Why Apple Needs A Next Big Thing Sometime Soon

Apple (AAPL) is by far the premier technology company in the marketplace today.  They have a great line of products, fiercely loyal customers, and a stock valuation that is one of the highest in the market.  At nearly half a trillion dollars, it’s huge, though there was a time about a year ago where they were valued about 1/3 higher, and the chatter of them being the first trillion dollar valued company was pretty loud.  The price settled and, for now, that talk has quieted down.

I don’t currently own any Apple products.  My wife has an iPhone 5 and an iPad mini, so I am fully aware of Apple’s awesomeness, and reminded so on a daily basis :)

However, I keep pretty close watch, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that they haven’t had a ‘big thing’ in a few years.  Since Apple has been on my radar, they’ve released four ‘big things’.  Here’s a brief Apple ‘big thing’ history.

Pre-big-thing

When I was in high school and college, Apple existed but was pretty much a joke. I was one of the student workers in the computer labs during college, and they had several PC labs, and one Mac lab.  Getting a shift in the Mac lab was pretty much dreaded because you were forced to work on a Mac, though on the upside it was generally an easy shift because, well, barely anybody used it.  This was in the middle of the period that Wikipedia lists simply as ‘Decline‘ as they were on the downswing from their previous ‘big thing’, the Macintosh computer.

1998: iMac

All that changed in 1998 when Apple came out with the iMac.  This was an all-in-one PC that was contrary to the PC.  Most PCs were component based.  There was a case with parts and pieces inside, and even though they often came as one case, the iMac built everything you needed right into the box.  There was not the option to ‘pop out’ the CD drive because it was there.  It was built in.  And, on top of that, the monitor was part of it.  People could literally open the box, pull it out, plug it in, and get going.  People loved it and it put Apple back on the map and made them the ‘cool kid’, a title they would not relinquish.

2001: iPod

mb-201311ipodIn 2001, Apple killed the Walkman, which was first a tape player, then a CD player, that was portable and could be used to listen to music on the go.  With a device that you copied music to, it pretty much killed it overnight.  They also made earbuds cool in place of bulky headphones.  Between this and the iMac, they now were the leading innovators of technology.

2007: iPhone

It took six years, but Apple hit the jackpot with the iPhone.  It took everything cool that they’d built on the iMac and the iPod and added a phone.  It was the first user friendly smartphone that people used for fun as much as productivity (and killed the Blackberry).  They sold millions and millions of them as soon as they came out, and continue to do so.

2010: iPad

Targeting the PC and the laptop, Apple released the iPad, a tablet that nobody had ever really figured they needed but suddenly had to have.  Since then, everybody makes a tablet, though Apple still gets the most hype with theirs.

20??: What’s next?

If you look at the list above, Apple released the ‘next’ big things 3-6 years apart.  We’re about to hit year four since the last one, and with Steve Jobs no longer around to lead the charge, the whispers are out there that the innovation may not be to the level it had been in the past to lead to these creations.

So what will it be?

I can’t speculate on what the next device will be, assuming that there is one.  In each of the cases above, they are easy to explain because once they came out, it immediately filled a ‘need’ that people had no idea they needed until it became available.

That’s what they have to come out with, thus I can’t speculate on what it might be, because if history holds true, it has to be something new and fresh. Simply coming out with a better or more feature-laden version of a current product won’t do.  Not to those who have set a half-billion dollar valuation on their stock, anyways.

What if they don’t?

The risk if they don’t is that they’ll eventually hit another period of decline.  I hate to say it, but each release of the iPhone and iPad seems to have a few less impressive features than the last, a little less buzz than the last, and offers themselves to immediate comparison of current products with each iteration.

To put it another way, do you really think Apple will still be the leader in cool, in innovation, and the best tech company in the world if their big annoucement someday centers on the iPhone 15?

Probably not.  And, if that ever happens, I can guarantee that the company will be worth a fraction of the current stock price.

So, what’s it going to be, Apple?  When’s the next big thing going to come out?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Combat Smaller Size For Same Price Gimmicks

It’s no surprise that manufacturers like to raise the price of products whenever they can, with one of the most common ways as of late being to shrink the amount of product you receive, all while keeping the price the same.

