MediaFile

Rupert Murdoch’s traffic jam

It hasn’t been a great year for Rupert Murdoch. There was the phone-hacking scandal; the Parliamentary committee declaration that he was “not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company”; The Daily, his iPad publication, laying off a third of its staff over the summer; and a confession that, when it came to MySpace, “we screwed up in every possible way.”

To his credit, Murdoch started making bold bets on the Internet back when other media barons were timid – starting with his purchase of MySpace. The Daily was, at least in theory, an effort to “completely re-imagine our craft,” as Murdoch claimed.

There was also Murdoch’s resistance to Google, a contrarian wager that he could succeed in the Web era without Google’s help. In many ways Google (for better or worse) is the Internet’s most potent market maker, connecting eyeballs with websites as a mighty driver of traffic. But to Murdoch “Don’t Be Evil” Google was evil incarnate. Even though Murdoch has other papers that are indexed (including his U.S. flagship, the Wall Street Journal), he put the Times of London stories completely behind a paywall, blocking them from Google’s spiders, and likened what Google argued was the fair (and mutually beneficial) use of teaser-like snippets as theft.

The strategy: If some have to pay to read the Times, all should have to pay – there should be no exception to the rule. If no one could get anything for free, then they’d be willing (forced) to pay.

Murdoch wanted to be on the Internet, but not of it. He wanted to have it both ways – that’s the Murdoch way.

What happens if smartphones become commodities?

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published at PandoDaily.com

Remember Antennagate? Back in the summer of 2010, the brouhaha over reception glitches in the iPhone 4 dominated tech headlines for weeks and led to a class-action lawsuit and a $15-per-user settlement. In retrospect, the controversy seems meaningless, which is why I thought of it amid the current flap over Apple Maps.

Apple will survive the Maps controversy, just as it weathered Antennagate. But there is another trend affecting Apple that the announcement of the iPhone 5 revealed, a larger trend that will take much longer to play out: Smartphones are becoming too similar for their own good.

Only five years after Apple refashioned the smartphone with its touchscreen and its iOS software, smartphones are becoming a commodity. Any must-have feature that distinguishes one phone from the pack is quickly adopted by the pack itself. Fandroids and Apple fanboys will always argue passionately about which phone is superior, but for mainstream consumers, it’s getting harder to see that one brand’s phone is better than the others.

British TV app Zeebox comes stateside

Are your Facebook friends or Twitter followers tired of your incessant posts about The Voice or Game of Thrones? Enter Zeebox, a new app available in the U.S. catered to the most avid TV watchers to keep the conversation going while a show is being aired.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company  and its entertainment unit, NBC Universal, are investing in a start-up called “Zeebox”, which makes an app meant to be a so-called “second screen” used by viewers while they are watching television.

The companies declined to provide financial details of Comcast’s stake. UK TV provider BSkyB invested a reported $15 million in the company in January. The free app has already gained some popularity in the UK, where it has 1.5 million users signed up.

Why I won’t be getting an iPhone 5

Thousands of people will be “the first” to get the new iPhone 5 today. I won’t be among them. I’ve had every model of Apple’s revolutionary handset since it was first unveiled five years ago — upgrading even if my phone contract hadn’t expired yet — and, like the first-time parent of a toddler in a public place, am in a state of panic the moment I don’t know where my iPhone 4S is.

But I am skipping this upgrade. And while Apple is already setting sales records (again) with this launch, I’m seeing this milestone as the beginning of the end of the smartphone as the dominant mobile device in our daily lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not abandoning the iPhone, or any smartphone — at least not yet. I’m not even saying my iPhone 4S will be my last Apple handset, or that the smartphone won’t endure, even if only as a commoditized device.

As Apple’s Passbook hits the scene, Tello tries to end coupon envy

iPhone users get the closest thing Apple has made to a digital wallet on Wednesday with the release of iOS 6’s new Passbook app, which stores electronic coupons, loyalty cards and tickets.

But where will all those nifty new digital coupons come from?

For coffee shops, corner pizzerias and other small businesses that don’t have in-house engineers to create their own Passbook coupons, a new service launching Wednesday aims to make it easy.

PassTools is a Web-based service that lets businesses quickly create Passbook coupons with a few clicks. The service, which costs $99 a month for up to 1,000 Passbook coupons or tickets, is the latest product from Tello, a Silicon Valley start-up that has until now focused on an online customer-feedback service for businesses.

