China’s Real Role in Tech 



on July 12, 2011
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I have had the privilege of traveling to about 55 countries as part of my job over the last 30 years. And while I really enjoy Italy, France, Hong Kong, and Singapore, the one country that fascinates me the most is China. I first went to China in the early 1990’s, just when they were starting to establish their special trade zones. At that time the government was still leery of outsiders and we could not travel anywhere without a personal guide of some sort. 



Fast forward 20 years and the China I visited in 1990 is not the same place it is today. China has emerged as an industrial powerhouse and a major manufacturer of all types of goods, especially electronics and computers. I became aware of China’s real interest in computer manufacturing during a dinner I had in Taipei with ACER founder, Stan Shih in 1991. At the time, it was illegal for any Taiwanese company to do business with mainland China. But Mr Shih told me that he was working through private channels and was planning to put one of his computer manufacturing facilities in China shortly.

Indeed, within a few years, China had opened its doors to various partners throughout the world and started down a path to become one of the major manufacturers of personal computers and tech related products. 
But China has gone down another path that has enhanced its role in the world of technology. They have made hardware, semiconductor and software engineering a keystone of their educational system and in fact, they produce the most doctorates in these fields then any other country in the world. And all of their engineers and most of their college educated youth take English as a second major, thus making it possible for them to communicate well within the international business community.

Software Expertise
Last fall I want to China to speak to a couple of thousand software developers who had gathered to learn more about developing specifically for smart phones. They came from all over China and represented top students from the universities as well as individual developers who were specifically interested in developing for the Android platform. Although the iPhone is a hot item in China and there are a lot of people developing for the iPhone, most of the major Chinese handset makers are backing Android (a completely customized version) and this will clearly be the OS of choice for smart phones in this country.

To put this into perspective, China will sell about 500 million cell phones in 2011 and at least half of them will be smart phones, with Android phones taking the lion’s share of this market. I spoke to a professor at one of the universities after my speech and he told me that two years ago he had about 30 students signed up for his smart phone developer class. This year he had over 3000 sign up for it.

What is perhaps most striking about modern day China is that a middle class is developing and even in the outer provinces, people have cell phones and TV’s. And the traffic jams in Beijing are amazing. One of my hosts told me that there are at least 100 million cars in and around Beijing now, which unfortunately makes it the most polluted place I have been to in years, next to Mexico City.

Thirst For Education
But the thing that both impresses me and concerns me the most about China is the incredible drive and interest in education that makes these students tick. After years of incredible oppression, the ability to learn more freely and to think for themselves is surely a welcome change from the past. Their emphasis on math and sciences at all levels of education puts them so ahead of the US that it is frightening. I don’t want to get on a high horse here but to not emphasize math and science in the US educational system will only put the US at a disadvantage for future competition, especially in the world of technology.

While China clearly has made major strides in education and commerce and has become a powerhouse in manufacturing, banking and world trade, I was reminded that it still is a society that has a lot of controls over its information and people. During my visit I could not get access to Facebook or Twitter at all. It was blocked, at least through the server of my Hilton Hotel Internet connection. And various types of searches through Google were also blocked, although on this trip I had less trouble using Google then in the past.

And it is still clear that China favors home grown properties over outside sites like Google, Yahoo, etc. Baidu is their top search engine and China created apps drive most of the smart phone market. But what a lot of people don’t know is that a great deal of the apps created for the rest of the world is actually coded in China. I deal with many US based software firms who use Chinese software shops to help create, fine tune and support their overall software development projects. China’s influence on hardware and software is much more far reaching then people understand.

But it is the drive of the young people I met on this last trip that really struck a chord with me. I spoke to dozens of kids who just want to be normal, hard working folks who can contribute to the world of technology development. Some were true entrepreneurs and dreamed of having their own companies and in some way making it big. They know of the many tech millionaires and billionaires that have risen within the Chinese tech community and some aspire to that type of fortune.

But for most, they just want to have a better life for themselves and their families. They want a simple apartment and the big prize for them is to own their very own car. To them that is the symbol of success. More importantly, they are serious students of technology. The kids I met are not techies in the sense that they just love technology. Instead they represent millions of engineering students who want to invent new technology products, not just play with them.

Although I still have great faith in Silicon Valley and its role in the world of technology development and the other key tech centers around the US dedicated to technological inventions, China’s emphasis on math and science and its focus on technology innovation cannot be ignored. This is the real role they are playing in advancing the world of technology. In financial circles, we clearly know that China is a country to be reckoned with, especially since they hold most of our debt. But its rise as a tech powerhouse and one that has millions of engineers dedicated to finding new tech solutions and products means that its competitive position in tech will only rise. It should be admired and feared at the same time. The US really is in danger of losing its edge in tech if it does not reverse its course and make math and science more important to our educational system.

Does Google+ Target Facebook or Twitter?

on July 11, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

After spending some time using Google+ and reading many of the articles and opinions on the service, I came across two pieces that I thought were worth pointing out. I am still in the process of forming my own opinion on Google+ and what the benefit is of the service so in the meantime I want to highlight two thoughtful commentaries.

The first is from Tristan Louis from Business Insider who brings up the question and explores whether Google+ is targeting Twitter or Facebook. This is a great question although it’s much to early to have clarity on Google’s strategy other then they are a services company so investing in services is what they do. From my own time using the service I can see elements of both Twitter and Facebook.

Google obviously feels that services which fill a social need are a key component of how we will use and interact on the web. Hopefully Google+ continues to innovate in this direction. However as of now its not clear what the key value proposition is for mainstream consumers.

To address that question Joshua Gans who holds the Skoll Chair in Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Rotman School of Management (University of Toronto) wrote an interesting commentary for the Harvard Business Review blog. He focuses on addressing the question of what problem Google+ solves in the market place. The thing I love about HBR authors is how their commentary highlights fundamental business principles. This one being that in order to have a successful product or service it needs to add value by solving a problem.

His point is primarily that its unclear which problem Google+ is solving. For consumers to switch or even start using one service over another there needs to be a compelling differentiating benefit for the new service. Regarding Google+ that element is still unclear.

Keep in mind any commentary or opinion on Google+ at this point is purely that a commentary or opinion. Google, for obvious reasons, is highly vested to flesh this out. They want to own Internet eyeballs for as long as possible on any given day or time.

Social is a key part of how we will use the web in the future and Google wants a part of that. Google moves extremely fast and in six month’s what Google+ is could be completely different than it is currently.

How The Internet Saved My Keg

on July 11, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

If you are like me you have dozen’s of stories of how content from the Internet has helped you in some way. I often take the Internet for granted. Sometimes it takes a crisis where I use the web to gain obscure yet valuable knowledge to remind me of the power of the World Wide Web. I shared a story earlier in the year in my SlashGear column about how I got information, in real time from the web, to help me deliver babies from my pregnant goat. The crisis that time was due to a complication with the labor of one of our prized goats. This time however the crisis was with my keg.

I own a Kegerator, which is a small refrigerator specially built to house a keg and dispense cold draft beer. I emptied my current keg a few weeks ago and unplugged then cleaned my Kegerator. Over the weekend I decided it was time to get my next great summer brew. I plugged the Kegerator in and left to go purchase my next keg. When I got home my Kegerator was not cooling and I began to panic.

So as I always do when I am in search of information, I pulled out my phone and searched for reasons a refrigerator would not cool.

I quickly ran through the symptoms I found online until I identified the problem (the site I used was written by a fridge repair man who listed all the steps he would take to diagnose the problem). It appeared the coils were dirty and needed to be vaccumed and scrubbed. I quickly found a how-to-video on YouTube on how to properly clean and scrub refridgerator coils then followed the steps. I then plugged my Kegerator back in and sure enough it started cooling instantly.

Prior to the Internet how would I have solved this problem? Most likely I would have had to call an appliance repair service. Even in this scenario there would have been no guarentee that the refigerator repair person could have come out immeditely or even on the same day, assuming they were open on the weekend in the first place. It would have also cost a bundle to have emergency service done.

The bottom line is prior to the Internet I would have likely been sunk and run the risk of losing my entire keg. Every time I have one of these experiences where the Internet provides me with obscure yet timely and valuable knowledge I am amazed. We have a friend who actually used YouTube to learn how to replace her roof and did the entire job herself just using how-to’s from YouTube.

I ask myself is there any bit of knowledge that is not on the Internet?