This effectively raises the price of the product by allowing them to receive more for a ‘batch of product’ than they would have otherwise.

Ice cream. Use ice cream as an example.  I love ice cream so I will take any opportunity that I can to talk about it.  And eat it!  Anyway.  A few years ago, you used to be able to get what was commonly known as a ‘half gallon’ for around $3.00.  Since there are four quarts to a gallon, this meant that a half gallon container consisted of two quarts of ice cream.

While many people still refer to the most commonly sold size of ice cream as a ‘half gallon’, it’s no longer true in most cases.  If you have a carton in your freezer, go look at it.  Now, the most common size of a ‘large’ container of ice cream is 1.5 quarts.  If you still paid $3.00, you’re still paying the same for a container of ice cream, but you’re getting less.  Even a pint is no longer a pint, as most in this size range have shrunk from 16 ounces (an actual pint) to 14 ounce sizes.

To keep it in whole numbers, let’s pretend that you had a party coming up and you knew you needed six quarts of ice cream to satisfy everybody.  In the old days, you would need three half-gallon containers, so your total cost would be $9.00.

Now, however, you would need to buy four of the 1.5Q containers, so your overall cost is now $12.00.

This represents a full 33% price hike in the per-unit cost of ice cream.  Pretty sneaky!

Why Do They Do This?  The first question that comes to mind is ‘Why not just raise the price?’  This would save the hassle of having to come up with new packaging (a ploy that they use to ‘hide’ the smaller sizes), and would also save them having to reprogram the machines.  In the case of ice cream, they could have just raised the price of the two quart (real half gallon) to $4.00.

But the problem is that people don’t want to pay more.  People get conditioned to paying the same price for an item, and if it goes up, they will look harder at finding a better deal, or in the case of ice cream (and other discretionary items) they may just avoid the purchase altogether.  Companies obviously don’t want to risk this, so instead of size being the constant unit, they use price as the constant unit, and adjust the amount you receive to fall into where they want the ‘price per unit’ cost to be.

How Often Does This Happen?  It happens more often than you probably think.  I’ve been pointing out this trend for a long time, with Kirkland Baby Formula as one of the more sneaky maneuvers I’ve ever seen.  The Consumerist recently pointed out that Walmart changed their packaging on instant mashed potatoes, and got rid of over 5 ounces of product at the same time.  Even CNN got in the game recently, finding ten products which have recently shrunk in terms of what you get.

Will Sizes Shrink Forever?   One of the more common areas where they’ve done this is with boxes of cereal.  A box of cereal has always remained roughly the same price for quite a number of years, but the amount you get has been whittled down to where they *had* to shrink the size of the box to avoid being absolutely absurd.  I’ve always joked that if they keep doing this, eventually the cereal aisle will be filled with small boxes, like the kind you see at hotels or on airplanes, as this will be the ‘standard’ size.

That’s funny to think about, but it really doesn’t work out that way.  I’ve watched how companies handle this and they will shrink the size a couple of times, but then they’ll introduce a ‘newer’ bigger size (which is often the same size as they used to give you for the lower price point) and will charge more.   They’ll offer it as the ‘Jumbo Pack’ or ‘Family Size’.

With multiple sizes, some people will choose the larger box at the higher price point, especially if they offer it at a good price point per unit, or if the stores position it at the most commonly selected area on store shelves.  At a certain point, they will start to get people used to the idea of paying more at which point they can phase out the smaller size packaging, then start the whole process over again.

Seems like a lot of trouble, but look what that does.  It does eventually get people to pay more for the product (which as I said is a big off-putter), but the fact is, people will pay more for products as time goes on, they just don’t want to do it that often.  The reduce->reduce->repackage->repeat cycle allows for companies to raise their revenues multiple times before actually raising prices.  So, to go back to my joke, cereal shelves will never be filled with mini boxes (though that is fun to think about).

What Do You Do?  One of these is what I happened to notice: Kirkland Paper Towels.  On a recent shopping trip to Costco, we grabbed a package of twelve rolls, which was priced, as it normally seems to be, right around $15.00.  This meant it was $1.25 per roll.  When I got home and started unloading the paper towel on the storage shelf, the new design of the plastic sleeves surrounding each roll caught my eye.  This was an immediate flag, and sure enough, the old rolls that we hadn’t used up contained 90 sheets, and the new rolls now contained 80 sheets.  That cuts out a full 11% of the product that you receive, all for the same price you were paying before.

