DEMO Deja Vu

on September 13, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this week, entrepreneurs Peter Thiel and Max Levchin made a splash by declaring the state of innovations as being somewhere “between dire straits and dead.” I think they are fundamentally wrong, but that’s a hard case to make at the opening session of the DEMOfall conference today.

DEMOfall iconThe 14 products demonstrated all seemed relatively worthy. In fact, that may be what was wrong. Each one seemed like it had a chance to succeed, largely because they mostly sounded like minor variations on familiar themes. What was missing, so far at least, was the goofy,off-the-wall nature of the products that have made past DEMO conferences so interesting.

The product that struck as most interesting was LiveLoop, a plugin that adds real-time collaboration to Microsoft Office. When the most intriguing thing is an Office add-on, it’s hard to believe you are in a hotbed of innovation. (I also found Upverter, a cloud-based collaborative circuit design tool intriguing, but I don’t know enough about circuit design to assess it.)

But I don’t think the lack of excitement is symptomatic of a basic failure in innovation. It’s more that we are just at an odd place in the cycle. I think, for example, that experimentation and development that is going on with big data, sensor networks and other new methods of data collection, and deep analytics is going to lead to deeper understanding of our world and products we can barely imagine today. But this area of innovation has not net reached to point where it is producing consumer-facing products. That is going to take at least a couple more years.

Meanwhile at DEMO, I am looking forward to I-TOMB.net–The World Virtual Cemetery, a product that might take me back to DEMO’s goofy glory days.

 

 

There is No Such Thing as an iPhone Killer

on September 13, 2011
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Samsung recently released its latest smart phone in the Galaxy S II line called the Epic 4G. Some in the media are hailing it as an iPhone killer, a statement that is at its deepest level entirely ignorant. Amazon will soon be releasing a tablet version of their popular Kindle e-reader and again people will proclaim or at least ask the question “is the Kindle Tablet an iPad killer.”

What I want to make clear is that there is no such thing in today’s technology landscape as an iPhone or iPad killer, or any other product killer for that matter. Many seem to assume that the tablet and the smart phone markets will be very similar to the historical PC landscape. Historically with PCs one dominant software operating system dominates and the rest have marginal market share at best. Even the PC landscape is changing.

The fact is that the market for PC’s, smart phones, tablets, and anything else we dream up will never again look the PC landscape during the 90’s and early 2000’s. There simply will not be one single OS that dominates the landscape. The market will support many and therefore there will be many choices and choice is good.

The reason for this is because when a market is maturing there is generally fewer or less quality options. There is in essence a market standard that leads the market to maturity. With PCs it was Microsoft and Windows which led the way as the standardized technology by which the market matured. With the Smart phone and tablet it will be the iPhone and the iPad that will lead the market into maturity. However once a market matures it begins to segment.

With Windows and the PC it took the product nearly 25 years to reach maturity. Smart phones, tablets and more will not take nearly that long and in fact will mature in around 3-5 years.

Due to the rules of market maturity, I can confidently say there is no such thing as an iPhone or iPad killer. There are only other product choices. John Gruber over at Daring Fireball makes some similar observations on how the market will support multiple solutions.

Why do I know this you ask? Because a Toyota Corolla is not a Mercedes-Benz killer. A Ford Truck is not a Prius killer. And an even closer analogy, a BMW series 3 is not a Mercedes C300 killer or vice-versa. The market can sustain all these automobile products.

To use another example Pepsi is not going to release a Coca-Cola killer. You simply have a choice of Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, Root Beer, Mt Dew, etc.

I have been studying the automobile market as it relates to a mature consumer market for some several years now and the similarities between the automobile market history and the technology market history are strikingly similar. The big difference is that the automobile market is about 20 years more mature than the PC industry. However when you study how the market matured and consumers adopted new technologies in the automobile industry you find moments in time that are very similar to the moment in time our industry is currently in.

Therefore we learn a lot about how today’s fragmented yet competitive automobile market and what it can teach us about what the consumer technology landscape of the future will look like.

This is the reality in mature consumer markets. There is a dominant solution that leads the market to maturity as consumer who are interested in their first product in the maturing market go with the market leader. As they become more familiar with their needs or wants with that product they then begin to shop around based on preference.

This is why the abundance of Android smart phone in the early stage of a markets maturing is actually more harmful than productive for the Android solution. I have stated before that the Android market is too saturated for its own good and that will be the case until the smart phone market reaches peak maturity in 3-5 years.

The critical key to any company in the market wanting to maintain or grow market share is to be around when the market actually does peak. Because once it does it is very difficult, without a pure market disruption, for new entrants or those who have minimal market share to grow.

Establishing market share early is of the utmost importance.