Week In Review: Tech.pinions on the Key News of the Week

on July 9, 2011
Reading Time: 2 minutes

This week news came out revealing a clearer picture of how Microsoft is profiting from Android. Many large handset manufacturers are not having to pay Microsoft technology licenses due to patents owned by Microsoft Android infringes upon. This is important because it is only the beginning of the types of fees makes of Android devices could pay to not only Microsoft but also potentially Oracle. We are watching this closely because if the technology license cost surrounding Android becomes to high, it will likely impact the decision to go with Android on new devices.

Why Microsoft’s Android Ransom Matters

Facebook also announced this week that they have added video chatting as a communication option within the Facebook platform. They announcement also detailed that Skype (now owned by Microsoft) was the underlying technology making video chat within Facebook possible. It will be interesting to see where Facebook takes this and if and how they deploy it to mobile devices, thus enabling video chatting on mobile devices through Facebook. On that point, given that Microsoft and Facebook are so close, I would not be surprised if we see this technology first available on Windows Phone.

Should the Facebook-Microsoft Alliance Worry Google?

Apple also announced this week that their app store has crossed the 15 billion download mark. They also announced that in total they have paid out $2.5 billion dollars to developers who have distributed apps through Apple iTunes App Store. The significance of the volume of apps downloaded and the monetary benefits to developers, demonstrate Apple’s lead in both categories.

Apple’s App Store Tops 15 Billion Downloads: Eat Your Heart Out Google!

Netflix also made a significant announcement this week. They announced they are bringing instant streaming to Latin America and that their plans for later this year to add 43 countries in Central and South America, and the Caribbean to its list of supported locales is still on track. Netflix’s global streaming strategy is the key to them becoming the largest global streaming video service.

Netflix bringing instant streaming to Latin America, global domination plan on track

Ten Key Points for a Successful Company Blog

on July 8, 2011
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Bob Maples is a contributor to Tech.pinions, his opinions are his own. He is is the CEO and founder of Maples Communications, a full-service public relations, social media and hybrid-marketing communications agency for companies who need to put more eyes on their brand for sales leads, increased brand and product awareness, better customer relationships and brand loyalty. A few clients include Toshiba America Information Systems, Fujitsu Computer Systems, Texas Instruments, Acer, Hitachi, eMachines, Networks in Motion, and Cisco, to mention a few. The agency has won more than 100 awards for work executed on behalf of its clients, including seven coveted Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) National Silver Anvil Awards recognizing Maples Communications as one of the best PR and social media agencies in the country.

Can you, your company or your president be considered thought leaders in the digital era without a blog? You can’t be taken seriously by business audiences unless you have a blog in the mix. A blog is your delivery mechanism to share your insights consistently. And, while it is certainly possible to do business without a blog, having one is the key ingredient for establishing and sustaining your expertise and knowledge on specific topics.

But launching and running a company blog is not easy. It’s not as simple as writing posts on a regular basis because a blog has to provide value on a regular basis. Blogs are the fabric of online communication, serving as outright thought leadership vehicles and behind-the-scenes content management systems. They require a time commitment, serious thought and far more than merely regurgitating the latest stats or trends about their industries – your readers want your opinion and analysis.

So what are the key points in a successful company blog? Here are a few of mine:

    1. 1. Relevant content that provides insight, perspective and information. At its core, a company blog has to deliver its readers relevant information they can use to increase their knowledge, learn new things or receive insight that makes a difference.
      2. It needs to be well written. A blog with spelling and grammatical errors reflects badly on the person writing it and their company. Also, blog posts need to have a good flow and provide an engaging narrative that makes it easy to read. This is particularly important given many people scan content online as opposed to reading it. This is why a good headline is so important to capture someone’s attention.
      3. Posts have to happen on a regular basis. It could be one, two or five posts per week. Whatever your editorial plan, it needs to be consistent to establish expectations within the company and among the blog’s readers. The worst thing a company can do is post four or five times a week for a few weeks, and then once a week or not at all afterward. When the audience doesn’t know what to expect, they start to drift away.
      4. Respond to industry issues, competitive stories and customer concerns. Customer service and public relations have never been more important; a bad story can spread around the web’s social network at the speed of light. Your blog becomes a responsive outlet to explain your side of any story and douse the fires of negative activity or accentuate the positive.
      5. It can’t operate as a standalone entity. A blog needs to be supported and nurtured within a company. It needs to be actively promoted within communications, marketing and sales collateral, business cards, letterhead and e-mail signatures.
      6. The blog and its content should also be promoted on social media services such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and e-mail notification to targeted customers, influencers, media and other friends of the company. A blog needs to be seen as an integral part of a company’s brand and identity as opposed to be left alone to its own devices.
      7. Search engine-optimizing your content is important in bringing in search visitors as well as direct traffic. The more linkable your blog and website, the better your search results will be. Very often traditional websites are difficult to link to and not easy for search engines to index. This can be due to the blog or website’s structure, the software it’s built with, or its overly complex URLs. Blogs are almost always superior in this respect.
      8. A company blog needs to be integrated into the blogosphere and the blogging community. The people writing a blog need to be reading and commenting on other blogs. You can’t write a blog in isolation otherwise there are no connections with the “outside” world.
      9. It needs to look good and have a user-friendly design. As much as a company will spend time and money to create a good Web site, its blog also needs to be functionally and attractive. It is a public marketing vehicle that reflects a company’s brand, culture and approach to business.
      10. A good blog should follow best practices by including things such as an RSS feed (both through RSS reader and via e-mail), information about the writers, the ability to leave comments, links to social media services, and links to other company resources.
  • Finally, I’m a big believer that ideas flourish when you’re out and about talking to customers, industry gurus and other people about their ideas, interests, thoughts and business endeavors. As much as you can get many ideas from reading online, socializing is a great way to stimulate the mind and idea generation. Many of mine come from the traditional newspapers like the Wall Street Journal or USA Today.

    These are my thoughts to a successful company blog. What are some of the other things that make a good company blog should feature?

    Should the Facebook-Microsoft Alliance Worry Google?

    on July 7, 2011
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    The Facebook announcement of Skype integration was also an announcement in the next stage of the relationship between Microsoft and Facebook.

    Austin Carr wrote an interesting article this morning over at Fast Company titled: “Why The Facebook-Microsoft Alliance Should Worry Google.” The article is worth reading and I agree with several conclusions.

    What I think many people overlook or perhaps don’t realize is that Facebook and Google really are competitors. Google wants to monopolize consumers Internet time in their services walled garden and Facebook wants to do the same.

    Both of them entered their strategies differently with Google focusing on search and Facebook focusing on social relationships.

    There is a heated debate, which we will cover in more detail here at Tech.pinions in the coming month’s, over the closed vs. the open web. I’ve spoken publicly about this at several industry summits and I will share more thoughts in an upcoming column.

    There was one quote in particular in Carr’s article from Zuckerberg I wanted to point out.

    “We have a really good relationship with Microsoft,” Zuckerberg said. “Now that you [Skype] are owned by Microsoft, that gives us the sense of stability that it’s going to be with a company we can trust–that we know we have a longstanding relationship with.”

    Mark Zuckerberg used an interesting word toward the end of that quote “a company we can TRUST.” I’ve commented frequently on the industry mumblings we hear about a lack of trust in Google and it was interesting that Zuckerberg hinted that Facebook trusts Microsoft more than Google.

    What’s more concerning -if true- are the comments from Eric Schmidt who seems to be dismissing Facebook as a viable Google competitor. Any time a technology gets engrained into our social fabric, as Facebook and Google have, the more lasting power they have. It is unwise for anyone executives or leaders at Google to underestimate the many business models still to be implemented by Facebook.

    Facebook’s alliance with Microsoft is a strong one and one that we will be watching very closely as an analyst firm, especially given its strategic nature.

    Why Tablets Won’t Cannibalize Laptop Sales – Yet at Least

    on July 7, 2011
    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    If any of you have gone out to buy a laptop computer lately, you may have asked yourself “do I need a laptop or could I get by with a tablet?” We know from our research that this question is top of mind with a lot of consumers these days as tablets have really clouded their thinking when it comes to new laptop purchases.

    Last summer, when the PC vendors were planning their spring collection of laptops, consumer tablets were still in their infancy. Apple’s iPad had some serious interest from consumers but at that time, it had only been on the market for a few months and the vendors did not see it as a threat to their laptop business. But by the holiday season they realized that Apple not only had a hit on their hands but also were pushing more and more non-PC vendors to jump on the tablet bandwagon. They also saw that Apple’s iPad and Google’s Android tablets were starting to get serious attention from potential laptop buyers.