What a deal, right?

I was pretty annoyed by the whole thing, and it instantly prompted the idea of writing an article, but I started thinking that maybe instead of just pointing out the increase, I would give a little background about how the process works (which I did up above), point out this increase, and then spend a few moments thinking about ways I could combat this particular increase, points which I believe can be used not just for paper towels at Costco, but for any product which may fall prey to these types of hidden price increases.

  1. Become aware – As I mentioned, I was able to spot the paper towel size decrease because I’ve trained myself to notice changes to packaging.  When a company introduces a new design, or revamps a logo, puts a new picture on the box, or changes the shape of a bottle, these are all red flags that they’ve changed what’s inside the packaging.   As you start becoming more aware of these changes, you’ll automatically start looking at the sizes.
  2. Take advantage of the transition – This is only a temporary solution, because one of the things I’ve found is that if one company does this for a product, their competitiors will take notice if they ‘get away with it’ and if so, they’ll copy the strategy.  Going back to the original example of ice cream, it took a couple of years before all of the ice cream companies made the switch from two quart containers to their smaller replacements, but in the meantime you could often search out a company that hadn’t yet made the switch, and get more bang for your buck.
  3. Don’t be automatic – Companies brazenly undertake this strategy because they know that people are creatures of habits, and therefore will often reach for the same product on the same shelf, not paying much attention (at least in the store) as to what’s inside the package.  This means that they get away with it.  If you notice this, maybe it’s time to start looking around.  In our case of paper towels, maybe it means that we start looking for sales that we can stack with coupons at different stores.  It’s always been nice to just go to Costco, hit up the back of the store, and know that we have enough paper towel for a few months, but you can often get that better price back by shopping around.
  4. Reduce your consumption if possible – If you notice yourself getting less of something, see if it’s possible to use less to offset the difference in what you receive.  Sometimes, like in the case of when we first noticed this with baby formula, there’s no way you can reduce the amount of formula you give to your baby to offset the cost.  Other things, you can.  Paper towels are probably one of the more wasteful things that we as human beings use.  I’ve read stories where some people don’t even have paper towels in the house.  I couldn’t imagine this, but is it possible to offset the 11% reduction in what we bring home with a reduction in what we use? When we wipe Baby Girl Beagle off after a meal, maybe we could use half a sheet instead of a full sheet.  Instead of some of the cleaning we do with paper towels, grab a rag from the closet instead.  If you start to focus on what you use, you’ll often see that you can easily reduce consumption just by putting a little extra effort into thinking about what you need versus what’s right there.

Overall, I was disappointed by Costco’s decision to reduce the size of the paper towel rolls.  But, I wasn’t surprised.  It’s a strategy that product manufacturers have used and will continue to use.  The best thing you will have to combat this is awareness.  Simply noticing that you’re now getting less and paying the same will often trigger action.

Readers, how often do you notice these hidden price increases? Would you rather see the product sizes shrink and prices stay the same or would you be OK with more frequent price increases than we have today but with less frequent product size changes?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Fun Facts You Probably Never Knew About Ink Cartridges

Here is an infographic with some things you probably didn’t know about ink cartridge use.  It gives you a different perspective!

 

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

If You (Or Someone In Your House) Isn’t On Pinterest, You Should Be

I first laughed when I heard chatter about Pinterest.  For those who don’t know, it’s a social media outlet where you share images rather than statuses.  It’s really caught on with women, as many women have found things like recipes, fashion tips, and other things that (not to be sexist) generally aren’t as interesting to men as they are to women. I thought ‘Oh, just another passing fad’.

Soon, I started seeing my wife sitting in front of the computer for long stretches at a time, failing to answer roughly two-thirds of questions directed her way.  When I probed to find out what was the new source of interest, it turns out she had come across Pinterest.

Now, I have only seen Pinterest in passing, but I have to say, having one person in our household has been a good thing.

