The Year of the Tablet

January 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Technology 

Well, apparently the whole world decided that it was about time for everyone to carry a 3rd device: a Tablet. You may know them by their more colloquial name “iPad”, which, as you know represents only 1 of the 100’s (I do mean hundreds) of such devices that will be in the market by the holiday season 2011. I had written before that I didn’t think there was a need for such a gizmo since people are already carrying too much technology with a laptop and a smartphone.  I was obviously wrong and the world does need those devices.  In fact I myself have 2 and are waiting for the third one, hopefully very, very soon.

The question is how many will survive in 2012 and how will they all differentiate among each other?  There are really 2 camps:  Consumer tablets (iPad and Android based), and everyone else.  I know, I know, RIM has one (the Playbook), Cisco (Cius), and Avaya (Flare) have one too, and maybe HP’s WebOS will be like these too.  But, I’m sorry, they fall in the “everyone else” camp.  Let me explain:

iPad and most Android tablets (Dell Streak, Motorola Xoom, Asus Slate, Samsung Galaxy, etc.) are designed primarily  for media consumption.  In other words to watch videos, read books and blogs, listen to music, etc.  The difference between iPad and all Android tablets is the obvious, but the uses are pretty much the same.  The “other three” are for communications.  All three companies have a great history of selling product to the enterprise and want to capitalize on the Tablet buzz. So they are tailoring them to be best for video communications, email, and those kinds of apps for people that are on the go.  BTW, where is Microsoft in all this?

Now, there is also a sub categorization of the consumer devices in iPads, “good” Androids, and 100’s of cheapo devices.  During CES, Motorola Mobility (one of the 2 siblings that came out of the mother ship Motorola, Inc.) introduced the Xoom, whose main allure was the introduction of Google’s new version of Android, Honeycomb.  Reviews were amazing, Honeycomb looks fabulous.  But every non Apple manufacturer in the consumer space will have access to it, so there will be competing head to head, the same way Android Smartphones do today.  But there will be 100’s of cheap ones too, based on Android, but not necessarily good.  When you take away the complexity of the phone, almost every manufacturer can build one, but few will be worthy of the Android seal of approval.  Those are the ones to look for.

By any measure, this is great since it will drive lots of product innovation, lots of choices, in a market with iDevices has been the only true alternative, but it will also drive commoditization.  Good for consumers, bad for the companies that will be competing.  Particularly great for Google who will see it’s new OS proliferate like the corn subproducts.  And more and more users will access the internet using a mobile via either Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS with infinite income potential for both.  And the competition between them will only get more fascinating.

How will everyone differentiate remains to be seen, but with the clever ideas on this post there will be room for plenty.  One more thought: Will this be totally incremental to the 600M smartphones supposed to be sold in 2012 or will it cannibalize it?  Quite frankly who cares?  There is plenty of pie for both.

So, my faithful reader (singular) wait for Honeycomb and run for your tablet or go buy an iPad now.  You will be glad you did.

Enjoy.

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Putting the Entire Map on the Map

November 30, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Technology 

This week Google backed satellite operator O3b, which stands for the Other 3 billion, secured $1.2b in funding to launch a satellite based fiber quality broadband service for the un-wired world (not to be confused with the wireless world).  O3b estimates that 70% of the world’s population does not have access to the internet, and their satellite service will fill that gap.

Now, that is not new.  Motorola tried to offer phone service around the world with the now defunct Iridium venture.  What’s different, one might ask?  For starters, Google is backing it, which means they are not afraid of risk.  Not that Motorola was, but Google has also a business model that can allow them to reach other heights if the forgotten 70% of the world starts searching online.

Second, and the fun part, the satellite constellation will be launched at 8000 km above the Earths surface, or 4 times closer  than geostationary satellites (like Iridium was).  This means that users will get 4 times less latency (aka delay) one of the limitations that made Iridium usage so annoying.   At this distance a signal will take roughly 50 mS to go up to the satellite and back to Earth.  Seems acceptable, right?

Third, it is not necessarily meant for mobile applications.  This means that you can have a huge battery since you will not be carrying the device with you all the time.  Again, like Iridium that needed a 20lb backpack to make a phone call.  Although they will probably do offer telephone services it is not its main purpose.  Internet access is.

