Unpacking This Week’s News – Friday, January 13th, 2017

HTC Introduces new High-End Smartphone Family – By Carolina Milanesi
On Thursday, HTC announced two new smartphones: the HTC U Ultra and HTC U Play. Positioned as the new flagship, the U line adds to vs replaces the One line. HTC is clearly using these two products to reposition the brand and is using every buzzword and feature of the moment to do so: all-glass design, second screen for notification a la LG V20, no audio jack a la Apple (and Moto and LeEco), HTC Sense Companion (which is, of course, labelled as AI), and most importantly, being all about U, the user. The marketing team has had some fun with the press release, although I am not sure if it will help you get all the specs.

HTC has always had great products, both from a quality and design perspective. Sadly, over the past few years, that has not been enough to save it from declining market share, especially in markets such as the US where it used to be a strong number three player. This is because good design and quality are no longer enough to get consumers’ attention and money. Brand matters and HTC over the years lost its sense of self. When HTC transitioned from an OEM to an ODM, it was regarded as the trusted brand of the professional user. Rather than capitalizing on that at the moment when professional users were getting the smartphone they wanted in the enterprise, HTC decided it needed to be cool for a younger segment which lead it to look at other opportunities such as Facebook and what became the HTC First. As the brand failed to win any favors among millennials, marketing went full steam ahead with the big Robert Downey Jr. investment. Sadly, another failure. From marketing, the focus shifted to services; also not something consumers saw as a differentiator. Finally, they scaled back on everything but the hardware just over a year ago delivering a much cleaner experience.

With the U, I feel they are bringing everything back in one line: the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good remains the hardware. Sense Companion sounds like an assistant not even worthy of the name, coupled with the exact AI-washing I mentioned in my article this week. And the ugly is certainly the marketing.

Catchy lines will not sell phones, especially phones priced at $750. Such an early announcement for products that will not be selling until after Mobile World Congress leads me to believe there will be more to see from HTC before these devices even hit the stores. I was hoping HTC was taking time to regroup and come up with a sustainable, long-term plan, especially after delivering Pixel which is so highly regarded. I was mistaken.

PC Shipments Stumble but Turnaround is Closer – By Bob O’Donnell
The PC market faced another challenging year in 2016, as both IDC and Gartner reported the fifth annual decline for the category in separate news releases this week. The numbers vary between the two firms because of how they count Chromebooks and convertibles, but the tally is likely between 260 and 270 million—a 100 million unit drop from the peak of 365 million units in 2011.

On the surface, this looks quite bad and, for many smaller players in the industry, it is. But it’s a different story for the largest PC providers. Market leaders Lenovo, HP and Dell accounted for just under 60% of the total in Q4 of 2016, up from about 56% just a year ago. All three companies experienced year-over-year growth in the final quarter. HP and Dell also enjoyed year-over-year growth for the entire year. Apple and many smaller companies on the other hand, including Acer, Asus, and the “whitebox” market all faced declines, some of which were rather large.

Another interesting part of the story is that average selling prices for PCs (at least in the US) have been rising. What this strongly suggests is that, while the total number of people who want and are still buying PCs may be declining, their interest in and willingness to pay for PCs is growing. Given that total Q4 numbers were down just 1.5% year-over-year, according to IDC, this could certainly suggest a flattening and restructuring of the market. Moving forward, we’re likely to see a more rationalized (i.e., smaller) PC market, but one that features nicer machines from a smaller set of suppliers.

This view certainly seems to fit all the renewed interest and energy the PC market has been experiencing lately. Between growing interest in higher-end gaming PCs equipped with high-quality GPUs from nVidia and AMD, along with growing interest in convertibles, 2-in-1s and other interesting form factors, and a potentially interesting renewed CPU performance battle between Intel and the reinvigorated AMD (thanks to their forthcoming Ryzen CPU), there are actually quite a few interesting developments happening in the PC market in 2017. Throw in some attention-grabbing new PCs from numerous vendors at the recent CES show and a clearly established Microsoft Surface hardware business, and there’s actually quite a bit to be excited about in the PC market, even in spite of these tough sales numbers.

