Opinion

John C. Abell

Scratching the Surface: When is a tablet not a tablet?

Jun 20, 2012 15:38 UTC

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Microsoft’s huge announcement Monday that it was going into the consumer computer business is a turning point for the Redmond giant – a real gloves-off, damn-the-torpedoes moment. It’s also perhaps a grudging nod to Apple and Steve Jobs’s view that hardware and software need to develop together to get it right. Until now Microsoft has ceded hardware issues to other companies – Dell, HP, Acer, Samsung, etc. Now it will compete with them.

But the notion that “The Surface” – Microsoft’s new tablet PC unveiled Monday but not expected on the market until the end of the year – will take on Apple’s iPad is misguided.

We’re still in the early stages of the tablet era, and nobody can really claim to exactly define what a tablet is. But for me “tablet” means the computer is self-contained and mobile – you can use it standing up and even walking around. Whatever defects the iPad is perceived to have – starting with a software keyboard – its ease of use in contexts where a traditional clamshell computer can’t be used makes it the embodiment of a tablet.

Microsoft’s Surface does not seem to be cut from the same cloth. It’s more expensive model will run the heavyweight programs Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office, but the cover/keyboard and the kickstand – both of which are grounded tools – are chief among the attributes Microsoft touts.

Apple, Google and the price of world domination

Jun 13, 2012 18:19 UTC

In his first appearance at the World Wide Developer’s Conference as spiritual leader of the Apple faithful, CEO Tim Cook made it clear that he intends to not just further Steve Job’s vision but expand upon it. It’s never been more clear that Apple is intent on world domination.

Conspiracy theory? No. Try inescapable conclusion.

What else are we to make of Apple removing Google Maps from the iPhone? Google Maps was a core feature on the very first iPhone, but it will disappear in an iOS software update announced Monday at Apple’s developer conference.

Apple’s tension with Google is legendary. They began as friendly neighbors in largely complementary businesses – former Google CEO Eric Schmidt was even on Apple’s board. But after the introduction of the Android, Steve Jobs’s anger at Google’s entry into the mobile phone business was palpable.

Betwixt and between: Facebook’s act of desperation

Jun 5, 2012 20:26 UTC

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook is considering lowering the minimum membership age to include tweens. It raised eyebrows and kindled a new discussion about privacy and the propriety of inviting youngsters into what the company aspires to make the world’s biggest salesroom.

But I have a different concern: Soliciting children would be pretty strong evidence that Facebook needs a big boost to its already staggering 900 million membership to justify its valuation and business model. Having courted every early, middle and late adopter possible, there isn’t much low-hanging fruit for Facebook anymore. But courting tweens would inevitably invite scrutiny and regulation, since the prospect of cyberstalking is even more toxic that cyberbullying.

In other words, the potential rule change looks like an act of desperation. Coming off a miserable stock market debut, both the merits and atmospherics of this notion are decidedly bad.

Wall Street needs to shed Facebook’s shroud

May 30, 2012 20:50 UTC

As Facebook continues its search for a bottom after only eight trading days as a public company, there’s a much bigger problem than the $40 billion in market cap it has lost. The people behind Facebook’s dubious $100 billion-plus self-valuation were apparently as doubtful as the rest of us. At stake is the fate of Wall Street’s soul. To paraphrase Sir Thomas More’s line in A Man For All Seasons: “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world…” – but for Facebook?

Facebook’s interests are no more aligned with The Street’s than with its members‘. Wall Street needs to take the offense, see the handwriting on the wall and project itself as the ultimate defender of transparent, market principles, which is the only asset it has.

Facebook’s much-anticipated public launch has gone from bad to worse. It priced itself at the high range of $38 and opened 30 minutes late – some 20 of those with traders completely in the dark. Nasdaq has egg on its face and a possible liability in the tens of millions of dollars. Retail investors who bought into the hype are still losing money. Days after the May 18 launch, the tangled mess of positions that may or may not have been taken were still being unwound.

Less TV? Go ahead. Make my day.

May 23, 2012 20:39 UTC

The other day Glenn Britt, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable, got on the wrong side of history. He stuck with the television networks. On Monday he spoke out against Dish Network’s “Auto Hop,” which allows viewers to avoid the lifeblood of the TV ecosystem: ads. As Brian Stelter of the New York Times reported (emphasis added):

Mr. Britt said that if such ad-skipping became more prevalent, the reduction in ad revenue would be made up through higher subscriber fees or a lower total amount of production of television.

It got me to thinking. Maybe scaling back should be a promise instead of a threat. Television doesn’t serve social and cultural needs as it did generations ago, but what we get from it should be much better. And we already know how it can be, from the Web- and cable-savvy people disrupting a medium that disrupted everything.

