Netbooks get a Chrome Finish

May 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Technology 

When you Google “Netbook” you get thousands if not millions of hits.  The most optimistic ones predict the demise of the category.  Others make fun of the rapid growth and crash landing of it.  The remaining ones credit the iPad for talking over that space.  Google, in a traditional Googlesque move jumps in to redefine the category. hmmm.

Let’s recap.  Originally netbooks were small, light and only browser based.  They were the productization of Intel’s shinny new Atom processor, touted as a low power x86 that would allow powerful enough computers in these form factors with unmatched battery life.  They ran some kind of Linux (Ubuntu mostly), had a 7″ screen little memory, no hard drive to speak of, and a WiFi connection.  They would set you back $300 – $400.  Few bought them.  Microsoft, in a desperate territorial move, launched “Windows Starter Edition” at a significantly reduced licensing cost for OEMs.  The Windows netbooks were born.  Few bought them.  Then, OEMs in a smart move added up to 250GB of hard drive larger screens, more memory and a better keyboard.  Now they were selling them.  Unfortunately people bought them instead of laptops.  Wait … they were laptops … only cheaper.  Congratulations!  Microsoft and Intel had found a way to make less money with essentially the same product from essentially the same customers.  Not good.

Then the iPad was born.  Most techies entertaining to buy a low octane netbook either to substitute their aging laptop or as a lighter traveling device opted for Job’s money printing overgrown iPod Touch instead.  Why not?  a lot sexier, lighter, cooler, and just a little more money (there, among other things, relies the brilliance of Mr. Jobs).  So netbooks went into life support.  All OEMs are now jumping into the confused Tablet marketplace.  Apple, at the top, just laughs it out.

Where has Google been?  Well, Chrome is not new.  You may recognizer it from the fastest growing browser in the PC world.  Even as an OS it has been talked about for years.  But the world decided to focus more on Android since it is selling millions of smartphones and is sexier than a boring light OS.

But now  Google would launch the ChromeBook, a netbook with a twist.

Starting at a mere $379 with a $20 – $28 monthly fee on a 3 year contract for a WiFi cloud service. hmmm  again.  In this blogger’s humble opinion, my loyal reader (singular), what the … ?  Unless those cloud services are a real cloud or send you to the clouds using legal ways, I predict a disaster only rivaled by the NEXT computer.   I’m not ready to dump my iPad, at least for one of these.  And I don’t have a bag big enough for a fourth device.

The question is?  Is it a business model problem or a product problem?  Will you get one if you could get it for free and only pay the monthly fee?  Or better yet, what if Google can subsidize it 100% even the monthly fees to make money on advertisement alone?

And there, my fellow reader, among other things, rely the geniuses of Page and Brin.

Enjoy.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Losers can get married too

February 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Technology 

Have you ever seen a couple walking down the street, holding hands that make you think  that only they could have found each other?  That’s the impression I get when I see Microsoft and Nokia ink a strategic alliance.  Granted, that’s not quite a marriage, but more like dating.  Two of largest technology companies that arrived late to the smartphone party and who are struggling to remain relevant in the fastest growing boom in the Tech Industry since … well … ever, decide to join forces to battle Apple, Google, and their ecosystems.  A daunting task I might add.

This is the deal:  Microsoft has not been able to do anything good in the mobile world even after pouring millions (if not billions) of dollars.  And Nokia, once the giant to follow in the cellphone industry did not see the modern smartphones come.  Together, well, in this blogger’s humble opinion, is no better.  Nokia’s hardware, as good as it is, is just that: hardware.  They have never been able to stand out as a software supplier, areas where both Google, and Apple, the 2 leading forces in the smartphone world, excel at.

On the other hand, Microsoft has not been able to cut the cord.  Still the number one player, by far, in fixed applications, has just been a disaster in the mobile world.  Windows Mobile, arguably one of the first “smartphone” OS’s out there, did not evolve.  And Windows Phone 7, a great approach, is a classic case of “too little, too late”.  While Balmer, Microsoft’s CEO, brags about the eight thousand apps in WP7’s marketplace it remains at least an order of magnitude below iOS or Android.  Carrier’s have dozens of smartphones in their lineup already with access to these apps and users preference, either by cult or anti-cult.  NokiaSoft (or MicroNokia) will have to do the equivalent of pushing a herd of elephants up Mount Everest, one by one, without a sherpa, oxygen, and very little food.

In a letter to Nokia’s associates, Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO explained the transition his company will make to dump all activities on Symbian OS in order to adopt WP7 as its main smartphone OS.  I find interesting he used the analogy of a “burning platform” and how people do desperate things in desperate moments.  Kudos for admitting the desperate times and comparing a partnership with Microsoft to “jumping into the icy Atlantic”.  Although it may seem a bit too much, it is more like jumping into the icy Atlantic, naked, in the middle of the night, and picking up drowning friends, with luggage, on the way down.

