MediaFile

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

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.

Unlike the industrial age, it seems like anyone with the right idea and execution (and garage) can do it. Who could have imagined Apple would become the most significant handset maker in the world. Frankly, who could have imagined Apple at all? Or that Google would come up with mobile phone software that now sets the pace? Or even that Microsoft, when it decided it wanted to, would choke investor-beloved Netscape to death in no time flat?

Mergers can be a fast way of taking the lead or getting back on track. But they seem better suited for a zero-sum game, as when Sirius and XM radio tied up so satellite radio wouldn’t die because there wasn’t really room for two players at that stage of the tech’s evolution. Or when Thomson and Reuters combined to become as big as Bloomberg had become.

Tech wrap: Apple taps Eddy Cue to boost iAd, iCloud

Apple promoted veteran exec Eddy Cue to oversee Apple’s advertising service called iAd and iCloud, according to a leaked memo published by 9to5Mac. Cue played a major role in creating the Apple online store in 1998, the iTunes Music Store in 2003 and the App Store in 2008, new CEO Tim Cook said in the email to employees.

An Apple employee once again appeared to have lost an unreleased iPhone in a bar, CNET reported. Last year, a misplaced iPhone 4 pre-production model was bought by Gizmodo. Today, two men pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor theft charges relating to that 2010 incident. The latest missing iPhone prototype, which disappeared in San Francisco in late July of this year,  sparked a scramble by Apple security to recover the device over the next few days, CNET wrote, citing a source familiar with the investigation.

A U.S. judge rejected a jury award of $1.3 billion to Oracle in a copyright infringement lawsuit against SAP, paving the way for a possible new trial in a years-long legal dispute. In a ruling released on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton found that Oracle had proven actual damages of only $272 million. She called for a new trial unless Oracle agreed to accept that amount.

Tech wrap: Is the DoJ right to oppose the AT&T, T-Mobile deal?

The Justice Department sued to block AT&T’s $39 billion deal to buy T-Mobile USA because eliminating T-Mobile as a competitor would be disastrous for consumers and would raise prices, particularly because the smaller provider offers low prices, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit is a serious attempt to halt a “fundamentally flawed” deal, not a tactic to wring out-sized concessions from AT&T, a source familiar with the lawsuit said.

Dan Frommer says blocking the deal won’t help make service quality any better. A merger would create more spectrum to offer better, faster, more reliable service, Frommer writes. Also, its shortsighted to look at today’s pricing and market and use them as strict guides for the future, as voice and SMS service are disrupted by Internet technology, and as carriers try to charge more for 4G LTE access than they did for 3G access, Frommer added.

Breakingviews columnists Robert Cox, Robert Cyran and Richard Beales say the wireless industry in the U.S. is essentially a duopoly and that the DoJ suit against the AT&T, T-Mobile deal protects smaller providers.

Tech wrap: HP TouchPad’s second coming?

In an interview with Reuters, the head of HP’s PC business Todd Bradley gave the throngs of people who lined up outside stores to snap up discontinued and deeply discounted TouchPads hope that the company wouldn’t abandon them, saying the tablet could be resurrected. This, as the TouchPad was on track to become the second-best selling tablet of all time behind Apple’s iPad.

GigaOm’s Ryan Kim says HP’s revelation muddies the waters, making the biggest maker of PCs in the world seem indecisive, which hurts it’s stock price.

There are lessons to take away from HP’s TouchPad firesale, argues Jon Collins of The Register. Chief among them is that there’s a massive pent-up demand for tablets from any manufacturer at the expense low-end PC and netbook sales.

My iXperiences with Steve Jobs

By Esther Dyson
The opinions expressed are her own.

I don’t want to praise Steve Jobs prematurely, but he has always been ahead of our industry.

Basically, the regular rules don’t apply to him. Apple was never a democracy, but he’s leaving with a 97% employee approval rating, per www.glassdoor.com.  People at Apple don’t mix much, but they are generally happy and respect both the people they work with and the products they are making. Steve never listens to customers, yet somehow Apple’s products almost always delight customers. And the people in his stores do too. I remember bringing my mother, a lady of a certain age, into the Palo Alto Apple store to buy a mouse a couple of years ago. They treated her as if she were the most important customer in the world, and answered her questions with the greatest of respect.

I first met Steve back in 1979 or 1980, at Ben Rosen’s Personal Computer Forum (which I later bought and hosted); for some reason, it was at the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva that year (never again!). Regis McKenna, his PR agent then and for many years, set up the meeting. As I recall, the three of us sipped diet Cokes, served by a Playboy bunny. Even then, as a world traveler who had spent serious time in India, he had a better sense of the world outside educated, middle-class America than most techies.

Tech wrap: Apple after Jobs

So, Apple can survive without Steve Jobs as CEO after all. At least that’s the message that was sent by Apple investors today. Apple shares, which took a beating in after-hours trade on Wednesday after the company announced Jobs’s departure, stabilized on Thursday and were down about 1 percent. Investors, at least for now, appear convinced that Apple can keep churning out blockbuster products and oversized profits with new CEO Tim Cook in charge.

