An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including an incredibly busy launch month, Surface 2 introduces its own special kind of confusion, an absolutely bonkers prediction for Microsoft, Lenovo considers putting BlackBerry out of its misery, Xbox 360 software sales up in September, iPhone 5C is a sheep in goat's clothing, and the Nexus 5 is both real and reasonably priced.
October is the busiest month in tech
With the Windows 8.1 launch barely behind us, we can soon turn our attention to next week's launch events, which include the Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2, new iPads and other Apple products, and several new devices from Nokia, including long-awaited phablet and tablet devices. The punch line? All of this stuff is happening on the very same day, Tuesday, October 22. But to be fair, it's always like this in October. We had Windows 8, Windows RT and Surface a year ago, and of course October 2003 will always go down in Windows history as possibly the craziest time ever (this was the PDC at which Microsoft launched Longhorn.) But after 20 years of this, I think I've earned the right to be that guy in the cop buddy movies who's always saying "I'm getting too old for this s#!t. Except of course that I still very much live for this s#!t.
With Surface 2 launch next week, less "RT" and more "Windows"
One of the more interesting side-stories around the Surface 2 launch next week is that the base device, called Surface 2 and running on ARM hardware, no longer uses the "RT" moniker in its name. A follow-up to last year's Surface RT, Surface 2 is an attempt to improve on many things, like performance, but also on consumer confusion. As it turns out, most people didn't understand what Windows RT even was. "There was some confusion in the market last year on the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro,” Surface product manager Jack Cowett said in an interview. "We want to help make it easier for people." So Surface 2 is just about "Windows," which in the new view at Microsoft is what I call the Metro environment. Surface Pro 2, meanwhile, can run both Windows apps and what we now call Windows desktop applications; the latter explaining the "Pro" part of the name, since only professionals will need such things going forward. I get what they're doing, but let's be honest. This is equally confusing. It's just another kind of confusing.
Crazy prediction of the week: Microsoft will dethrone Apple as world's most valuable company
Longboard Asset Management CEO Cole Wilcox made waves this week—which I assume was the point—when he predicted that Microsoft would dethrone Apple to once again become the world's most valuable company (as measured by market cap). Today, Apple is worth almost $460 billion, compared to $290 billion for Microsoft, and the days in which the two firms vied for the top spot are long gone. But Wilcox argues that Microsoft is well-positioned for some interesting market changes including cloud computing and supposed dual-boot devices (which would run both Windows and Android). It's that latter claim that has me thinking that Wilcox is just spewing smoke: As I said of dual-boot PCs a decade ago, anyone who is booting between two different OSes is just treading water, and not getting actual work done. And let's face it, when it comes to devices and services—Microsoft's core markets now—the one-time software giant isn't exactly doing well against entrenched competitors. I do think Microsoft has a solid future. But let's walk before we run.
Report: Lenovo takes a look at BlackBerry
The world's biggest PC maker is potentially interested in its own bid for beleaguered BlackBerry, and according to reports it has signed a non-disclosure agreement so that it can examine the firm's finances. The Wall Street Journal says that Lenovo is considering its own BlackBerry bid in order to grab a bigger piece of what it calls the "PC Plus" era, though the firm is also separately pushing its own line of Android-based phones at the moment, mostly in China. And irony alert, you may not even realize that Lenovo already makes phones, but it controls a bigger slice of the smart phone pie than does BlackBerry: In the most recent quarter, Lenovo accounted for 4.7 percent of the market, compared to 2.7 percent for BlackBerry.
Microsoft celebrates the (sort of) biggest-ever September for Xbox 360
And as you might expect, it all depends on how you look at it. Using the same logic Obi-Wan Kenobi used when he told Luke Skywalker that his father had been killed by Darth Vader (spoiler alert: Vader was in fact Skywalker's father), Microsoft this week crowed about the "biggest September" for Xbox 360 software sales, a whopping $401 million. But the firm also neatly declined to reveal how many actual consoles were sold in the month, since it was probably an all-time low. (It said, instead, that just 1.6 million Xbox 360s were sold so far in all of 2013. Yikes.) And the software sales milestone was due to a curious explosion of third party game releases, which, not to be a jerk about it, are all also available on other platforms: GTA V, FIFA 14, Madden NFL 14, Diablo III and NBA 2K14 all shipped in the month. Microsoft did, however, reveal one very interesting tidbit: It has now sold over 80 million Xbox 360 consoles since the product debuted in 2005, an annual run rate of just 10 million units. Here's to another round of futility with Xbox One.
The iPhone 5C is Apple's version of the Cadillac Cimarron
With multiple reports stating that Apple is cutting the manufacturing of its new iPhone 5C by up to one-half the original order, it's become increasingly clear that one of the two new iPhones the firm just released is turning into a major fiasco. (The iPhone 5S, by comparison, is indeed selling like the proverbial hotcakes. You just can't get Apple fans to stop buying the expensive stuff, I guess.) But while I've railed against the iPhone 5C's obvious copy-cat design—it's a Nokia Lumia device that runs iOS—I don't feel that it's a bad phone at all. It's just too expensive for what it is, and for once, Apple's customers understand that. The iPhone 5C is just last year's iPhone 5 in a plastic exterior that's cheaper for Apple to make. But because Apple isn't selling it at a lower price, potential customers, rightfully, feel like they're getting ripped off. This is the like the smart phone version of the Cadillac Cimarron from the 1980's, which was just a really expensive version of the horrible Chevy Cavalier. If Apple wants to stick to the high-end of the market, that's just fine. But you can only sell high-end products, not cheap plastic stuff that sells for a premium price. And the market is explaining that basic truth to Apple as we speak.
Looks like the Nexus 5 is real
Google's eagerly anticipated Nexus 5 smart phone appeared briefly on the firm's Google Play Store over the past 24 hours, but I guess the release was a bit premature, since the site has reverted to displaying the previous generation Nexus 4. But the brief showing of the new phone confirmed what many had hoped: That Google would continue with its low-ball, no-contract pricing even though the Nexus 5 is very much a high-end smart phone. And sure enough, the device will start at just $350 (again, no contract), which is an amazing deal for a phone that is basically a rebranded LG G2. That device, by the way, retails for $699.99 and up, though of course most people acquire it for about $200 with a two-year cellular contract. The Nexus 5 is interesting for many reasons—it will also include the next Android version, 4.4 "Kit Kat"—but here's to hoping that this kind of pricing structure takes off broadly. This is a fair price for a high-end phone.
But Wait, There's More
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