The move

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

I finally took the plunge and moved to dedicated hosting for my blog and website. Until recently, wordpress.com was sufficient for what I wanted to do and my website was hosted by Google Sites. This was nice and free but I wanted to have greater control on the style of the blog and website and also utilize better themes and plugins. In addition, I am hoping to add more sections to the blog and also the website to make it meaningful. Hence the shift.

This WordPress blog will be around for a while until I fully transition all content and settings. All the old posts are already the new site. They will continue to be here also (indefinitely). Future posts will only be in the new location.

The rest of the website will take a bit longer to be fully active and functional.

Hope you patronize the dedicated site as much as this one.

The Android Situation

April 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

There has been quite a bit of press on Google tightening the screws on its Android OS and fundamentally altering the “openness” of it. Today’s Bloomberg Businessweek article adds lot more fuel to the fire. The article goes on to suggest that Android licensees are thinking or have already talked to DoJ on the matter. This has brought all the closet Android haters and Google haters in general out in the open. To them, this reveals a chink on the exploding Android ecosystem and one that can be exploited from a PR perspective. I thought it might be interesting to ponder on the topic with a post.

As an early disclaimer, I don’t own an Android device. I plan to get one in the near future to experience the platform just as I wanted to and currently enjoy the iOS based iPhone 3GS. I have done some personal Android app projects and like what I see. I think it has tremendous potential for the developer community and also the real capacity of taking the smartphone experience downstream to feature phones.

The Android OS has seen  growth unlike any other in the last couple of years. Thanks to a well baked OS with the backing of powerful Google, OEMs and ODMs have churned out customized versions of the OS on their devices. It has enabled tens of manufacturers to reach the market faster and utilize the exploding Android app market. Android has leveled the smartphone OS playing field that was being threatened to be completely monopolized by Apple’s iOS. In the process, it has forced Microsoft, Nokia and RIM to completely rethink and redo their smartphone strategies. Innovation has become a requirement in the smartphone wars, instead of being just an option.

Apple and Google have gone about their goals of world smartphone OS dominance in different ways. One approach is a closely monitored and moderated eco-system that has provided a lot of quality apps and very many happy end users. The Google approach has been much like other open source software- make a good base for the rest to build on.  This has also proven extremely successful. Unfortunately, the carriers and handset manufacturers who have adopted Android for their devices have made the system much less open to the end user and also far more cluttered. In addition, handset vendors and carriers have also been accused of holding back on OS updates to push more devices into the market which is definitely not how Google intended it to be.  This was not what Google wanted and hence the decision to delay the release of future Android builds to the open source community. This is a good move. It allows Google to bake the OS better and also ensure that the flagship devices are truly representative of the capability of the OS. It is not, as many have portrayed[1][2][3], an about turn in how they share Android with the world. It is a perfectly sensible way of releasing a better product to the community. If a few extra months of wait would result in a more polished experience which is relatively uniform across multiple devices, then why not?

Everyone should remember that Android is the only meaningful smartphone OS out there that is open. Everything else is closed. If it were not for Android, we really would not be having a smartphone alternative to the iOS worth talking about. We would have continued to live with Windows Mobile and the RIM of the old. Android has changed the ballgame and in a way that has benefited handset manufacturers, vendors, carriers, developers and ultimately the consumer. Google is too far committed to its “No Evil” mantra to become all draconian on us. Give them a chance to prove their point. They definitely deserve it.

How does AT-T’s purchase of T-Mobile affect us?

