Just a Thought - Conversations with Bi...er, Bob
by- February 27th, 2006
The coffee shop on the Chateaux Street was typically crowded, the line wound past the stylish wooden kiosk that held the customary bread bits for sampling, though few people ever did.
The man was glad he decided not to leave his Mini running as he had initially planned; he thought he could just run in and grab a cup of joe. Then it dawned on him that the coffee shop was a Starbucks; you don't just 'run' into a Starbucks in Seattle and expect to run back out again quickly, or any Starbucks for that matter.
As he stood in line the Mini Driver took in his surroundings: There were few empty booths and tables, even at 7:20 am. His fellow patrons were mostly office workers looking to shake off the night before with caffeine.
The line inched forward at regular, if extended, intervals. The Mini driver was occupying himself with a podcast while he waited when he noticed a man standing two persons ahead of him.
"It kinda looks like him," he mumbled to himself as he looked more closely. The man wore a stylish trench coat, hat and dark glasses that pretty much insured his anonymity to any casual observer, but the Mini Driver saw through the disguise. He offered apologies to the two people in front of him and tapped the man in the trench coat on the shoulder.
The man seemed reluctant to turn, he did, however, glance back to see who had tapped him and, in that instant, both men recognized each other.
"Shhhhhhhhh! Keep it down! Call me Bob," Bob insisted in an urgent whisper. "I don't want people to know who I am."
"Oh. Right. Sorry, Bil...er, Bob."
"How'd you recognize me in the first place?"
"It's the rounded shoulders. Dead give-away. Next time wear some shoulder padding."
"Good idea," Bob said dismissively. "What are you doing in this neck of the woods?
"Just visiting friends," the driver confides. "Hey, I'm glad I ran into you. I wanted to ask you a question."
"Is it about money?"
"Cuz if it's about money then you can keep on walking, Slick."
"It's not about money."
"Cuz I don't do hand-outs. I already give a lot to charities."
"Yeah, I know. Very generous of you. Look, I promise my question has nothing to do with money."
"Well," Bob says reluctantly, "OK. Let's get a booth, over there." He points to a booth in the darkest and least occupied corner of cafe.
The Mini Driver agrees and in 10 minutes the men are sitting in the booth, the Mini Driver with a grande Caffe Mocha, Bob with a grande Tazo Chai Latte tea.
"So," starts Bob, "what's on your mind?"
The Mini Driver thoughtfully sips his mocha, then answers, "Well, actually, I've got several questions..."
Bob rolls his eyes. "I knew it," he mutters, then takes a long sip of tea.
The Mini Driver is not sure how to proceed. The other man is staring at him as if he's expecting to be told that another government is suing his company for monopolistic practices. The driver decides to just get it out and see what happens. "Well, first off, I'd like to know what you really think of Apple."
Bob visibly relaxes. "Is that all? I thought you were going to ask me about that stupid 'Pirates of Silicon Valley' movie."
"Oh? You didn't like it?"
"It was OK, but that guy who played me..., what's his name?"
"Anthony Michael Hall."
"Yeah, that's him. He didn't get me right. Made me look like a nerd."
'But you are a nerd."
"Yeah, but I don't deserve to look like one on TV."
"I suppose. Anyway, what's your take on Apple?"
"I have no take. They're cool. Jobs does a good job in running it, and they do make some interesting products." Bob spies the driver white ear buds. "I see you have an iPod. Which one?"
"The nano." The driver pulls out his iPod and hands it to the other.
Bob examines the device closely, plays the click-wheel, and studies many of the screens that appears. "I can make one of these," he says as he hands the device back.
"You can make an iPod nano?"
"Sure. How hard can it be? Steve ain't the only one what can innovate you know."
"I'm sure that's true but, why bother? Why not collaborate with Steve and back the iPod"
"Now, why, on earth, would I want to do that? That would make us a me-too player, and we are NOT me-too players."