Should Apple Fear HTML 5? Not a Chance

on September 12, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Apple-Think DifferentIDG News Service’s Leok Essers has an article in which a couple of financial analysts predict dire consequences for Apple from the growing adoption of HTML 5, a technology that allows web pages to behave much more like native apps.

Toni Sacconaghi Jr. of Bernstein research thinks HTML 5 could reduce Apple’s operating profit growth through 2015 by 30%. Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research argues that adoption of HTML 5 will squeeze Apple by increasing the commoditization of both hardware and software.

This sort of analysis fundamentally misunderstands the nature of Apple’s success. The first question you have to ask yourself is why, if HTML 5 is such a threat to Apple, why is it embracing the technology so aggressively?  When the iPad was introduced in early 2009, Steve Jobs famously rejected Adobe Flash in favor of HTML 5 for providing media content and rich apps and a browser, a stance from which Apple has never wavered.

The fact is that no company is better at resisting commoditization than Apple. It does this through relentless focus on user experience. “It just works” may be a Jobsian cliche, but it is the essence of Apple. It provided a breakthrough user experience with the original iPhone, which relied on Web apps that are not nearly as good as what HTML 5 offers, it did it again with native apps on later iPhones and the iPad, and it will do it with HTML 5.

The one area where Apple may be hurt a bit will be the ability of HTML 5 web apps to go around the iTunes store and the 30% of sales that Apple takes off the top. But that’s not where Apple makes its money. In the June quarter, all iTunes Store revenues, including apps and content, accounted for only $1.6 billion of Apple’s $28.6 billion in revenues.

A bigger threat perhaps is that in a world of HTML 5 web apps, Apple will lose the curatorial control that the App Store has provided. While Apple’s “control-freakery” has been much criticized, this curation has maintained fairly highly minimum standards for iPhone and iPad apps and has avoided the chaos of the Android Market. HTML 5 will loosen control somewhat, but I suspect that Apple will find a way to keep that user experience coming.

 

Why Some Products Are Not For You

on September 12, 2011
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Credit - slcook52 (Sylvia) Flickr
One of my favorite commercials growing up was for a product called Bubble Tape. If you don’t know or don’t remember, Bubble Tape was six feet of bubble gum rolled up tightly to fit into a can that looked like chewing Tobacco. The gum tasted just like bubble gum but you got six feet of it. What I loved the most however was the tagline which went “six feet of Bubble tape, for you not them” said in a confident and aggressive voice.

Sometimes in debates I get with people over the whole Windows is better than OSX or Android is better than iOS or Windows phone, I just want to yell that’s because it isn’t designed for you.

The smartest companies in the world pick a segment of the market and own it, defend it and innovate for it. Perhaps the old adage proves true again that you can’t be all things to all people. Yet that is what so many tech companies try to do. They want to go after every segment of the market with a one size fits all design approach, thus spreading their products and their resources to thin.

What becomes of companies who try to go after every segment of the market is that the end up not being as good in areas where companies have focused. For example the iPad is not as good of an e-reader as the Kindle for various reasons. There are pros and cons to reading on both however for the serious reader of books, who has chosen that as the dominant use case, they will generally choose the Kindle.

There is a specific use approach to product development where a company or a technology just focuses on a limited set of use cases and makes the product the best for people to whom those use cases are valuable.

Car companies think like this. They don’t try to create a car that is all things to all people. If a car company tried to create one single car that appealed to those in the market for a truck, or a mini-van, or an economy car, or a luxury car, that car would actually be none of those things. Instead car companies develop cars for specific segments of a market.

Yet this is not how we build technology products. Currently we develop products that are all encompassing. All things to all people. That has gotten this industry pretty far, however in the future I believe technology companies who make personal technology products will need to think more like car companies.

For now however just starting by looking at the Law of Diffusion of Innovation is helpful.

What this image demonstrates is how the market segments are broken up at a high level using the law of diffusion of innovation. It also shows how large as a general percentage of the market each segment is.

The consumer of technology in each of the market segments has different expectations and uses with their technology. Therefore there is a lot of product fragmentation and differentiation opportunity in each of the market segments.

Designing a product for the innovators and early adopters is very different than designing a product for the late majority for example. Apple, I would argue, focuses on making products for the middle two markets in the chart above. The early majority and the late majority. That market consists largely those who are not tech elites but want products that “just work” and add value to their lives not make it more challenging.

Moving forward in this new world of computing where more than just the PC is an important part of the consumer ecosystem, tech companies need to understand how important it is to design for specific parts of the market rather than be all things to all people.

All Eyes on Microsoft and Intel This Week

on September 12, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

This week two industry heavyweights will be holding conferences around their companies greatest assets. Microsoft will be holding its Build Conference where they will highlight and showcase Windows 8 their next major OS release. Intel will be holding its annual Developer Forum which is designed to promote and encourage new innovation in hardware and software for Intel’s X86 CPU architecture.