March 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

News just hit the wires that AT-T, the once largest, sometimes and recently  second largest telecommunications carrier in the US agreed to acquire T-Mobile, the 4th largest carrier with 33 million subscribers in a $39 billion dollar deal. This makes AT-T the definitive largest carrier by a big margin. It is early hours to speculate and confirm if the deal will pass the scrutiny of the antitrust folks but chances are the big telecom lobby will make sure it does. And when it does happen, it will mean 3 major carriers left standing (and one of them wobbly at that) and a bunch of fringe players whose valuation just jumped up at the prospect of Verizon scooping them. Metro PCS at less than $6 billion now seems a juicy target for Verizon.  While the 8 million subscribers that Metro PCS offers is much less than the 33 million from T-Mobile that AT-T just picked up, it is still a first step for Verizon. The added bonus of having a LTE network rollout in progress will help the Metro PCS-Verizon Wireless marriage, if it were to happen.  The speculation will start tomorrow and Metro PCS shareholders will definitely see the stock go up.

The implication of this event is significant. As recently as last week, rumors suggested that Sprint-Nextel, the third largest carrier with about 50 million subscribers was looking to merge or get acquired by T-Mobile to give the third and fourth place carriers some heft against AT-T and Verizon. This is particularly important in the era of exclusive handset agreements that can make or break multiple quarters for a carrier. The iPhone exclusivity is a case to point that effectively killed a lot of business for Sprint-Nextel and T-Mobile. The Verizon-Google-Motorola relationship was another. It made sense from a business standpoint for T-Mobile and Sprint-Nextel to merge although there were significant technological hurdles stemming from the completely different radio technologies used by the two (CDMA by Sprint and GSM by T-Mobile).

The synergies for AT-T and T-Mobile are much more than T-Mobile and Sprint-Nextel. Given that they have significant field test and operation presence out of Seattle and that they utilize similar wireless radio technologies, it makes for a relatively smoother transition. It also gives AT-T, extra spectrum for its LTE roll-out in the future.  But where does that leave the consumer?. T-Mobile has been consistently rated as the best in customer service while AT-T often finds itself at the bottom of the pile. T-Mobile has a loyal set of customers who have benefited by excellent data and messaging plans often times cheaper than AT-T and Verizon. What T-Mobile has lacked is the killer smartphones that have fueled the rise of AT-T in recent years and also a larger coverage map thanks to AT-T’s legacy. This will change now with AT-T and Verizon primarily duking it out for the best smartphones while Sprint-Nextel watches from the sidelines with the occasional exclusive HTC phone. But consumers also have only one national GSM operator to pick making AT-T a bigger behemoth than what it was with a lot more muscle. This will affect the all critical data plans moving forward. On the bright side, with the expanded network, voice calls on AT-T will be better.

Day After Update:

Metro PCS stock is up 5% (PCS). Leap Wireless, a similar CDMA operator is up 12% (LEAP). As expected, this hurts Sprint the most, not just the stock price which is down 15% (S) but also their future prospects (here).

And yes, its all about LTE spectrum.

Bill Gates and his second life

March 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

My first PC was an Intel 286 architecture based system that came preloaded with Windows 3.1. Since then, I have had a love-hate relationship with Microsoft. Their software is in a way, responsible for my career and who I am today. But I didn’t personally approve of the way Microsoft muscled their way into many segments of the business killing meaningful competition and innovation by the sheer strength of their OS domination [1][2][3][4]. I continued to use Microsoft software in those years but with growing disdain. Bill Gates was the villain of the day back then.

Everything changed when Gates stepped down from his role of CEO and subsequently as Chairman of Microsoft Corp. He is now the head of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the biggest and most influential charities in the world. With his foundation, Gates has redefined his role dramatically from what it used to be. From head nerd, he is now a head philanthropist. Not just giving significant chunks of his wealth, but taking a very active interest in trying to address key world problems in the areas of health and education with the same kind of innovative spirit that defined the creation of Microsoft. In this second life, Gates has truly made a difference that matters in a significantly profound way that is truly admirable. If I sound like a shill of Gates, I really am. Especially of his tremendous impact in Africa and Asia in trying to solve basic healthcare problems.

