Category Archives: Acquisitions

Google Acquires Patents – and Also Motorola

Google + Moto is the BIG NEWS of the summer.  It was big enough to grab me out of my blog vacation.  While the pundits are filling the airwaves with analysis on this one , I view it perhaps more simply, more straightforward.

The battleground for supremacy in connected devices (mobile smartphones, Tablets, and  set-top boxes) has moved from the R&D labs to the court rooms.  The patent wars between Apple and Google are fierce, with Microsoft bulking up on its own portfolio as part of the consortium that bought the Nortel patents.

Motorola was worth the price Google paid just for their patent portfolio.  In patent wars if you get sued, you better have a patent in your portfolio that can hurt the attacker.  In this way you trade mutual assured destruction with a patent stand-off.

When Google acquired the rights to Motorola’s 25,000+ patents, they bought both defensive capability and offensive firepower.  Apple may go after Android for an Apple patent but what are the changes that Google now has a patent that can hurt Apple?

It is impossible to design and produce a device such as an iPhone, iPad, or Android device that will not infringe on someone’s patent.  Impossible.  What a company must do is acknowledge that they will infringe and hope the other guy also infringes on their patents and us the mutual infringement to to either create a license arrangement or to have both companies do nothing.

Google’s price of $12.5B is about $500,000 per patent, which seems to be a bargain compared to the $4.5B  Apple and Microsoft for 6000 Nortel patents.  Their price was  $750,000 per patent.

Lets assume that the Motorola sale  is approved and Google gets the Motorola patent portfolio.  Google’s next problem is that they have also bought a company that makes handsets.  I say this is a problem because this is a huge company in a market that is different from Google’s core competency.  This is also a company that competes with Google’s other OEM partners for Android Devices.  The conventional wisdom is that these other OEM partners will start to defect, en mass,  to Microsoft.

Yeah right….

What does defect even mean?  Microsoft will pay these companies to produce some Windows phones anyway.

Android is free.  Can Microsoft compete with free?  Google makes its money on Android from their ad business.  Microsoft must make money from their software license for Mobile 7 operating system.  Besides for being years late to the party, Microsoft is structural disadvantaged to compete.  At best they can hope to be a number 3 player.

Google has two choices.

Number 1: They can acquire the patent portfolio and then spin out the Motorola Mobility Business, probably re-cooping half their initial investment.  They could sell Motorola’s handset and tablet businesses, along with licenses to the patents they now own to either HTC or Samsung, their two most important OEM partners.  This would be an amazing move.

Number 2:  Keep the Motorola hardware business and expand Android into the Cable Set-Top Box market.  This is the riskier of the paths as the sheer weight of a big manufacturing company could alter the culture of Google for the worse.  This path would be an attempt to become “Apple”.  While this path seems to be the assumed defacto strategy of Google, I am placing my bets on scenario #1.  This will take a couple of years to play out, so hold onto this link and let’s see if I am right.

An indicator that we are on Scenario 1 will be if Microsoft acquires RIM (Blackberry) or Nokia.  This would be an acknowledgment that the Google OEM manufacturers are not going to defect to Microsoft and that they must own a hardware company to compete.

This has only gotten worse in the last 10 months!

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Filed under Acquisitions, advertising, android, Apple, blackberry, Cable, Droid, Google, HTC, iPad, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, smart phone, Smartphone

Calling Microsoft’s Next of Kin

In  Microsoft’s struggle to remain relevant in the exploding mobile device market, they withdrew their latest attempt at a teen social networking device from the market.  The Kin’s market life was about 50 days.  It was a decent device , just  two years late to the game.

You can light a candle in memory of the Kin at kinrip.com. Its a very touching memorial website.  May its memory be a blessing.

According to Engadget part of Kin’s delay was caused by Microsoft scrapping the IP, or part of it, that it paid $500M for in their acquisition of Danger and instead re-developing the device on the soon to also be defunct Windows CE system.   Engadget also reports on corporate power plays, executive infighting and internal office politics.   Not what you would expect.

If this is not a Harvard Business Case Analysis in the making for a new crop of Cambridge bound MBA’s , I don’t know what would be.  You can read the full Engadget analysis through this link. The key element that is dominating the new super-phone marketplace is the ever-increasing velocity of innovation.

Microsoft announced their new Smartphone OS –Windows Mobile  7 – in January 2010.  The first devices with this Microsoft OS are expected to hit the market near the December holiday season.  In that same period of time Apple released their new iPhone and a new iPhone OS, the iPad, an Ad network, and who knows what else we will see in the next 6 months!   The Android ecosystem will have almost two-dozen variants, with each new device more spectacular than the last.  HP acquired Palm and is integrating their technology into their netbooks, and perhaps producing another new line of smartphones.  RIM’s Blackberry will have several releases and a new OS,  and of course Nokia’s product line has a makeover with a new operating system.  The speed of innovation is accelerating at a dizzying pace.  This is great for consumers, great for innovation and great for moving services to the market quicker.

