Category Archives: Tech Companies

Idiot post of the day – The Roundup

I’ll keep updating this one as and when they come in. And boy, are they coming in. With the honourable exception of David Pogue, everyone seems to have lost all their critical faculties, journalistic skills, and in some cases basic ability to write English sentences which parse.

First up, Max Tatton-Brown, in his post entitled “Why the Nexus One is not ‘just another Android phone’“, which he begins with:

“Okay, let’s make this clear: The Nexus is just another Android phone.”

It isn’t just another Android phone. But then it is! OK. But it’s from Google, and they play a canny, long-term game which leads to success:

“Furthermore, Google are notorious long-game thinkers. They gradually manoeuvre their way around the industry, insidiously implanting the importance of their products into your everyday lifestyle. It’s viral. For example, Wave. I’m not writing this on Wave, therefore many will be eyeing it up as a bit of a flop. Nonsense, look at the next few years and then we’ll talk.”

Yeah, they’re great at the longterm. I mean look at the success of Lively. Or how they’ve defeated Twitter with Jaiku. And how Orkut has beaten off on the threat of Facebook. Google Video was so successful that who remembers YouTube? Google Notebook is now where everyone stores their notes.

And I’m still playing Dodgeball.

Meanwhile, even the BBC is getting caught up. Maggie Shiels begins her post with:

“Google has said it is defending its online advertising empire with the launch of its own brand mobile phone.”

She then goes on to quote not one but SIX people to confirm this.

Only one problem: None of them work for Google. I haven’t read a single quote from anyone at Google saying it is selling the Nexus One to defend its ad empire. Certainly, there is no such quote on this story.

When I was writing news, my editor would have knocked seven shades of shit out of me for saying that someone said X without a direct quote which said X, preferably in the next paragraph.

More idiocy, no doubt, to follow. I’ll just update this post shall I?

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Idiot post of the day (The Return of TechCrunch edition)

OK, I wasn’t going to do this. Even I had got bored. But MG Siegler’s post on how “Apple and Google just tag teamed the US Carriers” is just breathtakingly stupid.

MG, I know that you’re desperate to justify your earlier breathless hyping of the Nexus One, but seriously – contradicting yourself in the same sentence is pretty good going. To wit:

“But Google goes farther, because they already have multiple carriers (in this case, T-Mobile and Verizon, coming this Spring).”

If it’s “coming this spring”, they don’t ALREADY have multiple carriers. They “will have” or “plan to have” or “will be launching on”. They may even have “already signed up”. But they don’t “already have”.

Seriously, this is basic English we’re talking about here.

Then there’s this:

“Google has these guys in their pockets because it’s not like they’re going to team up with Apple to make a device (Motorola tried, and failed).”

Yeah, because Google can STOP HTC and Motorola building Android phones. They really really need Google! Oh no wait, they can’t! It’s free! It’s open source!

Of course Motorola and HTC are going to appear on stage with Google. They are a major, important partner. But claiming this means that Google has them in its pockets is just bullshit.

And finally…

“They’re taking the traditional mobile model in this country, where you first choose your carrier, and then choose your phone, and turning it upside down.”

Yes, because people are so dumb that they can’t chose things this way round for themselves. No one ever thought of, say, going to AT&T because they wanted an iPhone. Or Verizon because they wanted a Droid.

Or an N97. Actually, scrap that, no one wanted an N97, on any network.

(Image from Laughing Squid)

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Idiot post of the day

Sadly, because I generally enjoy his writing, it’s from Robert Cringely:

“iPhone and Android will be here for the long haul with the question being which of Symbian, Palm, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry will die?”

Answer: None of them. There are more than 1.25 billion phones sold every year. Even a 1% market share would mean selling more phones than Apple did in 2008. Did Apple die in 2008, thanks to the lack of success of the iPhone? No.

People like Cringely simply do not understand the scale of the phone market worldwide. In 2008, more new phones were sold than the entire number of computers, old and new, that were in use.