Myself and many in the industry will be closely tuned to these events this week as we look for Microsoft and Intel to show us their vision of the future of the PC and post PC landscape.

Both Microsoft and Intel are key players and heavy influencers in the technology industry. These events are important for them to demonstrate to the world, and more importantly to the key players in their ecosystem, their value.

With Microsoft I anticipate much of build to be about Windows 8 on other platforms than PC’s. I expect, and hope, they show how Windows 8 will add value to the hardware manufacturers who have set their eyes on smart phones and tablets. We already know that Windows 8 will inevitably be shipped on new PC’s going forward. If you make PC’s for a living, and are not Apple, you have no choice but to use whatever Microsoft builds for you. I am more interested in what Microsoft has to offer in the areas where they are not the only OS in town.

I also expect their Windows on ARM initiative to be highlighted and emphasized. I believe the Windows on ARM campaign from Microsoft is one of the more important if they want to see their Windows OS get to more devices like tablets and smart phones. Those devices do not run Intel’s X86 architecture, but rather run an ARM based architecture. If Microsoft can gain momentum getting software developers to use their tools to develop software for Windows on ARM then they have a clear path to bring Windows software to new devices running the ARM architecture.

Intel on the other hand sees the trend of Post PC devices and has to be worried because that future right now does not include them. Intel is aggressively working on bringing their ATOM processors to smaller devices to compete with ARM, the only problem is right now there is no competition. Manufactures looking to bring tablets and smart phones to the mass market are not even considering Intel at this point in time.

Intel at IDF this week, I am betting, will focus heavily on mobility and Smart TV. Within mobility I expect them to push heavily their UltraBook initiative showing off a range of new devices and PC prototypes to showcase the kind of devices they want to see hit the market.

(Related: WIll UlraBooks Make PCs Interesting Again)

I would not be surprised if Intel also shows off a tablet or two and perhaps even some early smart phone hardware running Intel silicon.

The bottom line is both Microsoft and Intel making big showing at Build and IDF are key. They are both key players in helping drive innovation in the technology industry.

We will see what kind of vision both of them provide of the future.

The Gifts of the Digital Age – Remember 9/11

on September 11, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes


Today’s article will be short. It reflects upon one of the most powerful testaments to the age of digital technology. Because of the advances in digital technology, we are able to keep alive the memories of those who lost loved ones on this day, ten years ago – and even more, to broadcast those memories to our nation and to our world. They do not remain locked in a vault somewhere, for eternity, they are instead broadcast to the far corners of the universe through social media.

http://storycorps.org/listen/stories/category/september-11/

For the past five years, StoryCorps and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum have worked to record at least one story to honor each life lost on September 11, 2001, ten years ago today. To date, families and friends have memorialized nearly 600 individual victims of the attacks through the StoryCorps interview process. When the 9/11 Memorial opened this morning, excerpts from 10 of these StoryCorps interviews will be featured at the site.

The gifts of digital technology go one step further. Gratefully, the 9/11 Memorial Guide is available through a new iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone app, which visitors to the Memorial will download before visiting the site. This app will allow visitors to search the names arrangement of the Memorial and present select StoryCorps interviews, which help illustrate the enormity of the loss on 9/11 through the personal remembrances of families who lost loved ones on that day. The app will feature StoryCorps stories from each of the nine groups of victims memorialized at the site:  WorldTradeCenter(North), WorldTradeCenter(South), the Pentagon, Flight 93, Flight 77, Flight 175, Flight 11.

May the memories of those lost be preserved and shared.

http://storycorps.org/listen/stories/category/september-11/


Mozilla Gets Tough on Digital Certificates

on September 9, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Firefox logoIn a preemptive step to protect users from possible attacks based on fake digital certificates, Mozilla has given certificate issuers a week to present proof of security measures they have taken or have their certificates rejected by Firefox browsers.

Digital certificates are a critical part of the web’s security infrastructure. They are how sites prove that they are what they claim to be and they are also used to encrypt transactions between browsers and servers. But the integrity of the system was called into question by an attack on DigiNotar, a Dutch certification authority (CA), that allowed the attackers to issue false certificates in the name of a large number of well-known sites, including Google.com and there have been less serious breaches at other CAs.

In a letter to all CAs whose certificates are accepted by Firefox, Kathleen Wilson, who is responsible for managing certificates in firefox, gave CAs until Sept. 16 to complete a checklist of security measures, including a full audit of their public key infrastructure, a key security component.

