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Now that 2014 has come to a close, we can definitively say that the PC market has turned around in the US, growing 5% after years of decline.

Without much category competition, PC innovation grew stagnant over the decades. Then tablets came and easily beat PCs that catered to low cost, light computing needs. PC makers tried new things, but the technology wasn’t ready. New, experimental devices were either too heavy, too slow, too short on battery life or too expensive. Windows 8’s bad reputation certainly didn’t help.

2014 was a comeback because the entire PC value curve shifted upwards significantly. You got far better PCs for a given price, and customers — now used to great smartphones and tablets — demanded and expected quality. Only the top PC makers met that expectation.

Meanwhile, the tablet form factor saw little change so naturally, it made sense for customers to upgrade their old PCs for a dramatically better experience. The tablets they already had were just fine.

Now that we are on the brink of “good enough” convergence between PCs and tablets, I expect the hybrid form factor to grow even more as people seek to save money and do work on their tablets.

Last year, I consistently beat the gong for big display smartphones, and that was before the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus made the notion popular. This year I am beating the gong for hybrid devices.

Well, that was a longer lead-in than I expected to write. On with actual numbers from IDC.

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Let’s talk about the new, 12-inch MacBook Air. Typically, I don’t comment on speculation but 9to5mac seems confident about their information. Anyway, this isn’t about the MacBook Air per se and more on how Apple is still willing to take big risks — which is fantastic — and about their view on computing.

Here’s the quick rundown on those MacBook Air rumors:

  • 12-inch display in an extremely compact design
  • One USB Type-C port, one headphone port and…that’s it for ports
  • Smaller than standard keyboard
  • Trackpad has no mechanical key

The Type-C port, in addition to its typical USB functionality, is also capable of powering the laptop and driving displays. The thinking is that one port will be used for all those things and via hub when needed.

This is a risky design. The Type-C port will break easy compatibility with accessories, similar to the lightning port for iPhone and iPad, and will surely piss some people off. The smaller keyboard may annoy Apple lifers. Removing the mechanical key on the trackpad means the likelihood that a touch is misinterpreted as a tap is higher.

So why do it?

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Tim Cook is fond of citing customer satisfaction scores as an indication of Apple’s truth north — that it’s about making delightful experiences for customers first; with market share and profits further down the list.

He won’t like the most recent customer satisfaction survey about mobile phones from the American Customer Satisfaction Index, based on 70,000 consumers. And that’s because Samsung beat Apple in the latest report.

Fortunately for Cook, the survey was conducted prior to the release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The bigger display just might reverse the trend.

If it doesn’t, it would be interesting to see what Cook has to say in his next keynote.

Making customer satisfaction scores the key metric is tricky business. So much of it is dependent on initial expectations that’s it’s not often a good indicator of actual product worthiness or progress.

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Starbucks is not just in the business of coffee and real estate — they are moving into mobile payments and are Apple Pay’s real competitor.

Earlier this week, Starbucks dropped Square for mobile payment in its stores, unwinding the partnership the companies announced in 2012.

Square had made Square Wallet obsolete in favor of its newer Square Order, but Starbucks declined to support either. According to a spokesperson for Starbucks:

Starbucks is not adopting Square Order in our stores. We opted to build our own mobile ordering solution, leveraging our own mobile app and world-class loyalty program.

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My strategy professor from business school once said that if you left your company’s strategic plan on the bus and a competitor discovered it…and you were then screwed, it was a bad strategic plan. I completely agree.

A great strategy is one that’s unique to your company. For Apple, it’s a commitment to simple designs that cater to the every-person, and to deliver integrated, vertical experiences even if that means basic feature sets. Everyone knows this, but only Apple can be Apple. Only Apple has a large, loyal fan base that absolutely trusts Apple’s product taste and are willing to always pay for it. Only Apple can attract the best talent without needing to pay top dollar for them. Apple’s war chest means they’re able to tightly control their supply chain so competitors have a hard time matching its product quality and profit margins.

Elements of Snapchat’s strategic plan were leaked in the recent hack of Sony Pictures, and so I was surprised to read a very emotional reply from the CEO of Snapchat, Evan Spiegel.

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When you are drinking at a bar or eating in a restaurant, what’s great service? What makes you loyal to a particular place? Is it not when they know who you are, what you like, and can therefore provide a level of service and intimacy that other places can’t match?

Why then is online, targeted advertising so different? Why do people get up-in-arms about companies getting to know you better, so they can show you ads you might actually like more?

That is probably what Mark Zuckerberg is thinking when he reacted to a comment Tim Cook once made:

When an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.

And then Mark Zuckerberg in a recent Time Magazine article:

“A frustration I have,” Zuckerberg says, before a PR handler can change the subject, “is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers. I think it’s the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper!”

I have to side with Zuckerberg here.

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I’ve long maintained that the real competition for Chromebooks aren’t Windows PCs, they’re tablets. Here’s what I wrote:

[The Chromebook] is a device people with low computing needs might deem good enough. It’s capable for mail, web browsing and light office work; and for most people, that’s all they ever need…You know what else is excellent for low computing needs? Tablets, which have already been eating into the PC market for years for precisely that reason. If Chromebooks didn’t exist today, I suspect more tablets would have been sold in its place instead of Ultrabooks.

Chromebooks so far have found most success in the education market, where the device has gone head to head with — you guessed it — the iPad. I also wrote how ridiculous it is for schools to choose iPads over Chromebooks:

Education for children of that age is also relatively basic — it’s about teaching them where and how to research information (browser), how to type (keyboard) and how to write reports (Google docs) — and for that Chromebooks are perfectly adequate. You don’t need anything more advanced (Office) until later, where a similarly priced Windows machine might make more sense.

What doesn’t make any sense are iPads. iPads are consumption devices — what would you need to teach about consumption to kids? Here’s a videogame you should play? Here’s how you watch videos? Here’s how you use Facebook?

Why would you teach a child how to type with an onscreen keyboard instead of a real one?

Add to it the fact that iPads cost nearly twice as Chromebooks, and it just boggles the mind that iPads are doing well in schools at all.

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