June 28, 2012 10:24 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
, market share
Well some like to frame the market in terms of your favorite brand versus theirs, when big companies like Apple and Google compete, every consumer wins. And that will be true in the tablet space as well.
I believe in the power of competition. It drives companies to develop and change and when companies compete in a level marketplace, then consumers win. That’s why I love the competition going on in the tablet space these days.
While I haven’t made it a secret that I think Microsoft and Google’s forays into the tablet market are misguided (to say the least), I still believe that their entry will have an impact on Apple and Amazon and Samsung and all of the other tablet manufacturers because they will try things to differentiate themselves from one another, and when they do that, they will force their competitors to pay attention and to rethink their approaches.
It’s good for the market and it’s great for consumers. I’ve been writing about technology for a number of years now and I’ve watched as Microsoft, Google and Apple fight the big fight, scratching and clawing at one another, constantly trying to get an advantage, to find the upper hand to force us all to use their products exclusively.
Consumers tend to fight that though. I had a conversation on Twitter the other day where one person was suggesting that SMBs would like a one-stop shop cloud vendor with software, platform and infrastructure services all from the same vendor. I argued that this was neither necessary or desirable for any business to tie itself to a single vendor.
I use a lot of Apple products, but I use products from Microsoft and Google. I use Facebook and I buy stuff on Amazon (a lot). No one vendor gives me everything I need, and though they may try to take shots at one another’s strengths, it usually doesn’t work. Think about the Zune or Ping if you doubt me.
But even these failures fuel the competitive fires across these different companies. Although Bing for example has failed to gain substantial market share from Google in search, it has driven Google to try new things. It’s all part of what happens when companies compete.
Microsoft tried very hard to get the world to use Windows and while they have some great marketshare, they don’t control the market. Apple is highly successful, but it can’t do what Google, Facebook or Amazon does (even though it has the iTunes store).
So let the tablet competition begn. Go at it, you big technology titans and drive one another to innovate and change and develop. I still don’t believe any of this will have a serious impact on Apple’s tablet marketshare, but I do believe it will force Apple to look at everything it does, just as competition in the search space forces Google to do the same.
Every time I write something comparing iOS and Android, it becomes this intense argument, but it doesn’t have to be that way if we look at this as healthy competition. Because both operating systems exist and compete against one another, we all win.
So let the clash continue. Bring on your tablets and let’s see what you’ve got and the impact of your moves on your competitors. I can’t wait.
Photo by incredibleguy on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.
June 27, 2012 12:47 PM
Posted by: Ron Miller
Google is the latest player to step and take a stab at building its own branded tablet. The question is should Google and Microsoft be selling branded hardware?
It’s time for the latest entry in the tablet sweepstakes. This week, Google announced the new Nexus 7 inch Google-branded tablet at its I/O conference this week. Why bother?
Much like Microsoft’s Surface, this will be tons of attention over the next week. Many of my tech-journalist colleagues will gush about how this is the device that’s going to put Apple in its place for sure this time.
We heard the same thing before HP and RIM came out with their failed tablets last year. Then we heard Amazon with its delivery channel, its very own app store (wisely stocked ahead of the device) and a cheap $199 tablet running Android was really, really going to take it to Apple — only it didn’t really make a dent in Apple’s dominance.
This one appears to be taking aim at Amazon. It’s the size of the Kindle Fire and it has a similar content delivery ability along with a cheap $199 price tag. Up to now, the Kindle Fire (even though it hasn’t been able to move Apple’s numbers), has been the most successful Android tablet produced. So why go after it?
Here, you have another software company trying to create hardware. Google might not have Apple envy as Microsoft clearly does, but apparently it doesn’t trust its OEMs to deliver a high-quality Android tablet experience, so gosh darn it, if you want something done right, you just better do it yourself.
Unfortunately, for Google they face a similar struggle to Microsoft. Much like Microsoft, even though they make some hardware devices, at their heart of hearts, they are a software and services company. And no I don’t need to be reminded that Google bought Motorola Mobility. I understand that, but I think it was a big and expensive mistake.