I have always argued about the real good of capitalism in enriching humanity. I have appreciated some of the things being done by billionaire philanthropists in truly sharing their wealth [1][2], however earned.  But Gates changed the game in a way unimagined. Not only did he seize the bull by the horns, he coaxed his fellow billionaires to also commit, via the giving pledge. Much was made of Buffett signing on, but equally remarkable is how Gates convinced many more such billionaires to commit vast sums of their fortunes to make the world a better place.

We all know it is one thing to talk about donating but another to truly commit financially to make a difference in the lives of others less privileged. The cynic would argue that Gates has far more wealth than the amount he has committed. But thats besides the point. There is real good being done by Gates. One that makes him a role model for all of us to admire and emulate. Not just the geek who dropped out to co-found one of the largest corporations in the world, but the one who figured it out post retirement.

In his second life, Bill Gates has actually managed the unthinkable. Craft a profile and career that might potentially rewrite his identity in the history books. Now that is truly spectacular.

Steve Jobs, Salesman Extraordinaire and the iPad 2

March 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last week, the world witnessed the launch of Apple’s second generation tablet device, the iPad2. What it also saw was one of the best presentations yet from their CEO and arguably the greatest salesman of this generation, Steven P. Jobs. If you want to save the trouble of reading the post, you are welcome to view the presentation here. Jobs unveiled a modest upgrade to the immensely popular iPad in his inimitable style that has been copied by many but mastered by none.

Prior to the event, there was speculation if Jobs would be present given his recent health issues. But surprising many, Jobs took stage at the Yerba Buena Center in downtown San Francisco to launch iPad2. Some have questioned[1][2] if the upgrades iPad2 has offered over iPad could have really been part of the first generation of the product and if the specs are comparable to the current and upcoming slew of Android tablets. But the way Jobs masterfully presented the product to the world, there is little doubt that this iteration will be as wildly successful if not better than the first generation of the product. Joshua Topolsky has a well written Editorial at Engadget explaining just why so. Avid Apple enthusiast John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame has a nice article that actually goes beyond his love for Apple and presents a valid case for why Apple will succeed with the iPad 2.

I wanted to dwell for a few lines on the presentation itself which was brilliant. Starting with the appearance of Jobs and the masterfully edited iPad montage and simple yet assertive slides on how much more popular the iPad was, compared to the competition, it was just fantastically done. Friends have referred me in the past to a wonderful blog titled Presentation Zen and the associated books[Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery][Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations][The Naked Presenter: Delivering Powerful Presentations With or Without Slides (Voices That Matter)] from its author, Garr Reynolds that lets us present much like Jobs. Reynolds in facts writes quite a bit about Jobs as seen here and here. The books are great but not everyone who has read these books and others[The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience] can present like Jobs and we all know that. Jobs, in my opinion is a one of a kind innovator and salesman. This video from the author of the Presentation Secrets book captures the gist of Job’s presentation greatness and how we can emulate it. We are truly privileged to see the man in action in our lifetimes. Remember, the tablet is something most of us really don’t need. Between the superphones of today and our laptops/desktops, there is really not that big a void the iPad fills. But it is to Apple and Jobs credit that they have convinced over 20 million people and counting, that they need the iPad. And with the launch of the iPad2, they will only conquer more such millions. And the launch presentation set the ball rolling just about perfectly!

Just Thinking- The $399 iPad

March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have always wanted to launch a speculative post series that poses tantalizing questions that are not entirely out of the realm of possibility. The first of them is a recently speculated possibility [1][2][3] of Apple dropping the price of the iPad to $399 at its event on March 2. The reason why this makes sense are as follows:

  1. Considering Apple’s margins with the iPad, $399 seems entirely possible and still profitable.
  2. Apple’s supply chain heroics are legendary including the purchase of bulk volume parts recently. They could use that to their favor here.
  3. A year since the launch of the original iPad, the Bill of Materials might be more in Apple’s favor.
  4. While Apple’s competitors [1][2] are trying to match the $499 cost and struggling to do so, Apple could lower the bar of entry on the iPad further, thereby decimating its competition.
  5. The upcoming app store changes for publishing apps and the 30% cut for Apple could more than make for the loss in margins on the iPad.