The new iPhone is a people’s evolution

Revolutions can be exciting, but sometimes evolution can be even more powerful. With the curtain drawn back today on what exactly the new iPhone will do (and will be called), Apple is entering a period of consolidating its lead. Its next trick is to outflank smartphone competitors as deftly as it has in the tablet wars.

The news on iPhone 5 Day began with some some telling iPad statistics: The tablet’s market share has grown from 62% to 68% year-over-year through June, despite strong (relatively speaking) competition from Amazon’s Kindle Fire. And the iPad accounts for a borderline inconceivable 91% of all web surfing with tablets.

Why did CEO Tim Cook drop these little tidbits before the main event? To force the audience, as only the great magicians can, to look “over there” at the shiny stats instead of “over here,” where the devices generating those stats aren’t much changed. And to telegraph his master plan.

Amazon and the tablet market’s 7 / 10 split

Amazon is going where few have dared to tread, announcing a “full size” tablet that takes on Apple directly — and has the gall to be cheaper than the iPad. The tablet highway is littered with the remains of wannabe iPad killers from big hardware names — Motorola, Blackberry, Samsung. Even Google, whose Android software powers the Amazon tablets, didn’t bother to poke the Cupertino giant when it released its Nexus 7, choosing to make a tablet a smidge under two inches smaller than the iPad.

Amazon’s new large tablet, the 8.9-inch Fire HD, has a slightly smaller screen than the iPad’s 9.7 inches. But the entry-level price, announced today, is $300 — $200 less than the iPad equivalent, and only $100 more than the industry standard price for the new 7-inch interlopers, pioneered by Amazon.

Why bother overtly taking on Apple? Because Amazon can — and almost only Amazon can.

Will Twitter’s uncanny luck ever run out?

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published at PandoDaily.com

This past week I heard two rational arguments on the fate of Twitter from two smart investors.

One was an argument that it’ll likely fail in its bid to become a public company. The logic went like this: Facebook, Groupon and Zynga have proven the private markets are fundamentally horrible at valuing companies. In the early stages, that doesn’t particularly matter. But when you get into pre-IPO secondary shares being bought and sold, it does. Just ask the people who bought pre-IPO shares of all three of those companies.

Twitter – with its relative lack of a business – was always a more dubious growth bet than those other three, buoyed by the sheer strength of its product. And now, there’s just no way it’s worth anything close to the $8 billion it was valued at at the last round, this person argued. If Facebook, Groupon and Zynga have all had a greater than 50 percent haircut – Twitter can’t even dream of going public now.

Apple and the burden of being a behemoth

In the annals of meaningless milestones, Apple’s latest achievement — surpassing Microsoft, circa 1999, as the largest U.S. company ever — is right up there. I mean, how high is up? How big is BIG? What does Apple win, Johnny!?

But it did get me to thinking again about the lifespan of successful tech and Internet companies. There seems to be a trajectory that grants them life in the fast lane for 10 to 20 years before they are overtaken, made obsolete or dismissed as boring. The general public is a punishing grader that deifies promising, charismatic kids with hoodies and burn rates (at least for a while) but dismisses massive companies — like Microsoft, Oracle, Silicon Graphics and IBM — that print money and arguably control the world but aren’t sexy.

Microsoft is, of course, more IBM than Palm or even Sony on my spectrum. It was one of the original Harvard dropout startups and among the first of them to mint wealthy employees (called Microsoft Millionaires). And in December 1999, at the height of the dot-com boom, Microsoft became worth $616.34 billion — more than any U.S. company had ever been. (By one metric it still holds the record: Apple would have to reach a market cap of $842.5 billion, Microsoft’s inflation-adjusted market cap, to be the clear winner of this meaningless milestone sweepstakes.)

Stick a fork in it: Dell is done

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on PandoDaily.com. It is being republished with permission.

Sometimes when life gets too stressful, I try to remind myself that things could be rougher. Sure, I’ve got a raucous toddler and three deadlines in two days, but at least I’m not a coal miner. At least I don’t toil in a factory that renders pink slime. And best of all, at least I’m not running a large American personal computer company that has no conceivable way of combating an existential threat to its business.

I highly recommend this as a stress-reducing technique: However ugly your life gets, just try to put yourself in Michael Dell’s shoes. Imagine what that’s like. Picture yourself at the helm of a company that rakes in $60 billion in annual revenue — and then watch the money evaporating, floating away on a post-PC cloud. You built this company on the theory that computers were a forever-business, that the world would never fall out of love with the PC, and that you would be the guy to supply their fix.