6 Mobility Predictions

March 11, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

The world of technology, particularly mobility has been one of the most dynamic in the past 2 decades.  Well, it is my contention that it is about to change again, very fast and very drastically.  What was shown in the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) back in January in Las Vegas and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of last month is trully game changing.  If you are an investor looking for advice, I suggest you ignore what you’re about to read here.  It is always fun to venture into the predictive “sciences” and look back a couple of months later to see what really happened but by no means I know what I’m talking about.  My time horizon is 12 – 24 months.  So read away and derride if you must.

Prediction #1:  Research in Motion will not be a stand alone company. The makers of the once annoyingly ubiquitous Blackberry have been losing ground since Apple launched the iPhone back in 2007.  Jobs’ creation revolutionized what we now call the smartphone and by most accounts it is the gadget of the decade.  In the meantime RIM tried to position itself as the preferred smartphone by professionals and the only one trusted by IT.  They were and by far.  In June 2008, RIM hit a high of $148 a share.  These days trading at a meager $13.6 indicates a stock in clear trouble.  They are still profitable and at a market cap of roughly $7B someone that needs good hardware can take them out.  Who can that be?  Read along …

Prediction #2:  Nokia will not be a stand alone company.  This story is even sadder.  The ones kings of the cellphone market could not and did not adapt to the smartphone revolution.  The Finnish company once enjoyed a 40%+ market share around the world.  They revolutionized how cellphones were used and they were the first ones to penetrate emerging markets like India or China.  Nokia back in 2008 saw its share price hit the  mid $30’s.  Now it squanders at $5 and even with their market leadership of roughly 24% share in 2011 (down from 28% in 2010) it struggles to stay profitable.  As I posted previously here, Microsoft has partnered with them and has made them their preferred partner for Window Phone 8.  In this blogger’s humble opinion it will take a lot more than $1B of Ballmer’s money to bring Nokia back to life.

Prediction #3:  Android will come of age.  Are you kidding me;  it is the number one selling OS in the smartphone category?  Sure, but it is still immature.  It is very fragmented, some apps don’t run well across devices, each OEM has its own GUI flavor, enterprises don’t like it, IT can’t manage it, and there are tons of stories of malware and malicious apps that have hit it.  Even if OEMs like Samsung, LG, HTC, or Motorola fix that, corporations don’t want to deal with different tools for different devices.  Google will have to get their act together and embrace them.  Their move to acquire Motorola Mobility, that I mentioned here is a testament of their true interest in the space.  What will they do with Motorola’s hardware capabilities still remains to be seen.  But, my loyal reader (singular) you have to agree that nobody spends $12B, even Google, if they don’t have a solid strategy.  Android will be one of the 3 contenders in the smartphone/tablet battle.  Why 3? read along …

Prediction #4:  Samsung will be the next dominant player in consumer products.  This one is a classic vertical integration play.   Samsung owns ICs, displays, manufacturing, etc. they are extremely agile in their development and manufacture products that are state of the art.  If it wasn’t enough, unlike Apple, they believe consumers should have choices, in fact want choices.  For example, Samsung is the only company with a  mobility lineup of 4.3″, 5.2″, 7″, 8.9″, and 10.2″ Android devices and some Windows devices too.    Samsung had about 17% market share in 2011, are extremely profitable, and are among the price leaders in tablets and smartphones.  But that’s not it; they have impressed in recent trade shows with their integration of computers, TVs, smaprthones, tablets, music systems, etc.  A single experience across “all-screens-and-speakers” has always been the dream of the likes of Apple, Sony, Microsoft, and others.  Samsung seems to be the only one executing to it.

Prediction #5:  Microsoft will be a true force in mobility.  I know I’m starting to go out on a limb here.  They have a dismal 6% market share, about 1/2 of RIM’s.  But our friends in Redmond are pouring (to paraphrase Dr. Carl Sagan) billions upon billions of dollars in the quest. I know I’ve said the opposite before (that’s why you should ignore me) but I think this time is real.  Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility also opens the door for Samsung, LG, HTC, and other OEMs to rekindle their romance with Windows if for nothing else, as a hedge against Android’s marriage.  Windows phone 7 was actually pretty good, 7.5 even better.  They were “just” missing OEM adoption and apps.  But in classic Microsoft fashion Windows 8 promises to be the third time is a charm deal. Reports of the beta version of Windows 8 (on a PC) are extremely positive which will revitalize them for the mobile space.  Microsoft is the trusted adviser for corporations across the world and IT will gladly go back to them if users accept it.  The trick will be in the hardware and the ecosystem of apps.  Again, in this blogger’s humble opinion, a combination of what I’ve mentioned in points 1-3 above may be Microsoft’s ticket to mobility.