Granted, these are both outstanding companies with a history of innovation and impressive comebacks (remember Netscape?).  But to pull this one off will require oodles of money, several miracles, outstanding negotiating with the carriers, and great, great products.  They’ve both done it in the past, but will they do it again?  But, given where they both are in this multibillion dollar market, do they really have a choice?  Maybe not.

So good luck in your marriage, hope you both keep your maiden names.  And please do not argue about naming the kids, hire professionals  instead.  Neither of you have a good track record there …

Enjoy.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Garmin Needs Rerouting

November 3, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

Imagine you are a leader in your market and you have been dealing with your competition day in and day out, extremely successfully by having arguably the best product in your category.  Then, all of the sudden, a disruption occurs that makes your product obsolete.  If you still hold Garmin shares (NASDAQ:GRMN), well, I’m sorry.  They are not coming back up, ’cause that’s exactly what happened to Personal Navigation Devices (PND), where Garmin was a dominant player.  Smartphones with integrated GPS made them obsolete.

Now, to their credit, they tried to remain relevant by launching 2 phones, one of them even running Android.  But as they reported today in their 3Q results call, they’ll be “winding down” that business.  I can’t blame them.  Trying to compete with Apple, RIM, Motorola, LG, Samsung, Nokia, and all those multimillion brands that spend millions on each smartphone is tough.  The question is what’s left for Garmin to hang their hat on?

At roughly $6B US in market cap and still making $130M in earnings last quarter you’d think there is hope.  Focusing on their fitness, aviation, and marine business, which grew last quarter, seems reasonable, but I doubt they can sustain a $6B market cap that way.  So, my fellow reader (singular) there might still be room to short, but not a lot.  They may be an acquisition target for their technology, but it is a gamble.  So exit your position, whatever it is and be glad it didn’t go any worse.

Enjoy.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

RIM Passes the Torch

September 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

Last year in June I wrote a piece about Research in Motion (Nasdaq:RIMM), maker of the Blackberry.  At that point the stock closed @ $76.55.  After a 42% drop is it probably time to cover our shorts to avoid a repeat of Palm?  After the latest results release, RIM showed progress on earnings, but decrease subscriber adds and more importantly is draining cash.  Being acquired seems to be their best option.  Not that there are dozens of companies with billions to spare on an ailing smartphone maker.  But it only takes one; and there is one who is also struggling to get a piece of the smartphone market: our beloved Microsoft.

Now why would Microsoft pay big bucks (really big bucks) for RIM only to combine a decreasing market share with an almost non-existent one, may I ask? I don’t seem to find the right answer.  I struggle with the idea on any synergy that the merger will bring.  RIM needs to invest to bring products up to par with Android and iOS based ones.  Their Acquisition of Torch Mobile (who brought you the Torch) was an attempt to do that but it seems to fall short: it is not a wow phone.  Even if corporate fans buy them, we’ve all seen Androids and iPhones show up in the enterprise and for the most part successful using them for the same applications.

At a first glance, the synergy seems to be there.  RIM’s corporate fans and huge installed base of BES – which happens to mobilize Microsoft Exchange for the most part – and Microsoft has been unsuccessful in bringing a decent smartphone to the party with their Windows Mobile, Windows Phone, and other inroads, but understand well how to sell to the average consumer.  Add a bunch of cash to mix and it is seemingly a marriage made in heaven. But not so fast, my fellow reader (singular)!  RIM’s market cap is in the neighborhood of $25B plus the typical premiums tech deals get may drain all of Microsoft’s cash.  Although it seems like a better investment than dividends or buying back stock it will probably not leave enough room to invest what it takes to win in this market.

Both companies need a miracle in the smartphone space.  But Microsoft has other legs in the stool, albeit declining too but at a slower pace. And most likely want to conserve some cash to maintain Windows and Office in the spot they have as well as their Bing and Xbox franchises.   Whereas RIM doesn’t have pagers anymore and more and more viable alternative devices are popping up in the market and making their way to the enterprise.  So while RIM passes the Torch (pun intended), Microsoft passed on the Kin and both are being left behind in the race.

Now, a 42% drop is good to cover our short positions because you don’t want to be that greedy, especially after what happened to Palm (which I predicted the exact opposite).  Nobody will blame you for covering in the vicinity of $45.  But, if you don’t believe in Microsoft’s acquisition:  short, short away till the cows come home or the stock dips another few bucks!

Enjoy.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

« Previous PageNext Page »