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  • Writer's pictureJeff Matthews

Thanks, Steve: Of Apple and iPads, Not to Mention “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”

NotMakingThisUp has produced a number of virtual columns over the years which, tangentially or directly, involved the creations, both physical and corporate, of Steve Jobs.

Those columns mainly, I admit, poked fun at Microsoft’s various attempts to duplicate the successes of its heretofore less successful technology competitor in areas such as music players, smartphones and operating systems.

But the last one, which followed a year-end Wall Street Journal column that struck a nerve, had nothing to do with Microsoft and everything to do with Steve’s last magic act: the iPad…not to mention an album by Eric Clapton and a friend named Paul.

By way of saying a heartfelt “Thank you” to the man (shown here)who made so much so possible to so many, we’re reprinting it below. — JM

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Brett Arends is steamed. He’s had it up to here with the Cult of Apple, and he’s decided to do something about it: what he’s doing is he’s not getting an iPad for Christmas.

This is how the Wall Street Journal columnist began his pre-Christmas diatribe against the latest must-have invention from Steve Jobs’ North Pole Magic Factory:

Why I Don’t Want an iPad for Christmas

Everyone wants an iPad this Christmas, right? Apple’s tablet computer is this year’s hottest adult toy. Sales are booming. James Cordwell, an analyst at Atlantic Securities, expects the company to sell six million this quarter, half of them here in the U.S. It’s driving the company toward what will probably be yet another blowout Christmas period. But you can count me out. I don’t want an iPad for Christmas, thanks very much. —Wall Street Journal, December 21, 2010

Arends’ reasons—there are ten in all, thus fulfilling the journalistic requirement for “Top Ten” lists at this time of year—include a few a rational ones (“The cost of the add-ons,” for one) and quite a few more irrational head-scratchers that, in the main, remind me of something Paul Hulleberg used to say.

Paul was a childhood best-friend, and a serious music-head in those days when serious music came on LPs (look it up, kids) packaged in fancy sleeves (look that up too, kids), which we would dissect along with the music (“Magical Mystery Tour,” with its 24-page color booklet, was a particular fave), debating everything from who-sang-what to what was the song about, anyway? (“Drugs,” we usually decided).

There was, however, one album from that period that we did not dissect.

It was “Layla” (technically “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs”: look that up too, kids), courtesy of the post-Cream guitar hero Eric Clapton, but released under the assumed name of Derek and the Dominos.

Now, because Clapton’s name was not on the cover, and because the title song clocked in at seven minutes, the album failed to find an audience when it was first released, despite having both Duane Allman and Clapton playing together. It was only a year later, when “Layla” was included on a Clapton ‘Greatest Hits’ compilation, that the year-old album became popular.

And therein lay the problem: Paul refused to buy “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” after the album became popular, because the whole point of us being music-heads was that we were supposed to find this kind of stuff before everybody else knew about it—not when Layla had become as close to a hit record as was possible on WNEW FM, which back then was the leading-edge New York music-head station, home to the likes of wispy-voiced Alison Steele (“The Nightbird”) and gravely-voiced Scott Muni.

“What would Eric think?” Paul would say. “I can’t buy it now that it’s popular.”

I’d throw an album cover at him and yell something like “Eric would say ‘Thank you for the five bucks.’” My reaction, of course, made him say it every chance he got.

Which brings us back to Arends’ “Top-Ten” reasons not to buy an iPad: he seems less interested in what the thing actuallydoes—which is a lot—and more concerned about what itrepresents—which to him is a slavish devotion to the Cult of Apple.

Let’s take the first five of his so-called reasons:

1. It’ll be cheaper next year. That may be true, but it may not be true. While the painfully slow first-generation iPhone soon became, as Arends writes, “a paperweight,” the iPad is no such thing: it is fast, easy to use, and excellent value for the money.

2. It’s going to be better next year.

“The next iPad will have new features—allegedly including video conferencing and maybe a better screen. This year’s model will be so over,” he writes. This may also be true—but it probably won’t, since not many people are a) sitting around waiting for video conferencing, and b) unhappy with the iPad’s gorgeous screen.

Unless Steve Jobs is going to attach a working personal jet-pack to the next generation iPad, it’s hard to see a reason the average user will care to wait.

3. Apple’s profit margins are too high. This is the biggest head-scratcher. First, Arends gets the margins wrong. He cites Apple’s year-old 41% gross margin and says “Me, I don’t want to support someone else’s 60% markups with my own dollars.” But Apple’s gross margins are now running at 37%, down significantly from last year thanks in no small part to the lower margins Apple gets on the iPad compared to the iPhone, the price of which is subsidized by the wireless phone carriers.

Second, the issue shouldn’t be what Apple’s margins are, unless, of course, like Microsoft’s margins they result from a monopolistic business model in which the consumer has no choice when seeking an Intel-compatible computer. The issue should be value-for-money.

And the iPad is terrific in that department.

4. Competitors are coming. This is true, as far as it goes. Arends unfortunately cites the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which means he apparently has not seen a Galaxy Tab, nor used one, because the Galaxy Tab is the least of the iPad’s potential concerns, in our opinion. It has a surprisingly small screen, for starters; and based on hanging around the repair desk at Verizon stores, we are told the thing tends to seize up and need rebooting, which may explain why a friend’s 22 year old daughter recently called the Galaxy “an iPad for losers.”

5. No flash. By this, Arends refers to Steve Jobs’ famous decision to leave Adobe’s Flash Player for video and animation off the iPad. This was a very a big issue when the iPad first came out, because most web sites used Flash at that point, and it was about the only thing competitors could talk the iPad down with.

But today, an increasing number of web sites (MLB, for example) that were Flash-only last spring now accommodate the iPad, and do so beautifully.

Of the remaining five issues on the list, one is merely list-expanding padding (“It’ll get boring”), while another regurgitates mainstream fluff (“The whole Apple cult is starting to creep me out”).

But what it all seems to come down to is, like Eric Clapton’s “Layla” those many years ago, the iPad has become too popular for some people to admit they want one.

Our own advice is, don’t listen to “Top-Ten” columnists, whatever newspaper they write for, and don’t listen to virtual columns like NotMakingThisUp: try it yourself and make up your own mind.

Meanwhile, I’ll have to call Paul and see if he’s got an iPad, or if he’s holding out like our Wall Street Journal columnist. Besides, it’ll give me a chance to find out if he ever, finally, bought “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs,” too.

Paul had excellent taste: I’ll bet he’s got them both.

© 2010 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

Jeff Matthews

Author “Secrets in Plain Sight: Business and Investing Secrets of Warren Buffett”

(eBooks on Investing, 2011) Available now at

© 2011 NotMakingThisUp, LLC

The content contained in this blog represents only the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews’ recommendations. This commentary in no way constitutes investment advice, and should never be relied on in making an investment decision, ever. Also, this blog is not a solicitation of business by Mr. Matthews: all inquiries will be ignored. The content herein is intended solely for the entertainment of the reader, and the author.

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