Should you really care what tech critics say?


One thing that has been made abundantly clear over the last decade is that technology critics have endless amounts of advice for the leading companies rooted in conventional wisdom. Somehow, companies that have kept their ears shut or added liberal doses of salt to the advice seem to be the ones that have done better.

Want examples? Here’s what one had to say about Apple in 2004:

If Apple is really the brains of the industry–if its products are so much better than Microsoft’s or Dell’s or IBM’s or Hewlett-Packard’s–then why is the company so damned small?

Regarding mobile devices:

Newton had its problems–it was clunky, hard to use, and probably ahead of its time. But it still seems baffling that Apple failed to capture a meaningful stake in the $3.3 billion market for personal digital assistants (PDAs), a business that by some measures is now growing faster than either mobile phones or PCs.

And iPod & online music:

That’s why recent releases of competing portable music players take on great significance. Selling for as little as $299, the Dell DJ is about $100 cheaper than the iPod with the same 5,000 song capacity. (A $500 iPod holds 10,000 songs). A third product, a 20-GB unit made by Samsung to work with Napster 2.0, costs $100 less than the 20-GB iPod, or about $300, and boasts a lot more features, including a built-in FM transmitter–to play songs on a car radio–and a voice recorder.

And the competition is swarming. Dell and Samsung are challenging enough, but this business is about to turn into a battle of the titans. Wal-Mart is launching a cut-price online music store of its own–and now Microsoft and Sony, no less, are joining the fray. So Apple’s venture into online music is beginning to look like yet another case of frustration-by-innovation. Once again, Apple has pioneered a market–created a whole new business, even–with a cool, visionary product. And once again, it has drawn copycats with the scale and financial heft to undersell and out-market it. In the end, digital music could turn out to be just one more party that Apple started, but ultimately gets tossed out of.

Ending it with this note:

If Apple teaches us anything, it’s that effective innovation is about more than building beautiful cool things.

The rest as the conventional saying goes is history, starting with the iPhone in 2008 and iPad in 2010, and of course iTunes is the defacto online music resource. Also, not to forget Apple’s brief stint as the most valuable company in the world last year. The entire article makes for some very weird reading in hindsight.

Fast forward to the present and critics have upgraded their conventional wisdom to what Apple\Google\Amazon have done, and here’s what one has to tell Microsoft that slipped up on the web and mobile revolution:

Ballmer oversaw a decade of missed opportunities, and he very well may have hastened Microsoft’s decline. But it might have been inevitable. The truth is that for all its claims of innovation, Microsoft never generated much in the way of profits by innovating. This then is a tale of the long, slow death of an enormous cash cow.

And so Apple and Microsoft have had their fortunes reversed in less than a decade, and the critics have been having a ball over the last couple of years as they dish out unsolicited advice to both. Google and Amazon are gradually beginning to receive their share as well, as people try to figure out their long term strategies.

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