My wife has found some pretty awesome recipes.  I don’t have the links for them but I know they should be easy enough to find.  Some examples of yummy food we’ve had:

  • Chocolate chip cookies that are softer than usual after you add pudding to the mix
  • Fiesta rice that is similar (and even better) than the rice you get at Chipotle
  • Pulled chicken that we’ll be serving at our daughter’s first birthday party.

She’s also got some wonderful decorating ideas for the aforementioned party, and the great thing is that she’s found stuff that is frugal, fun and easy, yet with very unique results.

Again, I don’t have a Pinterest account and have no interest (I keep using that rhyme, which is fun) but I think as long as someone in your house has a Pinterest account, that should be sufficient.

Do you use Pinterest or know someone that does?  Has it led you to any frugal ideas? 

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Surveying Things With Opinion Outpost

I saw a few bloggers mention that they earn some money taking surveys through Opinion Outpost, so I thought I would give them a try.

I have been a member of the Pinecone Research Study group for awhile.  They’re pretty cool, though the survey opportunities seem pretty limited.  I think with Pinecone, I average about one paid survey a month, maybe a little higher.  At $3 a pop, it’s nice, but it doesn’t add up to much.  It’s pretty much covered the renewal costs for my blog.

Opinion Outpost was easy to sign up for.  You need to fill out a bunch of informational surveys, the results of which you use to provide information on your demographics, interests, and habits.  This is used to filter out surveys which may not apply.

There seem to be quite a few surveys.  The process is fairly straightforward.  I receive an e-mail anytime there’s a potential opportunity for a survey.  I can either click on the link in the e-mail or logon to the site, and it will list all active surveys that I haven’t responded to yet.  This is useful in the event that you need to do some catching up.

When you get a survey, you are not guaranteed to be a fit for it.  Typically, clicking into the survey will bring up a page where it asks you some basic questions.  Usually within a couple of minutes, it will notify you if you’re not a fit for the survey or if you can take the actual survey.  The ‘approval’ percentage probably varies, but I’d say that so far, I’ve qualified for about 25% of the surveys that I get e-mails about.  That may not sound like a lot, but you will probably find that it’s a pretty good number since I’ve been averaging at least 5-8 surveys per week.

Once the survey starts, they’re pretty straightforward.  The only knock that some might have is that once you qualify for a survey, you typically get directed to a third-party research study website.  This is in contrast to Pinecone, where all of the surveys are operated and run from their own site.  Opinion Outpost ensures that the sites are safe.  So far I haven’t had any problems, and quite honestly, it’s nice to see a different look and feel of a survey.

The surveys take differing amounts of time to complete.  Once you’re done, you are awarded ‘Opinion Points’ that correspond with the complexity of the survey.  The basic formula is that each Opinion Point is worth ten cents.  Of the surveys, I’ve completed, they’ve all fallen in the 20 to 50 Opinion Point range, meaning that the surveys have been worth between $2 – $5.

You can cash in your Opinion Points once you’ve accumulated at least fifty (or the equivalent of $5).  At that point, they will issue a check.  Right now I’ve got 113 Opinion Points.  I like that they give you a choice of when to cash out.  You can choose whether to get little chunks of money or save it up for a bigger reward.  Pinecone issues you payment at the completion of every survey.

Another difference is the payment method.  Pinecone offers to send checks via snail mail, but will also pay you via PayPal.  Since they pay automatically after each survey, the PayPal option is a no-brainer as having to deal with a $3 check each time they send you one is a hassle.  PayPal lets you accumulate your money or transfer it back to your bank account, saving you a trip to the bank.  Opinion Outpost only allows for a snail mail check.  It’d be nice if they hopped on the PayPal bandwagon at some point.  It’s for that reason that I have let my balance accumulate, as I’d rather make a trip to the bank less often with a bigger check than increase my trips to the bank.

All in all, I love Opinion Outpost so far.  You’re not going to get rich from it, but you can make a few bucks here and there, and get exposed to some pretty interesting product concepts at the time.  If you’ve got a few spare minutes here and there, Opinion Outpost is definitely worth a look see.

Click here to sign up (disclosure: if you use this link, I will get 20 Opinion Points once you complete your first survey, for which I would be extremely grateful!) and see for yourself if you like it.  I think you’ll be pleased.  I know I am!

Note: This post was not solicited nor did I receive any compensation for it.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.