John C. Abell

The Apple doesn’t fall far from the threes

Oct 19, 2011 18:34 UTC
What goes up must come down. Right?

Well, maybe. But for those of you who think Apple is going the way of Netflix, or even Google for that matter — the former got severely punished over cavalierly raising prices and for Qwikster, the latter lost its steroidal stock mojo a few years ago — I’d think twice before I follow the herd to the exits.

You want to get wallow in some really bad tech news? Check out Yahoo’s dismal quarter. There’s an Exedrin headache for ya.

Apple has dipped back into the three hundreds and off historical highs. But with a mundane price to earnings ratio of 16:07 the Cupertino company hardly seems a candidate for bursting bubble syndrome. Compare that to Amazon, whose P/E is is a whopping 105.3, and even Google, which also prints money but tips the scales at 20.72.

That said, Apple gave the Street a reason — let’s call it an excuse, shall we? — for supply in its shares to outstrip demand after hours Tuesday when the company reported fiscal fourth quarter earnings. Part of the reason for the investor retreat was a rare miss in the rarified expectations of earnings for the maker of the iPhone and iPad. There was also a dip, relatively speaking, in the sales of iPhones. This is not really a novel effect, since Apple has conditioned us to expect a new model of the world’s most popular handset every year at about this time. CEO Tim Cook, pointing to the section of the park where he will hit a home run, says we should expect record iPhone sales in the December quarter, the holiday period and Apple’s Q1.

OK, we’ve all had a little fun. But it’s time to get serious. Any notion that Apple’s Q4, or iPhone 4 sales, are indicative of anything significant are, to use a highly technical financial term, loopy.

The feminine iStique

Oct 13, 2011 14:43 UTC

Katharine Herrup, friend and editor (depending on how this goes, not necessarily in that order, or either, for that matter) has challenged us with a simple question: Why aren’t there more über successful women in tech, and everywhere, for that matter?

Kat (I’ll get away with that for as long as I can) does so in a provocative and timely way by suggesting that the next Steve Jobs, the second coming of whom might be, ought to be, no reason shouldn’t be, a woman.

Long overdue. Glass ceilings are meant to be broken. Right on.

But … as I began reading her post something disturbed me straight away. It wasn’t the stirrings of latent male chauvinism, though it did occur to me that any contrarianism might be construed as such, and who’s to say what evil lurks in the hearts of men? And then there was this friend/editor thing. I questioned myself: I have a daughter, and very much wanted our only child to be a girl, and told people who asked why (even though it was none of their business), it’s because girls are better people.

More like a whisper than a bang

Oct 6, 2011 16:04 UTC

By John Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

(This column was written hours before the tragic news of Steve Jobs’ passing. For my thoughts on him, please see ‘We All Called Him Steve …‘ and for my reaction to his stepping down as Apple CEO in August, ‘A World Without Steve Jobs‘.)

There was lots of digerati (and shareholder) angst over the release of the iPhone 4S — so much I won’t even bother linking to any of it. It’s all over every social network, Twitter and the talk of suddenly all-knowing TV anchors.

Look: The iPhone is an experience delivery system. Hardware is perfect when it disappears, doesn’t get in the way, expedites. In and of itself a computer is a brick. The operating system and the apps — that’s where it’s at. That’s why the iPhone has such resonance, not because it looks cooler than anything else out there. It’s the same with tablets, which is the primary reason the iPad rules.

We all called him Steve …

Oct 6, 2011 02:08 UTC

By John Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

I was a very late comer to the Apple party. My first taste was a G4 laptop, $1,100 from Amazon.com. Prior to that, my close friend and colleague Samer Farha, the Apple evangelist in my life (we all had one) gently prodded me in the direction of Cupertino, with little success until I finally, and suddenly succumbed — just as one can’t ride a bicycle until one can, and then there is no turning back.

Samer would tell me, people aspire to own a Mac they way they aspire to own a BMW. I would say, but they don’t, not everyone does. I owned many a Win-Tel machine, even built a couple myself, and the thought that my mastery of Windows could possibly be challenged by the easy living that was the Apple way was both laughable and, in some strange way, unmanly.

But Samer is the smartest man in the room. So, I listened …

All this was before even Steve had revolutionized, well, everything. The iPod, your music collection in your pocket, was years off. “Smartphone” wasn’t a word yet. Tablets were stupid, phony non-computers Microsoft was saying would change the world blah blah blah …

Amazon lights a fire, Apple ices the cake

Sep 29, 2011 13:11 UTC
That was the week that was.

I can imagine saying that in years to come about the eight days that began on Wednesday with Amazon’s paradigm-busting entry into the tablet business, its deeper walk into the cheaper e-ink e-reader woods with less expensive Kindles, bookended next Wednesday by Apple’s latest iPhone(s) reveal.