Amazon to Create More Than 100,000 New Jobs across the U.S. over the Next 18 Months – by Jan Dawson
This is just the latest in a series of announcements from major tech companies (not to mention car companies and others) about job creation in the US in the run-up to the inauguration of Donald Trump as US President in a week. The timing here is no coincidence – Amazon was a favorite target of Donald Trump during the election campaign and clearly feels the need to defend its US job-creating credentials more acutely at the moment.

What Amazon has promised is to create 100,000 new jobs in the US in the next 18 months, on top of the 180,000 employees it already has in the US. Amazon claims these jobs will run the gamut from entry level first jobs all the way up to highly skilled engineers working on cloud services, AI, and more.

It’s worth putting the numbers in context a bit. Amazon has created around 135,000 new jobs globally over the last 18 months and I estimate its US-based employees are currently around 57% of its total workforce, a number that’s held relatively constant over the last few years. Amazon has already been accelerating its hiring in the last couple of years, adding far more each year than the year before. So we can reasonably assume the 135,000 it added globally in the last 18 months would have grown substantially anyway, perhaps to 200,000 new jobs globally in the next 18 months.

In that context, 100,000 new jobs in the US seems very much in keeping with Amazon’s existing trajectory, rather than a dramatic increase or shift in focus from overseas back to the US. As such, the press release may well have been timed to coincide with the new administration but it doesn’t appear to reflect any change in existing policy at all. That’s not to say it’s not impressive that Amazon is employing this many new people in the US or that it isn’t already a massive employer here. But it should, in theory, take the wind out of the sails of anyone claiming this is a result of the recent election.

It’s also worth noting that, though Amazon touted the sheer range of these jobs, the vast majority will be low-wage fulfillment center jobs and not the high-paid engineers Amazon employs in much smaller numbers. These warehouse jobs are the key to Amazon’s continuing growth and they scale very much in line with Amazon’s overall global scale. Those jobs have also been criticized in the past for poor working conditions, so there’s a potential downside to go with the upside here as well.

Nintendo and the Switch – Ben Bajarin
Nintendo may have found its groove again. As of late, the company seems to be staying true to their values of quality and on premium gaming experiences with an unwavering commitment to maintaining their brand’s value. Nintendo could have done many things pundits said they should have done, but many of those things would have come at the cost of either commoditization or de-valued the premium experience consumers expect with Nintendo products.

It is true the Wii U was a dud, hardcore Nintendo fans, including me, were intrigued with the game pad’s display and use as an alternate screen. However, developers did not utilize its full potential, so the Wii U just ended up being a glorified Wii in the end. The Switch looks to learn from prior lessons as Nintendo has created what can best be called a hybrid gaming system. One that is both mobile and handheld, but also can be plugged into the TV allowing for the Joy Con motion controllers which make up the side handles and buttons of the mobile screen act separate from the main unit and act as the motion controllers when the device is plugged into a TV.

As mobile CPU and GPUs have gotten better, the idea of having a full game console quality experience on a mobile device. Nintendo is looking to capitalize on that vision with what is best described as a GameBoy + Wii in a single device. And at $300 US dollars, I expect the Switch to be a compelling product.

They are also looking to add a paid subscription to play online, something similar to XBOX Live from what I can tell.

Game consoles are not going away, yet, for a various number of reasons. They will remain niche, as they have hovered around 23-25% of WW consumers saying they own a game console. That number has not shrunk or grown much but has stayed relatively flat for many years. Which gives us the impression, that is about the size of the global game console market. At least for the foreseeable future. Not huge, but not small, and Nintendo plays a key role in that market.

I’m excited to get the Switch and share my experience and observations.

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Opinion Cast: Are Phablet’s For Real? Should Apple Make One?

This week Shawn and Ben discuss Ben’s column about the Galaxy Note 2. Ben goes in to more depth on his thoughts on Phablet’s and what they bring to the table in terms of an experience. We also explore whether or not Apple should get into the large phone market. We tried to stay short and sweet and kept this one to about 15 minutes.

