Posts Tagged ‘Tablets’

Is This Farewell to the BlackBerry?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

“They’re going to pry it out of my hands…”

That was President-Elect Obama protesting the idea of giving up his beloved BlackBerry. At one point, Obama suggested that retaining his BlackBerry was one way to stay connected to the real world.  “I’ve got to look for every opportunity to do that – ways that aren’t scripted, ways that aren’t controlled, ways where, you know, people aren’t just complimenting you or standing up when you enter into a room, ways of staying grounded,” he said.

Ultimately, the battle was won by the Secret Service and Obama’s legal team for fear that the device would be hacked and that a damaging national security breach could occur.

Now — five years after its manufacturer, Research in Motion (RIM), was hailed as one of the world’s leading technology companies, the Blackberry’s market share in the United States has fallen from 44 per cent in 2009 to a mere 10 per cent last year.

According to author James Surowiecki, “These days, it seems more like the SlackBerry.  The BlackBerry’s reputed addictiveness now looks like a myth; a recent study found that only a third of users planned to stick with it the next time they upgraded.  R.I.M.’s stock price is down 75 per cent in the past year, and two weeks ago the company was forced to bring in a new CEO.  The easy explanation for what happened to R.I.M. is that, like so many other companies, it got run over by Apple.  But the real problem is that the technology world changed, and R.I.M. didn’t.  The BlackBerry was designed for businesses.  Its true customers weren’t its users but the people who run corporate information-technology departments.  The BlackBerry gave them what they wanted most: reliability and security.  It was a closed system, running on its own network.  The phone’s settings couldn’t easily be tinkered with by ordinary users.  So businesses loved it, and R.I.M.’s assumption was that, once companies embraced the technology, consumers would, too”

Adoption of the BlackBerry can be compared to the latest technologies of the last century or so.  For example, the telegraph was initially used primarily by railroads, financial institutions, and big companies. Although the telephone became popular with consumers relatively quickly, it initially was a business tool.  Typewriters also were found primarily in offices.  The Internet had its origins as a means of communications by the military-industrial complex, and found an audience among academics and scientists.  The personal computer gained market dominance once IBM introduced models targeted squarely at businesses.

According to Surowiecki, “Even as the BlackBerry was at the height of its popularity, we were entering the age of what’s inelegantly called the consumerization of I.T., or simply Bring Your Own Device.  In this new era, technological diffusion started to flow the other way — from consumers to businesses.  Social media went from being an annoying fad to an unavoidable part of the way many businesses work.  Tablets, which many initially thought were just underpowered laptops, soon became common among salesmen, hospital staffs, and retailers.  So, too, with the iPhone and Androids.  They’ve always been targeted at consumers, and tend to come with stuff that I.T. departments hate, like all those extraneous apps.  Yet, because employees love them, businesses have adapted (and the iPhone and Androids have upgraded security to make themselves more business-friendly).  As a result, the iPhone and Androids now control more than half the corporate mobile market.”

The trend toward consumerization sounded a death knell for R.I.M., because the company had no idea about what consumers want. R.I.M. didn’t introduce a touch-screen phone until long after Apple; the device was a pale imitation of the iPhone.  Once seen as a ground-breaking success, the R.I.M. started to be perceived as offering too many choices and confusing model names.

“The workplace is changing, too,” Surowiecki said.  “The barrier between work and home has been eroded, and if people are going to have to be constantly connected they want at least to use their own phones.  And since workers often end up paying for their own devices, it can also help businesses cut costs.  One way or another, consumers are going to have more and more say over what technologies businesses adopt.  It’s a brave new world.  It’s just not the one that the BlackBerry was built for.”

Is the Timing Right for a Facebook IPO?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Facebook is contemplating the idea raising about $10 billion in an IPO that would value the predominant social-networking website at more than $100 billion.  At $10 billion, the offering would raise significantly more money than any other technology IPO, and Facebook expects investors to be eager to buy into the social-networking company.  The IPO would overshadow that of the previous record holder, Infineon Technologies AG, which generated $5.23 billion in its 1999 debut.  Agere Systems Inc., which raised $4.14 billion in 2000, currently occupies second place.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s 27-year-old founder and CEO, will undoubtedly be rewarded by the website’s rise.  A valuation of $100 billion will further increase Zuckerberg’s net worth which had earlier been estimated at $17 billion, according to Forbes magazine.

Facebook expects federal regulators to call for the firm to disclose its financial results by April 30, 2012 — if it doesn’t go public sooner.  Facebook chose to wait until next year to launch its IPO to give CEO Mark Zuckerberg extra time to add users and increase sales.  Facebook, which has a staggering 800 million users, is also increasing its focus on mobile technology, aiming to leverage the shift to smart phones and tablets.  The firm expects its next billion users to connect primarily via mobile devices, rather than desktop computers.

Zuckerberg noted that an IPO isn’t something he has spent “a lot of time on a day-to-day basis thinking about.  We’ve made this implicit promise to our investors and to our employees that by compensating them with equity and by giving them equity, that at some point we’re going to make that equity worth something publicly and in a liquid way.  Now, the promise isn’t that we’re going to do it on any kind of short-term time horizon.  The promise is that we’re going to build this company so that it’s great over the long term.  And that we’re always making these decisions for the long term, but at some point we’ll do that.