    But the problem for the PC vendors is that the projection of cannibalization of laptops by tablets is also all over the map. Some financial analysts that I talk to who cover the PC vendors think that tablets could cannibalize as much as 50% of the laptop business for traditional PC vendors by 2014. In my talks with PC vendors, they currently fear that tablets could impact their total laptop sales by more then 10-12% over the next three years.

    However, a new report from Bernstein Research Analyst Toni Sacconaghi is challenging this assumption. John Paczkowski over at the AllThingsD blog shared the reports findings and added some thoughts in his article. Sacconaghi believes that tablets are not cannibalizing notebooks but are instead converging with them. He postulates that a product like Apple’s MacBook Air, with its thin and light design, is more synergistic to Apple’s iPad. And that it represents a broader convergence of the tablet and notebook designs.

    He is on to something here. If you look at the key trends in processor designs that focus on very low voltage yet high performance, you see that PC vendors now have the technology to create very thin and light laptops that in some ways work the same way. With a tablet, all you need is a Bluetooth keyboard and it in essence is a notebook. What’s more, if you take a very thin and light laptop and put a touch screen on it that can be folded back or slid down, you have a tablet.

    Mr. Saccononaghi also says “ironically, availability of such notebook devices might undermine tablets sales rather then vice versa.” That is a possibility. But the blurring may really come through what we call Hybrids or sliders. When I was in Taipei a few weeks ago I saw a couple of products called sliders. The one officially launched was the Asus slider but I also saw one behind the scenes that will be ready for the holidays that was even cooler then the one from Asus. Both work like a laptop when the screen is slid up and then works like a tablet when the screen is slid down. A tablet and laptop all-in-one!

    We see this hybrid slider as the device that actually does blur the two devices into one and could end up driving a portion of the market to buy products like these instead of a laptop or a tablet individually. However these designs still have small 10.1 inch screens and laptop users – who are used to larger screens to work with – may be intrigued by this design but still opt for a laptop and a tablet if they feel the need both.

    What’s interesting is that if you consider a tablet a portable computer and lump them into total portable computer sales, Apple would be the #1 portable computer maker in the market today with HP being a distant second.

    In the end I believe it will come down to personal choices. If a person uses their computers more for productivity, then a laptop is still needed. But if they mostly use computers for content consumption, then a tablet is more ideal for them.

    Either way, consumers will end up with a lot of compelling choices and form factors for ultra light computing and will buy the ones that make sense for them. And for the PC industry, the amount of portable computers shipped starting in 2013 will increase by at least 50%. The big question when we get to 2015 though will be who the real Apple challengers will be and how much market share Apple will still own in both the ultra light laptop and tablets markets by the middle of the decade.

    Senate Copyright Bill: What’s Really Proposed

    on July 6, 2011
    Reading Time: 1 minute

    Nilay Patel at What’s My Next offers an enlightening look at proposed changes in copyright law (S. 978) that would create new criminal penalties for streaming infringing videos. The bill has set off a bit of a panic in the gamer community because of fears that it could apply to people who post recorded videos of game play to services such as YouTube.

    Patel does an excellent job of showing why this isn’t really the case, and along the way provides a useful service in explaining the arcane art of reading proposed legislation.

    Android Could be Vulnerable if HP Licenses WebOS

    on July 6, 2011
    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    I’ve been pondering the question of Android’s growth, sustainabilty and market share for some time now. For several years now as we have been discussing strategy and market trends with our clients, Android always seems to enter the discussion in some way.

    Many of the companies we consult with work closely with Google and implement Android on a number of their hardware platforms. Suffice it to say that being tuned into the intimate discussions between Google and their Android customers is VERY interesting. The bottom line is we know for a fact vendors are extremely interested in supporting multiple platforms and many of them do not want to bet their future on Android.

    This reality is actually what led Intel to want to create and develop MeeGo. Intel heard the same complaints from hardware vendors who deeply desired an alternate to Android but had no viable option in the market place.

    Android’s momentum, particularly with develepers, is the strongest reason for vendors to continue selling Android devices. Contrary to popular belief, mainstream consumers are not walking into stores asking for Android devices. Instead they are shopping for a smart phone and are seeking the best option to fit their life based on a few set criteria in their buying process.

    Using this knowledge the question of HP licensing WebOS becomes quite an interesting one. If vendors are genuinely interested in supporting and developing out more platforms than just Google, then HP has a huge opportunity in front of them.

    As I pointed out in my TouchPad review WebOS is solid, stable and elegant. All that is missing from making the OS great is a plethora of the key and important core applications. HP is going to continue to drive software development and they are buidling their develeper relations team out as we speak.

    Review:
    WebOS TouchPad Review: 3 Things that Set it Apart
    Commentary:
    HP is Committed to WebOS (and they should be)

    If HP was to pull in one or two major vendors like HTC, Samsung or Motorola, my guess is developers would come in droves. This would mean the app shortage currently facing WebOS could turn very quickly. Especially given how easy it is to develop for WebOS.

    I’ve stated this in a number of articles where I was quoted but I believe that if HP was to have success licensing WebOS it would hurt Android and Microsoft more than Apple.

    Android is vulnerable because it is not a sticky solution. Most of Google’s apps are free, their services are free and accessible on other operating systems as well. Consumers who buy Android devices don’t have much other than the cost of the hardware sunk into the ecosystem. Google is a services company and they want their services on as many devices as possible, including non-Android devices. So even if as a consumer you are vested in Google’s services, you will be able to access these services(like Gmail) from any number of non-Android devices as well. For these reasons Android is not sticky.

    Article:
    Are Mobile Platforms Sticky

    Microsoft has a better chance at creating a sticky platform but vendors like HP, Samsung and Moto simply won’t support Android, WebOS and Windows Phone. If HP can swing major commitments from any of those players my guess is Microsoft’s chances of getting more hardware wins for Windows Phone becomes a challenge.

    I know i’m going way out on a limb with this statement however I would not be shocked if in three years Android was not in the top three of mobile OS market share. Entirely assuming HP does license WebOS(and they do it right) AND Microsoft delivers with Windows Phone 8 and beyond.

    Those may be big assumptions but as I said the lack of stickiness with Android may be its Achilles heel.

    Are Mobile Platforms Sticky

    on July 5, 2011
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    Asymco is a blog I frequent and enjoy. The blog’s author Horace Deidu recently wrote a very interesting article titled: The Android (in)adequacy: How to tell if a platform is good enough. In this article he highlighted some observations about a consumers tendency to switch mobile platforms.

    This is a question I have been interesting in doing a deeper analysis of myself. I am interested in how sticky certain mobile platforms are over others. From a strategy and competitive advantage standpoint understanding the stickiness of a mobile platform is a key issue.

    The premise of Horace’s article points out a theory on if a technology is good enough consumers are less likely to switch to something new. The example from the quote he used was of deodorant.

    “Most people never change their deodorant,” I remember him saying. “They pick one brand when they are young, and stick with it for a long, long time. If it works, why switch?”

    It was an interesting quote but i’m not sure the consumer packaged goods industry exactly parallels the personal technology industry.

    Given how many people each quarter are switching from Windows to Mac’s there is something deeper happening in the personal technology sector.

    The real question, that only watching the industry for the next two years will tell us, is how stickily mobile platforms truly are. This holiday quarter should be a indicator of how loyal consumers are to one platform vs. their interest in other platforms.

    The mobile industry is unique and different than the PC sector because hardware churn is and will be higher. Consumer may hold on to their phones for two years at a maximum which means they are free to shop more frequently and evaluate all their choices more often than with other products.

    My gut is that certain mobile platforms have an opportunity to be more sticky than others. This is certainly worth a deeper analysis but the news that Android sales are flattening is an indicator that not only was its explosive growth unsustainable but that as consumers shop for new devices this holiday they may truly evaluate each platform and figure out which is the best for them.

    Sony Experia Play: The Case for Diversity

    on July 2, 2011
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    There’s a profusion of Android phones on the market and they all have an awful lot in common. They’re almost all rectangular slabs with displays ranging from 3 1/2 to nearly 5 inches and differ mainly in the color of the case and how ronded its corners are. The biggest difference available: Some models feature slide-out keyboards (and thicker bodies) while some offer just an on-screen keyboard. You’d never know from this lot that Android offers manufacturers almost total flexibility in hardware design.