For more context as well read Ben’s article on the Galaxy Note 2.

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The Opinion Cast Round Table: Blackberry Its Past and its Future

This week the topic of choice is about RIM. Our Tech.pinion columnists get together for a lively discussion about Blackberry, the company formerly knows as RIM. We explore how they got to where they are and what they need to go forward. Can they do it? Listen to find out.

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The Opinion Cast Round Table: Apple and Wall Street’s Distorted Expectations

After a somewhat surprising and somewhat predictable day stock wise for Apple post earnings, the Tech.pinions team share their thoughts on Apple’s earnings. We hit topics like why Wall Street is so backward, what this means for Apple going forward, whether or not Apple is doomed, and the greater picture of the PC industry at large.

As always, we would love any comments or feedback on our Opinion Cast. We want this podcast to be valuable to our readers so please let us know things you like and what we can do better. Also, if you get a chance please rate it in the iTunes store. Enjoy!

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The Opinion Cast Round Table: 2013 Predictions and CES

Steve, Tim, and Ben discuss their tech predictions for 2013 and give some insight into this years CES. We are looking forward to an exciting 2013!

As always, we would love any comments or feedback on our Opinion Cast. We want this podcast to be valuable to our readers so please let us know things you like and what we can do better. Also, if you get a chance please rate it in the iTunes store.

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New Years Resolutions for the Tech Industry in 2012

We thought we would recommend some new years resolutions for the tech industry at large for 2012. Some of these are company specific and some are general.

From Patrick Moorhead

Tablet OEMs: Invest what it takes to create and market something dramatically valuable, demonstrable, and most of all, differentiated. The answer to that lies with the usage models. The solution should solve a non obvious problem or open up a new way of having fun. Don’t immediately dismiss ideas just because they didn’t work before or because the resources don’t appear to be there. Take some risks and partner on the gaps you cannot afford. The other option is a money losing price war with the iPad or the Kindle Fire.

Consumer PC OEMs: Start adding incremental value over and above a convertible tablet or docked smartphone or there may be a much smaller PC market in the future. Leverage the larger design (versus tablets) to house better hardware components which when paired with the right software create new experiences. Think effortless and accurate personal video face tagging, 99% accurate speech command, and dictation, the highest possible quality video communications, in-home PC game streaming to phones and tablets, etc. Forget about the past of what new usage models sold and what didn’t sell, because those solutions were half baked.

Social media companies: Two different social models exist, “broadcast” and “personal”. Services like Path, while more intimate, are still, broadcasting somewhat randomly to an audience that may or may not see something or may not even be relevant. In real life, there are an infinite number of “micro-circles” that exist with varying levels of context. Companies need to grasp this concept of “personal” and build tools to leverage it.

From Steve Wildstrom

For RIM: work to salvage your enterprise customers’ investment in BlackBerry Enterprise Server infrastructure even if you can’t save their investment in BlackBerrys.

For PC OEMs: Stop trying to imitate the Mac Book Air. Ultrabooks can’t win that game on price or design. Show some creativity of your own.

For tech bloggers: Stop chasing page views by running uncritically with every Apple rumor, notated how silly, unlikely, or old.

From Ben Bajarin

For PC OEMs: Stop innovating in the rear view mirror. Simply trying to make MacBook Air clones is not a strategy that will yield much fruit. A friend and colleague Rob Enderle once told me that when Toyota was grabbing market share from GM in the late 70s, GM simply tried to reverse engineer Toyota cars. Which meant that GM was making great 1970’s cars in the 1980’s while Toyota was focuses on the future GM was focused on the present. Create value, experiment, try things that are new and most importantly create a vision for your products future.

Create Feature of Value: Focus on finding and creating features that your target customer base find valuable. It is important to know what your customers want or what kind of technology innovations you can create that solve real world problems for consumers or make every day tasks easier and simpler to accomplish using your technology.

From Peter Lewis

Resolved: Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. And, as Scott McNealy says, Stay Nervous.

