Lenovo will alter its structure in 2013 to create a “Lenovo Business Group” that will sell commodity products and a “Think Business Group” to push premium kit and take on Apple.News of the restructure emerged at Sina Tech, which quotes an email sent to staff by Lenovo chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing in which he proclaims (after being forced through the wringer that is Google Translate) that “Lenovo today is no longer blindly fight for market share in the PC manufacturers. Lenovo today is the leader of the global PC industry” but “rapid rise in the field of competitors should not be underestimated.”To head off those competitors, Yang feels Lenovo needs to recognise that the company’s brand plans well in mainstream and low-end products, but that the “Think” brand “is the best brand assets, and only compete in the high-end market with Apple brand.”The company will therefore “need to give full play to the potential of these two brands in their respective market segments, each value to the maximum extent possible. We want to clarify and simplify our brand strategy, let the market positioning of each of the two brands Lenovo and Think more clearly understood, and thus better serve the business expansion.”
That strategy will see the creation, as of April 1st, of a new Lenovo Business Group offering “mainstream consumer and commercial desktop computers, laptop and tablet computer business.” This group is also charged with “global expansion” for the company’s burgeoning smartphone business, and other connected devices like Smart TVs.The Think Business Group will be “committed to advancing the high-end commercial and consumer business, while continuing to consolidate the core of the global commercial business leadership (especially relational business), another aspects in the field of desktop and notebook computers, to create a high-end consumer brands, let Think respected brand image in the consumer area and in commercial areas.”The Think group will also enjoy “new additional input of enterprise-class business and workstation team,” an addition sure to be noted at HP given the ailing giant last year proclaimed it was still the planet’s top PC seller if one counts workstations as part of the PC market.
A Think-branded business unit’s chance of taking on Apple seem slim. Neither the Lenovo or Think brands made it into Interbrand’s list of 2012's top 100 brands. Yang’s letter reportedly says Lenovo plans a “’defence + attack’ double fist strategy” that will see it “maintaining gains and continue to achieve new breakthroughs” but doesn’t mention if a marketing offensive to make Think as cool as iThink is planned.With smartphones and smart TVs the responsibility of the new Lenovo Business unit, perhaps tablet devices – such as the well-received Yoga – and high-end laptops are the vehicles Lenovo hopes will carry it into the homes and offices of the well-heeled. Even that plan, however, seems optimistic given tablet prices are falling and the sweet spot for ultrabooks is falling well below four figures in all western currencies.Lenovo can point to the scoreboard and its $US16bn revenue climb – from $14bn to $30bn in the last year – as evidence it’s doing plenty right. Building a brand to rival Apple will need efforts that don’t just translate its current success.
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What next for the technology executive who saddled his previous employer with a controversial flagship operating system, polarised management and swiftly left under a cloud? Telling others how to build successful products, of course.Former Windows chief Steve Sinofsky has launched himself as a product development expert with a blog titled Learning by Shipping, which he describes as “thoughts and perspectives on product development, management and the process of bringing new products to market”.The ex-exec said his website is a continuation of writing and blogging he did while at Microsoft on the development of Office, Windows 7 and Windows 8. The blog’s title is similar to the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ quip about artists and shipping products.Sinofsky has already written a whole book on product development strategy, One Strategy: Organization Planning and Decision Making, with Harvard Business School Prof Marco Iansiti.In December the former Microsoftie tweeted he will be teaching at Harvard as an executive in residence while also writing and conducting research. Sinofsky said he won’t go into “the past regarding Microsoft” for his new blog and promised that he “will work to keep posts free of snark and ad hoc criticisms in hopes that the comments and back and forth will be the same”.