    Sony Ericsson Experia PlayThen there’s the Sony Ericsson Experia Play. ($200 in the U.S. with two-year Verizon Wireless contract.) I don’t know whether the Play can revive the flagging fortunes of Sony Ericsson, but I’m glad to see themselves try something really different.

    At first glance, the Play looks like every slider keyboard Android: Shiny black, rounded plastic case, 4″ 854×480 pixel display, 6.2 oz. (175 g), a bit over half an inch (16 mm) thick. But when you slide the bottom out, instead of a keyboard you see a game controller pad modeled on those used with the Sony PlayStation 3. In place of keys, you get a full set of gaming controls: the familiar directional and symbol pads, physical select, start, and menu buttons, and two circular areas that are designed to simulate analog joysticks. Games can use all these controls, plus the touchscreen and motion sensitivity.

    I don’t play game a lot and I really can’t say how a hard-core game would feel about the Play, but I found it a lot of fun. The screen is crisp, though I had to turn up the brightness manually for satisfactory play. The Qualcomm Snapdragon processor provides more thjan adequate performance.

    When not playing games, the Play becomes a standard Android phone with all the expected features. But it’s not likely to be anyone’s choice unless the gaming is important–then it’s just a thick handset without a physical keyboard.

    I’d like to see more manufacturers experiment more freely with what Android has to offer. It’s the only viable phone operating system that offers this sort of freedom. Apple’s iOS, Research In Motion’s BlackBerry and (so far) Hewlett-Packard’s webOS are not available to other OEMs. Microsoft, burned by the fragmentation of design of Windows Mobile phones, is keeping a very tight rein on Windows Phone 7 designs.

    Android creates the possibility for considerable variety combined with support for core Android features and apps. It’s a tricky balancing act, but it would be good to see more specialized handsets hit the market.

     

    RIAA: One Bad Idea Deserves Another

    on July 1, 2011
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    You can always count on the folks at the Recording Industry Association of America to take a bad situation and make it worse.

    For the past few weeks, the juvenile delinquents at LulzSec and Anonymous have been breaking into networks and web sites and bragging about their exploits to prove–we’ll it’s not clear just what they are trying to prove other than that they can do it. For the most part, the damage has not been terribly serious. It’s a bit like the heyday of graffiti, when the inability or unwillingness of authorities to stop spray-painting vandals created a pervasive sense of disorder in big cities.

    Now the RIAA has come forward, arguing that the proper response to the outbreak of network vandalism is the passage of a truly bad law called the Protect IP Act. In a blog post, RIAA Executive Vice President Neil Turkewitz argues that the way to restore order is to give the government broad powers to block access to web sites that are accused of distributing pirated works. “And in a world where hackers set their sights on new targets every day – most recently the official United States Senate websiteallegedly the CIA’s public website and Arizona’s law enforcement database – do we think a lawless Internet defended to the extreme is a good thing?,” he writes.

    The real problem with the LulzSec and Anonymous is that they are making the FBI, Secret Service, and other agencies charged with enforcing order on the internet look silly. Back in the 1970s, law enforcement tended to ignore graffiti because officials felt they had more important things to worry about. This was a mistake because the garish spray painting told the public the police could not do their job. A crackdown on internet vandals is in order, but we shouldn’t use this as an excuse for another bad law to save an industry from a failed business model.

    A Sure Sign of Real Trouble at RIM

    on June 30, 2011
    Reading Time: 1 minute

    The senior Research In Motion executive who chose to vent his (or her) frustration in a open letter to Boy Genius Report may not have chosen the most graceful way to make those views known. But the writer may well have exhausted other means of communications. Certainly, RIM’s response suggests strongly that the increasingly troubled company’s leadership still isn’t hearing what it needs to hear.

    The fact is that the open letter was an accurate analysis of the challenges facing RIM and was full of generally very good advice. The response is dismissive and described RIM’s current situation as a time when it is “necessary for the company to streamline its operations in order to allow it to grow its business profitably while pursuing newer strategic opportunities” after “a period of hyper growth.”

    Streamlining and, above all, focus is exactly what the letter writer argued for. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie should give it another read with more open minds.

    Best HP TouchPad Reviews Roundup

    HP's TouchPad
    on June 30, 2011
    Reading Time: 1 minute

    As I stated in my review of the HP TouchPad, I intended to focus more on the experience and my opinion on what features differentiated the TouchPad from the pack.

    All the reviewers points emphasize my observation that WebOS is solid but the tablet needs more apps. Most reviews were for the most part positive. Many made the point that the TouchPad is still not ready but neither was Android for quite some time.

    I must emphasize the point that the game is not over for tablet or smart phone market share. We still have a long way to go and HP’s first tablet attempt is a solid one.

    In my opinion, below is my list of the best in depth product reviews from the gadget reviewers and bloggers. I’ve also selected a few lines from several of their more pertinent observations.

    Joshua Topolsky – This Is My Next
    http://thisismynext.com/2011/06/29/hp-touchpad-review/
    The TouchPad is far from perfect — really, not even close right now. Still, there is DNA here that is amazing, and deserves to be given a second look. What HP has done in just a year with webOS is commendable, and if the fixes for some of these big, ugly bugs come as fast as the company is promising, the TouchPad could be the contender everyone over there thinks it is.

    Harry McCracken – Technologizer
    http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,2080635-3,00.html
    This tablet bears the burden of great potential; it’ll be a real shame if it turns out to be nothing more than yet another unsatisfying, unfinished iPad alternative.

    Tim Stevens – Engadget
    http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/29/hp-touchpad-review/

    Walt Mossberg – Wall Street Journal
    http://allthingsd.com/20110629/touchpad-needs-more-apps-reboot-to-rival-ipad/

    Ed Baig – USA Today
    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/edwardbaig/2011-06-29-baig-hp-touchpad_n.htm
    Even as a fan of the iPad, it’s good to see robust competition among tablets. And there’s a lot to like about the first webOS tablet. But before HP can hope to challenge Apple, it needs to supply more apps and exterminate a few bugs.

    Vincent Nguyen – SlashGear
    http://www.slashgear.com/hp-touchpad-review-29162207/
    The recent confirmation that talks to license the platform are ongoing could well do more for it, if HP can get a sufficiently big name onboard. We hope it can, since the biggest shame of all is that, thanks to webOS 3.0, the HP TouchPad offers one of the best tablet experiences around, and we can see many would-be tablet buyers missing out on that while the platform keeps its marginal status. Uninspiring hardware, perhaps, but we’ll happily look past that based on webOS’ charms.

    Mark Spoonauer – Laptop Magazine
    http://www.laptopmag.com/review/tablets/hp-touchpad.aspx
    The interface is more elegant and intuitive than what you’ll find on Android Honeycomb tablets, and we appreciate the time-saving features such as Just Type. The TouchPad also produces louder audio than any other slate we’ve tested. Last but not least, HP deserves credit for spicing up the app shopping experience and for leveraging webOS-powered phones to tell a better-together story.

    Jason Snell – Macworld
    http://www.macworld.com/article/160858/2011/06/hp_touchpad_first_look.html#lsrc=twt_jsnell
    So what I’m saying is, I’m glad that HP finally shipped the TouchPad. If it can get developers engaged in its platform and iron out all the bugs while also growing webOS as a smartphone operating system, it might really have something here. But that’s a story about the future, and about potential.

    Zach Epstein – Boy Genius Report
    http://www.bgr.com/2011/06/29/hp-touchpad-review/
    At $499.99 for the 16GB model and $599.99 for the 32GB model, the TouchPad is a solid buy for those with patience. If you’re looking for a tablet that provides a finished, polished, comprehensive experience from start to finish, you might want to wait or look elsewhere. For the life of me, however, I can’t think of a single tablet that fits the bill. The market is in its infancy and so are the products that occupy it, and tablets must crawl before they can walk. The TouchPad is indeed crawling in its current state, but so is its competition.

    HP’s TouchPad-Can it compete with Apple’s iPad and Android Tablets?

    on June 29, 2011
    Reading Time: 5 minutes

    Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time testing out two new tablets that are now on the market. The first is the Samsung 10.1” Galaxy Tab and the second is the new Palm TouchPad. Up until these two tablets came out it was clear to me that Apple pretty much had the tablet market to themselves. And while I had also tested the 7 inch Galaxy Tab, the 7 inch Zoom and the 7 inch RIM PlayBook, I felt that the real competition for the iPad would only come when we had tablets with 9- 10 inch screens that rivaled the iPad’s design.