Let me explain.
As I’ve written before Microsoft and Google are software companies. They succeed when they spread their software around many devices. Apple succeeds by building devices and then building software that works on that device — and only that device.
By building its own tablet, Google is making the same mistake as Microsoft. They are undercutting the manufacturing channel they have worked for years to build. Why would you do that?
If I’m Amazon, I’m thinking that I put all this effort into developing tablets running Android, and now I’ve got to compete with the Google brand in the marketplace? I doubt they’re very happy about that and why would they be?
Microsoft, Google and Amazon all have brand power and that’s what they’re banking on here, but by building their own tablets, they are also putting their brands on the line here. If they fail, and so far, there have been lots of failed iPad challengers, they are risking that brand equity to some extent.
Amazon with its combination of cheap hardware, a ready app store and lots of content (books, videos, etc.) would seemed to be a worthy contender, but so far it hasn’t been much of a threat.
Can Microsoft or Google break through?I have serious doubts and until someone comes along and takes some serious market share, I remain skeptical. Somebody is going to have to prove they can contend and so far, nobody has been able to do that. I don’t think Google or Microsoft have the chops. Time will tell if I’m right.
Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
June 26, 2012 6:42 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
, mobile business
Just as in baseball when the hot rookie forces out the veteran, the same thing happens in technology when the newest devices force aside once great companies.
As we all know, technology continues to evolve and there’s just no stopping it. It moves relentlessly into the future and you know what? That’s OK, but it means we might be seeing the effective end of once mighty companies. And RIM is a good example of that.
It reminds me in a lot of ways of sports (which is a great metaphor for everything, isn’t it?). For the past month or so we have been watching drama play out in Boston as the old, steady third baseman, Kevin Youkilis, was being replaced by the new young gun, Will Middlebrooks.
Youklis was strong and reliable for a long time. He was a fan favorite, but his production has been dropping and it’s out with the old and in with the new. He was traded to the Chicago White Sox Sunday night, unceremoniously dumped, like yesterday’s Blackberry.
Much like Youkilis, the Blackberry was a good soldier for many years. It served the market well, but newer models came along and RIM simply couldn’t keep up. Now comes word from Uber Gizmo that RIM is considering breaking into two divisions, one that sells handsets and one that sells secure messaging services (because there are still plenty of places that need that kind of service). It’s clear as Uber Gizmo points out that the handset division is doomed to die a quick death, but it’s not clear if the messaging service can survive without a handset partner.
Yet just as injuries have cut into the effectiveness of Youkilis these past few seasons forcing the Red Sox to trade him for a couple low-rate players, an increasingly grim sales picture has driven down RIM’s value, making it a buyer’s market for the once popular service. InformationWeek reported that Morgan Stanley added insult to injury this past weekend when it sent out an investment memo stating that basically, RIM was irrevocably broken.
“We believe the only way RIM remains a viable entity is at a fraction of its current size, a transformation that erases much of its earnings power,” said Morgan Stanley. “The next nine months will likely see rapidly deteriorating fundamentals on the one hand offset by stories of potential strategic options on the other,” InformationWeek quoted the Morgan Stanley memo.
This is a company caught between a rock and hard place, feeling like a rider on a downbound train. They’re on a highway to hell. You get the idea.
But like Youk, that’s OK by me. Why? As much as I liked him as a player, there is a natural rhythm to baseball. The new guys come up and replaces the old ones, and while it’s never easy watching an aging player get forced out, it’s the natural order of things. And it’s the same in business. RIM’s time came and went. The mobile market passed it by and now it’s time to move on.
Kevin Youkilis learned that this week and it’s a harsh lesson that RIM is learning too.
Photo of Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks by Keith Allison. Used under Creative Commons License.
June 22, 2012 10:04 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
, Enteprise IT
A new cloud survey found attitudes are shifting and people are much more accepting of cloud solutions..
A recent cloud computing survey on enterprise attitudes toward the cloud showed a rapid shift in attitude towards cloud services from last year to this, as many more respondents are seeing the cloud in a positive light.