Resolved: In 2012, the tech industry must make computer and data security its No. 1 priority. Accelerate the use of biometric log-ins for computers and mobile devices.

Resolved: Vote against any Congressperson who votes for the House’s Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) or the Senate’s even-more-evil Protect IP Act (PIPA).

Resolved: We don’t say we’re e-writing someone, or e-calling, or e-reading. So let’s stop calling it e-mail and e-books and e-commerce, et cetera.

The Top Tech.pinions Columns of 2011

As we bring 2011 to a close we thought we would share the top five most popular columns of 2011. Even though our technology opinion column based website is only 6 month’s old, many of our columns made it around the webosphere. So here are the top five Tech.pinions columns of 2011

1. Why Google Should Buy Motorola
At the time, we simply wrote a theoretical analysis of all the reason why Google should buy Motorola and the benefit such an acquisition would bring to both companies. Turns out five days later, Google did actually purchase Motorola.

2. Why Google and Microsoft Hate Siri
Siri’s potential impact on search is the subject of this column. The potential impact to Google and Microsoft in terms of search is analyzed as well. This was also the most commented on article of the year.

3. Why We Witnessed History at the iPhone 4S Launch
History isn’t made every day. Seems like the past few years have been history by themselves. Looking at some of the ways Siri could impact the future as an inflection point for today.

4. Nuance Exec on iPhone, 4S, Siri, and the Future of Speech
A great interview with Vladimir Sejnoha, chief technical officer of Nuance, as well as some analysis and commentary around the subject of voice and artificial intelligence.

5. Apple Will Re-Invent TV
A deeper look at how the television transforming into a platform, to deliver rich software and services, will lead to its re-invention.

There they are, the top five most read columns of 2011. Other than our very timely Google and Motorola acquisition suggestion, it seems like Apple was yet again a hot topic in 2011. Looking forward to seeing what 2012 will bring!

The Tech.pinions Predictions For 2012

It’s fun to make predictions. Luckily none of us are in the predictions business but it’s fun to analyze, speculate, and simply hope for interesting things to come prior to each new year. This year, rather than have each of our columnists write a number of predictions we decided to have each submit two. So below for your reading pleasure is our bold proclamations for the technology industry in 2012.

Peter Lewis

1) The existence of the Higgs Boson, also known as “the God particle,” finally will be confirmed in 2012 as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva ramps up to full power. Not to be confused with the Higgs Boston, which confers Mass. to Beantown – I’d love to take credit for that line, but The Onion beat me to it – the Higgs Boson is a theoretical subatomic particle whose existence would take humankind a step or two closer to understanding the very nature of matter, the mysteries of space and time, and the future of the universe, which could come in handy in case you’re trying to decide whether to buy or rent. This very tiny particle will be the biggest science story of the coming year. At the very least, it will justify the estimated $4.4 billion cost of one of the largest and most complex pieces of technology ever built, not counting Windows Vista.

2) This was the year of Big Data and Cloud Computing. Next year will be the year of trying to actually move Big Data through the Cloud at useful speeds. Scientists in 2012 will achieve a breakthrough in sustained data transfer speeds on wide-area networks, paving the way for government and academic transfer rates approaching 100 gigabits per second. Unfortunately, you’ll be very old, or perhaps even up in the clouds yourself, by the time such speeds are available to personal computer and mobile device users. In theory, you’ll be able to download the entire Library of Netflix in 14.4 seconds, but. In practice. Your movie. Will. Download. And download and. (Go get a cup of coffee.) Download. Like. This. On the bright side: I predict that the average broadband speed in the United States in 2012 will finally catch up to the average broadband speed in South Korea in 2002.

Tim Bajarin

1) Netbooks will make a comeback.
In 2011, netbooks fell out of favor with consumers as tablets became the hot mobile product. The education market is still interested, though. If vendors bring out netbooks that look more like Ultrabooks but are priced between $299 and $350, these types of products could strike a nerve with consumers again. Of course, they would have lower end processors, a shortage of memory, Android as the OS, and could even just ship with the Chrome Browser on it.
Although they may only be a small part of the PC shipment mix, I believe there is still real interest in a lightweight, very low-cost laptop. While Ultrabooks will fit the bill for those with more cash on hand, a fresh generation of netbooks could find new life at the very low-end of the laptop market.