    For a full week I carried all three of these tablets with me everywhere I went and used them each for all of the basic tasks I do daily on a tablet. All three have very good Web browsers although Flash works just like it does on a PC on the TouchPad. All three have good touch based user interfaces. And to some degree, they actually all looked the same when I laid them down on a table and the screen was turned off. As I have stated in previous articles, one major attraction of a tablet to me is that it is a highly portable screen that serves as a window to the Internet, applications and ultimately the cloud. Of course, once you pick them up you notice immediately that the iPad is the sleekest of the bunch and the new Palm Touchpad is the thickest of the three.

    Much has been written about the iPad so I won’t spend any time on this elegant product that, at the moment, dominates the tablet market. And there are dozens of reviews out on the Galaxy Tab as well. And reviews for RIM’s Playbook are also plentiful. So for this article I would like to share some thoughts on HP’s Touchpad, the newest tablet on the market and I will focus on two pressing questions.

    The first question I get asked often is whether the Palm Touchpad is competitive?
    The simple answer is yes it is. We have worked with Web OS for many years and consider this the most stable mobile OS on the market next to Apple’s IOS. And although our familiarity with Web OS has mainly come through the Pre, using it on the tablet now was as easy as it was when I first got the iPad and used IOS on it the same way I had used it on the iPhone. In that sense, Palm Pre users will feel right at home with this tablet.

    With that in mind, it is clear to me from a hardware and software OS standpoint, that this is a solid product and one that is more then competitive at these levels. However, this leads me to the second major question I get often.
    Can HP/Palm be successful with the TouchPad coming to market this late and with very little software support from the 3rd party developers?

    This is a harder question to answer and one that needs to focus on three key things that HP/Palm need to do to make it a market winner.

    First, they have to step up their efforts with the third party community and drive them to create thousands of native apps for the TouchPad. When I used native Web OS apps on the TouchPad that are identical to ones that are on the iPad or Android platforms, they looked just as good and worked the same as the do on these other operating systems. And in some cases, thanks to the Touchpad’s UI and multitasking, some worked even better.

    On the test unit I had, many of the 6500 Web OS apps available at launch were apps written for the 3.5 inch Pre screens and do not scale to the 9.7  inch screen on the Touchpad. And unlike Apple’s iPhone apps on the iPad, they don’t even have a 2X button to artificially make them scale to a full screen and just sit in a 3.5 inch window in the center of the TouchPad. Although these apps work, they clearly do not take advantage of this new screen real estate. However, there are 300 apps written for the Touchpad that do work in full screen mode. This to me is perhaps their greatest challenge given the fact that Apple has over 60,000 native apps for the iPad and counting and Android has bout 10,000 tablet apps and strong developers support for this platform.

    Second, they are going to need to make sure their channel partners really know how to sell the Touchpad and can demonstrate the areas where it differentiates from the iPad and Android tablets. Unlike Apple, who has their stores to enhance the selling process of the iPad, HP has to lean on its hundreds of thousands retailers of all sizes to sell this new product for them. And I believe they will need to spend serious ad dollars over the next 18 months around the world if they want to make any dent in the iPad and Android Tablet market share that is growing by leaps and bounds.

    But the third thing that they need to do is put a tight focus on tablet solutions for the enterprise. They need to deliver a seamless integration of the TouchPad with their current IT services and solutions programs. The market for tablets is very crowded in the consumer space and even if they get more apps and spend more ad dollars pushing people to the channel to buy the Touchpad, they have a lot of competition from Apple and Google there. On the other hand the enterprise market for tablets is in its infancy. Yes, Apple has made some impressive headway in enterprise but this is not their primary focus for the iPad. And Windows 8 for Tablets is still a year away and Android’s lack of major security software and enterprise apps has slowed down its adoption in the enterprise.

    But HP pretty much owns the enterprise for PC’s, laptops and servers and with a major focus on integrating the Touchpad into their overall IT solutions program, HP could deliver a powerful tablet that enterprises could adopt in large numbers. I consider this a critical factor for the TouchPad’s ultimate success and all indications are that HP is going to key in on the enterprise with this new tablet of theirs as well as extend Web OS to PC platforms to give developers even more incentive to create apps for Web OS. HP has hinted that they will ship as many as 100 million Web OS devices yearly, of which 70-75 million will be integrated into their PC’s and tablets.

    Given the strong lead Apple has in the tablet market and the inroads Android is making via its various licensees, HP will clearly have an uphill battle coming to the market this late with their new TouchPad. But I am very bullish on it’s the quality of its OS and even the Touchpad’s solid design. If they can get strong software support as well as make enterprise a key target for this tablet, then the TouchPad can clearly be competitive and could become a third solid tablet device that consumers and business users can choose from in the years ahead.

    HP TouchPad Review – 3 Things Set it Apart

    on June 29, 2011
    Reading Time: 5 minutes

    I have been a WebOS fan since it was first released. Actually I have been a Palm fan in general since the first Palm Pilot. So to say that i’d love to see HP succeed with WebOS would be a mild understatement. The Palm Pre devices have evolved and although none have been a massive market success, the Palm team (now part of HP) has learned some key things; they have transferred that knowledge to the hottest part of the tech sector, which is tablets.

    I will let the gadget reviewers tackle the speeds and feeds along with all the technical elements of the TouchPad with their reviews. I intend to focus this review more on my opinion of the touchpad, my experience with it, and the things that set it apart.

    My overall Opinion

    The TouchPad is an extremely good first tablet from HP. WebOS runs marvelously well on a larger screen. I’m not going to go so far as saying it runs even better than on a phone but lets just say that WebOS likes large screens.

    The device itself is a bit bulky and heavier than my primary tablet, which is in iPad 2, but still very usable and very portable. The size and weight of the device is comparable to the Motorola XOOM.

    Everything about WebOS was clean on the tablet. Gestures, the UI, the speed of the OS; all was fantastic. The only thing glaringly missing was a plethora of apps in the HP App Catalog. I am convinced that if HP had anywhere near the size of an App store catalog as Apple, the TouchPad would make a worthy competitor.

    That however is being worked. We are assured from HP that they are in the for the long haul and are investing heavily into their developer programs.

    I personally like this tablet quite a bit, more than any Android tablet i’ve used thus far. The software is largely the reason as I like the UI of WebOS and prefer it to Android – just my opinion mind you. The only thing holding the TouchPad back in competing with Android tablets in particular is the apps.

    There are however three key things that set the TouchPad apart and are worth pointing out..

    Multitasking

    I firmly believe that at this point in time WebOS does the best job multi-tasking of any tablet i’ve used to date. WebOS accomplishes this with their “Card View” metaphor where you can see all the apps you have open as slightly smaller windows. With a quick finger swipe gesture “up” from the bottom of the TouchPad you quickly enter the card view.

    You can also stack apps on top of each other to create space for multiple card view working environments. Ultimately this lets you have more apps open at one time, letting you jump back and forth between a larger selection of applications.

    Multi-tasking is a key part of the tablet and touch computing experience because it allows you to quickly move in and out of apps to accomplish whatever it is you seek to accomplish. An example would be surfing the web, checking a quick e-mail then back to surfing the web again.

    Dock aware Exhibition Mode

    This is one of the areas I think has the most potential for WebOS. Because the TouchPad charges by simply sitting in the dock, with no need to plug in, HP has designed a way to make each dock location aware.

    This means you could set up multiple TouchPad docks, one near your bed, one in the living room, and one in the kitchen. Then you can set your TouchPad to show a different exhibition mode depending on which dock the TouchPad is sitting on. So when my TouchPad is docked next to my bed it would display a clock and the when sitting in the dock in the living room it would display a photo slideshow.

    What’s more is that HP has put  into their software development tools the ability for developers to creatve new apps that take advantage of the location aware docks and exhibition mode. So we can expect new apps that take advantage of the location aware dock and exhibition mode to show up in the HP App catalog shortly. I am looking forward to a recipe mode for when the TouchPad is docked in the my kitchen.

    Touch to Share

    The last real differentiator I want to focus on is touch to share. This is a concept I think is quite interesting.

    The basic idea is that if you are viewing something on one WebOS device, like the TouchPad, and you want to transfer what you were viewing to another WebOS device, like a Pre. All you do is touch one to the other and what was on the screen on one device shows up on the other.

