An often irreverent look at some of this week's other news ...
Microsoft Throws More Money at Employees
Back in the good old days—the 1980s and 1990s, though it feels like a million years ago—Microsoft employees could reap the rewards of the company's ever-growing stock, and many early employees became millionaires as the software giant rocketed to fame and fortune. And then maturity set in, as well as three major antitrust lawsuits, and a decade later, Microsoft's stock hasn't improved enough for employees to benefit in any appreciable way. So the company is finally doing something about it, though I'd note that it's probably too late, since many of their best former employees appear to be working at Google and other competitors already. (Clue: It's not just the money, Microsoft. It's the stagnant, top-heavy corporate environment.) So this year, Microsoft will shift part of employee stock awards into their base salary—in effect, giving them a raise. The most intriguing part of this plan is that "employees who work on products that are not doing well in key markets—most notably Windows Phone and Bing—will actually get bigger raises than employees in more comfortable markets, like Windows and Office. This, Microsoft hopes, will entice employees to get out of their comfort zones and strive to make the company's dogs perform better. Will it work? Nope. Because once those products do start performing better, these more aggressive employees will simply move on to the next big (i.e., struggling) thing. But it's nice to see some action occurring there, albeit about 5 years later than it needed to happen.
Tech Controversy of the Decade of the Week: iPhones, Android Handsets Track Your Movements
This week, researchers "discovered" that Apple and Google smartphones store data about where the devices have traveled, sending the noobisphere into a feeding frenzy of cross-linking and righteous indignation. I write "discovered" with quotes because Apple last year admitted that its devices do just that, and really when you look at this little news event, the only real surprise is that the information is stored, by default, in unencrypted form. (You can actually configure this through iTunes, at least for iPhones.) So here's the thing: You have this device that has a GPS chip in it, and if you've actually used the damn thing, you may have noticed the million little "Would you like us to use your location?" notifications. Is it really all that surprising that the device actually—gasp!—tracks your location? I mean, that is what this feature is designed for. Anyway, if you do care about the privacy aspects of this, and of course you should, I'd imagine that all this bad press will put an end to this little bit of silliness pretty quickly anyway. So mission accomplished, as we say.
iPad Shipment Forecasts Cut
Remember when the iPad was the darling of the tech industry and it was going to suddenly take over the PC market, kill the netbook for good, and then cure cancer just for the heck of it? No, me neither, but those days are apparently over. Thanks to far lower than expected iPad sales last quarter (which, by the way, is the second time that's happened in just four quarters), analysts are now cutting their forecasts for 2011 iPad shipments. Of course, they can't just say they were wrong, as they are virtually all the time, so instead they're going to blame the cuts on iPad shortages (which, by the way, are actually pretty much over, but let's not let reality get in the way of a good story). So let's follow the logic: Apple says it can't make enough iPads to satisfy demand. But the Apple Store, meanwhile, has cut the wait time on new iPads from two to four weeks to just one to two weeks, so either the demand is waning or supply is improving. But now, for some reason, those people who have been allegedly waiting to buy an iPad ... aren't going to buy an iPad? Yep, that's the logic. So iSuppli, which previously expected 43.7 million iPads sold in 2011, now says Apple will sell only 39.7 million. I don't think anything's really changed. I just think these people have no idea what they're talking about.
Amazon Cloud Goes Down for the Count, Takes Half the Web With It
I was literally just talking about Amazon's sudden ascendency to the top of the heap in cloud computing and how you never hear any stories about problems with the company's services, which seem to remain up all the time. And then Amazon's cloud services went down for the count this week, making me wonder if I am not, in fact, the Angel of Death. Amazon's Washington-area data center went down Thursday morning, which is bad enough, but because so many third-party services use Amazon's infrastructure, they experienced outages as well. Affected companies include Foursquare, Hootsuite, and others. (Some Amazon partners, such as Netflix and Zynga, experienced no problems, suggesting that their own services must hit other Amazon data centers.) I guess the lesson from all this, if there is one, is that any cloud service can experience outages and connectivity problems, and we still have a ways to go before these services can be truly reliable. The issue, of course, is that the Internet needs to be treated like a national utility, and like electricity or water, its needs to just be there all the time. Or maybe Amazon just needs more geographically diverse data centers.
Samsung Countersues Apple
Last week, Apple sued its partner Samsung for "slavishly" and "blatantly" copying its products in various Samsung smartphones and tablets. So, this week Samsung unleashed its promised legal retort, accusing Apple of infringing on 10 Samsung patents related to mobile technologies and noting that Apple's belligerence could lead to some component supply issues. Which is a real problem for Apple, actually, as Samsung supplies many of the components that Apple uses in its most popular products. So many, in fact, that Samsung is the largest supplier of such hardware to Apple, and Apple is Samsung's second largest customer overall (behind Sony). Apple, in fact, spent $5.7 billion on Samsung parts last year alone. I'm not saying Apple won't easily find other companies that are more than willing to do business with them, but this kind of attack should be seen for what it is: an attempt by Apple to curtail competition in a market—for so-called "media tablets"—that it currently has all to itself. As Apple saw before in the PC market and is seeing now with smartphones, being number one is a short-lived experience. Clearly, it would like for things not to change this time around.