For instance, when it came to mission critical applications in the cloud, only 3 percent responded that the cloud is too risky because of the Patriot Act or data sovereignty issues compared with 10 percent last year. That’s a huge shift in attitude from several years ago when that’s all you heard at conferences.
The survey was conducted by North Bridge Venture partners along with 38 business partners and involved 785 respondents, up from 417 last year. Respondents included CXOs, IT people and Line of Business personnel.
The biggies for companies are security and compliance with the a general belief that it’s difficult to secure content in the cloud or keep up with internal governance, but even this is shifting with just 12 percent responding that the cloud needs to mature in these key areas compared with 26 percent in 2011, a significant attitude shift.
The idea of a public-private hybrid model is also growing in popularity, an approach that should make a lot of sense for most companies. In fact, 37 percent reported using a hybrid model this year, but by 2017, 52 percent are expected to use such a model.
This in line with what Laurence Hart, CIO at AIIM had to say at a session at the info360 conference earlier this month. He said the hybrid cloud — some combination of public and private cloud services — is where most companies are likely going to be. He explained this will require your on-premises apps to interact with some public services — whether infrastructure, platform or software service.
And he stressed making sure that systems could talk to one another was a key issue in the cloud purchase process. He said you should never assume that communication between systems is a given. You should always make sure the vendor demonstrates the interoperability for you before you sign a cloud services contract.
And this is even more imperative when you consider that 67 percent of respondents reported using some kind of application in the cloud today with another 14 percent expecting to use one within the next year. Only 19 percent have no plans to use one at this time.
Fifty-three percent said using the cloud reduces the management complexity, up from 39 percent last year.
And that may be so, but Hart warns that you have to find ways to measure savings because simply moving to the cloud is not a guarantee that you’ll save money.
Yet in spite of these positive results, a healthy skepticism remains among those who are not moving to the cloud with 55 percent of those respondents citing worries about security, followed concerns about compliance, lock-in, interoperability and more — all issues Hart, who is a cloud advocate, by the way, said you need to be cognizant of when you purchase cloud services.
It doesn’t mean you have to avoid cloud services, but you do need to make sure you ask the hard questions before you sign on the dotted line. The important take-away here though is that attitudes toward the cloud have softened even in the last year and the cloud is going to be an inevitable part of just about everyone’s IT strategy moving forward.
June 19, 2012 3:24 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
, Microsoft Surface
With The Surface tablet/laptop hybrid, Microsof is trying to be both a PC and Post-PC Device in one, and it needs to give up the PC to succeed in the future.
The tech world was all abuzz last night with Microsoft’s big announcement, a tablet/laptop hybrid it’s calling The Surface. Picture an iPad running Windows with a built-in keyboard and a little stand and you’ve got the idea.
People were going ga-ga over this device on Twitter, but I’m here to be a contrarian and tell you that in my view, Microsoft clearly doesn’t get that a tablet is a touch device. There’s a reason Apple has an Air and iPad. They’re different.
Steve Jobs once famously said, that it would be a mistake for competitors to see “the tablet form factor as another kind of PC,” a point his replacement Tim Cook drove home recently when he said it would be a mistake “to encumber the tablet with the legacy of the PC.” You see where I’m going with this because that’s precisely what Microsoft has done.
It’s created a device that tries to be everything to everyone and run Windows and Office software. It wants to be an old-fashioned PC and a newly styled post-PC device, but I think Microsoft will find that it will have a hard time serving both those masters.
As for the device itself, you can read about the specs on The Next Web and you can watch a video of the device (such as it) on the Microsoft Surface dedicated web site. It’s thin. It’s stylish and it has a stand and a USB port, so there Apple. But sorry Microsoft it’s just not as stylish as Apple. It’s nice enough (just like the Lumia phones), but it needs to be so much more.
But more than that, Microsoft clearly has Apple envy in the worst way, and as usual it tries so darn hard, but simply can’t achieve Apple’s design prowess. I’m sure they’re having a good laugh at those candy colors over at Apple right now. What’s more, there’s a big difference between Apple and Microsoft. Apple is a device company that makes some software to run on its devices (and nobody else’s). Microsoft is a software company that wants to charge companies to run its software on many devices.