And Microsoft?

They introduced, and then killed one phone and announced that they will have a new system by the end of 2010.

One thing is certain; the world is not waiting around for Microsoft to deliver their Windows Mobile 7 devices.

But maybe we should be, and here’s why.

Microsoft has  too much corporate talent, financial resources and computing market reach to just pull up their tents and go home in the most important computing segment.   Microsoft survived the debacle of Vista because they are Microsoft,  and have had virtual monopoly power in desktop computing.  In mobile, Microsoft is not the leader in market share, thought leadership or industry hype.  They have to slug it out with a crowded field of very nimble and powerful competitors.  This means they have to innovate and be quick about it to survive.   Having almost a one-year duration from product announcement to introduction is just not getting it done.

The irony is that the marketplace could really benefit from a strong Microsoft presence.

Apple is getting very economically aggressive with their high perch in smartphones.   Google’ Android Platform will likely eclipse Apple in aggregate sales in the next year. Do we all want to place our computing futures completely with Google?  Make no mistake about it , I am a big fan of Apple and Google.  It’s just that absolute power in markets has its downsides.  From a U.S. perspective, the only companies with the overall corporate strength to play on the same field with Apple and Google are RIM and Microsoft.  Nokia could be a legit player, globally,  but their position in the U.S. is just not strong enough.

In the irony of ironies, Microsoft is the leading candidate to challenge the emerging monopolistic leaders in the smartphone business.  They can keep the competitive environment going well into the future and prevent it from stagnating into a duopoly.    The issue is that Microsoft seems incapable of getting out of their own way, with failure following failure in this space.  The Kin is just the latest mobile problem for Microsoft.   Even the name “Windows Mobile 7” is a window (sorry for the pun) to the desktop corporate computing bias.   Android, Blackberry and iPhone all sound cool.  Windows Mobile 7 conjures up images of blue screens.

I know that’s not fair but,  it is what it is.

Windows Mobile 7  seems like a name picked for internal synergistic and political reasons and not one geared for mobile market success. If there was ever a company that seemed to have all the assets in place to dominate the mobile smart phone business, it was Microsoft.  Now they are trying to be in the mix and be relevant.

If Windows Mobile 7 is not a success, then the last card for Microsoft to play will be the another acquisition , perhaps RIM?

For the sake of keeping Apple and Google honest in this space, I am hoping for a success from Microsoft.

Do you believe that Microsoft’s Mobile team can deliver?

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Filed under Acquisitions, android, Apple, Droid, iPad, iphone, microsoft, mobile, Mobile Application Stores

HP answers Palm Code Blue

New Icon on Palm Web OS Smartphone?

The Smartphone business has been very busy this week.  One day before Verizon officially releases the Droid Incredible (I am tracking mine via Federal Express), HP scoops in and acquires Palm.  Palm does have some pretty good technology and mobile handset know-how.  Do they have $1.2 Billion worth?  HP says yes and, anyway – that’s just a rounding error for them.

If you have seen the Web OS on Palm’s devices you have to be impressed.  Why this really makes sense for HP is that it is so much more than Smart Phones.  Perhaps you noticed that Apple iPad launch last month?  Tablet and netbook computing are the next disruptive technologies.   The Palm OS will likely make a bigger near term impact on HPs tablet and netbook devices.    This is not good news for Microsoft.

The OS landscape for the sub-laptop market is rapidly fragmenting.    Android from Google, Chrome OS (Google competing with itself?), Web OS from Palm, Apple OS4, Windows 7,  Windows 7 mobile,  RIM and Symbian (Nokia).   The environments that appear limited in scope are RIM and Windows 7 mobile (just SmartPhone) and Windows7, Chrome OS (Netbooks). Android, Palm Web OS, Apple OS and Symbian all provide (in theory) a unified sub-laptop platform.

What’s a developer to do?    Can an OS thrive with a single hardware vendor – Steve Jobs would certainly say yes, so why not HP?

The near term loser is likely Microsoft.  By the time they have Windows Mobile 7 devices in the market, HP/Palm should have been able to iterate an upgraded device and spend significant marketing bucks attracting both consumers and developers.

All of this competition is good for innovation and good for consumer price points.  It will take at least another 3-4 years for this market to shake out completely.  When the dust settles you can count on Apple and Microsoft still standing – their present overall positions in OS technology are virtually unassailable.  What will be interesting is their relative market strength in this very interesting sub-laptop market.

If you dominate this new market you are THE company for the next generation.

HP has placed their chips on the table.  Who is next?