The is a necessary step, and should be joined in by Microsoft, Google, Apple, Opera, and anyone else responsible for software that maintains a list of trusted CAs. But there is still an element of locking the stable after a fair number of horses have escaped. What is really needed is much toucher standards for CAs on an ongoing basis, and probably a sharp reduction in the number of organizations that can issue trusted certificates.

America Invents: A Step Toward Patent Reform

on September 9, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Patent office logoThe America Invents Act, now awaiting President Obama’s signature, will not solve the most serious problems of the U.S. patent system, especially the ugly mess of vague and dubious software patents. But it is a welcome step on the long road to reform.

The most notable  change in the law is a new criterion for awarding patents: To win U.S. patents, inventors had to prove they were the first to come up with the idea. The new law, following the practice of most of the rest of the world, will now award a contested patent to the first party to file for it. This may be a rough sort of justice and could prompt some premature patent filings, but it eliminates one of the most contentious and costly elements of patent litigation. And as engineers and inventors adapt to the new regime, it could ease some of the lab record-keeping and paperwork now deemed necessary to prove primacy of invention in a patent dispute.

The new law also streamlines the patent application process and simplifies fees. New procedures should mean that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office gets to keep more of the fees it collects and stronger financing could lead to the hiring of more and better patent examiners.

But the mere fact that the bill passed the Senate 89-8 reflects the fact that the most controversial issues were left on the table. The only real opposition came from some supports of small business and independent inventors, who felt the measure tilted too far in favor of big companies. Among the issues that will have to wait for another day–or case-by-case resolution by courts–is clarification of just what sort of software innovations or business processes are patentable.

 

Google’s Purchase of Zagat Proves They Are A Content Company

on September 9, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

As a serious foodie and a fan of Zagat’s Restaurant guides, I was rather intrigued by the fact that Google has decided to buy this popular product. Tim and Nina Zagat have worked tirelessly for decades to create what has become one of the best restaurant guides available. And to us foodies, they are rock stars.

Now, Google has bought them to presumably serve as the cornerstone of their local services and almost overnight they have become a serious competitor to the likes of Groupon, Yelp and Open Table in the local markets for offering specials for local dining.

But this move is important for another reason. For a long time, Google has denied that they had any interest in being a content provider. But this purchase suggests just the opposite. Sure, Zagat can be used as a vehicle for offering deals but Zagat content and the legion of personal restaurant reviewers becomes a powerful model for Google to add even more related content and tie it to their search engine and localized social services in the future.

In fact, it most likely will serve as a model for what else they do in content. What is interesting about the Zagat guides is that they, in a sense, were one of the first real social networking products. They started out only in print, but recently moved much of their guide online. They tapped into the interests of a particular crowd-people who wanted to review their meals and the eating experience and then allowed them to rate them using a Zagat dedicated rating system.

This same idea can be used anywhere there are people of like minds who want to connect. This can be applied to broad areas of interest such as sports, news and finance, but that may not be where they go with this. Instead, as the Zagat purchase may suggest, their content play may be a more focused vertical one for other areas of like-minded individuals, such as those with hobbies, specific things to sell around these hobbies and any other interest group where content and commerce can be applied to their search engine and a local scene.

While Google may somehow spin this to say this is not a content acquisition and that they are still not a content company, I beg to differ with them. To me this signals a strong interest in finding ways to add content perhaps in not conventional ways to their product mix and use “content” of various sorts to bring more people into their various Google properties.

iOS is Still The Best Choice For Developers

on September 9, 2011
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yesterday The Yankee Group released an interesting set of findings from a research study they conducted. The crux of the article was around how Android app piracy is hurting Android developers. The report claims that because of app piracy on Android, developers are losing up to $10,000 in revenue.

We have known for a while that Android has an issue with malware being brought in through apps and now to add to the issues plaguing developers they now have the added threat of having their software pirated.

Android has always catered to the “tech tinkerer” so it isn’t shocking that these underground app stores exist where you can get any app you want for free.

Google’s lack of control or polices related to the Android Market is one of the biggest weaknesses of the entire Android ecosystem. A quote from the report states:

“Android apps are living in the Wild West without a sheriff,” said Carl Howe, Yankee Group director of research and author of the report “Android Piracy: How Republished Apps Steal Revenue and Increase Costs.” “With five other major mobile OSs competing for consumer dollars, Google can’t afford to simply let pirates kill app developers’ businesses. They need to foster some law and order or developers will flee to other platforms and Android will lose customers.”

The Yankee Group’s survey findings from Android developers parallel our discussions with them as well. Many developers we speak with, who develop apps for both iOS and Android, constantly tell us of their frustration and fear with the Android Market.

This is one of the reasons we think that what Amazon is up to could prove disastrous for the Android Market. If some of our early theoretical analysis is correct, Amazon may be planning to use their fork of Android to entice Android developers away from the Android Market.

