Reed University (ie still attending courses) was calligraphy and typography.

So – does a typeface make a difference to how you think of a company? Would Microsoft feel more like Google to you if it used the same typeface – formally, a serif font? Has Apple changed slightly by going from Garamond to Myriad? These are subtle branding questions, but subtle branding is an important part of a big business.

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‘Steve Jobs would walk in, say ‘this is far too big’ and walk out…’ MusicMatch, the iPod and the Dell DJ

In case you’re interested in how the book will read, here’s something that I wrote last night. It’s looking at one of the key stages in the iPod’s development: the very early stages. So here’s some draft content. It’s got notes and repetitions and things that need to be tweaked, and the name of the main interlocutor has been removed because, well, that’s for the book, isn’t it?

Comments welcome (eg “you left out the bit where…” or “just as important in 2002 was…”). And I’m really interested in hearing from anyone who:
– worked for/with Microsoft around the time it was trying to get Windows Media Player/Audio/Janus implemented

– worked for/with Microsoft on its “online services” system – MSN – while it was being passed by Google in 2002-4 for revenues and market share: what did Microsoft think, internally? (I’d be just as interested in talking to someone who mentioned this to Microsoft as an ex-Microsoftie.)

– worked for/with Google pre-IPO who could talk about its thinking over whether it wanted to confront Microsoft.

And pretty much everything else on Microsoft/Apple/Google. Get in touch, or tell the people you know who know and ask them to get in touch.

Text restarts below the picture. Nice picture!

Photo by Olivier Bruchez on Flickr. Some rights reserved

The launch of the iPod in 2001 intrigued MusicMatch, and soon they were talking to Apple about the possibility of tweaking their software so that the millions of Windows users – a huge, untapped market for the iPod – could use it with their machine. At the time the iPod’s iTunes software only worked on Macs, and required a high-speed Firewire connection – which every Macintosh since 1999 had, but which was comparatively rare on Windows machines. Even so, enough had it (because the Windows PC market was so big and various) that it made sense for MusicMatch to offer it.

In July 2002, Apple introduced its second-generation iPod, with up to 20GB of storage – and introduced “iPod for Windows”, which used MusicMatch’s software to connect to Windows PCs.

BBB knew that the relationship with Apple was on borrowed time: “we could see that if it took off then they would write iTunes for Windows and steamroller us,” he recalls. But the experience was fascinating, and there was always the possibility that MusicMatch might be able to engineer some way to hold on to Apple – or perhaps to get Apple to hold onto it.

He had a number of meetings which Jobs attended: “generally he would walk in, say ‘this is shit’, and walk out,” he recalls. “Or he would say ‘this is far too big. It’s too bulky.’”

At the time the music business was in flux. The original incarnation of the file-sharing network Napster had been downed in the courts, but that had led to a hydra-headed decentralised sharing system called Gnutella, which had no central index as Napster had had. The record labels had nothing to aim at.

Since they were unable to shut down those networks, the record labels’ logical next move was to prevent music being ripped from CDs onto computers; that would prevent new songs being uploaded and shared, and should tamp down piracy. “Sony had had success in Japan with the MiniDisc format, which prevented you from copying songs back and forth,” said BBB. “Together with Sony Music, they seemed to have the formula. And Sony Electronics was huge in those days.” So the labels pressed for similar copy-prevention technology – known in the business as “digital rights management” software – to be included in music players and ripping software, and separately on CDs.

BBB adds his own context to the labels’ drive to get DRM instilled everywhere: “in the record business, everyone feels that they got screwed in their last deal. So in the next one they’re always looking to get the best possible deal. Songs will have different publishing rights in different countries. And the record labels and the publishers don’t see eye to eye. It’s a recipe for disagreement.” And for stalemate.

But Microsoft was listening to the record companies’ calls. It was a company full of skilled programmers who would be able to write software that would implement DRM to prevent copying. It quickly devised a strategy: using its Windows Media Audio format (which “independent” tests suggested gave better listening results and smaller files than MP3 at the same compression ratio). Files ripped on PCs using Windows Media Player, the default system, would be transferred with DRM onto digital music players so that the songs could not be copied onto another PC. That would tie the player to its owner’s computer. And uploading WMA files protected in that way to file-sharing networks would mean they wouldn’t work on the PCs of anyone else who downloaded them.