AT&T Says T-Mobile Is a Joke and Thus Would Like to Purchase It for $39 Billion
You gotta love the crazy justifications that AT&T must use to convince US antitrust regulators that its purchase of T-Mobile is absolutely not a problem, one that will result in only two major wireless carriers in the United States (AT&T and Verizon) and one also-ran (Sprint). (The company submitted its defense of the proposed deal to the FCC this week.) So on the one hand, T-Mobile is already a non-event, a company with "no differentiated network position" and "suffering from a late transition to 3G." But on the other hand, AT&T absolutely needs T-Mobile in order to be competitive going forward, and all hell will break loose if it's not allowed to purchase the company. "AT&T's network-capacity challenges are here today ... AT&T must move more quickly." So which is it? Is T-Mobile a laggard? Or is T-Mobile just the shot in the arm AT&T needs to expand more quickly? I'm thinking it's more the former than the latter. And that begs the question: Couldn't AT&T use that $39 billion a bit more efficiently to shore up its own network?
Verizon vs. AT&T: Which Wireless Carrier Benefitted Most from the iPhone?
Last quarter was the first time period in which AT&T Wireless and Verizon both sold the iPhone, and naturally we want to know whether this affected AT&T, in particular, in a negative way. Verizon, for its part, sold 2.2 million iPhones in less than the eight weeks of the past quarter in which it had the device—far more than expected. So it must have really put a dent in AT&T then, right? Nope. A full 78 percent of iPhone activations on Verizon were to existing customers, so the majority were additive. And AT&T's iPhone numbers were phenomenal: The company activated a whopping 3.6 million iPhones in the quarter, and it claims that its iPhone subscribe "churn" was unaffected by Verizon getting the iPhone as well. So that's all well and good, but I think the real test is going to be when an all-new iPhone (let's call it the iPhone 5) appears later this year. This device is expected to ship in a single "world phone" version on both networks sometime around September. I'm guessing the scale is going to tip in Verizon's favor at that point.
Yahoo! Lashes Out at Microsoft for Poor Search Revenue
Although, I have to wonder whether the problem isn't a little closer to home. Just sayin', Yahoo! Anyway, Yahoo! this week said that Microsoft's adCenter, which is now powering ad sales via the Bing-based Yahoo! search, wasn't delivering the results it expected, and Yahoo! will delay the international rollout of the technology so that it can figure out what's wrong. You might recall that Yahoo! turned to Bing/adCenter-based technologies in the United States and Canada last August, and had planned to transition internationally throughout 2011. Those plans are now on hold, according to Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz. "Technical limitations in the current adCenter platform mean the click volume just isn't there yet," she said this week. "We'll transition the remaining paid search markets once we believe the changes are in place to yield the right results for our advertisers." It's looking like that won't happen until the end of 2011, at the earliest. Which is fine, because it's not as if Yahoo! is living on borrowed time or anything.
Apple Passes Nokia to Become Largest Handset Maker by Revenue
While Apple still sells far fewer mobile handsets than ailing industry giant Nokia, it already sells far more "real" smartphones than Nokia, and this month it surpassed Nokia, for the first time, from a revenues perspective. Apple made $11.9 billion in revenues for its iPhone product line in the most recent quarter, compared with $9.4 billion for Nokia, though I'd argue that the difference is even starker since Nokia's revenues are made up largely of non-smartphone handsets as well. (Apple only sells high-end smartphones, and sells no feature phones.) Worse for Nokia, Apple is of course trending up—its iPhone sales basically doubled year over year in the quarter, which is so illogical to be almost crazy—while Nokia is very much trending down. Hopefully by the time Nokia gets around to shipping its first Windows Phone handset, it will still have some customers.
Nokia Exceeds Expectations ... By Failing More Slowly than Expected
Speaking of Nokia, it's worth mentioning that the company just reported a better-than-expected profit of $500 million on revenues of $15.1 billion in the most recently completed quarter. I'm guessing this week's Windows Phone pact completion announcement with Microsoft (remember, it was "ahead of schedule") was timed exactly to occur with Nokia's quarterly results so that people could be distracted by some positive news. And that's because things really aren't that rosy at Nokia at all. The company warned of supply issues in the coming quarter due to the tsunami disruption at parts makers in Japan. Its overall handset market share slipped again, from 33 percent a year ago to 29 percent, but its smartphone market share fared even worse, dropping from 41 percent a year ago to just 26 percent this year. And you can expect that trend to continue and even accelerate. As I noted on the Windows Weekly podcast this week, the trouble with Microsoft and Nokia is that two turtles don't equal a rabbit: These guys need to move more quickly. A lot more quickly.
Reminder: SharePoint Boot Camp in Boston
Penton is also hosting a three-day SharePoint Boot Camp at Boston's Marriott Long Wharf on April 25-27, and I'm going to check it out on Tuesday, I believe. You can find out more about this event on the SharePoint Connections Coast to Coast Tour web site.
This Week, on the Windows Weekly Podcast
Leo and I recorded the latest episode of the Windows Weekly on schedule this week, so it should available for download by the end of the weekend on iTunes, the Zune Marketplace, and wherever else quality podcasts are found, in both audio and video formats.
But Wait, There's More