From many of the developers we have spoken with who also submit apps to Amazon’s app store we have heard much more positive things. Things like Amazon supports them more, has better recommendation algorithms to help their app get discovered and economic value as well. On top of that Amazon doesn’t accept every app submitted, they do actually have a process for approving quality applications to their store.

Based on much of our own research as well as many new reports like the one from the Yankee Group, we have to conclude that for the time being iOS is still the safer and more reasonable platform for developers to continue to pour resources into developing applications for.

For any platform to be successful it needs to have a robust, thriving and more importantly confident software developer community. Google needs to resolve these issues, take more control and cater more to developers if they want their version of Android to continue to garner support from developers.

To add further support for the argument that iOS is still the best place to focus precious developer resources to, the report also states that iOS consumers download six times more apps than Android consumers. So for the developer there is a 6x better chance of getting their application into the hands of consumers.

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It’s the User Experience, Stupid; How iPhone Critics Miss the Point

on September 8, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The title tells it all: 10 Reasons Why iPhone 5 Doesn’t Stand a chance Against Motorola Droid Bionic. The article, by Elias Samuel in International Business Times, not surprisingly, lists 10 ways in which the Droid Bionic, just announced for Verizon Wireless is superior to the the forthcoming Apple iPhone 5.

Photo of Droic BionicI don’t mean to pick on Mr. Samuel’s, whose other work I am not familiar with.  But this article is sadly typical of a common style of tech reviewing.

Never mind that we know very little about the iPhone 5 hardware, though that doesn’t stop everyone from speculating. The problem is that even if all of Samuels’ assumptions about the new iPhone are right, it just doesn’t matter. For example, you can probably count on your fingers the number of potential iPhone buyers who care that the Bionic’s  Texas Instruments OMAP 4430 processor has specifications superior to the iPhone’s presumed Apple A5.

Some of the other claims are downright inane. If the lack of support for Flash and absence of an external memory card slot mattered, they would have killed iPhone and iPad sales by now. Obviously, they haven’t. And the alleged “open source advantage” is of interest mainly to ideologues (not to mention the fact that Android’s open sourciness is questionable at best.)

What is entirely lacking in Samuels’ review, and many, many others of its ilk, is a discussion of the one thing we do know about the iPhone 5, it’s IOS 5 software and the improvements it is likely to bring to the iPhone’s already great user experience. There are many Android phones whose hardware equals or beats the iPhone. There are none whose user experience comes close. And that, not speeds and feeds, Flash and LTE, is what sells phones.

The Droid Bionic looks to be a fine handset and I expect it will do well. But to say “iPhone 5 may not stand a chance against Motorola’s flagship phone” is just plain silly.

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7″ Media Tablets Like Kindle Fire…”Dead On Arrival”?

on September 8, 2011
Reading Time: 3 minutes

UPDATED with Amazon Kindle “Fire” references.

A few weeks ago, TechCrunch reported that Amazon’s 7″ Kindle tablet was “very real” and would ship for the 2011 holidays.  (UPDATED: Now rumored to be called “Kindle Fire“.  ) Almost a year before that, Wired’s Brian Chen reported that on an earnings call, Jobs said, “the current crop of 7-inch tablets are going to be DOA — dead on arrival.” So the stage is set for an interesting war of beliefs and concepts this holiday shopping season.  In one corner, the world’s most trafficked internet retail stores and Kindle inventor, Amazon, and in the other, Apple, the most valuable company on the planet and inventor of the iPad.  Will the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet be treated in the marketplace with very little respect or will it shock everyone like the original Kindle?  It really comes down to the basics of the consumer value proposition.

Many Variables at Play

With a considered technology purchase, consumers actually do a bit of research before they buy.  It can be as simple as asking a geek friend for advice, doing a Google search for reviews, or as complex as side-by-side feature analysis, but in the end, it’s still research.  Consumers looking at buying a 7″ or 10″ tablet will look at variables like perceived price, value, content, brand, size, display, and weight.  More meaningful, though, is how they apply those variables to what they believe they want to do with their tablet and the location they will do it.

For the sake of this analysis, I will use the iPad 2 as representative of the 10″ tablet and the combination of a Nook Color and the rumored Amazon Kindle “Fire” tablet as the 7” designate.  I will also assume that each tablet has access to the same books, magazines, movies, videos, music and games.  The only “iffy” one may be games given the iPad’s tremendous lead today.

