Connected World

May 30, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Technology 

cloudofthingsv2As the term Internet of Things (IoT) becomes as colloquial as “smartphone” or “texting”, one can’t help but to think about the implications to modern life.  It is undeniable that it is the biggest economic opportunity in the world since …well, the Internet (although I always considered computers as being “things”).   The concept that devices (aka things) can sense stuff in their environment,  send data autonomously, and act on commands at a relatively low cost is what makes it so disruptive and intriguing.  There is no surprise that companies like Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet (the company formerly known as Google), and Amazon have been gobbling up startups and investing oodles of cash into it.  This is a technological transformation similar to the digital era that changed the way we read, listen to music, or watch movies. Besides these are the companies best suited to drive the trend. There will be hundreds of other smaller companies in this industries developing devices, software, sensors, and network elements.  But these 4 have to be at the epicenter of the action.

In the humble opinion of this obscure blogger, there are 4 elements worth analyzing that are affecting this new trend:  The evolution of technology, the “things” themselves, the data they send or receive, and the system to make the whole thing do something useful.

  1. Technology Evolution: This answers the question of why now.  Moore’s law, Metcalfe’s law, and the development of fast wireless is making it all economically and physically possible. In essence, a lot of processing can be done in very small sizes and at a very low cost.  It is now cost and size effective to have electronics in almost every “thing” to sense the environment and transmit data.  None of this will even be thinkable without the right scale of technology.  The right scale is happening now.
  2. Data:   “Things” sense data and autonomously transmit it.  A “thing” can send identification data, status data, environmental data, location data, actionable data, or a combination of these.  A message saying “the third fridge in the ice cream section is malfunctioning” can be an example. A message like this can be sent to a store operator’s device so s/he can go and physically check the fridge and fix the problem.  But if there is a feedback loop, a system can remotely trigger an action to correct it automatically.  In other words, data can be just informational, actionable, or a command itself. The data is captured by sensors that are meaningful to the object: Temperature for a fridge and weight for a truck are examples.  An intelligent system will then make sense of the data by analyzing it and then propose or trigger an action. Sense, connect, analyze, and do something about it.  Simple, right?
  3. The “things”. These are the “what”.  I like to classify them according to seven major environments where “things” are.  The individual, home, vehicles, public places, the workplace,  the enterprise, and infrastructures.  The data is different across all these and, more importantly, it is used for different reasons.  The first four imply a direct relationship with individuals and they are inter-related.  In all of them, for example, we’d like the temperature to be comfortable so an automatic thermostat may be enough.  An individual may have control over the temperature in his/her car, but not in the mall or the office. So there is no need for these thermostats to interact with each other.  However, if you google (or is it alphabet now?)  the restaurant for your business dinner, wouldn’t you want it to seamlessly show up in your car’s navi so you can drive there, and then on your phone for the last few steps?  Or would you like your playlist to continue from your home, to your morning run, and then your car?  These require an integration beyond just their own environment and the end user needs to be the center of the experience.  The connected enterprise, workplace, and infrastructures are a bit different.  In these cases the “things” are the core of the operations.  My simple ice cream fridge example above is one of those.  These will generate a significant ROI for companies, so they will most likely develop faster.  More on this in future posts …
  4. Architecture.  This is where the debate gets not only nerdy, but interesting.  The industry is toying around with 3 basic architectures: Smartphone centric, cloud centric, or environment centric (based on a local hub or a mesh of objects in the environment).  In my opinion, there always has to be something in the environment managing and connecting all the “things” even when the smartphone is not there, so lets consider that a given.  But there are pros and cons to a smartphone vs. a cloud architecture.  And as it often occurs when new technologies are being launched, the control of the experience is the battleground.  It is in the best interest of the smartphone players to have it be the center.  Apple or Alphabet (through the Android ecosystem) will thrive in this environment.  For the strong cloud providers, like Microsoft or Amazon, cloud is the way to go. But from the user’s point of view a combination is the best option.  So the word “centric” needs to not be that relevant.  Again, companies like Apple and Alphabet have a great presence in both the smartphone and the cloud.  In addition to that, their hubs, AppleTV and Google’s OneHub will complete the offering.  Microsoft and Amazon do not have enough presence in the personal device but are very well positioned with cloud services and hubs, so they will also be strong players.

To paraphrase Dr. Carl Sagan, there a billions upon billions of “things” out there that need to sense, get connected, monitored, and acted upon. Some estimates put it in the trillions of dollars of economic activity. Consumers will benefit significantly with a seamless and open architecture.  What made the Internet so successful is, in part, the openness.  One would hope that the “things” will also be as open.  If this market is to be as big as predicted, we will need a lot of large companies and lots of smaller ones to make it work.  Openness will make it happen.

Mr Cook, Mr Nadella, Mr Bezos, and Mr. Page, I hope you agree when you read this. If you don’t, let’s discuss.

Enjoy.

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Please, it is time to go

April 24, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Technology 

windows-10-phoneWell, a year ago I wrote this piece begging Mr. Nadella to stop the misery and kill Windows 10 Mobile and for some unknown reason, he didn’t read it.  Ok, I get it.  he is in denial.  But in 1Q16 the Lumia line in Microsoft got an alarming decrease in sales of 73%.  If that doesn’t make you quit, I don’t know what will.    A year ago I thought i was going out on a limb, but it does seem like the market agrees with me.  A rare occasion … let me just enjoy it for a second … OK, that’s enough.

