An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including the ongoing problem of "scam" apps in the Windows Store, HP's quarter is saved by strong PC sales, HP's layoffs dwarf Microsoft's, Sony doesn't understand why the PS 4 is doing so well, but I think I have the answer, and Apple's stock surges on speculation, as always.
Not news: Windows Store is full of scam apps
I wish this were news, in the sense that I wish it were a new development. But the dark underbelly of Microsoft's efforts to quickly establish an apps ecosystem that can rival those by market leaders Google and Apple is in fact a years-long problem. You may have seen recent reports about "scam" apps in the Windows Store, which sells apps for Windows 8/RT. These apps look like real apps—VLC Player, iTunes, whatever—but are in fact just ways to siphon money out of your pocket. The thing is, Microsoft has been allowing this crap in its store since it opened the Windows Phone Store back in 2010. And it continued the practice with the Windows Store in 2012. So it's good that people are calling attention to this, of course. But this isn't new, nor is it news. It's just a really, really shabby thing that Microsoft does to pump up its app numbers. But this practice also ensures that its own stores are second rate and always will be until they clean it up.
HP's quarter is saved ... by the PC?!
It's been so long since we've seen any good news about the PC industry that you're forgiven for not trusting this one. But this week, HP—formerly the biggest PC maker in the world—posted its quarterly financial results, which included a $985 million profit on revenues of $27.6 billion. The firm attributed the better-than-expected revenues to—wait for it—dramatically improved PC sales, which were up 12 percent. But it gets weirder: Even HP's sales of PCs to consumers were up, and the firm is now selling just about as many PCs as it did back in 2010, which, by the way, is from before the PC market downturn started. Does this mean PCs are rebounding? Actually, I do think it's a pretty good indication of where things are going. Not up, per se. But sideways to a sustainable place that is lower the PC sales peak.
As an aside...
There's been a lot of grumbling about Microsoft acquiring the only good parts of Nokia and then summarily laying off half of that workforce, with about 12,500 former Nokians getting the axe. HP is an example of how things could be worse: After making its own mammoth corporate acquisition of Autonomy for $11 billion in 2011, HP has laid off 34,000 employees, and it plans another 11,000 to 16,000 by the end of the year. HP is actually a lot bigger than Microsoft, with 317,500 employees right now. But still. Those are big numbers.
Even Sony doesn't understand why anyone buys the PS4
For video game fans, the past year's PR and market place battles between Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One have been fascinating, like watching Godzilla and King Kong square off on Monster Island. But the strangest thing about this is how effectively Sony—which, come on, is clueless and hasn't done anything right in over a decade—has so thoroughly beaten Microsoft so far in this round, especially when you consider how much better the Xbox One really is. Last week, Sony announced that it has now sold 10 million PS4s, which should be confusing to anyone who follows this market. But what's funny is that even Sony is confused by this. Sony executive Shuhei Yoshida told a video game publication this week that his company "does not completely understand" why the PS4 has attained this most unexpected level of sales. And the firm is "happy but nervous." Why nervous? Well, the PS4 sales rate has "defied conventional thinking" and Sony doesn't even know where all these customers are coming from or why they event bought a PS4. "Our instinct tells us we should be concerned about future sales," he said. "Are we exhausting all the core gamers? If we sell this number of units, there are no more consumers we can sell to. That's a really terrifying prospect." Like I said, Sony has no idea what it's doing. Apparently, nothing has changed and the PS4 is like them hitting the lottery. There is no rational explanation for this.
So why has the PS4 outperformed Xbox One so dramatically?
Armchair quarterbacks will point to the $100 price differential between the two consoles at launch, a situation that persisted until the mid-summer release of the Kinect-less Xbox One version. And sure, that's part of it. But that doesn't explain the nearly 2-to-1 sales differential between the two consoles. According to Nielsen statistics (US only), nearly one-third of PS4 buyers were not previous PlayStation users, they were Xbox 360 or Wii gamers. So this suggests that dissatisfaction with their previous consoles played a role. (And given the insane reliability problems with the Xbox 360, I could see that, I guess.) But I think the reason boils down to one thing, primarily: Microsoft thoroughly botched the messaging on the Xbox One last year and then never recovered, with its make-up efforts only serving to prove—to detractors—that the company just didn't get it. Microsoft's original plans for Xbox One were in many ways too complex and future-leaning, and then the quickness with which it backtracked when people complained indicated it didn't have the intestinal fortitude to trust its own playbook. In other words, it flip-flopped. And it looked stupid. So gamers went with PS4.
Apple hasn't released a truly new product in, what, years ... and its stock shoots through the roof
Let's recap. Apple's most successful product, the iPhone, hasn't been updated in almost a year. Its second most successful product, the iPad, ditto. Macs, whatever. It's always been a solid business. And ... that's Apple. So this company, which has resorted to feel-good advertising for several months now because it literally has no new products to sell, doesn't have a lot going on. It hasn't released a truly new product since, what? 2010? So it clearly is just gathering dust. Except that it's not: Apple stock is near a record high right now (adjusted for a recent stock split) simply because people are excited about new versions of existing products (iPhone, iPad) it will ship in the fall. And thanks to this bump, the firm is now worth over $600 billion. Six. Hundred. Billion. Dollars. It could probably buy Europe if it wanted to.
But Wait, There's More
Buy the books!
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