O3b plans to start commercial service by the first half of 2013 after their first 8 satellites.  The question, my fellow reader (singular) is:  will they survive?  Who knows.  Like I said, Google backing means a lot, especially since they are so used to non-money making ventures but with a strategy to make them money in the future (Android anyone?).  But it is definitely an interesting approach that confirms the “universally available” part of Google’s mission. Will it support it’s “Don’t Do Evil” motto? Let’s wait for the business model.

Enjoy.

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Dell Streaks but Doesn’t Impress

August 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Technology 

Well, it is official.  The world will be inundated with tablets of all sizes, colors, OSs and capabilities.  Dell recently jumped into the deep end of the pool with the highly anticipated, but slightly disappointing Streak.  It falls smack center in the middle of nowhere: too big for a phone, to small for a tablet.

The OS is archaic, old, last century (well, last year at quarter) in a market that moves faster than you can keep up with.  When Motorola, HTC, and others are boasting Android 2.2, and others talk about Android 3.0, Dell launches a 1.6.  Quite frankly what a waste of one of the most beautiful displays I’ve seen in this category.  I hope Dell brings out an update soon since a lot of apps are not compatible to it (like Touchdown, the only real way to get to a corporate Exchange email/calendar system).

The device is really good looking, and Android is just great (yeah, even the ancient version 1.6).  Just take it out in any public place and people will ask you what is it.  But you will have to take the laughs when you pick it up as a phone.  Maybe Dell, in its infinite wisdom, thought people will use a bluetooth headset to answer the phone or will not mind the geeky look of a huge tablet on your face.  In any case, people will want to know what’s your fabulous device.

Anyway, I have to give them credit for making a bet.  Tablets have 3 places in the market: a substitute for a laptop, a substitute for a smartphone, or a third device.  Apple’s iPad was clearly a bet on the “third device” and against all my predictions, has hit a home run.  Microsoft had bet for the better laptop case in the past, with … well not so good results.  Dell bets on a better phone with the Streak, even with an AT&T subsidy.  Good try, but I don’t think it will work out.  It is too big to be your only phone.

If you’re going out for dinner it takes up a big chunk of the table and it is not pocketable at all.  You’ll need your phone anywhere you go, but a “cleverphone” is not good enough since you may want to use it as a GPS or look for the restaurant, or all the other things we’re used to do with our phones these days.  So you need a smartphone.  At that point you’re in 3rd device territory so you might as well opt for a 7, 8, 9 or 10 inch display.

Oh well, as much as I wanted to toss my iPhone I will still have to wait for a good Android phone for AT&T.

Enjoy.

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Two Recent Deaths in the Smartphone world. Long Live the Emperor.

July 23, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Technology 

Within the last couple of weeks two surprising deaths happened in the Smartphone world: Kin and Nexus One (direct from Google); both of whom I had blogged about before here and  here.  Similar to my predictions on tablets, the world has decided to make me look bad.

I can’t say either action is a real surprise, given the success – or lack thereof – of both products, but it begs the question of what the hell is so unique about Apple that makes them so successful?  Both products were reasonably good and both came out with some marketing strength and high hopes, albeit none had Jobs sticking his turtleneck out for.  In fact one can almost say they are truly cleverphones.  Nexus One sold directly by Google lasted a few months but managed to sell more through the carriers than direct.  Kin, on the other hand, didn’t even last enough to hear comments about it.  Microsoft has decided to protect their channel by pulling it out of the market and allowing HTC, Dell, Samsung, and LG who will release Windows 7 Phone Series (gotta love Microsoft’s marketing) devices this year for the “holidays”.

What I think is really happening is that even strong players like these tend to underestimate the power of the wireless carriers.  They own the customer since people buy phones in order to get a service, not the other way around.  Smartphone OEMs have learned the game and have succumbed to the carriers’ will, quite successfully I might add.  The market has turned into a selection of services where you pick a desirable phone for.  In other words, I know I want AT&T, Verizon, Telus, Vodafone, etc.  for whatever reason and then I select my phone.  Nexus One tried to separate it out unsuccessfully, even given the fact that Google didn’t need to make money on the phone!  People still bought the subsidized phone through the carrier in spite of a long term commitment.