While it makes some devices like the XBox and some peripherals, it’s clearly not a device company at its core because it would undercut its primary market if it were. There’s a reason there’s not a Microsoft-branded PC, for instance. Yet with this device, Microsoft could undercut its tablet OEM market if it were successful as it hopes. And if it’s not successful, it also works against tablets running Metro which would have to face anti-Microsoft-branded tablet backlash.
I suppose if you have a Windows phone, it might make sense to have this device to work with it, but I can’t help but feel that this is Zune II, an ill-conceived device, designed to answer a tremendously successful Apple product. Microsoft needs to understand its role as a software vendor, and that it can’t compete with Apple on a device for device level. It’s never going to be Apple no matter how hard it tries.
It also needs to learn that you can’t be a PC and post-PC device at the same time. That just doesn’t work. You have to have the guts to give up your legacy, no matter how much it hurts, and with this device, we see that Microsoft is unwilling or unable to do that.
Photo by Ant McNeil on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
June 11, 2012 7:16 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
When news broke last week that Oracle had decided to join the 21st century and launch a cloud product in order to take on the likes of the highly successful Salesforce.com, my first was reaction was that it was about 10 years too late the game.
Can a traditional enterprise software and hardware company suddenly compete in the cloud? I think not.
Don’t get me wrong I find the idea of the dinosaur software and hardware company taking on the preeminent cloud computing vendor (and one of the earliest examples) to be highly entertaining. Oracle is the poster child for traditional enterprise software implementations. It is the polar opposite of what you think of when you think about cloud services.
It’s complex instead of simple. It’s expensive instead of cheap. It’s hard to implement instead of easy. It requires significant resources to install, configure, maintain and manage. In short, it’s everything cloud is not — yet now Oracle wants to be your cloud vendor.
Does anyone else see a major disconnect here?
Let’s not forget, up until his company jumped into the fray, Ellison has gone out of his way to make fun of cloud computing. In 2008, he was quoted in a Guardian article as calling it complete gibberish in this delicious quote:
“Maybe I’m an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? [The Cloud] is complete gibberish. It’s insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?”
Maybe he’s evolved in 4 years. Who knows? But it’s also impossible to ignore the recent Google/Oracle patent trial around Java appeared to be a full-scale attack on cloud computing.
So when that tack failed, Oracle did an about face and decided to embrace cloud computing instead (or perhaps it was just trying to clear away the competition ahead of its announcement).
But anytime a company the size of Oracle gets involved, it has to make the competition pause. Perhaps that’s why Salesforce made a big acquisition last week when it purchased Buddy Media just days before the Oracle announcement. (Coincidence? We think not.)
Brent Leary, who is co-founder and partner at CRM Essentials LLC, a CRM consulting/advisory firm focused on small and mid-size enterprises, says it’s never too late for a company the size of Oracle to take a shot.
“I think we’re too early in the game to say anything that happens now is too late. But that doesn’t mean companies can wait around to make moves,” he said.
He added, “Historically Oracle is an acquisition machine, but now with Salesforce joining the arms race the purchases seem to be accelerating. There’s a lot at stake here, and the companies who can quickly add and integrate missing pieces to their cloud puzzle stand to gain significant mindshare.”
True enough, but can a company built as a traditional hardware and software company really take on a vendor who has built its cloud business from the ground up? My feeling is that this is going to be a very difficult transition for Oracle, regardless of its market clout, precisely because it has built its business up to now as being the anti-cloud.
Time will tell if Oracle can compete, but my gut tells me this doomed to fail because Oracle while trying to move to the cloud still must protect its core software and hardware businesses — and it’s going to be tricky balancing those two competing requirements.
Photo courtesy of Oracle OpenWorld San Francisco 2009. Used under Creative Commons License.
June 7, 2012 11:20 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
comScore found that apps made gains over browser usage on mobile devices in its latest report, a somewhat surprising finding considering the promise of HTML5.