Writing in the New York Times’ “Deal Book” column, Steven M. Davidoff isn’t certain that this is the correct time for a Facebook IPO.  “Facebook is in a corner.  Another Internet hotshot, Groupon, is trading below its offering price, and the market for internet initial public offerings over all appears to be deflating.  The European sovereign debt crisis isn’t helping the market gloom.  The coming months are shaping up to be a bad time to undertake an IPO.  Still, Facebook will almost certainly have to go public during this time whether it wants to or not — and whether or not it can get a valuation of $100 billion or more in doing so.  And it’s partly Facebook’s fault — it just has too many shareholders.  Securities regulation requires a United States company with 500 or more shareholders of record to begin filing reports, including audited financial information, with the Securities and Exchange Commission four months after the year it exceeds this threshold.  Facebook most likely exceeded 500 shareholders this year.  By the end of April 2012, it will become subject to this heightened regulation and have to disclose a spate of confidential business information.”

What does the prospect of an IPO mean to potential investors? TechCrunch writer Josh Constine wasn’t optimistic in a post bluntly titled “Why Greedy Stockholders and a $100 Billion IPO Could Hurt Facebook.” Constine says that if Facebook becomes subject to the desire of its stockholders, the site will innovate less by making profit a higher priority than user experience.  For example, more ads are likely to pop up on users’ pages.  “Outside stockholders could detract from Facebook’s vision and momentum,” he wrote.  “They could push for faster returns, and pressure the company to display more ads, turn mobile into a direct revenue stream, and play it safe with product.  This might produce short-term gains, but could hamper what CEO Mark Zuckerberg has built into a core communications utility for the world.”

Is the Motorola Mobility-Google Marriage Made in Heaven?

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Google’s recently announced $12.5 billion acquisition of Chicago-based mobile phone maker Motorola Mobility could be different if Google CEO Larry Page keeps his promise to run the acquisition as “an independent business.”  “If you believe what they say, they’re going to leave the company alone and let it do what it has been doing,” said Steven Kaplan, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.  “If anything, maybe they would move resources here because the tech talent is less expensive and our taxes are lower (than California’s).”

There remains the question of the economic impact of the sale on Chicago’s economy, especially in northwest suburban Libertyville, IL, where Motorola Mobility has its sprawling campus.  If Google retains Motorola Mobility’s Illinois workforce, the move will represent a win for the state, giving it the bragging rights that come with being part of one of the world’s wealthiest and most entrepreneurial companies.  If Google moves Motorola Mobility to California, it will be a blow to Chicago’s northwest suburbs, where many of Mobility’s employees live.

Motorola Mobility has deep roots in the Chicago area, which go back to the 1928 founding of Galvin Manufacturing Corp. in Chicago.  The company, which was rechristened Motorola, pioneered early televisions and two-way radios during the World War II years.  Motorola helped lay the foundation for the mobile-phone industry, and demonstrated its original handset in 1973.  “Motorola was a pioneer in this business,” said Will Strauss, an analyst at Tempe, AZ-based Forward Concepts Co.  “They certainly have a lot of intellectual property.  It will certainly level the playing ground quite a bit. It’s going to give them an awful lot to defend Android with.” 

One reason for the purchase is the patents that Google will acquire as part of the acquisition.  Google pointed to patent disputes as important in its agreement to buy Motorola Mobility.  Apple, the iPhone’s manufacturer, and Microsoft, which created Windows Phone software, have targeted phones that run on Google’s Android system.  Lacking its own trove of patents to vie with Apple, Microsoft and other companies, Google and its hardware partners were targeted by suits aimed at slowing the adoption of Android smart phones.  Adding Motorola Mobility, with 17,000 patents, which has been inventing mobile-phone technology since the industry began, may help Google stanch the onslaught.

“The analogy to a nuclear arms race and mutually assured destruction is compelling,” said Ron Laurie, managing director of Inflexion Point Strategy LLC, which counsels companies on purchasing intellectual property.  Google and its rivals “look pretty evenly matched at the moment.  Google may have become a patent superpower.”

Google plans to continue to license its Android system to other smart phone makers, such as HTC, Samsung and LG. ”Many hardware partners have contributed to Android’s success and we look forward to continuing to work with all of them,” according to Page.  According to analysts, the Motorola deal is likely to help Google expedite its innovation in smart phones and tablets.

Bernstein Research analyst Pierre Ferragu believes the acquisition was “solely driven by the ongoing patent war and is an unambiguous positive for the Android ecosystem.  It is in the interest of Google to continue to offer a fully open Android platform with equal access to all manufacturers.  For Google, there is much more value in securing a major market share for Android than favoring Motorola against HTC and Samsung,” Ferragu wrote.

 Writing in The Business Insider, Henry Blodget predicts that the deal will be a “colossal disaster.”  According to Blodget, there are multiple reasons why this venture will fail.  “Google is a massive global software company with huge profit margins, genius engineers, extraordinarily high pay scales, and a near-monopoly on the most amazing advertising business the world has ever seen.  Motorola is a has-been, low-margin, global hardware-manufacturing business that operates at break-even, has 19,000 employees — 19,000!  Motorola, in other words, is a VAST company, one that will increase the size of Google by a staggering 60+ percent.  Mergers of this size rarely work well (or smoothly), even when managed by companies that are very experienced at making huge acquisitions (which Google isn’t).  Motorola does not have dominant share of the key businesses Google is buying: smart phones, tablets, and TV gadgets.  This means it does not have the weight necessary to push anyone around.  For example, Motorola only has a small slice of market share (10 percent) in its key business (smart-phones).   It’s nowhere in tablets.  The only way to make decent money in the hardware business is to have real leverage, and Motorola doesn’t have it.  The only thing that Google and Motorola have in common is that they are loosely considered ‘technology’ businesses.  This is not enough commonality for a massive merger like this to be a success without heroic integration efforts.  (Think AOL-Time Warner).”