Mark Cuban, Others Talk Future of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, & Google

Closing out the two-day ad:tech NY digital marketing conference yesterday, Dallas Mavericks owner and technology investor Mark Cuban offered some strong opinions on basically everything.

Cuban participated in a panel—moderated by executive editor Molly Wood—that examined what technology power players Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon do right as well as possible trouble each company may face in 2013. Sharing their opinions alongside Cuban for the final keynote were Stephanie Fierman, global chief marketing officer with media communications agency MediaCom; Julie Roehm, chief storyteller and senior vice president of marketing with business software company SAP; and Ian Wolfman, chief marketing officer with creative agency MEplusYOU.

Fierman led off with both praise and worry for Apple. She said Apple’s foundation is hard to replicate, making it the envy of other companies. However she questioned how long Apple’s glamour will last since much of it was tied to the mystique of the late Steve Jobs. With him gone, she sees the company trying to reestablish its culture.

Her other concerns stemmed largely from Apple’s recent pattern of selling new versions of its bestselling products, which may please loyal followers, but without making radical leaps forward in innovation. “You can’t run a company with a strategy of making everything smaller and thinner,” she said.

Meanwhile Google’s growing might in the data sector gave Wolfman pause. With new ways emerging to glean information about users, he sees the company’s power growing even more far-reaching. “They’ve understood that eventually they could combine all of their sources, maps, and 60 other channels, and essentially become Skynet,” he said, referencing the world-dominating artificial intelligence from the Terminator movies.

Roehm was also a touch concerned about the continuing spread of Google’s data collection while transparency and privacy concerns are also on the rise. “They’re trying to penetrate places that fall on the [realm of being] scary,” she said.

Facebook landed squarely in Cuban’s sights in terms of disappointment. He said the company may have dulled its strategic edge after going public. “Rather than focus on the experience, end users, advertisers, or the brands, it was about ‘We better not disappoint Wall Street’,” Cuban said.

That mode of thinking may have led to reactionary changes at the company aimed at pleasing investors though with questionable results. For example, Cuban was irked by promoted Facebook posts, which marketers pay for. A number of his companies had made their Facebook pages their primary online destination for their fans. “All of the sudden in order to reach all of those people that ‘liked’ us, we had to pay for our friends,” Cuban said. He joked that while he is used to paying for friends he did not want to be forced to do so.

Rather than worry about what investors think, Cuban believes Facebook needs to follow another company’s example and focus on innovation. “They really should look at Amazon as a template for what they should be doing,” he said.

After Amazon went public, Cuban said, CEO Jeff Bezos focused on the future and where the business was going to be regardless of Wall Street’s reaction. That included investments in robotics, warehouses, and distribution. “A lot of the things you’re seeing with the Kindle now were reflected in different types of investments back then,” Cuban said. “You’re not seeing those types of things with Facebook.”

Reacting to opinions stymies businesses’ ability to make necessary leaps forward, Cuban said. “The job of a visionary in a company is to anticipate and send your product or service in the direction of where you think it needs to be,” he said. “I think Facebook has lost that.”

And looking to the future is what Apple needs to do as well, according to Cuban. While the company strives to make sleeker, better versions of the iPad and iPhone, he wonders what will be the next big thing in mobile. “I don’t think anybody believes the form factor and function of iPads or iPhones, regardless of size, is the be-all, end-all,” he said. “This is not what we’re going to be using in five years.”

The cool factor, which has been a driver in the success of Apple’s products, wears off quickly. Cuban expects the paradigm in mobile to change again but it is unclear if Apple will continue to be the trendsetter in the sector. “If you had an iPhone 5, you could get into bars for free,” he said. “The chicks would dig you if you had an iPhone 5. But that works once.”

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