Ron Johnson: Apple Veteran and Bane of JCPenney

May 6th 2015 in Apple, Blog

The tech world is full of movers and shakers, but most of them are behind the scenes. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have long been household names but mostly as nebulous icons known for warring personalities. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good “Amadeus” style rivalry? Beyond that you’ll still find quite a few people who know about Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg. But once you get past half a dozen or so of these names, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows that there’s a guy named Michael Dell who started building PCs in his dorm room. For the most part, these guys are invisible. That makes sense; they’re busy working, and if something is functioning well, why peel back that curtain?

Most people who are out accomplishing great things don’t care as much about recognition as the general public assumes. At the end of the day, Steve Wozniak doesn’t actually care as much about the fact that most people assume Steve Jobs did all the work because he knows that’s not really the case. There’s also the fact that any smart person knows that anything worth building on huge scale isn’t going to just blossom because a goofy nerd had a neat idea. There’s so many components to making a viable product and turning it into a profitable business that anyone going to it alone is going to faily miserably. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak both freely admitted that without the other, there would be no Apple. Jobs wouldn’t have been able to build the computer infrastructure he dreamed up on his own; Woz wanted to give it away for free.

Today, one of those men behind the curtain announced a new startup. And he’s interesting. Let’s meet this guy.

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This guy. Hi Ron!

You’ve never heard of him, but if you’re reading this blog it’s probably a given that you’ve been inside a building he is responsible for. This man’s name is Ron Johnson and for ten years, he was the senior vice president of retail operations at Apple. The close ties between Apple and Disney led to Apple taking a cue from the Mouse House and taking the leap of creating its own retail stores. Apple Stores were a hit, and in two years, they had made a cool billion dollars, ousting GAP as the king of retail records. The CEO of GAP and Apple shareholder Mickey Drexler was also responsible for much of Apple’s retail success by insisting to the hotheaded Johnson/Jobs duo that they needed to test their unproven idea before blindly launching it.

Not only did the addition of a retail arm add another money hose directly into Apple’s seemingly infinite coffers, the wildly popular retail presence injected life into the dull sterility of computer showrooms everywhere. And the Apple Stores themselves became a must-see destination for any cool kid’s trip to the mall. With their soft bright lights, smooth wood tables, and lots of open spaces, the stores themselves are just plain fun to just be in. You could argue that certain OS X programs, like Photo Booth, were partially intended as a means of in-store entertainment and a way to get some good word-of-mouth advertistment going.

With Apple as his most obvious success, Ron Johnson has had an intriguing career with only one major hiccup. His first career highlight was as the vice president of merchandising for Target and as you’ll see, things here were already paving the way for Apple. Ron Johnson became intrigued by clean design, and the mark he left on Target was major; he successfully secured famed postmodern and New Urbanist architect Michael Graves’ revolutionary brain to design low-cost, pleasant, and even elegant household wares. Graves, who passed away in March, was one of the original superstar designers whose name was respected outside of the architecture community he dominated. (After health issues left him wheelchair bound as well as a frequent hosiptal guest, he became an advocate for less austere design in medical facilities). With Johnson’s direction and Graves’ design, Target has consquently become established as something of a Braun in the world of boring-ass grocery stores, always aiming just a bit higher than its Wal-Mart and K-Mart siblings.

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“The Michael Graves Target kitchen set is the prettiest thing I have ever owned.” – Michelangelo

Then came Johnson’s Apple years. Leading a team that had experience with the Disney Stores, Johnson worked thrived under Steve Jobs’ high standards of efficiency and design to create a model so successful that other tech brands like Micrsoft and Sony tried to emulate it, albeit unsuccessfully. Johnson doesn’t seem like a guy who coasts on success. With his successful impact at Target and Apple, he decided to go for the impossible. Remember JCPenney? (Ya’know, your mom’s favorite place to buy all your school clothes?) JCPenney was stagnating at best and wanted to change. So Johnson, eager for another challenge, and JCP, expecting the most fabulous makeover that retail money can buy, decided to make some CEO magic happen. It….uh…didn’t go well.

