Category Archives: Tech Companies

How much cash does Amazon have in the bank?

Not that long ago, there was some noise about the amount of cash that Amazon – a company whic rarely makes much profit – had on hand:

Record Christmas takings have swollen Amazon’s cash pile to as much as $9bn (£5.7bn), the online retailer is expected to declare on Tuesday in results that will inflame the debate over its tax contributions around the world.

(via Amazon expected to reveal cash pile of up to $9bn after record Christmas)

But here’s the thing: Amazon’s cash isn’t like the cash held by a company like, say, Apple:

Most cash that Amazon.com generates comes not from earnings, but from the fact that it receives payment from its customers much faster than it pays its suppliers. During 2011, 76.8% of Amazon.com’s cash provided by operating activities came from the expansion of accounts payable (source: 10-K). Given that Amazon.com’s revenues are expanding fast, this effect translates into a larger cash hoard on its balance sheet.

(via Amazon’s Cash Is Not Amazon’s Cash – Seeking Alpha)

This isn’t cash that Amazon can invest in infrastructure, or product development. It’s just cash that it holds for a short period of time.

Grumpy old men of tech redux

Trevor Pott, over at El Reg, makes an early entry into the “Doesn’t like this new-fangled world” competition with his piece on how “Netbooks were a GOOD thing and we threw them under a bus“. Pott’s demand of a machine – all-day battery life, a multi-tasking OS – aren’t outlandish, but his stalwart rejection of, basically, anything that isn’t a netbook running Linux marks him out as someone who really doesn’t understand the new world of “just works” computing.

Consider, for example, his rejection of the Chromebook as an option:

“Google could make Android a serious contender as a ‘good enough’ netbook OS in a very short timeframe. The web giant won’t because it views Android as its touch-based consumptive tablet and phone OS, and ChromeOS as the desktop replacement. ChromeOS is entirely reliant on internet connectivity and keeps you trapped into doing everything using SaaS apps; great for Google because it can ruthlessly invade your privacy in order to sell more advertisements. Bad for us because it cripples the OS in order to achieve this goal.”

Where to begin with this? Aside from the “ChromeOS is entirely reliant on internet connectivity” error (it’s not), saying that ChromeOS “keeps you trapped into doing everything using SaaS apps” is a bit like saying Windows “keeps you trapped into doing everything with Windows apps”. And there’s no compulsion on you to use Chromebooks with Google services: mine happily works with iCloud and Microsoft Online services (yes, including Office web apps). 

Using apps written with HTML/JavaScript isn’t lock in, particularly if you choose your software providers wisely. If you want data portability, choose a software company that provides easy ways out

And of course, the iPad also fits Pott’s bill… 

John Gruber’s faulty maths on ChromeOS

Daring Fireball Linked List: Acer and Chrome OS, Sitting in a Tree:

“Sounds like Chrome OS is starting to get some traction, but I do wonder if actual sales match the ‘shipments’. Looking at my stats here at DF, Chrome OS accounted for 0.04 percent of traffic over the last four weeks.”

I don’t think John has really thought this through. Even if ChromeOS devices had accounted for 10% of all computers sold in the last year (which no one would claim, as they’re not even available in many markets), that would still amount to a tiny proportion of the total number of installed computers worldwide. Neither shipments nor sales tell you the story of installed base, and installed base is what visitors to a site is a measure of.

As for the shipments/sales issue, I’d point to this tweet from a Dixons employee which states that in stores where they have “Chrome Zones” with Chromebooks on sale, they make up 10% of their notebook sales. That’s “sales”, not “shipments” – as in real people walking out of the door with them. 

Chromebook sales gaining momentum

Acer President: Windows 8 is “not successful” but Chrome notebooks are winners | Computerworld Blogs:

To make up for the disappointing sales of Windows 8 devices, Acer is looking elsewhere. And right now, it’s finding that Chrome has been surprisingly successful. Acer released Chrome notebooks for $199 in November, and Chrome now accounts for between 5 percent and 10 percent of Acer’s U.S. sales. It’s been so successful that Acer may roll it out to other developed markets.