    The concept is simple but powerul. When you are managing or moving from device to devic,e frequently this solution becomes quite useful. At launch Touch to Share will support transfering a web page from one WebOS device to another.

    In the future however you can imagine using this for music, movies, photos, documents and more.

    Because your WebOS devices are paired together, you can also use the touch to share technology to recieve and answer phone calls and text messages directly on the TouchPad. This is accomplished by using the cell connection on your Pre or any other WebOS based device.

    Summary

    As you can see HP is not only deeply commited to developing great hardware like the Pre and the TouchPad, but also to further developing the WebOS ecosystem.

    What I praise the most is HP’s vision to create experiences where your HP devices work better together, touch to share being a great example.

    The TouchPad represents a premium experience as a tablet. A lack of apps are the only things currently holding the TouchPad back.

    Time will tell how long it takes for HP to get a critical mass of quality applications in their catalog. There are at launch at least enough name brand apps to keep the early buying base satisfied. But Web OS is a solid mobile OS and HP is tailoring it to meet the need of a broad range of customers. I consider it a very comptetive product and one that has serious market potential.

    Designed in California and More Importantly in Silicon Valley

    on June 29, 2011
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    Last week in a blog post by Kevin Kelly at his blog The Technium, he wrote an article title Designed in California. To open his blog post he makes this statement:

    “We rightly understand that how we arrange atoms is more important than what atoms we use. Same with information. The arrangement is more important than the ingredients. That’s why we crave design.”

    In his post he uses Apple’s subtle but powerful wording on the back of their devices and in printed material that says “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.”

    Kevin’s point was that he had noticed a trend of design emphasis coming from companies in California. He goes on to mention a number of other companies, not all tech companies, who were also emphasizing a California design.

    All though true that California does have some unique elements and a style all its own, what hits me about Apple’s statement is more about Silicon Valley than California.

    When people I know who work for tech companies in other parts of the country or world come back to Silicon Valley I hear this phrase often: “There’s nothing like Silicon Valley.”

    This statement is overwhelmingly true. All though there are certain places where entrepreneurialism happens, no place breeds and fosters entrepreneurs like Silicon Valley. As you walk down the streets of University Avenue in Palo Alto or through the halls of buildings on Sand Hill road you can feel the energy of the entrepreneur. We even have our own conference dedicated to teens who are starting companies called “Teens in Tech.”

    There is a mentality, a culture and an atmosphere in Silicon Valley that fosters innovation that is unrivaled in the rest of the world.

    So all though Apple’s statement on the back of their devices mentions California, the more pertinent observation is that these types of innovations are coming from Silicon Valley.

    The Case For (and Against) a Cheap iPhone

    on June 28, 2011
    Reading Time: 1 minute

    There’s been a fair amount of buzz in the last few days about Apple introducing a cheaper iPhone this fall and in “The iPhone Is Too Expensive” at Slate, Farhad Manjoo makes a good case for Apple doing just that. But I seriously doubt that Apple will do so because, while the arguments for going downmarket make sense for any other manufacturer, that just isn’t how Apple works.

    It seems to me that the surest way to go wrong in anticipating an Apple move, and I have done this often enough myself, is to assume that the company  gives a damn about market share. Apple is driven by margin and total profits, not by share, and this strategy has made it by far the most successful consumer electronics company in the world.

    Yes, Apple could do a de-featured iPhone that could sell for $200-$250 without a contract and compete with a horde of generic Android handsets. It would undoubtedly increase Apple’s market share, especially if it was sold with prepaid service. All Apple would have to do is accept tiny margins and sell a product that the company knows isn’t as good as it could be. That just isn’t in Apple’s makeup.

    Instead, I expect they will bring out a new iPhone in September (I’m guessing about the date, like everyone else) and keep the iPhone 4 in the lineup at a sharply reduced price. (A year after the introduction of the iPhone 4, you can buy an iPhone 3GS from the Apple store for $49. How much cheaper do you want it?)

     

    Are the Best Innovations Incremental or Monumental?

    on June 27, 2011
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    Gabor George Burt an internationally recognized expert on innovation, creativity and strategy development contributed an article over at Mashable on innovation. The premise is that innovations that are more incremental improvements often times have more impact than the ones that leap forward. He states in the article that:

    “Many of the most successful innovations were not brought about by outright inventions but rather by reconfiguring existing technologies. They represent a refreshing shortcut for today’s businesses.”

    This is something the technology industry often has a difficult time understanding. There is a fundamental difference between invention and innovation. Bill Buxton in a great article on Innovation vs. Invention states that:

    “Innovation is far more about prospecting, mining, refining and adding value than it is about pure invention. Too often, the obsession is with ‘invent- ing’ something totally unique, rather than extracting value from the creative understanding of what is already known.”

    Innovation for innovations sake is a poor strategy and one too many tech companies RND labs deliver. Our firm promotes a much more holistic approach to innovation where the focused outcome of a product or technology is to be useful for the end customer. This where creating products with the customer in mind is key but often difficult.

    Companies that put products on the market with no real understanding of the consumer value or pain point being solved is destined to fail in the market. This is a problem Microsoft struggles quite a bit with in my opinion.

    Another great way of thinking about this is outlined by Scott Anthony, co-founder of Innosight, in his book “The Silver Lining.” He outlines in chapter two a concept that explains that consumers don’t buy products, they hire them to get jobs done. This is an excellent way to think about the value needed in a product as well as think through the task or tasks it is being hired for to get the job done.

    If more companies took this approach to innovation, I believe we would see more quality products on the market more frequently. Apple is the poster child for this approach and the rewards are obvious.

    The Many Screens of Our Digital Lives

    on June 27, 2011
    Reading Time: 2 minutes

    A few months back, my friend Harry MaCraken of Technoligizer wrote a piece entitled “Hey, they are all just screens.” in which he echoed something I have been writing about for the last five years in many of my PC Mag columns. It is a good read and I suggest you take alook at what Harry says here, but in essence, both of us are identifying a rather important trend that will drive the next generation of personal computing.

    If you look closely at our smartphones, tablets, laptops and even Internet connected TV’s, they represent different screens that become gateways to local as well as cloud based apps, content and information. Below is a slide I use to actually explain this.( In it you see out on the periphery are a whole host of “screens” like the normal one’s we have today in our smartphones, Internet TV’s, tablets and PC’s as well as new ones that are emerging such as screens in our cars, refrigerators and even in our appliances.

    All of these screens are just gateways to the next layer, which I list as apps and services. And sitting at the center is the cloud, which hosts these apps and services. From an industry standpoint this slide really represents the topology of the way we should view this trend. Each screen now has intelligence thanks to an OS, smart UI and connections to apps, services and eventually the cloud. But if you look long and hard at this diagram, you can easily see that we are in the early stages of understanding that these devices are just “screens” and that we are in dire need of creating next generation standards that let all of these screens work together and interact with each other seamlessly.

    Today, each has their own OS and UI and in some cases proprietary architectures that helps them differentiate. While this heterogeneous approach is admirable, the reality is that we ultimately need to create a level of commonality across all devices in order for all of these screens to deliver on their stated promise of giving us the applications, content and services we want and need on demand.

    While apps tied to individual operating systems work today, as bandwidth increases and devices become more powerful and battery efficiency goes up, the common denominator between all of these devices needs to be the Web browser and more specifically, these same apps delivered in Web App forms via HTML 5 and future versions of HTML standards that deliver cross device functionality.

    This needs to be the goal of those working on devices, standards and cloud based services and infrastructure. If they can grasp this idea that all of these devices just represent screens that tap into these services and the cloud and that ultimately all of these screens need to work together and talk to each other seamlessly, the faster we will see the promise of the Internet and the cloud fulfilled.

    Final Cut Pro X, Apple, and the Enterprise

    on June 26, 2011
    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    Final cut Pro X iconA couple of days ago, I wrote about how Macs has become the overwhelming computer of choice for tech elites. No sooner had I done this than Apple offered glaring proof of its limitations as a provider of technology for professionals–or as a vendor to the enterprise.