IMAGE_1000003527

Potential Advantages with a 7″ $249 Tablet (Amazon Kindle “Fire” Tablet)

  • 20-30% lighter and even smaller means easier to carry and hold for almost every usage model.  Anecdotally, I have heard that women prefer the 7″ tablet because they are easier to carry.
  • Half the $499 price of the cheapest iPad 2. Not only is the tablet less expensive, but I will guess that every accessory will be less expensive, too.
  • Free subscription to Amazon Prime, which means free access to Amazon Instant Video Service.  Again, this is rumor, not confirmed.
  • Most of the same books, magazines, videos, movies, web content as the 10″, $499 tablet.
  • Simpler, as in fewer choices for apps and content providers, yet plays the same content. There is one button only.
  • Standard micro USB power and data cable.  These are everywhere in the house, your cars, and at the local convenience store.  You can also charge from your PC, unlike an iPad 2.
  • More durable, given plastic and rubber design.  I don’t care when someone drops my Nook on the carpet.  I shriek when someone drops my iPad 2.

Potential Advantages with a 10″ $499 (iPad 2)

  • Twice the viewable image area of everything you see, like pictures, videos, books, newspapers, and web pages.
  • Battery life, although tough to predict.  Apple claims up to 10 hours for web, video, and music while Barnes & Noble claims 8 hours for reading.
  • Use more complex applications and basic activities are more responsive, given dual core processor and better graphics subsystem.  Think better looking games, richer video and photos, and more complex web pages.
  • Watch videos and listen to music from the tablet to an HDTV, PC, Mac or other AirPlay compliant device.  Maybe the Kindle will have some sort of DLNA capabilities, but from what I’ve seen on Android tablets today, it won’t hold a candle to the iPad AirPlay.
  • Take pictures and home movies.  While I scoffed at this at first with the iPad 2’s low res camera, I find myself taking pictures and videos with it.  It’s just so convenient to take it and show it to someone immediately.  Maybe I will stop doing this when iCloud immediately uploads my pictures and videos, but we will see.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are potential benefits in a less expensive, smaller and lighter 7” media tablet like the Kindle “Fire” as there are in a fuller-featured, twice as expensive, 10” media tablet. I believe that if the Amazon Fire tablet ships this as rumored above and with Amazon Video on Demand, it will sell extremely well. That is, given competition stays still, which it rarely does. So does this mean Steve Jobs was wrong? No, because when he made that statement a year ago, 7” tablets were priced right on top of the iPad 2 with a lot less content and a much degraded experience. A lot has changed since then and a lot will change in the future. And I am sure of that.

What is Yahoo’s Fate?

on September 8, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

I wish I could confidently proclaim that Yahoo’s best days are ahead or them. The fact of the matter is they are in a hole in which they can not emerge without serious help.

Yahoo like most companies lacks vision. If we where to ask Yahoo executives what the online world will look like in 3 years and where is Yahoo’s value in that world, I’d bet we would get a blank stare. The industry perception of Yahoo has been that it is largely irrelevant. They have some very interesting assets, assets that bring in revenue. The problem is they don’t have enough assets brining in enough revenue and they have not been creating any new real value.

All of this Yahoo news is in stark contrast to the news that Facbook has now doubled its first half revenue to the tune of $1.6 billion.

Facebook is killing it in revenue and Yahoo is going the opposite direction.

So what is to come?

The obvious answer is hire a new CEO. The only problem is who is on the market with vision, leadership, communication skills, execution etc that can turn this company around? It is akin to the sports world when there are no big names in the free agent pool. Unless they should take seriously Snoop Dog’s desire to become CEO. Who knows maybe he is exactly who they need – i’m half-joking.

Another element to consider is in uncertain times like Yahoo is going through people start worrying about their jobs and good talent starts looking elsewhere. Furthermore how can they expect to attract new quality talent with this turbulent ride Yahoo is on.

My advice to Yahoo is to start selling off assets rather than the whole company. Flickr for example could be very valuable to a number of folks in the industry. Their Fantasy sports assets could be sold to CBS or ESPN for example. Perhaps Google would want all their email customers.

The bottom line is Yahoo has lost mind share within the industry and with consumers. There is still revenue to be had with their assets and the responsible thing for the company and the board to do is to now minimize the damage and sell the assets to return something to shareholders.

Key Takeaways from Yahoo’s Troubles

Thinking quarter to quarter or even year to year is a failing strategy. Innovate or die.

What is more concerning is that this lack of innovative spirit seems to be a trend I am seeing in larger corporate institutions in the technology sector. More on that to come.

Is there a market for Good Enough “Tablets?”

on September 7, 2011
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In April I wrote in my PC Mag column about Amazon Stealing Android from Google and argued in this piece that Amazon was most likely building their own proprietary approach to integrating their overall Android Store and a set of music, video and cloud services and integrate it into their future tablet offering.

Then, in August I wrote how Amazon Could disrupt the tablet market by creating a tablet that could sell for $249 even though it would cost $300 to build, but make it up by amortizing users purchases of books, music and videos over an 18-24 month period.