In its latest mobile numbers, comScore reports that while apps and browser usage each made gains in its April numbers report, the two are still so close, it’s impossible to call either one a clear winner — and that is likely to continue to be the case for some time to come.
For all the talk that Apps are going to be replaced by HTML5 in the browser, so far at least, the numbers don’t support that. In fact, apps had a nice little lift in the most recent report moving from 48.6 in January to 50. 2 in April, a rise of 1.6 percentage points.
Interestingly, browser use increased as well, although it didn’t go up quite as much moving from 48.5 percent in January to 49.0 percent in April. So the two went from being separated by a thin .1 percentage points in January to a more significant 1.2 percent separation in April.
It looks like for the short term Apps are winning, at least by a little bit. Smart phones at this point are driven by their app stores. One of the major considerations when you buy a smart phone today is the quality of the app store behind it. It’s one of the reasons why Apple is doing so well selling iPhones and why the Lumia 900 hasn’t made much headway yet.
Apple came up with the first mobile app store and it’s still the most popular. Microsoft is trying to build up its inventory and its developer ecosystem, but it still has a long way to go just yet. Android is somewhere in the middle.
But will apps always be the driving factor in our smart phone purchase? Not if Mozilla has any say in the matter. Mozilla and its Boot to Gecko phone is bound and determined to standardize using HTML5. Although it may feel like any other conventional smart phone, their apps are all web-based. As a Mozilla represenative told me last winter at the CeBIT trade fair in Hanover, Germany; “the web is the platform.”
The beauty of this approach from a development perspective is that you don’t have to create multiple versions of a program for the different phone operating systems. Instead, you just have to build in tweaks for individual phones.
And Mozill’a sophistication around this is growing. One of the advantage of using apps is that you can tap into the phone’s hardware at the OS level including the accelerometer, camera, compass and so forth. But The Verge reports that Mozilla has developed what it calls a Web API, the purpose of which is to be able to tap into the phone hardware in a similar manner. This is a big step because it puts browser apps much more on par with OS ones.
Mozilla still plans to use an “app store” even though the apps will be based on web standards, rather than a particular phone OS.
As these kinds of tools develop, it would make sense for developers and users to have a standardized way of building and using apps. No system would likely allow you to create one code base because of differences in phone hardware, but when it’s based on standards it’s going to simplify everything.
Proprietary phone operating systems aren’t going anywhere just yet. They are lucrative and as these numbers show users are very comfortable using the app system, but perhaps over time as HTML5 begins to catch up with OS-level functionality, we will witness a transition to web-based apps. It could happen.
Photo by richiec on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
June 5, 2012 2:36 PM
Posted by: Ron Miller
, data plans
, mobile business
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson predicted there would be data-only plans within two years, and this seems like a remarkably good idea, especially from the mouth of the AT&T CEO.
Last week, Engadget reported that AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told an investor conference that he expected data-only plans within two years.
Guys like Randall Stephenson don’t normally say things by accident. They don’t want to sound clever or clairvoyant. Their job is to deliver carefully scripted speeches designed to give a message to the industry. If Stephenson told an investor conference this, it probably wasn’t an off-the-cuff kind of statement. He wanted to throw the notion out there to see how it would fly.
The idea of data-only plans actually makes a lot of sense. Younger audiences may do 90 percent texting and very little voice and there are services such iMessage and TextFree, which can replace data text services. Others may use a Voice over IP service like Skype or Google Voice for calls, by-passing traditional network-voice calling altogether.
But does that matter? Data is data is data, right?
As the Associated Press reported, for many users, phone calls are not the primary purpose of the phone anymore. For many, the smart phone is less a phone and more an Internet device in your pocket. But the system right now is to separate voice, data and texting.
From what I’m reading into this, this would basically put all of these items in a single bucket and you would pay a fee for different levels of data. I hope that would mean that carriers would no longer design plans to discourage data usage, as is the case today.