    Final Cut Pro X is the successor to Final Cut Pro, which has become the non-linear editing software of choice for professional videographers and filmmakers. (It also replaces Final Cut Express, a prosumer version.) The problem is that X is a completely new program, with new ways of doing things. It is incompatible with project files for older versions and lacks many features that pros have come to rely on.
    (more…)

    Macs and Windows: Why Tech Elites’ Choices Matter

    on June 24, 2011
    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    Over the past couple of years, Windows laptops have been becoming rarer and rarer at events where tech reporters, bloggers, and analysts gather. Not so long ago, Windows PCs (including netbooks) outnumbered Macs at these affairs by two or three to one. Today, that ratio is at least reversed. The netbooks have all but disappeared and their place has been taken by tablets, nearly all of them iPads.

    Apple has gained significant share in the laptop market, but not at anywhere near the rate of this shift. And this Mac dominance is a tech industry phenomenon. This week I was at a Ford Motor Co.-sponsored gathering of bloggers and magazine writers, most of who write about things other than tech. Windows PCs were dominant, though I did see plenty of iPads.

    The overwhelming preference for Macs among tech elites has real consequences. There’s a reason why they are often called influencers: They have a lot of effect on other people’s choices. I try to be fair in everything I write, but it’s hard for me to work up much enthusiasm of anything Window-based these days. When asked for a recommendation, I always go with Apple unless there is something specific about the user’s requirements that argues for Windows. And that’s doubly true if I think I will end up supporting the purchase.

    Why do tech elites prefer Macs? It’s certainly not because they love Apple, which regularly sets new standards for being hard to do business with. I think there are several reasons. One, oddly,has to do with price. The best argument against Macs is that you can buy a perfectly serviceable Windows notebook for around $500, while the entry price for a Mac is $1,000 or more. But the fact is that members of the tech elite tend to buy (or have employers who will buy) relatively high-end equipment. Spec-for-spec, Macs are not particularly more expensive than Windows systems, so the price differential is not an issue in this market.

    Second, tech elites care, often passionately, about their technology and Apple equipment is a joy to use. And for people passionate about their technology, esthetics matter, and no one comes close to Apple. On the rare occasion when an HP or a Dell comes up with a really handsome product, it still must swim in a sea of cheap-looking  junk.

    Apple hasn’t made an ugly product since it retired the eMac. And the 13″ MacBook Air on which I am writing this is, for my purposes, the best laptop I have ever used–by far. The combination of light weight, terrific battery life, and snappy performance (for the sort of light-duty work I do on this system) cannot be matched by anything else on the market. (If it had a 15″ display without being any bigger or heavier, an obvious impossibility, it would be perfect.)

    Then, of course, there’s the software. The yawning gap that had opened between Mac OS X and Windows during the Vista fiasco has narrowed considerably but in a home or small business environment, Mac software is much easier to set up and maintain. Take setting up a networked printer. In Windows, despite improvements in Windows 7, this remains a black art, largely because the paradigm is designed for enterprises and IT administrators. With OS X, you connect your printer to the local network and you Mac finds it, using Apple’s dead simple Bonjour protocol. IT departments may see job security in complexity, but for those of us for whom maintain our own or other peoples’ systems is a distraction, simple is a huge advantage.

    Microsoft’s business model depends on keeping large enterprise customers happy. The big PC makers’ business model depends on selling huge volumes of low-margin product. That means that neither can compete with Apple among customers who demand the computing equivalent of a Lexus or a BMW and are willing to pay for it.

     

     

    Why AMD’s decision to pull the plug on their support for BapCo’s SYSmark benchmark matters

    on June 24, 2011
    Reading Time: 5 minutes

    For many years, the PC industry created products that were pretty straight forward and relied on a central CPU to drive almost all of its computational functions. But since there was a great deal of competition among microprocessor vendors as well as PC makers to try and differentiate their products, the need arose for a set of benchmarks to deliver a consistent view of how these products performed.

    So, BapCo’s SYSMark benchmark testing program emerged as one of the more important benchmarking programs that evolved in the 1990’s to serve this purpose. But as we headed into a this decade, PC’s were being asked to do a lot more then basic word processing, spreadsheets and relatively simple multimedia computing. In fact, PC applications began to demand more graphics based functionality in even mainstream applications which included desktop PC games, processing of various media formats and new ways to integrate imaging into everyday applications.

    Given all of these new changes in processing demands and the addition of a GPU into the performance equation, the need for new benchmarks that recognizes this new age of computing is needed. This is at the heart of why AMD has backed away from supporting BapCO’s SYSmark program. SYSmark was based on older computing performance models and a company like AMD, who was a major supporter of this benchmark in the past and BapCo could not agree on updated testing criteria.

    Of course, there is a lot more to this entire subject and AMD’s CMO, Nigel Dessau has posted AMD’s perspective on this issue that I include below. And I have asked fellow analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group, a well know authority on performance based computing, to weigh in on why this matters. First up is Nigel’s blog post, reprinted by permission, also read Rob Enderle’s analysis here..

    Voting for Openness-By Nigel Dessau

    AMD has a long history of supporting open standards; if you have any doubt just look at our support for OpenCL. And this support extends to active involvement with open industry consortia that likewise promote open standards. The beauty of open standards is that they are just that – open. Open to analysis, open to improvement and open to criticism.

    AMD has for some time been a member of BAPCo, an industry organization that promotes, among other things, a benchmark known as SYSmark. In the past year or so AMD, with openness and transparency, has tried to explain why we believe this benchmark is misleading with respect to today’s commonplace applications − about a year ago I published a blog designed to explore this. If you work for a company that believes in transparency and integrity – and I do – then you have to take a stand and speak up when something is wrong.

    BAPCo’s response to this blog was a threat to expel AMD from the consortium.
    The heart of our complaint is this: the SYSmark benchmark is not only comprised of unrepresentative workloads (workloads that ignore the importance of heterogeneous computing and, frankly, favor our competitor’s designs), but it actually generates misleading results that can lead to very poor purchasing decisions, causing governments worldwide to historically overspend somewhere in the area of approximately $8B!

    Now you’re starting to see why this is relevant to you (presuming you’re a taxpayer).

    Good Intentions, Bad Results

    AMD decided to do what we believed was the right thing for the industry and our customers, so we continued to work within BAPCo to try to get the next-generation benchmark, SYSmark12 (“SM2012”), right. Our hope was to effect change so that it would be open, transparent and processor-neutral. We got workloads included that represent the things you and I actually do in a day (instead of 35,000 line spreadsheets!).

    But the question remained: what weighting would BAPCo ultimately give to the real-world workloads − since it is this weighting that defines the actual benchmark scores.

    Unfortunately, our good intentions were met with an outcome that we believe does a disservice to the industry and our customers. We weren’t able to effect positive change within BAPCo, and the resulting benchmark continues to distort workload performance and offers even less transparency to end users. Once again, BAPCo chose to ignore the opportunity to promote openness and transparency.

      1. While SM2012 is marketed as rating performance using 18 applications and 390 measurements, the reality is that only 7 applications and less than 10 percent of the total measurements dominate the overall score. So a small class of operations across the entire benchmark influences the overall score.
      2. In fact, a relatively large proportion of the SM2012 score is based on system performance rated during optical character recognition (OCR) and file compression activities − things an average user will rarely if ever do.
      3. And SM2012 doesn’t represent the evolution of computer processing and how that evolution is influencing average users’ experience. SM2012 focuses only on the serial processing performance of the CPU, and virtually ignores the parallel processing performance of the GPU. In particular, SM2012 scores do not take into account GPU-accelerated applications that are widely used in today’s business environments.

    There are more things that AMD objects to in SM2012, like the excessive wall clock time consumed by its installation and execution. But this explanation will hopefully help you understand why, ultimately, we couldn’t look in the other direction.
    Moving Forward…to Openness

    So how can AMD stay in BAPCo? Simply put, we can’t. We have resigned from BAPCo and asked that our name and logo be removed from marketing materials promoting SM2012.

    Now I hear some of you asking, “Isn’t this really just about the long-running antagonism between AMD and your competitor?”
    No, it’s not.

      1. It’s about fairness. Fairness to consumers and business users, to governments and other organizations that make purchasing decisions based on benchmarks, and, in the case of SYSmark, needlessly overspend because of it.
      2. It’s about relevance. Because do you want to buy a system based on an outdated approach to measuring performance? Don’t you want your system’s performance measured against relevant measures like HTML5 or GPU acceleration? And shouldn’t a benchmark that measures PC performance be relevant to other devices that are likely in your life (if you’re reading this blog I think it’s safe to presume you use an array of devices – I do). Benchmarks should measure the way people engage with their devices today – not stick to a formula more appropriate for the last millennium.
      3. And it’s about openness. Because you, and IT purchasing managers, should know what a benchmark represents and what the score really means to how the device will be used. That’s being set free.

