On Philip Yeo and his “Storm in an ‘Apple’ Teacup”

It’s been over a week since Philip Yeo got into the news for one of his comments on the Apple iPad.  Apple fans were, as the Straits Times reported, “incensed by his description of those who buy ‘useless applications’ for Apple’s products as ‘gullible customers'”.

Mr Yeo was guest speaker at the Fullerton-St Joseph’s Institution leadership lecture last Friday when he was asked what he thought of the iPad tablet.

He replied that many of those who bought games and other programs for the device at Apple’s AppStore were wasting their money on ‘all sorts of useless applications’.

‘I always tell my daughter, make products and services to sell to the dummies.’

A RazorTV video of the interview attracted more than 1,200 views. Edited versions of the clip have surfaced on YouTube, with more than 3,000 views.

“Apple’s fans upset at being called dummies – Straits Times, 13 May 2010

10 days later, that same Youtube video has now garnered 21,664 views.  Nothing mind-blowing by international standards, but still a 7x increase.  Here’s the incriminating video, which I first came across on Twitter.

Shocking isn’t it?  I too was initially taken aback.  Work kept me busy, until I took some time out today to catch the entire video segment at RazorTV.

The pervasiveness of the Internet in our lives today has made it easier for content to be shared, and opinions to be heard and more importantly shaped.  Yet, I was amazed how difficult it was to find anything else but negative blog posts and forum threads lambasting Mr. Yeo for his disparaging comments.  It is probably a lot easier for people to jump to conclusions based on initial impressions than to delve deeper into the substance of things.  I think this is especially true, given how easy it is to consume content on the web these days, and how it’s going to get a lot easier with cool devices like the iPad and new and yet to be imagined web services.  I think shooting from the hip will be a major affliction of our youths in time to come.

When contacted, Mr Yeo told The Straits Times that Apple’s fans had misunderstood him. He used ‘dummies’ to mean ‘laymen, which is the major market’, like how the successful For Dummies books refer to their customers. ‘There is a big difference between idiots and dummies. If I was calling them idiots, I would have used ‘idiots’,’ he said.

He said he too has been hooked by the iPad, and will receive one from overseas soon. His point, which those who viewed the edited clips on YouTube would have missed, was that Apple had found an extremely lucrative customer base – something Singapore companies should learn from.

“Apple’s fans upset at being called dummies – Straits Times, 13 May 2010

I wish people would bother to dig deeper and think harder before firing off less-than-informed opinions.  This is basic courtesy, and Mr. Philip Yeo – with his long list of accomplishments and contributions to our nation’s economic development – deserve more than that.  Mr. Yeo deserves our respect, which means we need to verify the facts, instead of basing our opinions on the video editing skills of another.

My one and only encounter with Mr. Yeo was at the EDB scholarship award ceremony back in 2000.  I made the mistake of judging a book by its covers back then.  I found him to be a poor speaker – an uncouth, ‘hokkien-peng’ (army conscript of Hokkien dialect) bureaucrat who had an incredibly inflated opinion of himself.  And then I read “Heart Work” that same year, and learnt a lot more about the person behind the man.

I didn’t just watch the incriminating panel segment earlier – I caught the entire presentation Mr. Yeo gave at SJI (Part 1 – Leader or dreamer?; Part 2 – Guppies needed to lead Singapore. Part 3 – The human key.).  It reinforced my faith in the man, and made me realize how little his cynics know of him.

As I watched his presentation and panel, I realize Mr. Philip Yeo embodied all the characteristics of neoteny.  That, imho makes him cool.  My only wish is to be able to buy him coffee one day, as an apology for breaking the scholarship bond that he awarded to me with his very hands, and explain to him how I’m going to try and build my own “Jurong Islands” out in the private sector.

Stay spunky and playful, Mr. Yeo!

About James Chan

James Chan is an entrepreneur, investor, geek, photographer and husband/father based out of Singapore. Apart from frequent travels to Vietnam, Myanmar and Indonesia for work, James can also be found online via his trusty 15" Retina MacBook Pro or iPhone 6+.