Think about that for a second, Bob. Actually, think about it all day. Because then, you might understand that the phone market is not the same as the computer market.

(Image from Sylvar)

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Google’s “business strategy” versus Apple’s actual, real business

If you ever wanted to read something which almost perfectly encapsulates the utter lack of business reality endemic in new media, Kim-Mai Cutler’s post on the Nexus One is it. In particular, this sentence:

“Overall, incrementalism seems to be working for Google. A couple stats released today bear out evidence of that success.”

Success? What success? How much money has Google made from Android? Nothing – it’s spent millions. How much has Apple made from iPhone? Billions.

Game over.

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2010: Time to redefine “success” in online business

What does “success” mean for a company in online media? Reading through comments online, it’s obvious that it doesn’t really tally with the way that we view success in most kinds of business.

What got me thinking about this was a comment by Clint Boulton on Google Watch:

“That’s why Google continues to target successful companies like Yelp and online real estate specialist Trulia. Google sees the potential to expand its online ad companies. Microsoft either doesn’t see this, or prefers to pump money elsewhere.”

What’s interesting about this comment is that neither Yelp nor Trulia have made any profits yet. They are both “successful” only in the sense that they have built audience, not in turning that audience into meaningful revenue.

“The comments that praise Microsoft for its frugality regarding Internet businesses have the tenor of ‘well, Google buys companies that don’t make any money.’ Spoken like people who don’t believe that every Web service can be infused with online ads.”

Care to tally up exactly how much money YouTube has lost Google so far? year-after-year, add that figure to the cost of acquisition, and then work out how much the company needs to make on ads via the service over, say, the next ten years to make that money back?

Let’s be conservative and say that YouTube has lost $100m per year since it was bought (and note that Credit Suisse estimated its losses for 2009 alone at $475m). That, plus the $1.65 billion cost of buying it, will peg the cost to Google so far at around $2 billion.

This means that for Google to turn a single cent of profit on the deal by 2020, it needs to average $200m in profit on YouTube alone every year between now and then. With NONE of that profit being reinvested in infrastructure, services and so on.

Google is awash with cash because of ad revenue from its SEARCH pages. Nothing else makes significant money, and the vast majority of its other services make losses. In Search, Google is a massive success. By conventional business logic, virtually everything else it does is a massive, massive failure.

In a sense, Clint it right: Every web service can be suffused with online ads. However, that doesn’t mean they are profitable, especially in the case of bandwidth-intensive services like YouTube. Ads are not magic pixie dust. And perhaps it’s time we stopped viewing a service as a success just because it has a lot of users.

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2009: The year tech blogging died

Most years are full of idiocy. But I think I can make a decent case for this year being the worst on record, at least from the perspective of writing about technology.

This was the year when tech writing plumbed new depths of stupidity, repetition, and sheer unadulterated circle jerking. It was the year when blogs picked up each other’s stuff, no matter how ridiculous, and strove to take it to the next level of dumb. You get what you pay for – and with tech writing, nothing could be more true.

There were three perfect examples of the tech blog world’s increasing descent into infantilism and irrelevancy. These were, in no particular order, the CrunchPad; the Apple Tablet; and pretty much everything written about the iPhone and market share.

Example One: The CrunchPad
TechCrunch – which almost defines awful tech blogging on a daily basis – was guilty of probably the worst example of narcissistic stupidity with its foray into actually trying to make a product.

Now making products is hard. Very hard. I have nothing but admiration for people who get up off their behinds and ship a product, because it’s a tough thing to do. Even the shittiest products usually take thousands of man-hours and thought to bring to market. In fifteen years of writing about tech, I’ve been privileged to know hundreds of people at companies all over the world who have managed to ship stuff. It’s tough.

