MediaFile

Jobs gave us computers without pain

By Kevin Kelleher
The views expressed are his own.

Here is the memory that came up when I heard Steve Jobs was dead, the image that’s probably stuck in my mind, the cover to the mental photo album that will inevitably be retrieved whenever someone talks about him.

It’s January 2010. He’s sitting in a chair, black leather, comfy, Le Corbusier. He’s got this lonely Eero Saarinen table next to him – a mutant white tulip that failed to bloom properly –  but he’s ignoring it. He’s got his dumb, eternal mock turtleneck and blue jeans flooded a few inches above his running shoes, and his his left ankle is dangling in an ungainly fashion over his right knee.

He’s talking to you. But he’s not looking at you. His gaze – normally directed to some abstract space in the auditorium that he senses but that you can’t see – is given to the gadget in his lap. The gadget’s screen is projected into a larger screen on the back of stage, maybe 11 times as tall as Steve Jobs. Look at him: He’s like someone petting a beloved cat in his lap, only his pet is the iPad, and all his coddling is to show us what he thinks the future of computing is.

And the 18 or so months that have passed since the iPad launched have proven him right. The iPad still controls 80% of the North American tablet market, and is steadily eating away at the PC market – of which Apple has long been a fringe company commanding at best a 5% market share.

Yes, fringe. But one of Steve Jobs’ legacies is exploring the power of the fringe. In any given year of the past decade, Dell and HP may have sold more PC units running Microsoft Windows than Apple did, but neither company has sold them at the profit margin of Macbooks. The bottom-line financials are the same with iPhones vs. Android phones, and iPads vs. other tablets (including the Kindle Fire, which Amazon is selling at a loss).

Amazon lights a fire, Apple ices the cake

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?”

Tech wrap: Amazon fights iPad with Fire

Amazon.com Inc introduced its eagerly awaited tablet computer on Wednesday with a price tag that could make it the first strong competitor in a tablet market that has been dominated by Apple Inc’s iPad. The new device, priced at $199, may have the biggest impact on other makers of tablets and e-readers, such as Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Barnes & Noble Inc, maker of the Nook.

“It’s a Nook killer,” said Scot Wingo, chief executive of ChannelAdvisor, which helps merchants sell more on websites including Amazon.com. “And it’s a very compelling offering if you’re not in the Apple ecosystem already.”

See how Amazon’s Fire stacks up to Apple’s iPad 2. Also a cool graphic breaking down the top 4 tablets.

Maybe $400 heaters and $85,000 TVs will get consumers spending again

                                                                                          It was a confusing week to be a consumer electronics reporter. At the start, I was convinced that no one wants to spend on anything besides an iPad and by the end, I learned that there are people out there buying $85,000 TVs.

On Tuesday, Best Buy’s shares tanked on disappointing earnings. Our headline shouted “tech shoppers turn thrifty,”  and explained how nobody will buy a new flat-screen TV once they have bought their first one.

But if U.S. consumers won’t shell out for new flat screens, maybe they will buy high-end fans and heaters. That’s what James Dyson told me on Wednesday at the launch of the inventor’s latest gadget– a heater that costs $400, the Dyson Hot.

WSJ pushes further into video with free app

The Wall Street Journal has launched a new video application “WSJ Live” that pulls from the content from its stable of live programming.

WSJ Live is another push from the Journal into video programming — which represents some of its most valuable advertising inventory, said Alisa Bowen, general manager of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network. Ad inventory on the video network has been sold out and WSJ Live is free to watch on WSJ.com. That is part of the reason that the Journal plans to keep WSJ Live free of charge, unlike some of its other content, but that could change in the future, Bowen said.

Six advertisers have signed up for the sponsorship of the app: Aetna, AT&T, Citi Simplicity, Cognizant, FedEx, and Fidelity.

Tech wrap: Groupon rethinks IPO

Groupon called off an IPO roadshow slated for next week because of market volatility, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Internet coupons site is reassessing the timing for an offering on a week-by-week basis, the newspaper added, citing an unidentified source. Some on Wall Street have questioned Groupon’s financial disclosures, while others are concerned the company’s rapid growth is starting to slow in North America. Groupon CEO Andrew Mason sent a memo to employees recently that was widely reported in the media, in which he blasted critics in the press and on Wall Street.

Sprint filed a lawsuit to stop AT&T’s $39 billion purchase of T-Mobile USA in the same federal court that is to hear the Department of Justice’s case opposing the buyout. Sprint said the combination would lead to higher prices for consumers and create a duopoly between AT&T and Verizon Communications. Also, Sprint argued that if the deal goes through, a combined AT&T and T-Mobile would have the ability to use its control over roaming and spectrum, and its increased market position to exclude competitors.

Dell and China’s top search engine Baidu plan to jointly develop tablet computers and mobile phones, targeting the Chinese market dominated by Apple and Lenovo. Dell declined to give a timeline for the launch of the devices, but local media quoted sources saying that it may be as early as November. Baidu launched a new mobile application platform last week and offered a glimpse of its upcoming mobile operating system, which it hopes will serve a growing number of users accessing the Internet from smartphones and tablet computers.

Inkling launches digital textbooks 2.0 for iPads

Apple dominates the tablet market — its iOS tablet software accounted for more than 60 percent of the tablet market in the second quarter, while Google’s Android made up about 30 percent, according to Strategy Analytics. So it’s no surprise that more than 40 educational institutions  in the United States either require or recommend in-coming freshman or first-years come equipped with an iPad.

For example, that list includes  the medical schools at Brown, UC Irvine, Cornell and UCF; undergrads at Boston University, Abilene Christian University and Georgia Perimeter College; business students at Hult Business School, Lamar Business School and Seton Hill. Even prep schools are in on the act including South Kent, Princeton Day School and Madison Academy.

Certainly it’s appealing to slip an iPad into a backpack rather than massive tomes that students need to lug around campus.

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.