"So, working with Apple to come up with an industry standard for digital rights management so that music and other digital content can be more easily shared is out of the question?"
"I never said it was out of the question, Slick, I just said that we are not me-too players. Besides, if Apple wants to use our DRM scheme they can license it just like everyone else."
"You sound like you want to go head to head with Apple on their iPod turf. You think you can win?"
Bob smiles slyly. "I like a challenge."
"You know, Steve could be saying the same thing about PCs and Windows. He certainly is selling more Macs these days."
Bob gets a pained look on his face. "Yeah, he is, isn't he?" He takes another sip of his tea and screws on a smile. "No matter. He can't possibly get more than a few percent of the desktop market."
"Even with the Intel Macs?"
"Even with the Intel Macs. And he still needs Office to sell his hardware, so we make out no matter what. Now all I need to do is make an iPod killer."
"That's going to be pretty tough, Bob, they recently sold the 1 billionth song from the iTunes Music Store."
Another pained look. "Yeah, I know, I bought the 999,999,999th song, Mandy."
"You mean Barry Manilow's Mandy," The driver asks with a glint of humor in his eyes.
"Yeah," defends Bob. "I like Barry Manilow. What of it?"
"Hey man," The driver replies, chortling. "To each, his own."
"And what would I find in YOUR playlist," Bob asks.
The Mini Driver immediately remembers the Milli Vanilli songs he ripped and is on the nano in his pocket. Reflexively, he clutches his iPod.
Bob says, "From that look on your face I'd say you have a few Barry Manilows of your own tucked away on that iPod of yours. So don't go judging my taste in music, Slick!"
At that moment a young man wearing jeans, a jacket, and the barest hint of facial hair saunters up to the booth and makes a show of looking over Bob. "You're him ain't cha?"
Bob hunches his shoulders. "I don't know who you are talking about, kid. Now, go away, you bother me."
The young man doesn't budge. "Yeah," he says nodding as if to reassure himself more than another else. "You're him. Hey, I got a question for ya?"
"Everybody's got a question," Bob sighs.
"How come you picked a name for your company that sounds more like a male reproductive dysfunction than a technology business?"
"Git outta here!"
The young man darts away, snickering.
The Mini Driver is chuckling softly also.
Red faced, Bob says, "So you think that's funny too, do ya? Well, let me tell ya something, Slick; you won't be laughing a year from now, when my iPod killer starts draining market share from your precious Apple."
"Oh, come on, Bob; you have to admit, it was kinda funny, and at least he didn't have a pie. Besides, it's not MY precious Apple, I just happen to like what they do, as do a lot of folks."
Bob stands and straightens his coat and hat. He looks down at the other man, a position he seems most comfortable with. "Tell ya what Slick, stop by my office in six months, we should be well into putting the finishing touches on our product by then. Let me show you why I'm not concerned about Apple, and why you might want to sell your Apple stock before the year is done."
"I appreciate that Bob, I might just take you up on that invitation, not on the stock tip though."
"Your money," Bob says as he turns to leave.
Before Bob can take a step, the Mini Driver asks, "So, what do you think Steve will be announcing on the 28th?"
Bob stops and turns back to the man. 'Like I know. I'm sure it will be cool." He emphasizes the word 'cool', making it sound unhealthy, diminished. "Everything they do is cool. We come out with solid technology that helps run this country, but they are the cool ones."
The Mini Driver thinks for a moment, then says," Well, your XP ad campaign is pretty cool."
Bob smiles. "Yeah, it is, ain't it?"
Bob leaves smiling.
The Mini Driver takes another sip of his mocha and gets up. He's thinking that the current ad campaign Bob is running is pretty cool, and that maybe they can produce something that is innovative and fun.
But then he thinks of a line from a Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episode and paraphrases to himself as he walks to his car: "It is true that some day someone will make a better iPod. Someday, yes, but not today."
is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.
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