    And this is why we are exploring the options to encourage an alternative consortium, one that will deliver unbiased, representative benchmarks and promote more transparency for our industry. We are committed to working with likeminded companies that want to give consumers and business users an accurate, honest measure of what they can expect from their PCs and mobile devices. And what if ultimately we don’t “win” on these new benchmarks? Well, if the work is done with openness and transparency and results in a useful benchmark, we will make our case and let the market decide.
    That’s all we have been asking for from BAPCo
    .
    My hope is you, and the market, will vote for openness.

    Nigel Dessau is Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer for AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.

    AMD and SYSmark: Out of Intel’s Shadow

    on June 24, 2011
    Reading Time: 3 minutes

    This article is a guest contribution from Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, The Enderle Group.

    This week AMD pulled the plug on their participation with BAPCo’s SYSmark benchmarking project. While there has been a bit of drama related to this with some folks blaming Intel for being too heavy handed and others blame AMD for being too thin skinned, the reality is that both companies are on different paths now and that, as a result, a collaborative common benchmark no longer makes any sense. Let me explain.

    SYSmark

    SYSmark is a benchmark that was designed to measure PCs largely the way they were in the 1990s, heavily using office applications and as largely standalone work centers. Back then graphics were largely reserved for gamers and SYSmark was about business. Intel and AMD were on the same CPU centric path and neither had any real strength in graphics which were added from companies like ATI and NVIDIA after the fact and only on high end systems generally not targeted at business.

    This is a world defined by Intel, who remained throughout, vastly larger and better funded than AMD and AMD played the role, albeit involuntarily, as backup vendor to Intel. Still it was a good business until the two companies stopped being socket compatible and that one move changed the impression that it was very difficult for AMD to beat Intel to impossible.

    AMD was simply overmatched.

    Changing the Game

    So AMD changed the game; realizing that both companies were very weak when it came to graphics they took a huge gamble and bought ATI who had been struggling against NVIDIA but was better matched to that company than AMD was to Intel. This move set AMD back a bit against Intel as they integrated the two technologies but they ended up with a dramatically different part, called Fusion, which is a hybrid of the technology they had and the technology they bought.

    This part was focused on where applications seemed to be going, to something we were calling GPU computing, and as a hybrid it was designed to bridge between the past and future. In short AMD no longer agreed with Intel with regard to how people were going to use their PCs and this put SYSmark at risk.

    The Death of SYSmark

    You see a collaborative benchmark is only good if the two companies providing the technology can agree on how to measure it. Once they disagree the benchmark is done. Just like you wouldn’t benchmark a sports car to a truck, if the two products are fundamentally different it makes no real sense to use a common benchmark against them. In fact, people weren’t using their PCs in the same way there were in the 90s anyway. Few are using spreadsheets anymore or local databases as these have given way to hosted and cloud based remote applications. Movies are being streamed and increasingly applications are calling on the graphics side of the PC to render, transcode, or even run highly parallel new applications.

    SYSmark needed to go through a dramatic change anyway but Intel and AMD, being on different paths, no longer could agree on what that change was and that disagreement killed it.

    Wrapping Up: The End of an Era

    We’ve really reached the end of another personal computer era; the web, cloud services, GPU computing, and a huge shift in focus to hardware that is better connected, lighter and has longer battery life has forever changed the world that was into the world that will be. The death of SYSmark is no one’s fault, Intel isn’t being evil and AMD isn’t being unreasonable. The firms changed, the market changed, and a common benchmark between the vendors simply made no more sense.

    Intel vs. ARM – The Battle Is Just Beginning

    on June 24, 2011
    Reading Time: 4 minutes

    This is a guest contribution from Jack Gold the founder and principal analyst at J.Gold Associates, LLC an information technology analyst firm based in Northborough, MA, covering the many aspects of business and consumer computing and emerging technologies. Learn more about J.Gold Associates here.

    The market seems to think that that the folks at ARM and its licensees (TI, Nvidia, Qualcomm, Marvel, Apple, et. al.) are on the verge of attacking Intel where it is most susceptible – the PC and server space. Indeed, ARM is making inroads with low power designs, and has a virtual monopoly on mobile devices. But the path to PCs and Servers is a very different path than smartphones and tablets. And clearly, Intel doesn’t think it can afford to concede any territory, which is why it is pushing back hard on the mobile “heartland” of ARM. So let’s step back and see what Intel has going for it vs. the ARM ecosystem.

    Many observers have a bias towards ARM and are discounting Atom’s potential for success in phones and tablets, I think that Atom really does have a chance to succeed and thrive. Not perhaps in the current version, but in the next generation of chips Intel will launch in the next 6-12 months. And I believe that Intel will stay very far ahead of ARM in the race for PCs and even high end tablets. Why? Here are some reasons.

    First, Intel’s huge investment in processing technology is not putting it at a disadvantage as some have suggested. Actually it’s the other way around. The ARM camp is relying on the foundries to make the process improvement investment for them. But after they’ve matched Intel’s recent investment of $15B or so, they still will have to recoup that investment, and that will mean higher chip costs to the fabless chip vendors (no free lunch here). At the end of the day, process advantage does matter. It’s how Moore’s Law has remained in play, and process advantage means higher performing chips at lower power and eventually lower cost (as yields increase). And Intel’s recent development of 22nm and 3-D transistors means its lead is increasing and has a two year (or more) advantage on the competition.

    Second, the conversation comparing ARM to Intel usually turns to RISC vs. CISC. I thought we settled that argument years ago with Transmeta and MIPS before that. But I guess not. The bottom line is that with more complex systems that have increasingly complex computing requirements, longer and more complex instruction sets improve performance. This is what Microsoft
    found out years ago when it suspended development of Windows on RISC. Yes, they now say they will have Windows 8 running on ARM. But the question remains, what version and what features? There is no doubt in my mind that the highest end and more performance oriented versions of Windows will remain focused on the x86 architectures. And don’t forget that ARM isn’t even on 64 bits yet. Imagine a server with a large database running on a 32 bit RISC architecture compared to a full featured 64 bit CISC version. So as functions get more complex, specialized instructions and HW additions give x86 (including Atom) an advantage unless ARM adds the same HW and SW extensions.

    The third issue is compatibility. There is a perception that ARM is compatible across platforms and vendors, and clearly its not. As a result, look at the upgrade problem being faced by older devices in the market, and even among devices from the same manufacturer. In fact, different licensed versions of the ARM architecture have incompatibilities. And deep licensees (e.g., Qualcomm) are building their own architecture that is supposed to be compatible with other vendors’ chips (but is it?). ARM fragmentation is an issue usually not discussed. But it is real no less.

    Finally many think that Intel is a chip company, and forget that it has tens of thousands of SW engineers on staff. This allows it to create the best compilers in the industry, and to optimize ports to its platform well beyond what others can do. And WindRiver gives Intel incredible breath in tools and designs. Many perceive Google’s commitment to Android on Atom as lukewarm, but Intel has invested considerable resources to port and optimize Android for its platforms, albeit a bit late. And even though current WP7 doesn’t run on Atom, it is quite likely that WP Next (e.g. Windows 8) could easily do so if there is OEM demand, which there well may be especially in the tablet space. Finally, now that Intel has McAfee in its stable, it is very likely to create industry-leading HW-enabled security features that users will find appealing and competitors will have trouble duplicating.

    Of course MeeGo remains a sore spot for Intel, especially after Nokia’s rejection of the OS for its devices. It is not clear MeeGo will ever get out of the niche markets it now is targeting. But clearly some vendors see it as an alternative to Android’s (and Apple’s) hegemony, especially in emerging markets. So while it may never achieve the huge numbers of units that its competitors will ship, it will nevertheless have a credible niche to exploit. But Intel is not riding MeeGo as its only path to success.

    Bottom Line: For Intel, it’s about the ecosystem. As code gets more complex, it’s increasingly difficult to produce and manage, especially across multiple platforms. This is problematic for both OS developers and ISVs who want to port their apps (look at how many versions of Android apps there are, and not just for OS versions numbers, but also for different devices from different manufacturers). Intel’s x86 consistency is a strong point and fragmentation plays to its strength. Certainly I’m not signally the death knell for ARM. But those who minimize Atom’s future potential are making a mistake.