You’ve probably noticed that every time you go to a department store that there is always a sale and there are coupons everywhere. If you’re like me, you think it’s messy, confusing, and redundant. The way the pricing model works in a store like JCP is designed around overpricing the merchandise and always offering deals and sales so that people feel like they’re getting a great bargain. One of Johnson’s changes was to do away with coupons and sales, and approach pricing the same way Apple does. One price everywhere. But instead of testing in a few stores as retail giants usually do, the change was instant and wide. Johnson’s leadership style had been developed and honed for over a decade at Apple. Like many tech companies, Apple never really left startup mode. As a tech startup that hit big, Apple is able to veer in new directions much faster than a 110-year old mall fixture that’s known for khakis and bedsheets.

Going from working at one of the world’s most successful companies to one of the most fastest-sinking was likely a bit of a shock for Johnson and his 14-month stint as Penney’s CEO would make John Sculley blush. Twenty-one thousand people lost their jobs, sales fell 25%, stock prices plummeted, and a billion dollars was lost (half of it in the final quarter). While many think that Johnson at worst may have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, some have harsher words. Columbia professor and former Sears Canada CEO Mark Cohen told The New Yorker, “There is nothing good to say about what he’s done. Penney had been run into a ditch when he took it over. But, rather than getting it back on the road, he’s essentially set it on fire.”

Retail is a different beast than a billion dollar Silicon Valley empire, and Johnson’s hindsight shows that he understands that now. Johnson is now combining his more successful retail and tech experience, one that caters to the rising instant/mobile-influenced generation of shoppers. The company is Enjoy Technology. When a purchase is made, an expert will deliver your item and show you how to use it. Aspects of the business are reminiscent of the Apple Store experience. Just as Mac owners can visit the Genius Bar for friendly tech support, Enjoy customers can hire an expert for $99 to visit them for approximately an hour and give them a hands-on lesson regarding a product. Conceptually, Enjoy seems like a much better fit for Ron Johnson. Instead of trying to fit a radical new idea into a hardened out-of-date mold, Johnson will have the freedom he did at Apple to experiment radically with less repercussion. And with potential competitors like Amazon trying to get consumers excited about a freaking button, Johnson’s blend of instant gratification and human interaction may prove to be the start of an entirely different shopping experience.

Why Did No One Care About NFC Until Apple Did?

January 28th 2015 in Apple, Blog, Technology

One of the most talked about aspects of last fall’s new iPhone lineup was the Apple Pay feature. Using contactless NFC (near field communication) technology built into your phone, this software allows for making payment without a physical credit card. And by using your fingerprint instead of an easily stolen PIN, verification is more secure. Staying true to the form of the best technology streamlining simple tasks to be even simpler and aiding in the decluttering of our lives, Apple Pay was a hit.

Much of the appeal for the upcoming Apple Watch comes from it featuring NFC as well, allowing you to pay with a swipe of the wrist.

Critics were quick to point out something; Apple didn’t invent NFC technology. In fact, it’s been present in phones for quite a while. Nokia started introducing NFC in 2006, and Samsung has been using it in their phones for several years now.

Words like “steal” get tossed around quite a bit in tech these days. Sure, tech companies are always at each other’s throats in bitter court battles, but most of that is a formality. But the heart of a thriving market has always been in competition, and that will only come about when companies try to out-do each other. For the most part, this will work out well for everyone involved. In trying to beat the competitor, a company will push itself beyond what it thought was possible and ideally create the best product it can. To that end, customers will end up with a selection of top-notch products or services that they can choose from.

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Pictured: some healthy competition.

Apple didn’t invent the computer. Instead, they made it more accessible to the general public. They didn’t invent the MP3 player, but instead used the classic “razor and blades” approach with the iPod and iTunes store respectively. Apple didn’t invent the smartphone, but they once again made it accessible and approachable to the average consumer. These innovations were so successful that in 2007 the company changed its name from Apple Computer, Inc. to a simpler Apple, Inc., thus signifying a shift to consumer electronics in a broader sense.

This isn’t a “let us now bow down and worship Steve Jobs” article. But as it stands, Apple is currently the world’s most valuable brand. Even if you hate them, you have to admit that they are clearly doing something right. So what is it?