Microsoft on the other hand didn’t try to sell direct, but attempted to bypass OEMs, where carriers buy more devices from.  So it is easier for them to add a Windows 7 Phone from HTC to the portfolio they already buy from them.  Besides, Kin was a succession of project “Pink” in which Microsoft had an agreement with Verizon to supply a device.  This contractual agreement forced Microsoft to release Kin with an OS that was not quite Windows 7 Phone.  In addition to that Verizon changed data plans and made the Kin less than attractive cost wise.  Again, a wireless carrier took control of the market.

One can also blame Palm’s near demise (and HP’s gain) on carriers’ acceptance or choice.

Whatever the reasons are, wireless carriers will continue to dominate and control the market.  Granted, both Google and Microsoft have a potentially great future with their mobile OS without their own branded phones as long as they follow the desire of the carriers they sell through.

The only exception so far is Apple.   AT&T has gained millions upon millions of customers that wanted one and were willing to compromise their carrier selection for the privilege of carrying an iPhone.  When Apple opens up to Verizon we’ll most likely see them run back and abandon AT&T.  Apple will churn the base, Verizon will add users, and AT&T will lose them.  Very few new iPhone users, but Apple will continue to sell them new ones.  Will Jobs be open to have an unsubsidized dual system (AT&T and Verizon) iPhone to sell direct so users can declare him his loyalty?  I can see it if AT&T and Verizon decide to create cheaper iPhone plans since they will not subsidize the phone anymore and create a price war.  We’ll see.

But for the time being iPhone remains the only device requested by name and the carriers maintain control over everything else.  For how long?

Enjoy.

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Apple or Microsoft, which is cheaper?

June 10, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Finances, Technology 

It is all over the news that Apple (AAPL) surpassed Microsoft (MSFT) market capitalization last week becoming the largest tech company from that metric perspective.  The question is which one is more expensive?

Assume you have $500 to invest and you are trying to decide which one is a better bet.  Let’s see.  On June 10th, Microsoft opened near $25 and Apple near $250.  So you could buy 20 MSFT or 2 AAPL.  So what are you really buying with your hard earned bucks?  Based on the prior 12 months and latest financial statements these are the numbers (rounded):

AAPL:  revenue $51B, Net Income $10.7B, Cash and Short term investments $23B, and a market cap of $227B (908 M outstanding shares).

MSFT: revenue $59B, Net Income $17.2B, Cash and ST investments $39B with a market cap of $218B (8720 M outstanding shares).

So if you buy 2 shares of Apple your $500 buy you $112 in revenue, $23.50 in NI, and $50.70 in cash.  Microsoft’s 20 shares are $135.3 in revenue, $39.4 in NI, and $89.4 in cash.  In other words, picking one metric, let’s say cash,  Microsoft is trading at 5.6 times cash, Apple at 9.8 times cash.  That is 1.76 times more expensive!

Now, let me throw Google (GOOG) into the mix, just for kicks:  Google was trading at around $480 with a market cap of $115B (240M shares).  Revenues of $25B, Net Income of $7.1B, Cash $26B.  You can buy 1.04 GOOG, meaning $108 in revenue, $30.8 NI, and an impressive $113 in cash (4.44 times cash).

So you tell me which one is more expensive?  I know, I know, this is based on past results and does not factor in growth potential, investor’s sentiment, cult followers, and other factors.  But for the same reason it clearly paints a picture of which company is more favored by investors and which one is less.

Consider one last point:  Microsoft hit an all time high of $58.37 on December 31, 1999, Google $724.80 on December 14, 2007, and Apple hit $272.40 on April 26, 2010.  Investor’s favoritism has been shifting over time.  What’s next for all these three?  If I knew, I wouldn’t be blogging about it but it is definitely interesting behavior of 3 of the most traded stocks.

Quoting Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, “I remind you to ignore me”.  By no means this is an endorsment to invest in any of these companies.  You, my fellow reader (singular) make your own judgment.

Enjoy.

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