During his time Sinofsky successfully got the Office and Windows teams shipping code to deadline and helped lift Microsoft out of what he now calls “post-Vista recovery”.However, Sinofsky left the software giant rather suddenly in November, and without adequate explanation, just three weeks after the launch of Windows 8 and its Surface hardware. His rapid exit led to the surprise promotion of underling Julie Larson Green, who now heads the $14bn Windows division.There were rumours of a clash between Sinofsky and Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer, who wrote a brief farewell to his Windows chief in a memo to staff. The normally reserved Sinofsky has denied he was forced out as the result of a failed power play to run other groups inside Microsoft beyond the Windows family.Sinofsky was also a polarising figure who failed to win over fellow executives; his management philosophy led to a reorganisation of Microsoft’s product structure during with a cast of middle-ranking execs were sidelined or forced out.As for Windows 8, Sinofsky has given Microsoft an operating system whose success is far from guaranteed and that, at last count in the fourth quarter of 2012, was not selling in the kinds of numbers Microsoft had hoped for.The new operating system has divided the industry and users in its attempt to marry a touchscreen user interface with the classic mouse-driven Windows design. Meanwhile, its Surface laptop-cum-tablet competes with loyal PC dealers and distribution channel partners who’ve helped drive Windows’ success in the past.
I’ve always been strangely fascinated by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Now celebrating its 20th anniversary - amazing how time flies, even when you’re not an agent of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations - it’s the densest and most mythology-rich of all the Star Trek TV shows. Often ambitious and audacious, it won more battles than it lost and remains a box-set must-own for any card-carrying Starfleet fan. However, it was also paradoxically (at times) the slowest, ugliest SF show on the box.In many ways, DS9 was the anti-TNG. While Star Trek: The Next Generation was shiny, clean and antiseptic - a look exaggerated by JJ Abrams for his lens-flare reboot - DS9 was unapologetically grey and dirty.For this third televised Trek, the show’s producers parked the idea of galactic gallivanting, choosing instead to base their stories on a dilapidated space station at the edge of the Alpha Quadrant. Thanks to a conveniently placed wormhole, aliens would come to DS9 and not vice versa. While series creator Gene Roddenberry famously conceived the original Trek as a SF reworking of vintage western show Wagon Train, Paramount head Brandon Tartikoff declared DS9 more The Rifleman, the story of a man and his son surviving on the wild frontier.
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DS9 was to debut during the sixth season of TNG, running in tandem with the hit sequel series before taking up the mantle solo. It needed to offer something different, and expectations were high. After a lacklustre first season, TNG had developed into a firm fan favourite.Co-creator Michael Piller, who along with Rick Berman had steered the Enterprise NCC-1701-D to such great success, felt the best option was a big change in direction: “Coming with the wind at our backs, it really felt as if we had figured out what made Star Trek work, and that we could bring all the vision that Gene Roddenberry had about space and the future to a different kind of franchise. We didn’t want to have another series of shows about space travel.”DS9 certainly looked unlike any Trek before it. There was a sludgy, high contrast realism to life on the space station, emphasised by grotty broadcast quality of the show, which like TNG was being edited on video at the time.The original director of photography Marvin Rush, and production designer Herman Zimmerman, revelled in the shadows offered by the utilitarian, militaristic, alien location. The show was to receive multiple Primetime Emmy nominations for its art direction, as well as award noms for cinematography and production design, from the ASC and Art Directors Guild respectively. Ironically, the real beauty of this work is only ever likely to be realised if and when Paramount greenlights an HD remaster.
DS9’s choice of principal characters was similarly bold. Avery Brooks, as the aloof Federation Commander Benjamin Sisko, Nana Visitor as Bajorian Major Kira Nerys and Rene Auberjonois as shape-shifter Odo were uniquely compelling creations, far from Roddenberry’s heroic archetypes. TNG import Colm Meaney, as Chief Miles O’Brien, quickly established a chemistry with UK thesp Siddig El Fadil (later Alexander Siddig), aka Dr Julian Bashir, while Terry Farrell, as ancient Trill Lieutenant Jadzia Dax, provided the leopard spots. Early plans to lumber the Dutch former model with a prosthetic forehead were thankfully scrapped.Of course, none of the above could compete with a series stealing turn by Armin Shimerman, as the duplicitous Ferengi bar owner Quark.DS9 may have been a conceptual risk, but it hit the ground running. The two-hour pilot Emissary was highest-rated series premiere in US syndication history at the time, bagging an 18.8 per cent audience share. Its first season became a fixture in the syndication charts, pulling a valuable male demographic.