I suggested that if Amazon did this they could disrupt the entire market for tablets by introducing a new pricing model tied to their services that would make it very difficult for any hardware only tablet vendor to compete in this burgeoning market.

Now, in a most interesting post from MG Seigler at Techcrunch we get an actual hands on description of this tablet and it reinforces the price I suggested Amazon would sell it for. And he goes on to give actual details about it coming out in November including the fact that it has a color 7” screen but no cameras and no i/o ports.

If what Mr. Siegler says is true, then this Amazon tablet is more like a Nook on steroids then a serious competitor to Apple’s iPad. It will have very limited features as a multi-purpose tablet, but will excel in offering Amazon driven music, video and clouds services. And of course, we expect that it will have a browser so it would give people using it broad access to Web based content although apparently it will not support Adobe’s Flash.

But this brings up a very interesting question. Is there room in the market for what we would call a “good enough” tablet? Clearly, Apple’s iPad seems like it will be the Cadillac of tablets and to stay with the GM metaphor, the Amazon tablet is probably more like the Chevy Malibu of tablets. Both are very functional but what is inside and what they can do on the road are very different.

While there is always a market for full-featured products like the iPad, there is also perhaps an even larger market for “good enough” tablets like the first gen Amazon tablet might me. And Amazon, with this limited design and low price point, seems to be aiming at the “Chevy” market for tablets where bells and whistles are less important then price and basic functionality.

This concept of good enough computing has been bandied about in the industry for decades. It started with desktops where high end gaming PC’s ruled the gaming and engineering/graphics market, while lower cost PC’s with less horsepower and functionality took the lions share of the bigger “good enough” PC market. And the same thing happened with laptops. Gaming laptops powered the upper end of the portable market, while thin and lights went after the business crowd and value laptops with less power compared to the other two models took the lions share of the broader portable market. And they were good enough for a very large audience of consumers.

Could this “good enough” approach to the market be repeating itself again with tablets? There is no question that even though Apple’s iPad may be the Cadillac of tablets today, Apple was quite aggressive with their pricing so that it has appealed to much more than a more well-healed audience that normally buys upper end models of everything. On the other hand, there will always be a large audience who either won’t spend much on products or can’t for economic reasons and will opt for something in this value line of products or in this place, a just “good enough” tablet if it is available.

My sense is that as with desktop’s and laptops there is room for both and I suspect we will see tablets at a lot of different price points taking aim at the needs of all level of customers wants and needs. And if history is our guide, the products in the “good enough” category could be very large indeed.

Is it Time for RIM to be Acquired?

on September 6, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The short answer is yes. And it seems like RIM’s investors are starting to chime in and suggest the company look for a suitor.

The technology industry landscape has changed drastically in the last few months. I have written in a number of our reports why we believe that in this new landscape some companies will be better suited to compete together rather than alone. I believe RIM is one of these companies who alone will most likely fizzle into nothingness.

In my column at Techland which is the tech section of Time.com, I explained all the things RIM needs to do if they want to stay relevant in the future. The one point i’ll now add is to be acquired. The main point being that RIM is not a consumer company.

They do not have the DNA to make, market and sell products to consumers. As a matter of fact I think the industry is learning that there are very few companies who do have the DNA to make, market and sell products to consumers.

I believe RIM has the DNA to make, market and sell products to the enterprise. Now we can debate that the consumer-ization of IT could impact any company only selling to enterprises, but that is for another time.

I firmly believe that if RIM is to stay relevant they need to focus on building hardware, software and services specially designed for the business class.

So then the question is who should acquire RIM? Well there is another company who I believe does not have consumer DNA, who is still in the hardware business, and who plans to focus more on the enterprise – that company is Dell. Dell should buy RIM.

Dell’s attempts at smart phones and tablets have yet to become market successes. The company needs help expanding its mobile footprint as a part of the overall Dell solution. Dell is a solutions company and they think like a solutions company. Mobile is a critical part of the Dell solution and the bottom line is they need help.

I believe DELL and RIM are a classic example of two companies who are stronger together rather than separate. With’s Dell’s market cap at just over $25 billion and RIM’s just over $15 billion this would be more of a merger than acquisition.

The real question is whether or not Michael Dell has it in him to do a deal like this. There is uncertainty how competitive an HP spinoff of the PC business could be and this makes for an interesting variable from Dell. Dell’s real concern however should be companies like Samsung and Acer who will be able to compete with them on price.

If Dell bought / merged with RIM I think the two companies could orient themselves to be extremely competitive in the enterprise solutions space. Enterprise is not the sexiest of business’ but it is better than having no business at all.