Prediction #6:  Apple will not continue its reign.  I know this may be out there  and  I’m not saying Apple will go down but at the very least they will slow down their growth.  The main reason of their success may be the cause of their change in fortune.  According g to Cook’s iPad3 launch, Apple sold a mind blowing 172 million devices.  Of those 172 million, even more mind blowing is that around 100 million were iPhones.  Think about that: 1 product (actually 2, black and white) sold in 200 countries!  Essentially Apple believes that 1 product with no changes is ideal for everyone in the world!  My loyal reader I ask you: how sustainable is that, especially when you see their competitors following the opposite approach?  iPad3 was a disappointment not because it is not a great product, it is. It became a “speeds and feeds” game; same old device, but better this and faster that.  It is a reminder of the WinTel era in which you had to have the fastest computer with the most memory and the fastest disk.  Apple themselves made Mobility to be not like that.  The market that Apple changed with music, movies apps, and multipurpose devices is about the experience.  Sure, a better this and a faster that may drive a better experience, but I believe we’re reaching diminishing returns particularly to rush and get one.   iTunes and iCloud bring the continuous experience across iOS device, but it stops there.  On top of that Apple TV was a failure.  There is life outside of our mobile devices.  But then again, with $100 B in cash, they might reinvent something else one more time.

So there you have it. 6 predictions in an 18-24 month horizon.  If you disagree, let me know, if you agree pleas do that too.  And remember to ignore me because unlike the song I will not get closer if you do.

Enjoy.

 

 

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Googorola, a New Age in Mobility

August 20, 2011 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Business, Technology 

GoogorolaWell, it certainly has been an interesting couple of weeks in the mobility  industry.  Lawsuits galore, HP punting on the Tab (and most likely the whole Palm acquisition), Google buying Motorola Mobility (Googorola?), rumors of iPhone5 getting louder, and other rumors that Microsoft is finally going to compete in the space.  And silently, well not so silently one by one the companies that started it all are being gobbled up.  New, 21st century brands, some that can’t look at hardware if it was staring them in the eyes are taking center stage.

When there are winners, there have to be losers, even in a rapidly expanding market such as this.  Nokia, the once titan of the category, that robbed market share from the inventors of cellular telephony (Motorola), although still #1 are now falling like a rock.  Palm, who arguably  added the “smart” aspect of smart phones by creating the PIM (personal information manager) elements now ubiquitous, recently bought by HP are now defunct and their legacy, sadly, may follow.  Research in Motion, RIM, makers of the ubiquitous executive gadget of Christmas Past are down to a meager 3% and declining.  While Google and Apple, who dominate the mobile Operating System market share see no end in sight.

Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility (MMI) brings to the table the largest patent dowry available:  17000 granted patents plus more than 7000 in process, including some unimaginable radio and communication intellectual property.  This not only gives Google the ability to counter the myriad of lawsuits that make analysts weary of the future of Android, but can actually put them in the driver seat if they weren’t there already.  Unfortunately there are always downsides to every upside.  In this case its in the form of a Taiwanese and 2 Korean companies.  Yes, you guessed it: HTC, Samsung, and LG.  These 3 plus Motorola Mobility are the main adopters of Android and responsible for Google’s rise to the top OS in this category.  Together they represent roughly 25% of the market or about the size of Apple’s iOS.

The question is, my loyal reader (singular), will they pick up their marbles and go home (with a layover in Redmond, Wa)? or will they trust Google to keep MMI running independently?  Yeah right!  Just like other things in life, some win, and some lose.  The ones that win by just waiting it out, Microsoft have a  real chance to become the third horse in the race.  Mainly because they will be the only remaining independent.  But with $53B burning their balance sheet, how long can they afford to stay that way?

Enjoy.

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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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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.

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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.

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