A move to $399 would really kill the competition in the short term until they can figure out a way to compete in price with the iPad. I had questioned Motorola’s pricing strategy in an earlier post and stick to the hypothesis that a true iPad killer or even rival would have to compete on specs, ease of use and price. While it is easy to match the former two, the issue of price is much harder to alleviate. Sanjay Jha, the CEO of Motorola Mobility went on record defending the pricing of Xoom and saying that it made perfect sense for a world class tablet that in some sense was better than the iPad. While he could be right in his defense of the quality of the product (the Xoom has released to relatively good reviews[1][2][3]), by not price competing with the vastly popular iPad, he was settling for a second place in a fledgling battle. This definitely was/ is a disappointment to Android enthusiasts. At $399, the new iPad would further strengthen this argument and make the Xoom a not so compelling buy.

It boils down to this: Will Apple want to hold onto its juicy margins with the iPad and be content with its current position or want to kill off the fledgling competition, once and for all?

The March 2 event will hopefully reveal the truth.

Update: Unfortunately, the speculation stayed unfounded. Apple just launched iPad 2 for the same price of $499. Remains the most compelling tablet in the market for the price.

Revisiting Cisco

February 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

A few months ago, I had written about the slow yet defined remaking of Cisco. Since then, the Silicon Valley stalwart has delivered three lukewarm quarters and has seen its stock stagnate against its nimbler competition. The Wall Street Journal wrote an interesting article questioning some of the very moves it had lauded over the years. Analysts have also questioned Cisco’s slowing its pace of innovation against its competitors in its core area of expertise, routers. I figured the time is ripe to revisit my post and see if anything has changed fundamentally.

For starters, some of the niche acquisitions have not panned out as planned. Some of this is obvious. While the Flip camera product line was extremely popular at the time of purchase, it is now challenged by smart phones that do everything the Flip does and more. In addition, the Flip is a relatively pricey single purpose device while smart phones are multi-utility and carry a similar price of entry (excluding monthly service costs, of course).  Cisco has been releasing newer models at a steady clip but the question is if the product has outlived its utility.

Cisco announced a tablet product, the Cius to capitalize on the popularity of the iPad. It wanted to target the product for businesses and enterprises that were well entrenched into the Cisco family of tools and services. On the face of it, this was a smart move. It still is, if Cisco can deliver not just a business solution but a universally appreciated productivity tool. Android tablets are expected to be all over the place this year and Cisco needs more than its suite of applications to sell the Cius. One of the Cius’s biggest selling points namely video conferencing might soon become a feature of iOS with the rumored front facing cameras in iPad 2. Also, when the Cius was announced, enterprises were still evaluating the iPad. Almost 8 months since then, the iPad is a certified blockbuster in board rooms and executives are clamoring for their own iPad. This, coupled with Apple’s increased attention to business customers and the Cius has indeed a big wall to climb.

Cisco continues to sell its routers and lots of them. In recent quarters, they have complained of a stagnant government segment (which might not improve much for the next few quarters considering how much of a budget hole most states are in). In addition, HP has started encroaching on some of the lower end router business. Cisco itself entered the server business recently with their Unified Computing System (UCS) and has made slow but steady inroads there. The pricey acquisition of Scientific Atlanta for its set-top box business gave a new business area for Cisco to get into but they have been reporting lower sales in the segment, where the main competitor Motorola has been doing well the last few quarters.

Overall, Cisco is going through a rough patch the last few months. It would be easy to blame its strategy of expanding into hitherto unknown segments but there was not much more to gain in their primary router business and the expansion made sense. Eventually, Cisco might shrug off a few of these acquisitions and settle down with just a few select successful ones. Until then, the San Jose behemoth deserves the benefit of doubt.

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