Category Archives: Web/Tech

Did Apple and Google really spend more on patents than R&D? Yes – but it’s not all it seems

There’s been a meme doing the rounds based on the New York Times’ story on “the iEconomy” which claims that in 2011, both Google and Apple spent more on patent protection than R&D. This, on the face of it, looks like a savage indictment of the whole parent system – legal nonsense taking priority over real research.

There was something, though, that didn’t quite add up for me. Call it an old journalist’s nose for something fishy, but… it just didn’t smell right.

The paragraph this claim was made in is this:

In the smartphone industry alone, according to a Stanford University analysis, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years — an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings.

Aha. There’s the bit which set off my journo-sense.

As that paragraph notes, there were several unusually large patent portfolio deals in 2011. Apple, for example, contributed $2.6 billion towards the purchase of Nortel’s patent portfolio, in a consortium deal which also included Microsoft, RIM, Sony and EMC. That deal – worth a total of $4.5 billion – was a one-off. Portfolios like that rarely come on the market.

Likewise, Google spent $12.5 billion buying Motorola Mobility, a deal which Larry Page described as being about “strengthening Google’s patent portfolio” (Google actually accounted the patents as $5.5 billion of the purchase). Again, that’s a one-off: there aren’t many Motorola’s around and available for purchase. Likewise, the deal which saw Google buy over 1,000 patents from IBM.

So yes, Google and Apple did spend more on patents in 2011 than R&D. But that’s very likely to be a one-off, simply because 2011 was an unusual year which saw several highly-desirable patent portfolios come on the market. What the NYT didn’t say is that Apple also increased its R&D spending in 2011 by 33%, and that Google’s R&D spending continues to trend upwards massively, with the company spending a whopping 12% of all its revenue in R&D last year.

Read the NYT piece, and you would think that the technology market has shifted from being about research and development of new products to being about acquisition of patents. Given that this is based on a single year, when some very big patent portfolios came on the market in one-off deals that aren’t likely to be repeated in the future, that’s a long way from the truth.

The end of Android Tablets?

The end of Android tablets: can Google match Amazon’s success before Microsoft closes the window? | The Verge:

“What the Fire has taught us before and will teach us again this week is that the biggest threat to Android tablets isn’t necessarily the iPad — it’s that the companies which make the devices aren’t totally invested in ensuring the Android platform succeeds.”

I’ve argued before that other companies in the Android eco-system aren’t Android’s best friends – this post makes that point well.

Crapware isn’t just on PCs

Crapware isn’t just a problem with PCs: increasingly, it’s a problem with just about every piece of of hardware that doesn’t have an Apple logo on it. Take this experience, with a printer:

In a triumph of optimism over experience, I bought a wireless printer this week. In its infinite wisdom, HP decided that the best way to connect it to a wireless network – nothing else, just to get it to find an open Wi-Fi network – was to install software that wasn’t compatible with my system, navigate a hopeless support site to find a version that was compatible, install it, let it set up its own ad-hoc wireless network, break my internet connection, fail to set up the wireless printer properly and ultimately force me into the advanced settings of my router to increase the DHCP lease time.

This is a printer aimed at average punters.

Why do manufacturers do this? Why do they nickel and dime customers by including “added value” software which does nothing except add a couple of dollars to their bottom line, while infuriating customers? Why do they ship software of their own which offers such a shoddy experience as that above? Why? Just… Why?

New York Judge Overrules Twitter: Tweets Broadcast to the Public ‘Belong to the Public’

New York Judge Overrules Twitter: Tweets Broadcast to the Public ‘Belong to the Public’ | Betabeat:

“Based on that reasoning, it seems like the court will only be soliciting Mr. Harris’s public tweets and not his DMs or private account information. Still, definitely not a good day for Internet privacy advocates.”

On what crazy planet are tweets, willingly and without duress posted by an individual, suddenly anything to do with “privacy”?

Why Your Complaint About Twitter Is Wrong – Anil Dash

Why Your Complaint About Twitter Is Wrong – Anil Dash:

“Don’t get me wrong; I would love if it made sense for Twitter to be some hippie utopian open protocol that also happened to support a multi-billion dollar company. That’d be great. But the amount of Kremlinology and hand-wringing over one short blog post from Michael Sippey that I’ve seen in the past few days reveals that people’s concerns are not about what Twitter is doing, but rather the core technical community’s own feelings about the fact they don’t determine what Twitter is anymore.”

This always happens. 

