Jon Rubinstein sits down with Kara Swisher at CES 112
A few months ago we were laughing at/with Palm investor Roger McNamee after his All Things D interview with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg. And this year at CES, Palm saw fit to send just CEO Jon Rubinstein into the gauntlet, and even in the face of what some may call some rather nonsensical and unnecessarily combative and prying questioning from Swisher alone, he held up well. Sure, Swisher wanted to know what’s coming next, but Rubinstein would have nothing of it and refused to divulge any new details. That said, there were still some interesting things to take away from the interview, like Rubinstein’s admission of having never used an iPhone.
The revelation came up during talk about Apple, where Rubinstein oversaw the development of the iPod. He admitted that he didn’t pay attention “day-to-day” what competitors were doing, “This may sound strange, but I don’t pay much attention to the competition.”
Most any successful businessman will tell you this is the one of the better ways to do business. Worrying about the details of your competitor’s business often leads to losing sight of the big picture, which in the end is more likely to determine the success or failure of a product and a company. The surprise was when Rubinstein admitted to not only not owning an iPhone (actually, that’s not much of a surprise), but actually having not even used an iPhone.
While we could quote Sun Tzu and The Art of War, we’ll instead look to a successful CEO with not one, but two turnaround stories under his belt. That CEO would be Alan Mulally of Ford; almost every day he drives home a different car, and often that car is a competitor’s. He does so not only to see what the competition is doing, but to understand it by using it as a consumer would use it. While we wouldn’t dare say that Job Rubinstein doesn’t understand what his competitors in the smartphone space are doing, it does seem an odd revelation for the CEO of a tech company to not have used the chief competition’s product.
But the iPhone wasn’t enough Apple talk for the evening, as Swisher also broached the subject of iTunes sync, which Rubinstein unveiled during his last sit-down with her. If you’ll recall, at the time Rubinstein said that Apple wouldn’t mind – saying that more iTunes customers would be a good thing for Apple (and ignoring the fact that the point of iTunes is to sell iPods and iPhones). Clearly, Apple did mind, but Rubinstein is pleased with the multiple third party sync solutions that have been released recently. Further down the road Palm’s head is in the clouds, with the belief that all data - even media like music - will eventually be stored in the cloud (bandwidth is another question entirely).
Apart from that, much of the talk was how Palm is executing on its roadmap with the recently announced expansion onto Verizon and SFR and new products like the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus, revealed earlier during CES.
But lest we forget the discussion of apps. To the unsophisticated blogger, journalist, or consumer, it comes down to numbers. There are more than 100,000 apps available on the iPhone, some 16,000 on Android, and a little over 1,000 on webOS. Sadly, it seems like much of the badgering over apps in this interview was over numbers, when we at PreCentral would say that the bigger issue is quality of apps, not sheer quantity.
While there are steps to be taken on the road to better quality apps on webOS, the announcement and demonstration of the new PDK are starting to render even that point moot. Additionally the opening up of the developer program and the release of the Project Ares online development environment have led to what Rubinstein has described as the “democratization” of app development.
Also important to Palm’s app plan is the openness of app distribution, with developers now getting access to their unfiltered app upload system where a developer can now get a URL and market their app as they please without being tied to the devices. Additionally, the opening up of the App Catalog, as evidenced in PreCentral’s webOS App Gallery, will provide further opportunities for easier and more creative marketing of apps.
Do we miss having McNamee out as the occasional public face for Palm? Yeah, but in the grand scheme of things Rubinstein’s more restrained approach to these kind of interviews is probably the better one, discussions of mirrors notwithstanding.