Facebook’s passive-aggressive friendship

May 16, 2012 21:48 UTC

We are witnessing a fascinating changing-of-the-guard moment in tech. The old Internet, represented this week by once-mighty Yahoo, is fumbling with another leadership crisis it must solve before it can even think about restoring some semblance of relevance. The new Internet, Facebook, is ruled by a young man in a hoodie who is on the verge of creating a massive public company that, as was the nascent Yahoo back in the early ’90s, will be an Internet darling longer on potential than track record, but running hard on an open field.

The common thread might seem to be the “If it’s big, it’s gotta be BIG” illusion that got us all in trouble at the turn of the millennium, when Internet investment hysteria equated today’s eyeballs with tomorrow’s profits. But it’s always about the profits, and the people who promise them. This time that person is Mark Zuckerberg, who as the books on the Facebook IPO closed Tuesday, well in advance of Friday’s first trade, seems to have convinced Wall Street that his seven-year-old company could be worth more than $100 billion — the richest-ever launch in Silicon Valley.

When you value your company at 100 times revenues, investors are banking on the belief that Zuckerberg has perfected the unstable compound that is social abandon and advertiser hunger.

Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson’s forgivable sin

May 8, 2012 15:53 UTC

We’ve all had a little time to breathe after the disclosure last week that Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson embellished his resume. Despite saying he received an undergraduate computer science degree, he in fact did not. And while rising through several positions of increasing responsibility for years, he allowed those vetting his suitability to believe otherwise.

So far Yahoo has said Thompson was guilty of an “inadvertent error” and that it was reviewing the matter. Third Point, the activist shareholder who revealed what had apparently been hiding in plain sight and is trying to grab spots on Yahoo’s board, is now demanding that Yahoo fire Thompson.

Is this what’s best for Yahoo? I doubt it. Is Scott Thompson what’s best for Yahoo? I don’t know. It’s too early to say. And that’s the point.

Apple and the innovation dilemma

Apr 26, 2012 14:50 UTC

Just how long can Apple run the table in the post-Jobs era? It was simply a matter of time before those whispers turned into a question asked out loud. George Colony, the CEO of Forrester, a research and advisory firm that has followed the company as closely as anyone, is taking a particularly dim view of Apple’s future. In a blog post that was guaranteed to spark a conversation, Colony says Apple’s days as a market leader are numbered; its “momentum will carry it for 24-48 months” and then, absent a “charismatic leader” in the Jobs mold, it will devolve from “being a great company to being a good company.”

Colony doesn’t get too specific about what this means, but we know. It’s not just about market cap, or stock price or any other shareholder metric. Colony is talking about that combination of imagination and execution pixie dust that has made Apple the most significant high-tech company of the moment, and one of the most important ever.

It’s a pretty big statement, especially since Apple is on fire: $6 billion earned on $40 billion in revenues in the most recent quarter, the iPhone selling as briskly in the rest of the world now as it did in the United States for years, 65 million iPads sold in two years, more cash than it knows what to do with, and at least one analyst speculating that it’ll be a $1,000 stock before long.

Watch out: A hearts and minds battle for your wrist

Apr 20, 2012 11:05 UTC

A Kickstarter project for a device you wear on your wrist, but that needs a smartphone to do anything really interesting, has raised more than $5.3 million in eight days. This is this far and away the most anyone has ever raised on Kickstarter, and it’s happening – with a gadget in a category that has a pretty dismal track record – at a sales pace that would make even Apple sit up and take notice.

Mind you, Pebble, “The E-Paper Watch” looks very snazzy. At $115 (only 200 were available for $99, and it will retail for $150 when it goes on proper sale) it’s not terribly expensive. And there is a bit of the Kickstarter effect for things that get lots of favorable press: It’s great to get an insider deal and to get in on the ground floor on something cool. And to risk nothing: If the entrepreneur’s funding requirement isn’t met, you don’t get charged a penny.

Within two hours the people behind Pebble got what they asked for: a measly $100,000. By the time the funding round closes on May 19, they’re on pace to have more than $30 million in orders.

Even when Apple is losing, it wins

Apr 12, 2012 19:51 UTC

The Department of Justice, as anticipated, filed suit Wednesday against Apple and five of the Big Six publishers over alleged price-fixing. Three of those publishers have entered into a proposed settlement with the DOJ, but Apple is still on the hook.

We won’t know until we know whether Apple will win, lose or settle (and now there are 16 states piling on the charges, too), but in a way it’s a sort of hapless victim. If the DOJ theory is correct, Apple did participate in a sort of conspiracy, but one driven (again, according to the allegations) by publishers that were determined to keep controlling e-book prices. In the beginning of the e-book industry it was the publishers, not Apple, that had the upper hand.

It’s important to remember the climate in which this alleged conspiracy unfolded. Amazon, against publishers’ wishes, was going rogue with $10 e-books. The mammoth online retailer – which got its start in print books but essentially created the e-book business – was widely thought to be making nothing, or next to zero, on its proprietarily encoded e-books, the better to boost demand for the Kindle.

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