Add this to the data point revealed by a Dixons/PC World employee a while ago which claimed that where they sell them, Chromebooks have made up around 10% of their laptop sales, and you begin to a see a picture that should be worrying to Microsoft. Chromebooks are essentially eating the low-end of what was the netbook market: Small, cheap, light computers with limited functionality. 

But unlike Windows-based netbooks, Chromebooks are much more secure, and they have the power of web apps. And unlike netbooks, they actually run web apps really well. 

With tablets – by which I mean the iPad, of course – eating the higher end of the netbook market and Chromebooks taking the lower ground, Microsoft really should have reason to worry. Windows 8 doesn’t seem like the answer, and if Windows 8 fails to gain momentum, it would be a massive blow to Microsoft. When even Windows a stalwart like HP is starting to make Chromebooks, things don’t look so good in Redmond. 

Hardware in a software world

The inestimable Mr Gruber:

Even “hardware” features are defined by software, and can no longer be judged on their own. Consider, say, mobile phone cameras. The camera itself is important – the sensor, the lens, the physical size – but ultimately what matters is the quality of the images it produces, and software is a huge part of that.

This is something that I have to repeatedly point out to Android users. Over and over again, they point out how the hardware on a particular phone is better than the iPhone, and how the software allows you more precision control over the shot you take with the camera.

And over and over again, I ask “which takes better pictures?”

And the answer is always the iPhone.

(via Daring Fireball Linked List: CES Is the World’s Greatest Hardware Show Stuck in a Software Era)

What’s the point of Google+?

Marco Arment thinks that Google is heading down the wrong path with Google+:

But Google’s increasingly desperate push to cram Google+ down everyone’s throats hasn’t made Google+ any more relevant. It has only resulted in a lot of confused Google-account owners who inadvertently “upgraded” to Google+ while trying to do something else on a Google property, and who don’t even realize that they have this account on this social network that none of their friends use even though they all accidentally have accounts on it.

(via There’s No Avoiding Google+ – Marco.org)

I think Marco is missing the point of Google+. As the WSJ report he links to puts it:

“Both Facebook and Google make the vast bulk of their revenue from selling ads. But Facebook has something Google wants: Facebook can tie people’s online activities to their real names, and it also knows who those people’s friends are. Marketers say Google has told them that closer integration of Google+ across its many properties will allow Google to obtain this kind of information and target people with more relevant (and therefore, more profitable) ads.”

If none of those registered users actually posted a single thing on Google+, Google would still get something out of it. Google+ is all about tying together all your activity across the web into a single, coherent identity, one where it also knows who your friends are – which, of course, Google will track as you send and receive emails, comment on blogs, and so on. If you post and “+1″ things, all the better as it gives Google more data about what you like. But it’s not essential.

In which Dan Lyons once again exposes his elite journalism skills

Dan Lyons, once again talking out of his ass:

This is a crushing blow to Microsoft, which has spent millions of dollars on lobbyists and phony grassroots groups over the past several years hoping to land Google in hot water.

You would think from this that Google, meanwhile, hasn’t been spending money on lobbyists.

Oh no wait

In fact, as a cursory search on Opensecrets.org reveals, Google significantly outspent Microsoft on lobbying in 2012, as it had in 2011.

But hey – never let facts get in the way of a good story, Dan.

Update: I’d forgotten this great quote about Lyons from MG Siegler:

This is a pattern for Lyons. He wants to write something, so he does the minimal amount of work possible, then writes it. It leads to situations like this. Which leads to him apologizing for being wrong. Or just looking like an ass.

MG nailed Lyons far, far earlier than most of us.

The end of the beginning in the mobile market

Benedict Evans sums up the current state of the mobile market:

“In other words, Apple has 20-30% of the market by volume, but it is the top 20-30%. Google ‘has’ the rest, but has only a very tenuous connection to large parts of it, and another large proportion is likely to be worth little or nothing for a long time. Roll on uncertainty (link): everything will change, again, in the next year. ”

This is only phase one. Whether iOS and Android are even in the same market most of the time is up for debate.

