Unpacked: Analysis of This Week’s Top News

Twitter – by Jan Dawson
Twitter this week announced that, in the coming months, it will start exempting some forms of content from its traditional 140 character limit, including pictures, usernames, videos, and polls. The news has been a very long time in coming as users have long demanded these changes. Twitter has hinted several times they were debating them, but it’s remarkable it has taken this long to finally announce the change (which won’t come for several more months as developers need time to adapt their apps).

However, these changes really do nothing to solve any of Twitter’s core problems, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining new users. This change really only benefits existing power users, who are more likely to be struggling with the character limit on long multi-user threads, for example. As a power user myself, I’m grateful for the change, but the change itself will arguably make Twitter even more complicated for people unfamiliar with the service and its quirks. Even some reporters who are regular Twitter users themselves botched their reporting of the change, which is indicative of how impenetrable some of these Twitter features can be.

What Twitter should be focused on above all else is making Twitter easier and more appealing for people who hitherto haven’t seen value in the service. That means getting away from single user accounts as the atomic unit of the service, moving towards “channels” based on topics and interests, and allowing users to tune to these different channels at will without having to explicitly follow many accounts on a permanent basis. Twitter now holds vast amounts of content and is particularly relevant for breaking news. Yet getting at that content continues to be very difficult without a significant prior investment in personal curation. That simply shouldn’t be the case – with all the data Twitter has about its content and its users, tuning to a topic should be as simple as changing channels on a TV remote. Indeed, I and others have used the TV analogy previously.

My biggest worry about Twitter at this point is that it’s going to continue to sharpen certain product elements while leaving the broad features of Twitter unchanged. The risk here is it continues to stagnate along with its user base even as other services and apps capture the vast majority of available ad spending and advertisers continue to target those other platforms. The set of priorities Twitter outlined at its shareholder meeting this week gives me little confidence this will change. The priorities include refining the core, live-streaming video, creators and influencers, safety, and developers, none of which sound like they’re about growing the base. Has Twitter finally given up?

Microsoft retrenching its smartphones focus to enterprise – by Carolina Milanesi

On Wednesday this week, Microsoft announced it was scaling down its smartphone business and refocusing its efforts on the enterprise and, in the process, cutting another 1850 jobs, most of which are in Finland.

I pointed out last week, commenting on the feature phone news, that I thought the mention of supporting current Lumia devices and continued development of Windows 10 mobile sounded like a pre-warning of Microsoft walking away from consumer smartphones. As it turns out and, sadly for the latest round of people who lost their job, I was right.

Hindsight is always 20/20 but let’s try and make sense of how we got to this news:

  1. Two years ago, Nokia was the only vendor with viable Windows devices and still had a considerable installed base of users across regions and a relatively strong brand in many emerging markets
  2. Nokia was deciding between Windows and Android. For Microsoft to leave Nokia to Android was too much of a risk. Had that happened, Microsoft would have lost the consumer market and could have also lost the enterprise market and not just in smartphones. Nokia knew how to sell to enterprise and how to work with IT managers. The Finns could have made inroads with Android faster than Samsung is doing today. With Android phones more rooted in enterprise, other devices would have had an easier entry path
  3. Two very different cultures and two different goals kept Lumia in limbo for almost a year after the acquisition. Microsoft was all about enterprise, Nokia was all about consumers. Microsoft was about software driving hardware, Nokia was about returning to being the top dog in mobile
  4. Last summer, Microsoft narrowed the scope of its smartphones to enterprise, Windows fans and smartphone value buyers. However, since then. market share in the consumer space has been free falling
  5. The app gap Windows has been suffering from would only get bigger as sales drop

Fast forward to this week and it is really hard to see any other outcome.

Windows 10 is enjoying good momentum in enterprise, making some IT managers wanting support across different form factors. Let’s be clear, Microsoft’s focus on enterprise does not mean they think they can be the third smartphone OS in the world just by playing in enterprise. It means Microsoft wants to cater to those IT managers that see an opportunity in a Windows 10 device that is not a 2-in-1 or a traditional PC. It also caters to IT managers looking at Microsoft Continuum as a cost savings for users who hotspot or for road warriors.

The end of Lumia as a consumer offering does not mean we will not see anything else coming from Panos Panay’s devices team. A smaller form factor that takes advantage of inking and Cortana could be a very compelling device. Not having to worry about a full consumer portfolio of products allows Microsoft to concentrate on what matters; software, universal apps in particular, and the next big computing paradigm, VR.

Microsoft still has a role to play in mobile and has the opportunity to own the engagement with consumers through apps and services running on iOS and Android.

Why Maker Faire’s are important to America’s Future – by Tim Bajarin

I have been following the Maker Movement as a part of my overall interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education. These shows have become an increasingly important catalyst to introduce kids all over the world to various aspects of STEM education. This is done through a hands-on approach to getting them acquainted with semiconductors, designing electronics, soldering and various scientific principles that are part of making things. There are demo stations as well as actual working stations all over these Faires where kids can play with robotic kits, try a hand at making a drone or a Arduino or Raspberry Pi-based vehicle of some type as well as tinker on various electronic or building projects available to them.

These shows include dozens of seminars and speakers who share what they are doing as it relates to the Maker Movement and are used to help people get ideas on how to become makers or better makers in the future.

The Maker Faire focus on getting kids interested in making things and especially STEM is where Maker Faire’s real importance lies.

Over the last few years, I have written multiple pieces on STEM, particularly how the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, Intel, Boeing, and many companies around the world are backing STEM-based programs. All of them see the importance scientific disciplines will have in the future and, more germane to them, is the real concern that, if we cannot get kids trained in the sciences, we will not have the engineers and scientists to work in our companies in the future.

Indeed, just about every business is having to rely more and more on the role technology plays in their world and the need to get this generation of students interested in STEM and tech has become more and more a priority for companies, educators and parents. To that end, these Maker Faires can plant seeds of interest and help cultivate these future scientists and engineers and hopefully create the next generation of leaders who will guide and power our future businesses.

One concern of mine about the Bay Area Maker Faire though is very few minorities attend this show. This is not the fault of the folks who manage the Maker Faire as they try extremely hard to make this event inclusive to all. In fact, on the first day of the show they, along with sponsors Linkedin, Robo Terra and Think Logix, brought over 4000 students on 70 buses from underserved communities to the show to see demos and play with the various projects at the Maker Faire. However, this underscores the fact the tech community has to work overtime to get kids of all genders, races and ethnicity interested in STEM as these scientific disciplines will be more and more important to them and our world in the future.

Apple’s Set Back in India – Ben Bajarin
Despite Tim Cook’s visit to India, it did not help their case with local regulators. Indian officials dealt Apple a blow to opening local stores there by deciding not to wave a mandate that foreign brands source at least 30% of local goods in order to open a store in the region. Fascinatingly, local officials justified their decision by deciding Apple’s products did not fit the “state of the art” or “cutting edge technology” classification. To come to such a conclusion is objectively false and only underscores the truth that much of this decision is political.

Apple either has to come up with a creative way to source or sell in-store local goods or regulators need to bend the rules. Local stores are essential to Apple’s strategy in India and, without them, it will be a very slow uphill climb. Indian consumers have no doubt Apple makes quality products and has a quality brand. However, the value comparison away from a pure on paper spec, to ecosystem, experiences, quality of software, total cost of ownership, support, etc., are all things which can help change the equation and local stores are essential to this message.

Bottom line? A local store strategy is the cornerstone to Apple growing their presence in India and the way things look now, it will move very slowly.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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