The two things that Apple has gotten ridiculously right are branding and environment. I’ve talked before about the anecdotes I collected working the sales counter in an Apple retailer and I’m still amused by the amount of people who would complain to me about how much they hated Apple because of how expensive it is, or because Steve Jobs was a jerk, Apple is about to start losing money, etc, etc. Joke’s on them though, because they still came in to buy a $2000 Facebook machine. Oh, and Apple just had the most profitable quarter of any company in history. As in, they blew past the previous record quarter which was held by a natural gas company. Right after “everyone” said their gargantuan iPhones would fail. But negative critics are often the loudest. Most people are happy with the products that Apple offers. Those kinds of numbers don’t lie.

One of the biggest things they have gotten right is branding. Their logo doesn’t say “Apple” anywhere. And yet, you see it and just know. Apple. It’s a McDonalds/Nike/Starbucks level of recognition. That’s impressive. The reason for this is the overall branding of Apple’s products as not just a computer or phone, but also as a lifestyle choice. An Apple product is more than a chunky plastic workhorse. I’ve been in many – I use this term lovingly! – snobby people’s homes that look like something from a magazine or Pinterest board and have often seen a large iMac front and center in the living room, frequently in place of a TV. These are well-designed products and pleasant to look at, not things that get tucked away in a home office. People like to be seen with an Apple product. The pride in the design on both the part of the company and their customers is a large reason for the company’s success and the Apple logo represents that.

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Well, it does now.

The other aspect of Apple that has given them a solid edge over their competition is the environment they created. Apple has their own ecosystem from the moment you buy the computer to every time you use it to rent a movie. Their products all work together seamlessly and require no third parties. The strength of Apple’s ecosystem extends beyond the retail aspect of retail Apple Stores and iTunes. It is inherent in the software as well. Both the desktop software (OSX) and the mobile software (iOS) are built in-house at Apple and in collaboration with the people who design the products. This gives a certain level of seamlessness that no one else can boast of. Android for instance has to work on many devices made by many different companies. This means that glitches and bugs are going to be more common. Many complain of Apple’s closed off ecosystem, but it certainly serves a purpose in functionality.

So why did no one seem to care about NFC until Apple jumped into the game? Because many other tech companies have a history of putting out half-baked prototypes that don’t make enough of an impact to stick around. Apple has a reputation for taking its time and putting out a product that will integrate easily with the rest of its carefully constructed environment.

Is this fair to other companies? Of course it is. Companies like Samsung, Microsoft, and Google are successful in their own way. They’re all worth billions of dollars as well. They’ve all found their own niche and taken it. But Apple’s niche happens to be the one with the widest reach: taking a complicated tech product that others haven’t quite nailed down and making it accessible and understandable to everyone.

Those New iPhone Sizes and Wovax

September 22nd 2014 in Apple

There’s been a fair amount of controversy in the tech world around Apple’s new iPhone sizes but over at Wovax we’re pretty excited about them. And now that we’ve had a chance to play with both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus, we thought we’d say a few words about the design of the phones.

The phone pictured is the iPhone 6 and at 4.7″ the screen size isn’t too radically different from many other phones on the market (for comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was 4.8″). The rounded edges are a fantastic grip and make it even easier to hold as you don’t have sharper edges digging into your fingertips. The power button has also shifted to the right side of the phone rather than the top right, making it easier to access with the larger width.


Where the phone really shines aesthetically is the screen itself. When people say that iPhone screens are still getting clearer and sharper, you look at your current iPhone and think “really? Cause this one is pretty durn good.” The pixels per inch (ppi) are the same as the iPhone 5s at 326 ppi but the bump in screen size really gives the HD display a chance to pop. And it definitely pops in a way that the 4″ models weren’t quite able to.


The iPhone 6 Plus is probably too big for many consumers as the 5.5″ screen size would make it kind of a sporting event to hold all the time. But while holding it I was surprised at how sleek it felt. The thin body and rounded edges make it feel much smaller than it actually is. The screen glass on both models is also rounded at the edge, providing a seamless transition into the side of the device.

At Wovax we’re excited about the way our apps already look on these new screens and are going to be optimizing the app framework to take full advantage of the new sizes.

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Wovax’s blog app running on an iPad Air, iPhone 6, iPhone 5s and iPhone 5.

Apple Just Killed the Phone: And That’s Great!