Where were we?  right, the fiasco of Windows Mobile …

Let’s make a little bit of history, shall we?  the Lumia line came to Microsoft as the difficult to understand acquisition that Ballmer made as a parting gift back in 2013.    I wrote about that too at the time. It was a questionable acquisition from the business perspective.  Nokia mobile was losing money and had no sight at becoming profitable.   However, if you have money up the wazoo and are the perceived leader in technology, can you afford not to participate in mobile?  Nokia was the last standing soldier developing mobile phones using Microsoft’s OS.  Rumor has it that they had threatened to go Android in order to recover a position in the market share.  So what’s a rich company to do?  Ballmer had 2 choices:  let Windows Mobile die with Nokia going to Android, or plunk out an insane amount of money for a business that was losing money.  Obviously, he chose the latter, $7.2B for a shrinking business that lost money.  But it became Microsoft’s “right to play” in the mobile world, by far the largest computing platform of this decade.  Mr. Nadella wrote that investment off back in 2015 without a lot of explanation.  I guess the first quarter of this year explained it.

It does seem clear that Microsoft has not been focused at all in Mobile and are now a distant, or even negligible player.  Just to put things in perspective, Microsoft sold a little over 2 million phones in 1Q16 (fiscal 3Q16).  Apple sells that amount in less than a week, and there are more than 2 million Android phones sold every day in the world.   Yes, seriously.

Imagine if you are one of the unlucky people who happened to buy one of the 2.3 million phones?  Who is going to write apps, who is going to be my phone buddy?  So, please, Mr Nadella, the world begs you to kill this walking dead.  My loyal reader (singular), please tell Mr. Nadella to help the industry out and do like RIM and go Android.  The world will be a better place with one less OS to distract developers.

Enjoy.

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A Falling Knife?

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Business, Finances, Technology 

It is widely known that two turkeys do not make an eagle.  I’m not sure what made me think of this, I’m not even a golfer. But it seems to me that Microsoft just handed a bunch of their cash to Nokia for what seems to be a desperate move.  Let me explain.

Nokia operates 3 businesses.  For the first half of 2013 none actually made any money.

  • Nokia-Siemens network (~ 50% of their revenue) which is 11% below last year’s revenue and operating at roughly break even.
  • HERE, formerly Navteq, which has imploded to EUR 233M in revenue and losing EUR 100M per quarter. (amazing what an $8B investment can turn into in a few years)
  • Devices and Service, which is what Microsoft made an offer to buy, is responsible for roughly the other 50% revenue, which for the first half of 2013 was EUR 5.6B vs 8.3B for the same period last year.

This business lost “only” EUR 75M for the first half vs EUR691M for the first half of 2012.  So it is improving.  What makes up this revenue, you may ask?  That’s where it gets interesting.  EUR 2.3B is made by the sell of 13.5 mostly Windows based smartphones.  EUR 2.9B from 109.5 million of what they call  “Mobile Phones”, which do not run Microsoft’s operating system.  The rest is services, whatever that really means.  So, a little over a half of their revenue is not only non-Microsoft products, but at an ASP (average sales price) of EUR 26 (yeah, not missing any zeroes, it is twenty six euro per phone).  This is just a small, very, very small fraction of what an Office or Windows license go for these days.  The other 40% is Smartphones, which are mostly Windows based.  Those sold at an alarming EUR 175 ( $232 US) average price.  Compared that to above $600 for an iPhone and above $500 for a Samsung Galaxy makes them one of the lowest in the industry.    They are actually great devices, but they have to almost give them away for the carriers to take them to their customers.  No wonder the division is not making any money!

So, Microsoft handed $7.2B (which is actually less than 10% of their cash at the close of last quarter) for a shrinking business with the lowest sales prices in the industry, 60% of which they have no interest in.  Not surprisingly, Microsoft investors did not like the idea and drove the stock down around 10% in the first couple of days.  One has to imagine that Microsoft thought this was their only chance to get into the fast growing mobility business.  On the other hand, Nokia investors loved the deal.  The stock shot up 50% in the first couple of days!

So what can the deal do for Microsoft?

In their fiscal year 2013, which ended June 30th, Microsoft ran 5 business that produced $77.6B in  revenue with mind-blowing operating earnings of $33.4B.  Every one of these businesses grew from a year ago, except for Windows, which was roughly flat.

  • Business Division, whose main product is the ubiquitous “productivity” suite Office, was 31% of their revenue and 48% of their OE (operating earnings)
  • Servers and Tools, which sells servers, had around 24% of the total revenue and 24% of their O.E.
  • Windows, which was 25% of revenue and 28% of O.E.
  • Online services, which manages Bing among other online offerings, was 4% of revenue and operated at a loss that represented -3% of O.E.
  • Entertainment, which sells Xbox, Surface PCs, and Windows phone was 13% of revenue and produced a modest 2.5% of Microsoft’s yearly earnings.

The latter is where they will probably merge Nokia’s business if the acquisition goes through and probably spin Xbox out as it has been rumored for a long time.  Assuming the revenue stays flat (a big if), it will represent around 20% of Microsoft’s total revenue, but no earnings to speak of.  Their only hope is to drive ASP (average sell prices) up.  And, my fellow reader (singular), there is only one way to do that:  with unique products that customers value their differentiation.

Consumers don’t particularly like Microsoft, but there is a group that has had a long lived love affair with them: I.T.  Most corporate I.T organizations in the world prefer Microsoft to any other operating system.  They trust them and have been supporting them for years.  Microsoft’s only hope is to leverage that.  They will have to relentlessly push for Windows based phones to become the Blackberry of Christmas past.  Focus on professional users by making email, calendar, office, and corporate apps a seamless experience.

That’s all they’ve got.

However, the world of mobility is that of 99 cents apps and free OS.  Clearly not where you want to take a $43.5B business that throws $24.7B in earnings per year selling operating systems and corporate applications. That is a boat load of 99 cent apps.  Apple and Samsung have shown that making significant amounts of money with differentiated hardware in the mobility industry is possible.

The question is, is there room for a third one …

Enjoy.

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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.

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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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