2) Ultrabook-tablet combo devices will become a big hit.
Ultrabooks with detachable screens that turn into tablets could be the sleeper hit of 2012. Also known as hybrids, the early models of this concept used an illogical mixed operating systems; Windows when in PC mode and Android when in tablet mode. But by the year’s end, both Windows 8 for tablet and Windows 8 for laptops will be out and these hybrids will be completely compatible. I expect to see solid models of this type of hybrid by quarter four.

Patrick Moorhead

1) Smartphones and Tablets erode PCs even more than expected
Smartphones and tablets will disrupt consumer PC sales even more than anyone predicted. The “modularity effect” will start to engage where smartphones and tablets, when wirelessly connected to large displays and full-sized input devices, can replace a PC for basic usage models. That sefment of consumers will be willing to pay even more for their smartphones and even less

2) Auto check-in subsidized phone or service launched
The first phones with private “auto check-ins” for stores, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, malls, and gas stations will be launched in exchange for an additional $49-$99 subsidy. Competitive deals and loyalty benefits will be presented to the consumer based upon where they are checking in. The auto check-in will only automatically be shared with the company providing the subsidy and not be public, unless the consumer decides so. The phone will be marketed to middle-income, younger consumers who are willing to trade privacy and advertising for cash.

Steve Wildstrom

1) A major professional sports league will do a deal with Microsoft for over-the-top streaming of live games via Xbox. This will be a major step in breaking the iron triangle of content owners, networks, and cable/satellite distributors and will increase Microsoft’s lead over Apple and Google in streaming content.

2) The U.S. government will conclude its antitrust investigation of Google without bringing any charges. The EU, however, may take a harder line, so Google won’t be out of the woods.

Ben Bajarin

1) Google will sell the Motorola hardware division. When I wrote back in August about why Google should buy Motorola, I didn’t intend it to be a prediction. Even though a week later they actually did buy Motorola. For me it was more of a theoretical analysis of what I thought Google should do and what would be best long-term for Motorola. Given that the patents are what Google is claiming is most valuable to them, once the acquisition is complete and the active lawsuits are settled, Google can legally sell the hardware division and still keep the patents for future protection. If Google truly wants to maintain good relations with their customers, it behooves them to get rid of the Motorola hardware business.

Although, I wouldn’t sell this business until 2013 if I was Google. Just in case their current partners like HTC and Samsung for example begin to shift their loyalty to Windows Phone or even perhaps webOS. This would inevitably hurt their market share and could lead them to go the vertical route, which they would need to Motorola hardware division to do.

2) Google will launch a Chrome based tablet, probably called the Chromepad. It will be priced at $99 and only be used for browsing the web and web services through Google’s Chrome OS. It will be highly disruptive and usher in the era of low-priced, web and web app only connected tablets.

BONUS Far Out Prediction

I’d like to throw in a bonus wild prediction. I think it would be great and completely re-shape the broadcast and over-the-top TV landscape. Microsoft will buy DirecTV and integrate it with the XBOX 360 and all future US-based XBOX’s going forward.

From all of us at Tech.pinions, Happy Holiday and have a great New Year’s.

Tech.pinions: The Podcast – Week of Sept 19th 2011

Welcome to the first installment of the Tech.pinions Podcast. Tim Bajarin, Steve Wildstrom and Ben Bajarin opine on the latest technology industry developments for the week of September 19th 2011.

We talk HP’s firing of Leo Apotheker and appointment of Meg Whitman as CEO. 7 min 10 sec
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First reactions to Google’s senate committee hearing. 6 min
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Initial thoughts on Windows 8 and what Microsoft needs to do going forward. 4 min
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Speculation and insight on Amazon’s upcoming tablet launch.6 min 58 sec
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Listen to the whole thing in one sitting. 30 min

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