Why No One Can Match the MacBook Air

on September 6, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Peter Bright at Ars Technica has a feature about his frustrating search for a Windows notebook that can match the MacBook Air–and how difficult it will be for Intel to pull off its quest for Air-like Ultrabooks. The big questions is why it is so hard for PC makers to compete.

ThinkPad X1 photo
ThinkPad X1 (Lenovo)

The answer clearly has nothing to do with technology. Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Sony, and Toshiba, along with smaller players, have all the skills required to design just about anything. Everyone is building their systems using the same components and, for the most part, the same manufacturing partners.

I think the real problem lies in the  marketing DNA of the computer makers, which has evolved to meet the demands of corporate  customers and the retail sales channel. While their  requirements  are entirely different, both drive design away from the clean and simple designs and low-cost, high-quality manufacturing that are Apple hallmarks.

Corporate sales are the lifeblood for many PC makers. Consumers buy a lot more units, but enterprises buy higher-end products and typically provide better margins. But corporations are very picky buyers. Their bid sheets generally include lengthy lists of specifications, often specific classes of processors, specific graphics systems, even specific Wi-Fi radios. They often require legacy ports to be included long after their usefulness has ended. And in most cases, supplying every item on the bid sheet is a minimum requirement to compete.

The result of this need to meet very fine-grained requirements is great complexity. The buyer of a 13″Mac Book Air has one choice to make: a 128- or 256-gigabyte solid-state storage device. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1, one of the most Air-like products, offers three different processors, optional Bluetooth, two flavors of mobile broadband, four Wi-Fi radios, 4 or 8 GB or RAM, and a choice of a conventional hard drive or two different SSDs, making 432 total hardware combinations.

This much variety complicates every stage of the supply chain, from buying components to stocking finished inventory. It raises costs. It also prevents optimizing the design around a set of component choices. (One consequence of the Air’s sleek, monolithic design–a big part of its esthetic appeal–is that what you buy is what you get; there are no field-upgradeable components.

In the consumer market, the problem is different but the result the same. Retailers (including Dell’s mostly online operation) want to have a product, or perhaps a choice of products, at every conceivable price point. This leads to a profusion of overlapping and very similar models and a product line that makes no sense even to very sophisticated buyers. When I asked Dell.com to show me 11″ to 14″ consumer notebooks, the site produced a page offering 12 different versions of two 14″ Inspiron notebooks, the 14R-2nd Gen and 14z (even the names are messy.)

Apple, by contrast, need not satisfy anyone but the ultimate user–and judging by the results, the lack of choice isn’t much of a problem. Even corporations, many of which are reluctantly buying Macs to meet the demands of their internal users, are learning to live with taking what Apple gives. This Apple-knows-best attitude strikes some people as paternalistic, even fascistic. But it produces great products that well-heeled buyers seem to love.

 

 

VizLingo – The Newest Gadget for Gen Z

on September 5, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

Yes, the tech revolution has produced an endless stream of new gizmos, gadgets and tools. Some of these are vital to our day-to-day existence, like email, and some are simply a fun and entertaining distraction (Angry Birds anyone?)…

Not long ago, entrepreneurs Todd Younggren and Azeo Fables created hatched the idea to use the latest revolution in tech, mobile, to create a new way to communicate, and VizLingo was born.  Simply put,VizLingo is a messaging tool that translates your words into video. The UI is exactly what the new generation of users demands, fun and easy! Just type, see and send. The user simply types any message into VizLingo to see each word of their message illustrated by a 1-2 second video clip. Streamed together (with subtitles at the bottom for the less creative), it’s a visual puzzle that can be sent anywhere – directly to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, mobile phones and email addresses.

If you’re thinking “I don’t get it” – that’s actually a good thing.  It’s one of those subtle mechanisms that has to be experienced, like poetry for instance.  VizLingo is definitely a sort of “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” medium – a new form of visual poetry, if you will. It’s not only who it plays TO, but also what the “writer” puts into their work. My favorite part of  VizLingo is that, soon, the creator can customize their own Lingo by uploading video clips right from a mobile phone or digital camera. It’s fun and easy, and in the hands of a user who has the time to be super creative, it could definitely go big and go viral.

VizLingo’s Global Lingo is communal, created by and for the VizLingo community, boasting tens of thousands of user-generated clips shared from all over the world. And in today’s world of “new normal” social marketing,  VizLingo could be a BIG deal.  In fact, I think Ford and the Hershey Chocolate company and Virgin Airlines, etc., should engage their younger clientele and create a promotion where anyone using their products in a VizLingo video and pushing it out to their own friends and fans, wins a [fill in the blank] … Virgin Airlines round trip to Tahiti, perhaps?

In the immortal words of one of my favorite ads, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” And if VizLingo finds the creative joint ventures that FourSquare embarked on when everyone first stood there saying, “I don’t get it,” well, we may end up wishing we did.