An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news, including a sudden and exciting possibility of an Adobe/Microsoft merger, the coming Windows Phone 7 launch, Microsoft's licensing of Palm patents, Verizon's deal to sell the iPhone in early 2011, Amazon's coming apps store for Android, Motorola's new lawsuit against Apple, and thoughts about Microsoft employee satisfaction with the company and with CEO Steve Ballmer.
Tech World Atwitter Over Possible Adobe/Microsoft Merger
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer met with Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen for about an hour this past week. Big deal, right? I mean, tech industry CEOs must meet all the time. They probably have special clubs, and a secret handshake. Actually, maybe it is a big deal. According to sources close to the companies, the meeting was generally about how they could partner to confront Apple in the mobile phone market. And of course, the word "partner" could very easily mean "merge" too, if you stretch the definition of the term enough and remember that Microsoft backed off from a potential purchase of Adobe years ago because of antitrust concerns. Concerns which, one has to think, would no longer be as pressing now given that Microsoft is getting its butt handed to it in the mobile devices market. Anyway, Ballmer is doing nothing to downplay the rumors. "Does anybody ever comment?" Ballmer asked during a conference where the Adobe/Microsoft rumor came up. "If you are going to do something, you say nothing. So I will be entirely consistent with standard CEO operating procedures." Yikes!
Microsoft CEO "Excited" By Windows Phone 7
Microsoft will officially launch Windows Phone 7 next week in New York City, though devices based on the new mobile OS won't ship until almost a month later. Speaking at a business conference in Madrid, Spain (as opposed, I suppose, to Madrid, New Mexico), Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer this week said that he was "excited" by Windows Phone 7. "We think we have pretty unique ideas and a unique perspective," he said. "I think our products will stand out compared to any others. We would not be launching the product if we did not feel good about its chances to do well." Yeah, Microsoft never does that. (KIN. Cough.) But seriously, folks. Windows Phone 7 is awesome. You're going to be blown away.
Practicing What It Preaches, Microsoft Licenses Smartphone Patents from Palm/Acacia
And speaking of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft this week signed a massive patent licensing deal with Acacia, ensuring that its upcoming smartphone OS won't be the subject of litigation (from those companies at least). Those patents—which number 74, if you can believe that—cover technologies present in various Palm and Palm-related smartphones, and Acacia is currently suing smartphone makers Apple, Motorola, RIM, Samsung, and others. So it's likely that Microsoft simply didn't want to undergo any painful legal process that could mar the Windows Phone 7 launch. Terms of the deal were undisclosed.
It's Semi-Official: Verizon Will Sell iPhone Soon
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, AT&T will soon lose its exclusive contract to sell Apple's successful iPhone in the US. Verizon Wireless, which is often credited with having the superior US-based data network, will soon begin selling a new version of the iPhone 4 that has been specially made for that network. According to the report, Apple's hardware partners (read: Sweatshops in China) will begin making the iPhone for Verizon in late 2010 and the devices will ship in the first quarter of 2011. The Verizon iPhone is expected to be physically identical to the current AT&T version, though you have to think some work on the current device's broken antenna and proximity sensor will occur as well. The move couldn't come quickly enough for Apple, which is quickly losing its lead against rival devices based on the Android OS. Currently, Android is outselling the iPhone in both the US and abroad, but Apple's installed base is still ahead, just barely: The gap is closing, and most expect the installed base of Android devices to surpass that of the iPhone as early as sometime next year. So expanding into the top wireless network in the US makes a lot of sense. On the other hand, Verizon is an Android champion, and the company sells several Android-based devices.
Amazon To Take on Android App Market
This one is much more interesting than it may at first appear: Online retail giant Amazon this week announced that it will open its own app store for smartphones running Google's Android OS. This will open up a new front in Amazon's war with Apple, of course, but the big news here, really, is that Amazon has an interesting chance here to become the de facto online store for what will certainly be the dominant smartphone platform of the future. As I noted in a recent article about the DROID X, an Android-based smartphone, the biggest single problem with the mobile OS is its store, which is horribly designed and contains all kinds of junk. Amazon, however, has expertise in this area, and if they handle this correctly you can expect many wireless carriers to make this store a default on their devices. Taken to the next logical extreme, maybe they could even do a deal with Google to become the Android marketplace. I think that makes tons of sense, and it puts the retail stuff in the hands of a company that already understands how this stuff works.
Now Motorola Sues Apple
OK, there's a lot of mobile news this week, sorry. I can't control that. But it's an interesting thing that suggests, I think, where the industry is heading. Adding to the plethora of smartphone- and mobile-related patent infringement lawsuits out there, Motorola this week sued Apple, alleging that the Cupertino cheaters are infringing 18 of its patents in its iPhone, iPad, and MacBook computers. "Apple's infringing activities have caused and will continue to cause Motorola irreparable harm," Motorola noted. Naturally.
Microsoft Employees Fiercely Proud of the Company. Ballmer? Not So Much
A survey of 1,000 Microsoft employees reveals that most of them "love" the company. But only 51 percent of them approve of CEO Steve Ballmer's performance. In fact, Microsoft's employees' feelings for the company are almost as positive as Apple's employees' feelings for their own company, and you have to think those guys are walking on air every day. Critics have been calling for Ballmer's ouster for some time, and many point to recent disappointments like Microsoft's mobile (lack of) strategy and its lackluster and slow response to the Apple iPad. But I'm not so sure. These are two product areas, in particular, where the future is still very much in flux and I do expect Microsoft to be a major player in both smartphones and tablet-type PC devices going forward. Plus Ballmer is one of the few remaining links to Microsoft's early days and he's an actual friend of Bill Gates, which I have to think would make ousting him difficult at best. If the next year or two don't see a turnaround in these two markets, maybe we can talk then.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded a new episode of the Windows Weekly podcast on Thursday. It should be available by the weekend on the Zune Marketplace, in iTunes, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
But Wait, There's More
My next book, Windows Phone Secrets, is now complete and will ship in late October.