It was a brilliant strategy, except for two things. First, CD-ripping was still a minority sport limited to people who understood how to do it and what its purpose was; that meant they were specialists who were wise to Microsoft’s machinations especially the DRM,. (The high profile of Microsoft’s conviction in the antitrust case had eroded user trust that it was really acting in their best interests, rather than the interests of its partners.) They instead downloaded other programs – such as MusicMatch – which could play WMA files but could also rip songs into MP3 format.

The second problem was Microsoft overcooked the software, says BBB: “it was just too hefty for the hardware. It didn’t quite work right. There would be glitches, and the drivers didn’t quite work right, and the transfer was really slow.” That was because they relied on USB 1.1, rather than Firewire, connections. Firewire was about ?20-40 times faster[how much faster Firewire than USB] and USB 2.0, the faster standard that was comparable in speed, wouldn’t arrive until XXX[when USB 2 released?] and would take some time to become widespread in consumer electronics devices – particularly digital music players.

Then there was the industrial design aspect. BBB recalls seeing the prototype for the third-generation iPod during a discussion with Apple executives; Steve Jobs made an appearance – “he would kind of drift in and out”, is how he puts it – to pick the prototype up and criticise it for being too thick and then walk out.

A month of so later BBB was at the headquarters of Dell Computer in Austin, Texas. Dell was eager to get into this burgeoning market: it reasoned that it could use Microsoft’s software, and design its own hardware (as it did with PCs) but that unlike Apple it would be able to use its buying heft to drive down costs and so undercut Apple. The market was there for the taking.

BBB was handed a prototype for the Dell DJ player, which like the iPod used a 1.8” hard drive. “Jeez, this thing us HUGE!” he blurted out.

It was indeed noticeably deeper than Apple’s existing iPod, and substantially more than the forthcoming iPod – which MusicMatch knew about but about which its team had been sworn to secrecy, on pain of extremely costly legal action. “One of the Dell designers explained that that was because the Toshiba version of the hard drive had its connector on the side, and the Hitachi one had it on the bottom, but because they were dual-sourcing they could get the price down by 40 cents,” BBB recalls. “That was the difference in a nutshell. Apple was all about the industrial design and getting it to work. Dell was all driven by their procurement guys.”


In September 2003 Apple launched its third-generation iPod, supplanting the one that Dell’s engineers had been comparing their design against. This one was notable for two features: four touch buttons just below the screen, instead of being embedded into the scroll wheel – a feature that was abandoned in the next generation as unwieldy – and a proprietary 30-pin dock connector on the bottom of the device. That allowed it to connect to a Firewire or USB 2.0 port, via a cable. (The buyer had to specify which cable they wanted.)

more to come….

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Microsoft/Apple/Google: can you spot the company from its staffer’s description?

Welcome to Microsoft. Photo by mbtrama on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Given that I’m writing a book about Microsoft, Apple and Google, and about the business practices inside them and what sorts of effects they lead to, I felt quite pleased when I came across someone who has worked for all three.

The interview was very interesting; particularly interesting was the description of how the companies work internally. But here’s where I turn it over to you.

Can you figure out the company from the description?

1) “The engineers pretty much run it.”
2) “Marketing really drives it.”
3) “It’s pretty much run from the top.”

OK? Now here’s another trio (might be the same order as above, might be different)

1) “There’s definitely more of a rah-rah approach there than at the others.”
2) “It’s really difficult to move between teams.”
3) “It’s really easy to move between teams.”

So here’s the question I’d pose to you: which companeis do you think those are (I’ll reveal it in a later post), and more importantly, why? Why is that your picture of each of those companies?

Although if you’ve worked for any (or all, or some) of Microsoft/Apple/Google, then please do pile in, or contact me at charles.arthur+rivals@gmail.com.

OK, comments are yours…

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A request: does anyone have (or know where to find) Apple’s and Microsoft’s financials from 1980-1998 or so?

A simple request, but it’s one of those ones where once you start looking you keep ending up in blind alleys.

What I want: some numbers for Apple’s financial results (sales, profit, ideally numbers of machines sold and average selling price, aka ASP) from, well, as early as possible; and Microsoft’s sales by division from, say, 1985, though 1991 would do it. I can find financial results for Microsoft on its site going back to 1991, but – and it’s a big but – they’re not split into divisions.

Why do I want it? Because ASP for Apple gear is an important point: Steve Jobs said, I believe, about his time away from Apple that “the money men took over” and made the products too expensive and failed to focus on quality. (Find the link if you can, though I’m sure it’s out there – possibly from a Forbes interview in his “resting” years.)