Both unveilings have lots to do with “everywhere” consumption, and both have aspects of evolution. But a counter-revolution began this week, and we’ll be talking about for years to come.

Dare I say it: Amazon’s $199 “Fire” tablet may not make us forget Apple’s tablet, but it could very well be the first credible answer to the question: “Why wouldn’t I buy an iPad?”

What would Netflix do?

Sep 20, 2011 21:22 UTC

By John C. Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

There was a time, actually not that very long ago, when the headline for this post would have been an excellent question. NetFlix enjoys customer loyalty which rivals the rarified levels of Apple. Its stock price was setting records — so much so that some head-scratching Street types couldn’t exactly explain why, without resorting to the sort of “good will,” “first adopter,” and “eyeballs” metrics that got us all into trouble a decade ago. Netflix even got extra cred with the Netflix Prize competition, a $1 million bounty for anyone who could just incrementally improve the service’s legendary recommendation algorithm.

It short, it looked like Netflix could do no wrong. It was the Google of streaming media. It created a DVD revolution, allowing couch potatoes to travel no further than their mailboxes for DVDs, killing off the Blockbusters of the world (which had killed off the local video stores) — and then it disrupted its own disruption. Netflix is already a verb — like Google — and was on track to become an ultimate comparative entity: Soon there would be phrases like [your rock star company here] is the Netflix of [insert vertical].

But a funny thing happened on the way to world domination.

First Netflix pissed off everyone with higher prices by turning a buffet plan for streaming plus DVDs by mail into two a la carte offerings, at a significantly higher cost for a woefully underestimated number of customers who still wanted access to both services. This untelegraphed move was accompanied by a poorly-received explanation about why, even if this wasn’t a good deal for customers, it just had to be.

Windows 8: Worth the wait, but is it too late?

Sep 14, 2011 19:55 UTC

The release of Windows 8 is now in the home stretch, and the vast majority of the world’s computers are about to begin getting the digital equivalent of a complete makeover.

The newest form of Windows — which, despite all the attention Apple gets, still operates more than 90 percent of computers — has a couple of things going for it. It supposedly will run anything that runs on Windows 7 so there won’t be that awful, elongated period when software is suddenly no longer compatible with your machine.

More importantly, Windows 8 borrows heavily from the relatively new user interface metaphors for tablets, which will make it much more palatable for tablet makers to offer Microsoft what could be a third strong contender (along with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android) on this surging device vertical.

Whither AOL and Yahoo?

Sep 8, 2011 16:35 UTC

About 1,000 years ago, while I was working at Reuters, I did a couple of really smart things: I bought shares in a dial-up Internet company with a mere million or so users, and a web search and catalogue service with a very funny name.

It wasn’t 1,000 years ago, of course, but it sure feels like it has been that long since buying shares in AOL or Yahoo would have been considered genius.

These now-iconic corporations more or less defined the heady, early days of the Internet boom, both as investments and as vast unexplored digital continents which, a few minutes before, hadn’t even existed.

The future is calling, AT&T, and it’s not T-Mobile

Sep 2, 2011 15:44 UTC

By John C Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger is shaping up to be an iconic business case saga and a judicial milestone. Who would have thought that nearly 40 years after the U.S. Department of Justice convinced a judge to break up “Ma Bell” that the DoJ might be able to convince another judge to tell that same company you can’t get too big again?

But of course AT&T can get big again, and become so dominant again that it is a feared monopoly that must be dealt with — if it should be so lucky. But getting there will take build, not buy.

Getting so large that you could control a market to the real or potential peril of the consuming public happened a lot in the industrial age, with railroads and oil, and even the movie business, which was ordered in 1948 to divest itself of theaters. But that was at a snail’s pace. These days eyebrows are raised by the Microsofts and Apples and Googles of the world who manage, in what seems like a blink of an eye, to provide goods or services so many people want that competitors have a hard time keeping up.

Irene-ocalypse: not ‘Lord of the Flies’ quite yet

Aug 31, 2011 21:25 UTC

For the past few days I’ve been engaged in a social experiment, not of my choosing, and possible only in the digital age. Hurricane Irene knocked out power, and, more importantly, most Internet service in my modest corner of Westchester County, New York — rendering one of the most affluent parts of the country a backwoods, digital have-not.

Until today even Metro North couldn’t brave these climes. Yet life and work must go on. Stitching together solutions to do what has become as natural as breathing is now a challenge.

Welcome to Basecamp Starbucks.

As I wrote on Sunday (and published only when I could, on Monday, when some Internet returned to these parts here), I actually am thriving in this partial return to the dark ages. The peace and quiet that cannot be artificially introduced is intoxicating — an adopted child of the Internet age whose formative years were (ahem) somewhat pre-digital.