So when Mike Arrington – the blowhard’s blowhard – decided he was going to create a product – the CrunchPad –  ship it at an absurd price point, and all within the space of a year I was prepared to applaud. Then I remembered this was Arrington we were talking about, and knew without a moment’s uncertainty that it was going to implode at some point.

Lo and behold, it imploded. Why? Because making stuff is hard and writing about it is easy, and Arrington confused being a big wonk in the tiny world of tech media with actually being a serious businessman capable of harnessing the energy to ship a product.

What the CrunchPad demonstrated perfectly was the tech blog world’s hubris and utter lack of perspective. Just because you can bang out 200 words about what some drunk coder from Company X said at a party doesn’t make you capable of defining, designing and building a product – nor of harnessing other people to do so. And, more importantly, making a product which you and your tech blogging friends think is cool is an almost guaranteed method of creating something that no one else in the world will want.

Example two: The Apple “Tablet”
More words were probably written about this nonexistent product in 2009 than about all the great hardware that every company not called Apple actually shipped. Google now lists 1.8 million documents referencing “Apple tablet”. That compares to 20,700 documents referencing “Acer Tablet PC”. One of these companies has actually shipped tablet hardware. The other has not. Can you guess from those Google figures which one is which?

“Nonexistent?” you say. “But I’ve read all the details on TechBlogDailyShit, it’s launching in March with an OLED screen and will kick Amazon’s butt/save the publishing world/cure cancer!”

No. No. No.

What you have read is a load of stuff that bloggers in desperate search for page views have made up on the basis of bar-room rumours, anonymous emails, stuff some random guy posted on Twitter, and just general shit. No one, outside of probably a hundred people in and around Cupertino, have a solid line on what Apple is doing – if, in fact, it is doing anything.

Almost everything you have read about an Apple tablet is geek wish fulfilment, from people who stared at a lot of Star Trek merchandise when they were young and really, truly wanted a tricorder. This is standard practice with a lot of sites that cover Apple: they assume Apple is designing products not for ordinary people, but for them, the tech blogging elite. Well guess what: they’re wrong! Apple wants its products to sell outside Silicon Valley, so it does not take Robert Scoble as its typical customer.

Outside of possibly the Wall Street Journal, almost no media sources are doing any serious investigative reporting to actually find out what Apple is doing either. Why? Simple: Doing real investigative tech reporting takes time, effort and balls. What’s more, if you’re a tech blogger you don’t have to do it because you can write some second-hand speculative bullshit about the “Apple Tablet” and it will get you lots of page views. This will lead to some “blog network” owner like Arrington or Nick Denton paying you more, because you are paid on page views. And all without you having to make a single call or talk to a single real person. Result!

Seriously, the standard of investigative tech reporting now is so low that it makes me long for the days of MacOSRumors. Those guys had standards compared to what we have at the moment.

Example three: The iPhone and market share
Here’s a strange thing about the world of tech writing: there is an obsession with market share winners and losers which isn’t seen in any other product area. Of course, companies talk about their market share in all realms, whether they make cars or sell groceries. But what they don’t do is imagine that they will DIE AS A COMPANY unless they have what amounts to a legal monopoly.

In tech, though, we do this all the time. Nokia is DYING because its market share is falling compared to Apple. Apple is DYING because its market share isn’t as big as Microsoft. Microsoft is DYING because twelve and a half customers have stopped using Office in favour of Google Docs. Google is never dying, for reasons I have yet to fathom – I suspect they are either the golden child, or they simply give out better freebies than anyone else.

Is Mercedes dying because its share of the luxury car market isn’t over 80%? No. Is Samsung dying because it doesn’t dominate TVs? No. Is Bosch dying because it doesn’t sell the majority of drills in the world? No. Only in tech do we play this bullshit game.

Tech bloggers constantly play the zero sum game. For Apple to win, Microsoft must lose. For Microsoft to win, Google must lose. For Google to win, Apple must lose. And nowhere is this more obviously seen at the moment than in the world of the mobile phone.