As for Microsoft, I’m trying to figure out how their divisional earnings varied, and also to see if there’s a consolidated look back at their numbers. In working through existing quarterly financial results, I’ve found enormous variations (so that a year later, its look back at the year before doesn’t square with the numbers previously reported), plus divisions – especially the creation of “Windows and Windows Live” – confuse the long-term view.

So if you do have those numbers, I’d be really grateful. Acknowledgements in the book and all that.

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If ecosystems are what breeds success, where is Google’s?

In researching this book, one of the things that occurs to me is that ecosystems are, if not everything, then crucial to success.

And the success is magnified if you have a hardware *and* a software ecosystem.
Windows succeeded because it had the software ecosystem (all those apps, plus all those in-house apps you never saw written for companies) plus a hardware ecosystem (all those PCs) plus a “human” ecosystem – all those people with Microsoft skills who could sort your Windows systems out. That’s a killer scene.

With the (original) iPod, there wasn’t a software ecosystem, but there was a hell of a hardware ecosystem: by the end of 2005, it was worth $1bn at least (likely much more, because that number doesn’t include online sales) – see this New York Times article which quotes NPD Group having a good stab at it.

If you have any data about the size of the iPod or iPhone ecosystem, I’d love to see it. Drop links or other info in the comments, please.

Then you have the iPhone, which has both a software and a hardware ecosystem (all those iPhone docks and bumpers and cases).

In which case: what is Google’s ecosystem? OK, in Android it is (a) software in the Android Market (b) hardware in the shape of the actual phones. Fair enough. But is that a lock? The handset makers don’t have that much invested in the success of Android – if something else comes along, they might rush to that.

Is that right? And is the Android ecosystem the real hardware one for Google? Is there anything else? Is there a software ecosystem for Google, the search engine, and its properties? (Arguably there’s a human one, in the form of SEO experts.)

Also: what about the companies that failed to thrive – Palm, Psion? Did they lack one of the key ingredients, or did they just predate the internet too much?

Once you think about ecosystems around products, you can see how powerful it is: look at Coca-cola, which generates huge revenues and has a hardware ecosystem (all those bottles and cans) and “software” (advertising) and “human” (vendors) invested in its success.

But to focus again: what is the Google ecosystem in software, and in hardware? Does it matter if it has one?

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The Rivals: prospective title for a book about Microsoft, Apple and Google

Welcome to my little blog. I’m writing a book which has the loose title above (don’t worry, it’ll almost certainly change by the time it comes to be published). And I wondered if you’d like to help, in return for acknowledgements in the book itself.

Some obvious questions:
1) Who are you?

I’m Charles Arthur. I’m technology editor at The Guardian.

2) What’s the book really about, though?

It’s trying to examine the various battles that these three companies have fought, and continue to fight, in their various fields; each has won at least one (Microsoft beat Apple in personal computing, Apple beat Microsoft in iPods, Google beat Microsoft in search, and now Apple and Google are battling each other – and Microsoft – in smartphones. (At the moment you could say Google has the upper hand, judged by the number of phones running its Android platform sold this year. But is that the correct way to measure success? That’s the sort of question I’ll try to answer.)

3) What are you hoping to find out/demonstrate?

What the business processes and working practices are and were inside and outside those companies which led to their various successes and failures. Why did almost the same strategy lead to failure for Apple in PCs and success in iPods? Why didn’t Microsoft think search was important when Google did?

4) What do you want from us readers of this blog?

Some help, a little crowdsourcing, insights, advice, that sort of thing.

First, if you are or were an Apple, Microsoft or Google employee and have insights about the processes that led to any of these decisions, then I’d love to hear from you. You can remain as anonymous as you like; email me on charles.arthur+rivals@gmail.com. Details of when and so on would all be helpful.

For non-ex-or-present employees at those places, your input is still helpful: for instance, there are lots of things where I might appreciate a fact-check, or a thought. I’ll try to post regularly here, and maybe invite commentary.

I do want to emphasise that I want this to be a book which will give insight into business practice, and give us the wider picture – so that when we’re trying to analyse whether a company with a plan is going to make a success of it, we can watch its various moves and say “well, this is like that failed strategy, but this is like that successful one.. so on balance…” It’s definitely *not* about “X is better than Y so nyaah”. I’ll probably just delete any comments like that.

And I think we can agree – can’t we? – that in this trio of companies we have the triumvurate: the focus on design, on management, on (software) engineering. If we can draw lessons from what they did, then we ought to be well set up for other things too.

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