Much as we complain about Twitter, we won’t stop using it

Twitter Continues to Gnaw On the Hand That Feeds It:

I’d love to stand on a soapbox and preach “BOYCOTT TWITTER” but let’s be serious – even if they shunned every last app using its service and forced us to either use the website or their own branded apps, we’d still use Twitter. The job seekers, the self-promoters, the celebrity-obsessed groupies would continue to announce to the world the availability of their new book or recently published article, as well as their drunken 2 a.m. quips with friends.

Harry’s right, of course: you can pretty much guarantee that all of the grumbling about what Twitter does won’t amount to more than a handful of users deserting it for other platforms. 

Facebook? If there’s one service the Twitterari hates, it’s Facebook.

Google+? I like it – and I think that it’s actual target is Twitter, not Facebook – but the audience isn’t there (yet) and people are getting much more distrustful of Google.

Twitter is it. For better or worse.

(Via Curious Rat – the RSS Feed)

Dave Winer, comments, and blogging: some thoughts

Dave Winer has turned off comments on his blog, and I have just started reading him again after a hiatus of a couple of years.

I do not think that these things are unconnected.

These days, I don’t get that many comments here. That’s not surprising: I’ve gone from being a fairly prolific blogger who would happily churn out half a dozen posts a day to maybe writing a post a week. But my experience back when I had to deal with lots and lots of comments was that it soaked up a lot of your mental energy. More than that, it actually made you write in a completely different way, often more confrontational.

To put it another way, comments tended to make you more irritable. Comments often turned into silly little fights between people who completely ignored your original post, or had obviously barely read it. More often than not, those people also chose to hide under throwaway or anonymous names, too, which only made matters worse. If you don’t use a recognisable name (it doesn’t need to be a real one) you’re depersonlising yourself, encouraging others to treat you as a little less of a human being, a little more of an avatar they can have an argument with.

The best way to comment on anything – and the way I’d encourage anyone to comment on anything I write – is to write something on your own blog. Not on Twitter, where, unless you’re a brilliantly-pithy epigram writer, you’re likely just to indicate agreement or disagreement. Not – god help you – on Facebook or Google Plus, where you don’t own the space and it’s as much about engaging your community of friends as it is you.

(As an aside, one extreme example of this is MG Siegler’s Google+ stream. It’s pretty clear that MG doesn’t even read it: he simply “+1′s” stuff on this own site, which feeds it through to Google+. Every post is a cesspit of vitriol, a bunch of people screaming into the wind. A pointless waste of bits.)

Do it on your own blog, where you have time and space to write as much or as little as you want, to explore your own thoughts in depth, without having to be concerned about “your community” or anyone else. If you’re worried that the person you’re writing a response to won’t see it, email them or Tweet at them. Almost every writer who’s actually worth reading will engage with, and respond to, people who write interesting stuff. For major bloggers, this is much more likely to get their attention than any comment. On big sites, they may not even have the time to read comments anyway.

Looking through his posts, it feels to me like there’s a little bit of a tonal difference between Dave’s posts pre-comment turn-off, and after. He feels a little bit more relaxed, a bit more varied, more like the Dave Winer that I used to read and enjoy, even thought I often (maybe usually) didn’t agree with him. It sounds like he’s having more fun.

As for comments on here, I’ll keep them on for the moment, but probably turn them off at some point. It’s not that I find comments here arduous, or that people who comment fall into the category of “bad commentors” (often, far from it). But I’d like to do a little bit to encourage people to write for themselves, on their own blogs, and in a thoughtful way rather than just drive-by commenting.

And if you write something, email me, or tweet at me. It’ll be fun.

Google’s path is the right one. It’s just going to hurt

Sarah Lacy

Now, a source tells us that CEO Larry Page, who seems to be hell-bent on competing with Mark Zuckerberg whether it’s the right thing for Google or not, had this to say to employees at a Friday staff event after the Search Plus Your World launch: “This is the path we’re headed down – a single unified, ‘beautiful’ product across everything. If you don’t get that, then you should probably work somewhere else.” 

Page, for better or worse, has realised the lesson that Apple has been teaching: an integrated, focused, well-designed product will always stand a better chance of success than a product which is looser, less focused, but more “open”.

What I’m fascinated about is how this new direction will impact on Android – does that “across everything” include mobile devices? 

I think it does. I fully expect the Galaxy Nexus to be the last “Google Experience” phone produced by anyone other than Motorola. I also expect Google to start having its own range of pure Google Experience phones, rather than just a single device.

In other words, Google is going to start controlling Android more tightly by stealth: it will sell the best phones, with rapid, regular updates that its erstwhile-partners can’t match. Within a few years, I fully expect Motorola to have overtaken Samsung as the number one Android vendor. And, what’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised if Samsung hadn’t forked Android and ended up producing its own Samsung-only variant, with its own App Store.