Windows 8 PCs jump straight down to the bargain basement

Dell Latitude 6430u - Windows 8 launch, Pier 57

Photo by Dell’s Official Flickr Page – http://flic.kr/p/doAsyh

Joe Wilcox has been scouting his local Best Buy, and found a distinct lack of excitement over Windows 8 PCs, which are already on sale at bargain prices:

I know people shop for deals during the holidays, but if Windows 8 convertibles, touchscreens and ultrabook had big appeal wouldn’t Best Buy prominently display them? Meanwhile, at my local store, tablets dominate the main front area and boxes of cheap laptops fill the central aisle. C`mon, do you want Santa to bring shiny new laptop or tablet this year? If Windows 8 can’t generate interest in PCs during its first holiday season, what can?

I’m not surprised Windows 8 PCs aren’t inspiring a wave of demand from customers. The product just doesn’t seem to have built the excitement of Windows 7, let alone the blockbuster interest garnered by Windows 95 at its launch.

The big issue facing Microsoft is that Windows 8 isn’t designed to solve any real user needs. Instead, it’s designed to meet Microsoft’s need to head off the iPad as it starts to plunder all the enterprise gold the company has relied on for years. The biggest, and most immediate selling point – the “don’t call it Metro” interface – just looks out of place on any PC which doesn’t have a touch screen.

If you design a product to meet an internal need rather than something that customers want to do, you’re always going to be starting from the wrong point. There are several new features in Windows 8 which actually do meet user needs – for example, syncing your data to the cloud – but they’re mostly the kind of behind-the-scenes “plumbing” features that Apple puts in its odd-numbered updates like Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion.

But overall, I keep looking at Windows 8 and just thinking “Why?” Why would any consumer bother with it?

 

In which someone may be switching to Android (Or, a classic case of Geek Itch)

At Techpinions, Patrick Moorhead is pondering leaving the iPhone, and switching to Android. But take a look at the language that Patrick uses:

With Android’s “Butter” introduced at this year’s Google I/O, the feel is nearly as good as iOS… My front-page apps like Evernote for Android and Windows Phone are still ugly but they don’t keep me from doing my job or having less fun. There is much less of a time delay or quality delta between Android and iOS apps than there ever was before. [My emphasis]

Turn that around, and what it says is that iOS remains smoother, and the apps remain higher quality and usually released first. In other words, for many of the things that affect Patrick’s decision, by choosing Android he’s actively choosing second-best in terms of experience.

That might make sense if there were other features Patrick wanted or needed about Android which significantly outweigh taking the pain there. But if there are, I’m not really seeing them here. Sharing isn’t as hard as you make it out to be: I share from Safari on iOS to Google+ in one click, by using a bookmarklet. There are equivalents for both Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Speech to text and control is a more personal decision. For me, Siri works better than Google Now’s voice control stuff, partly (I think) because Google hasn’t implemented all the features for British English. The dictation engine works better for me on iOS than Android. And voice search from the iOS Google Search app uses the same voice recognition as Google Now (as you’d expect) so if I want to do voice searching, I mostly use that.

It think Patrick also gives Apple a little less credit on new technology than it deserves. For me, a deal breaker with Android has always been integration with a wider eco-system of devices through AirPlay. Despite Android’s focus on this recently, Apple is still a mile ahead in simplicity. Hook up a (dirt cheap) Apple TV to your living room TV, and stream pretty much any content to it. Making something that easy is the best way to implement new technology, because it removes the barriers to “normal” people using it.

I get the feeling, though, that Patrick has classic “geek itch”[1]“. I get this too – the desire to jump to a platform which will allow me to play around a little more, to to spend time configuring things and digging into them. Nothing wrong with that – but it’s not really more broadly applicable as a comment on a specific platform.


  1. Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.  ↩