Sandvine recently reported that streaming on mobile devices is exploding as people use popular services like YouTube, Netflix and Pandora. These services tend to be data-intensive. If you doubt me, consider that on a recent trip, unable to access WiFi, my son used his phone to listen to Pandora, only to find that in a few hours, he had used up most of his 200 MB plan. That’s going against how people want to use their phones because you can’t always rely on the availability of free WiFi.
Dave Caputo, CEO at Sandvine, says current systems aren’t meeting user needs and carriers need to get smarter about how they approach usage issues. “The fact that more video traffic is going to devices other than a PC should be a wake-up call that counting bytes is no longer sufficient for network planning. Communications Service Providers need to have detailed business intelligence on not only the devices being used but also the quality and length of the videos being watched so they can engineer for a high subscriber quality of experience and not simply adding capacity through continuous capital investment,” Caputo said.
It seems like going data-only would be a good first step. It would simplify billing and counting for the carriers and it would make life simpler for customers too because they wouldn’t need to try to track three things. Family data plans would be great too and parents and kids wouldn’t have to count texts — and businesses could have special data plans to meet business needs.
Overall, it sounds like a great idea. In fact, it’s so smart I can’t believe that it was Randall Stephenson who suggested it. AT&T has never been known as the most forward thinking company on the planet, but this is a good idea and it’s worth considering.
Photo by jesse? on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.
May 31, 2012 5:44 AM
Posted by: Ron Miller
, Tim Cook
Tim Cook had a coming out party of sorts this week at All Things Digital’s D10 Conference. More and more, the Apple CEO is finding his own way and coming out from behind the shadow of Steve Jobs. In a wide-ranging conversation, one of things he talked about was the change the tablet has brought to the industry.
Tim Cook says a tablet is more than a PC without a keyboard, and to be truly successful, they have to leave the PC legacy behind.
For starters, he marveled at the iPad’s popularity, not only in pure numbers, but across markets. He discussed how it appealed to consumers, businesses and students — and across all age groups too.
He also talked about the differences between the PC and the tablet, and the way to surface those differences was to lose the idea of thinking of it as a legacy PC device. As Paul Martiz, CEO at VMware stated last week in his EMC World keynote address, the idea of the original PC market was to automate the office of the 1970s.
As he pointed out, the entire PC metaphor mirrors that office from the desktop to files and folders to in-boxes and trash cans. He also indicated that metaphor has been carried out about as far as it can go, and that today’s new workers can no longer relate to the same type of approach, since they haven’t grown up with that office.
Cook said it would be a mistake to encumber the tablet with the legacy of the PC, and although he and Maritz weren’t speaking of exactly the same thing, the ideas are very similar. For Cook, the tablet comes to life when you take advantage of it as more than a keyboardless laptop.
And this is true. When you try to use the tablet as a laptop, I’ve found it doesn’t work all that well. I’ve connected a bluetooth keyboard for instance, because it’s hard to type quickly on the touch keyboard that is available on the iPad.
But that’s because if you’re typing in the conventional writing fashion, you’re probably not taking advantage of the strengths of the touch device. Cook said he believed that tablets would eventually surpass PCs in usage, a true post-PC era (although he didn’t use that term).
But I believe because the two devices have distinct strengths, they will continue to live side by side for some time into the future. That said, I’m continually surprised when I got to conferences, how many Apple products I see, and in particular how many folks are carrying an iPad as a primary device to take notes and even write.
People often throw around the word transformational these days, but Cook is right that the tablet has truly transformed the way we interact with devices and what we expect from devices.
I like to tell the story of a friend who showed his then three year old the first iPad. The child was instantly mesmerized by it and totally got it right away. What’s more, he then believed the whole world should be a touch screen and began touch other things like the TV and expect the same results.
I’ve done the same thing with my ATM, expecting it to be a touch screen, when it required I push the mechanical buttons.
Cook acknowledged that it was still early days for the tablet market, but it’s clear that Apple has a big head start. It’s also clear, that as his former boss once said, it’s much more than a keyboardless laptop — and people in the business trying to take away a slice of Apple’s marketshare would be wise to realize that.
Photo by sidduz on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.