September 10th 2014 in Apple, Blog

Part of what drives people in their decision to purchase a phone is the screen size. A frequent criticism that has been directed at Apple’s smartphone lineup is the lack of a “phablet” size. Of course that changed yesterday when Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus which respectively come in at a diagonal screen measurement of 4.7 and 5.5 inches. For comparison, the most recent iPhone models are the 5, 5s, and 5c which come in at 4 inches; the 4s and all previous iterations were 3.5 inches.

iPhone 6 iPhone 6 Plus smartphone phone Woväx

Of course, many Android smartphones such as the Samsung Note 4 have been boasting screens as large as 5.7 inches. And that’s where the criticisms have been pouring in. Why won’t Apple give us bigger screens? Everyone else has been doing it for years now! But Apple’s apprehension at jumping into the phablet market is understandable, and not necessarily for fear that they would be seen as copycats or trying to keep up with a passing fad. The push for larger smartphone screens is part of the change in how we compute. And once Apple realized that this change wasn’t a fad and would drive people to larger devices for good was when they embraced and adopted it.

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The Samsung Note 4 which actually comes with a stylus.

We’ve talked about our mobile devices becoming an integral part of how we communicate and stay updated via the web. But it’s not always practical to have a tablet with you, as portable as they are. And a slim screen will only get you so far if you need to get some serious work done on the go; the limitations can definitely become frustrating.

Using myself as an example, I honestly didn’t have much interest in a larger phone screen. The 4-inch has been great for me and it gets the the job done. But since I’ve started working here at Wovax my mobile needs have changed. Part of my job in updating our social networks is monitoring them away from the office which means that I’ll be writing more on my phone than I ever have before; and I’m not really into hauling my iPad around town all the time (although I am enjoying using it to write up this post in a coffee shop). The biggest 5.5″ screen size isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but it will definitely have its fair share of users. And as people in general get used to larger phone screens, they’ll become more ubiquitous as a whole.

I’ve always used the term “pocket computers” to jokingly refer to devices such as smartphones and iPod Touches as a way to point out how insanely mind-blowing it really is that we have these useful devices on our persons all the time. But as the screen sizes increase and the processors get more and more powerful, this term is becoming reality. And now that all the major smartphone manufacturers are on the same playing field, it’s official: the phone is dead. What you now have is a portable computer that also calls people. It isn’t too far off to imagine that soon the iPhone could be completely rebranded as a product without “phone” in the name.

With these larger screen sizes comes a unique opportunity for us at Wovax. As was displayed in the Apple Keynote yesterday, the iPhone 6 will have a similar UI design to the iPad, and even features that are reminiscent of the desktop, such as displaying the dock on the side of the screen. Wovax is excited to begin development on updates that will allow our apps to work seamlessly with the extra screen space these new phones offer.

And yes, there will be soon be things cooking up over here for the Apple Watch as well!

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Before you go be sure to check out our recently launched Wovax app in the App Store so you can stay updated with all of our blog posts!

Apple partners with IBM to sell iPads & iPhones

July 15th 2014 in Apple, Blog

Apple and IBM today announced a wide-ranging partnership that will see IBM help sell the iPhone and iPad to its business clients bundled with new mobile management technology for iOS.

The deal will bring “more than 100 industry-specific enterprise solutions” to Apple’s mobile devices, along with IBM’s suite of cloud services such as “device management, security, analytics and mobile integration.” Apple will also offer enterprise-tailored AppleCare plans, and IBM will bundle packages that include “device activation, supply and management.”
“For the first time ever we’re putting IBM’s renowned big data analytics at iOS users’ fingertips, which opens up a large market opportunity for Apple. This is a radical step for enterprise and something that only Apple and IBM can deliver,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement.

While the new partnership makes perfect business sense, it still feels odd for the companies to work together.

Decades ago, the two were fierce competitors, though they’ve since gone their separate ways as Apple focused on consumer technology and IBM burrowed deeper into the enterprise.

Apple partners with IBM

Apple on its own has been successful at reaching the top tiers of the business world, especially with new bring-your-own-device IT policies. The company’s mobile devices are deployed at most Fortune 500 and Global 500 corporations. IBM, however, can help Apple target specific industries in order to capture even more market share.

At its Worldwide Developer Conference last month, Apple touted new enterprise features on iOS 8, such as enhanced data protection and improved document sharing.


source TNW