What will those new hit products be? Wired’s GadgetLab takes a look at some of the patents Apple has sought recently to get a sense for where the company could be heading next. The answer: smart TVs, mobile devices with hybrid LCD/e-ink displays and voice-controlled devices. Of course, Apple fans can also expect updates to many of the company’s existing hit products. The company is expected to release a new version of its popular iPhone this fall, and there have been news reports that the iPad could get a refresh this year as well. As some analysts have remarked, Apple’s product machine seems well intact and should be for the next few years.

Reuters correspondents Poornima Gupta and Peter Henderson take a closer look at the man responsible for transforming Apple into the tech juggernaut that it is today.  “Charismatic, visionary, ruthless, perfectionist, dictator – these are some of the words that people use to describe the larger-than-life figure of Jobs, who may be the biggest dreamer the technology world has ever known, but also a hard-edged businessman and negotiator through and through,” they write in a newsmaker piece.

Tim Cook promoted to…COO?

By Robert X. Cringely
The opinions expressed are his own.

I was about to board an airplane Wednesday when Apple announced the resignation of Steve Jobs as CEO and his replacement by Tim Cook. With a couple hours to think on my flight to Charleston it became clear to me that this story is far from over and the long-term leadership of Apple has not yet been determined.

There were rumblings a month ago about Apple board members interviewing possible successors to Steve Jobs. There’s nothing surprising in that, given Jobs’ poor health and the fact that the primary function of any board is hiring and firing CEOs. But it evidently didn’t go down well with Steve, perhaps because he had his own succession plan or simply because it showed a crack in Apple’s armor against news leaks. The story was quickly shot down.

Then a week ago the publication date of Walter Isaacson’s authorized biography of Steve Jobs was changed from March 6, 2012 to November 21, 2011. This shocked me, because the last I read Isaacson was still writing his book, which was due with the publisher, Simon & Schuster, in September. Huge biographies aren’t finished early or rushed to completion.  Figuring the book will still be finished in September, that it will take a month to print and ship the books, this means that the publisher’s part of this process — the copy editing, designing, formatting, building indexes and so forth — is being reduced from a normal minimum of at least six months to less than six weeks. It makes business sense to do this, sure, but I don’t think that’s enough: some external force is pushing the deadline.

Tim Cook’s memo to Apple staff

Whether new Apple CEO Tim Cook can live up to predecessor Steve Jobs’s reputation as the so-called “innovator-in-chief” will take some time to determine. But an email memo sent by Cook to Apple employees early Thursday shows he has no intention of steering Apple away from its current path. “Apple is not going to change. I cherish and celebrate Apple’s unique principles and values,” Cook said in the message, which was first published by Ars Technica. Read the full memo below:

Team:

I am looking forward to the amazing opportunity of serving as CEO of the most innovative company in the world. Joining Apple was the best decision I’ve ever made and it’s been the privilege of a lifetime to work for Apple and Steve for over 13 years. I share Steve’s optimism for Apple’s bright future.

Steve has been an incredible leader and mentor to me, as well as to the entire executive team and our amazing employees. We are really looking forward to Steve’s ongoing guidance and inspiration as our Chairman.

A world without Steve Jobs

By John Abell
The opinions expressed are his own.

In a way, Steve Jobs might have saved the best “One Last Thing” for last: The legendary and now former Apple CEO has left his company in fine hands and on a path of prospects as great as his final years at the helm have provided.

There is no question that the Man of the Hour is now Tim Cook — Apple’s man of the future. He and Jony Ive have been Jobs’ two right hands for ages. While Jobs himself is irreplaceable, nobody is indispensable. The lines of succession and responsibility have been carefully crafted and are as sleek as any piece of hardware Apple has ever designed.

Cook is no showman in the mold of Jobs, but that doesn’t matter. Jobs’ prime days were well behind him before his last two public appearances this year, at the WWDC and, serendipitously, at the Cupertino town council to pitch for Apple’s new headquarters.

Tech wrap: Google fined over drug ads

Google has agreed to pay $500 million to settle a probe into ads it accepted for online Canadian pharmacies selling drugs in the United States, the U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday. The forfeiture is one of the largest ever in the United States, according to the DOJ. It represents Google’s revenue from Canadian pharmacy advertisements to U.S. customers through Google’s AdWords program and Canadian pharmacies’ revenue from U.S. sales.

Apple won another battle in the mobile tech patent wars on Wednesday when a Dutch court ruled that Samsung Electronics must stop marketing three of its smartphone models in some European countries. Apple, which has conquered the high end of the phone market with its iPhone, argued that Samsung had infringed on three of its patents. The court ruled that Samsung smartphones Galaxy S, S II and Ace breached just one of Apple’s patents.

BlackBerry users tired of the narrow selection of apps available to them should welcome news that models expected next year will be able to run apps designed for Google’s Android mobile platform. According to a Bloomberg report, which cites three unnamed sources, Research in Motion plans to make its forthcoming BlackBerry models Android-compatible in an attempt to boost sales of its smartphone models and win back consumers. The Android Market currently offers more than 250,000 apps, nearly six times as many as RIM’s own app store, the article notes.