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Industry Insight

What Dr. Joe's Reading about Apple, Digital Signage, and USPS Worker Mood

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: May 5, 2016

MarketWatch says that there is “a decline in tablet sales as consumers grow increasingly uninterested in the devices.” IDC reported that first quarter 2016 tablet sales were down nearly -15% compared to the same quarter of 2015. Why is this a surprise? Smartphones have gotten bigger and consumers use them as they would use tablets. Tablets do not have any significant performance difference from model to model from year to year, so they last a long time. That can be said about most computing devices now. In the 1990s, the difference with each new CPU iteration was noticeable. Now, the limitation is more often based on the quality of your online connection, and less on the technology inside. If people are using tablets for e-books, higher computing speeds can't make you read any faster.

This seems to be one of the problems that Apple is having: getting more of their customers to upgrade to newer models. It's not happening the way it used to be. This is becoming a problem for the company as expectations for financial performance is still very high.

Apple's Tim Cook was interviewed on CNBC and the response was not exactly positive. It didn't satisfy the growing skepticism about the company's ability to keep dominating its markets. Investor Jeff Macke posted his notes scrawled on the Apple earnings release on Twitter. They are fascinating. In his notes he calls attention to the company's financial engineering and it's clear he believes that they are not as well run as many experts think they are. Despite all the buybacks, the stock is up +7% while the S&P500 is up +50%, and its cash holdings are not as liquid as they claim to be.

* * *

Digital Signage Today had a column “3 Reasons Retailers Should Make the Switch from Print to Digital Signage.” The comparison was to static signage, which was always a mainstay in retailing, but now many printing companies have broadened the market with wide format printing applications. I started to warn about digital signage last year as a competitor, but also as an opportunity for wide format owners to expand and get ahead of the trend. The first reason was increased savings, including the transition of print designers to creating the video files for the signs. The savings is in the costs of always printing new signs. The writer claimed “Digital signage removes these recurring costs as it is now basically free to put any image, advertisement or interactive display up once you get over the initial installation cost.” The second benefit, and I believe it's bigger, is real-time updates. These changes can be pushed from a central location and can reflect conditions across locations or specific places. If a restaurant runs short of the evening's special, it can promote a different item. Remember, there are many restaurants experimenting with tablets and similar computers as menus. The third benefit cited was the opportunity to create engaging content. Our industry is always pushing the tactile nature of print, but video beat out newspapers and magazines decades ago, and it can do it again with signage. Get ahead of the opportunity. Are you making banners for events? Offer the clients the opportunity to use an HD screen that you supply that conveys timely and changing information that can focus the attention of attendees. Help them create the content they need, too.

* * *

After some Freedom of Information Act skirmishes, journalists were able to get access to a USPS employee survey conducted by Gallup. The research company has an assessment product that it uses at other large organizations that compares results across companies and industries.

According to the Inside Sources article, “Postal workers reported strong job dissatisfaction, and in comparison to other organizations surveyed by Gallup, USPS employees say they rarely receive recognition for good work; their supervisors don’t care for them as people; they don’t feel their job is important; they lack opportunities to learn and grow, and their fellow employees are not committed to doing quality work.”

Other than that, everything's fine. 

The USPS is politicized in Congress as is well known, but the article mentions the low response rate in the survey compared to other organizations. The postal union discouraged participation because the results might be used against them in negotiations. USPS is politically charged inside and out. Lysander Spooner, where are you when we need you most?

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink's Economics and Research Center.


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