The funny thing is that prior to the launch of the iPhone, you really didn’t see much writing about the mobile phone market that worked this way. No one wrote screaming headlines about Sony Ericsson dying because Nokia took a few points of market share that month. People didn’t talk about the impending end of Nokia when Motorola was sweeping all before it with the original StarTac.

Only with the influx of “tech geek bloggers” post-iPhone did you suddenly get the same kinds of breathless bullshit that characterised the computer media applied to mobiles. All of a sudden, these guys became experts in the dynamics of the mobile phone market and brought the same depth of analysis to it that they’d brought to things like the question of whether Duke Nukem Forever would ever get released.

The fact that they called the iPhone “the Jesus phone” tells you all you need to know about their lack of perspective and ego. Mobile phones were dull and stupid and now the computer guys were coming along to SAVE YOU ALL.

Earth calling tech bloggers: shut up, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Where next Columbus?
I’d like to end this post on a high note, but I’m actually not in the mood for happy endings. There are some really sharp writers in the world of tech, but the problem is that they struggle to be heard over all the bullshit. Old hands like Kara Swisher and Mary Jo Foley do real reporting. Newer guys like CK Sample at least know how to write stuff which is entertaining, fun and (mostly!) accurate. John Gruber is always good value, even if he’s wrong rather more often than his biggest fans would admit.

But most of the best tech writing at the moment comes from people who don’t actually do it for a living. Odd posts, here and there, that shine light on to some small part of the tech world that they deal with on a daily basis. I’ll leave you to find them, but here’s a clue: they usually aren’t linked to from any of the big blogging networks.

(Photo by Vicki’s Pics, under a Creative Commons license)

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Apple Tablet sighted in the wild?

Apple’s Tablet sighted in the wild? It has been if this post is to be believed:

“I have no less than 5 sources saying an Apple Tablet announcement is due soon. Or something, as some of these press people (Apple diehards at that), who normally cared not about Tablets, and thought it was all just Microsoft vaporware, are suddenly so interested in the Tablet PC concept, and asking tons of questions. Pretty easy to read those tea leaves, so somethings up.

…And it exists, honest, seen a prototype. Instant On, ASUS-Tatung whiteish looking, running a reduced version of OSX, with some funky start-up PDA like Apple icon menu. Touch only (white touch pen), least the version I saw. Dunno if it will make it to market, but I think what I saw, is what these NDA-signing reporters have saw. Played with it for maybe 5 mins before it was wisked away.”

That sounds like a pretty cool tablet, right?

Only one thing: That post dates back to 2005. And apologies to Rob Bushway for dredging it up!

But what it goes to prove is simply that Apple Tablet rumours have been around a very, very long time. Nothing came of the ones from 2005, and it’s perfectly possible that nothing will come of all the current round of rumours as well.

Make no mistake: I’d love to see what Apple could do with a touch-based machine that’s larger than the iPhone, but small enough to easily carry with you everywhere. I’d love to see whether they can create something that could replace the notebooks I habitually carry, the laptop that goes with me most places, and all the other bits and pieces of my digital life.

But I’m not holding my breath. After all, if I’d had been holding my breathe on what looked like pretty firm reports on in 2005, I wouldn’t be breathing much now.

(Image of Robert Scoble with Tablet PC by Will Pate)

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Don’t be evil. Just don’t pay your taxes

Yes, I know that every company likes to use all means legal to avoid tax. But surely a company which prides itself on not “being evil” shouldn’t also be using all means necessary to ensure it doesn’t pay UK corporation tax?

Google, which has an estimated 90% market share of UK internet searches, last year used a cross-border network of subsidiary companies to ensure it did not pay a penny in corporation tax on its £1.6bn advertising revenues in Britain.

The international corporate structure enables Google to avoid paying what could otherwise have been a corporation tax bill in the UK of as much as £450m.”

(Photo by Yodel Anecdotal – http://flic.kr/p/3d7XhU)
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