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Filed under Acquisitions, blackberry, cloud computing, iPad, iphone, Ipod, microsoft, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, netbooks, Nokia, smart phone, Smartphone, Social Media, Verizon, wireless

Kudos to Verizon for taking on Leadership – Mobile without Phone Numbers

Approximately one year ago I wrote an article entitled “The Future of Mobile – without phone numbers.” In my discussion I put forth the proposition that social networks would take over the fundamental connectivity for individuals and that phone numbers would be a network “IP address”.   This article generated 100’s of emails and questions, some supportive, some not, but all thought provoking. It was clear that I had hit a nerve.

A major step towards my view of the future of mobile communications was taken by Verizon in the last week.  Verizon Announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, and later confirmed and launched at CTIA 2010, an integrated Skype calling service.  This service enables users to click any Skype username, make a call, and not be charged for mobile minutes.  This service even uses the mobile voice connectivity of Verizon for the wireless network of the call.

This is a major watershed event for the industry.  A major carrier embracing voice as a data service, with calls completed outside of the carrier’s equivalent phone number – DNS.

In fact, this capability had been  available by such applications as ISkoot.  What is big news is that Verizon is openly promoting this service and not charging for mobile minutes.   Another advantage of the Verizon version is that it is “always-on”.  I received my first Skype call on my mobile yesterday.  It just happened like any other mobile call.  It was an important business call and all I could think about at the conclusion was – that was cool.

The use of social networks and non-phone number connection services implies that that contact DNS aggregation services will become even more important.  My network contact list will be an amalgamation of my Facebook, Linkedin, Skype, Twitter,  existing phone books, AOL IM list and likely several others.  Aggregating my contact lists, storing them in the network cloud and presenting them to me on demand in a usable form is essential.

While at CTIA I was on a panel discussion with   Mike Mulica, CEO of FusionOne.  FusionOne is a leading example of such a network based contact/address book that spans social networks.  They are certainly a company worth watching in the future, as they appear to be “on the right side of the technology curve”.

A question that remains is how does Verizon generate revenue by connecting calls for free?  Simple answers include increased data subscriptions and greater subscriber growth via churn from other carriers.    In the U.S. market, with mobile penetration approaching 90%, carriers can only increase subscribers by churning their competitor’s customers.   Since the Skype app on iPhone is not as full featured and cannot be “always-on”, VZW has given leading edge users a reason to switch NOW.

In the future I would expect connections between Skype calling capability and other applications on Verizon, especially those provided through the Verizon’s own app store.  I also expect that full mobile video calling and even video conferencing via Skype is no doubt on the roadmap.

This feature is only available to VZW smartphone subscribers , and that means a $29.99/mo data charge.

Regardless of the long term revenue sources, VZW has taken a clear leadership position in its market and now has the their competitors determining a catch-up strategy.  Kudos to Verizon on this move.

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Filed under Acquisitions, advertising, android, Apple, AT&T, cloud computing, CTIA, facebook, FusionOne, iphone, location based services, MAc, mobile, mobile advertising, Mobile Application Stores, mobile commerce, portal, skype, smart phone, Smartphone, Twitter, Verizon, Web2.0, widgets, wireless

Google clicks in for Mobile

googleDuring the past week Google made two significant splashes in the mobile arena. Their much heralded, bombing of middle America with Stealth fighters announced the landing of the “Droid” mobile device. Secondly, their acquisition of the leading U.S. mobile advertising company, Admob for $750M announced the full legitimacy of mobile advertising. When Google speadmobaks, the rest of the industry should listen.

There was a time, not too long ago, when an entire industry seemed to get a simultaneous epiphany – that the Internet had created a legitimate “second” screen to television.  When this became “conventional wisdom”, the advertising Dollars, Euros and Yen started to shift from the “spray and pray” methods of television to the increasingly targeted methodologies of the web.

The same thought process can now be safely referred to as “conventional wisdom” for mobile.  The consumer is spending more time starring at their mobile screen, and less and less at their Web browsers, and even far less in front of the television.  With this reality, the web advertising giant is shifting more investment to the third screen  – which we should refer to as the consumers prime screen, the mobile screen.

We have transitioned from TV ad blindness (really a Pavlovian queue to go to the frig or bathroom), to web banner blindness.  We now, however, have the personal medium of the smartphone to reach consumers.

We have moved from the communal family device, the television, to a shared, yet personal device, the PC to the personal and un-shared device, the smartphone.

There will be some winners and losers in this new reality.  The winners will be companies that have invested ahead of the curve and have developed mobile and true multimodal next gen advertising vehicles.   Advertising and promotional technologies and processes that have broken with the “spray and pray” techniques of the past and capitalize on the true personal 1-1 advertising techniques, providing consumers ads that they want to view, will be the market winners.

The Android has positioned Google to be in your pocket, not figuratively, but literally.  The combined promotion with VZW and Moto, with stealth bombers creating a thinly veiled a sense of “Shock and Awe”, is a loud statement.

(Note to the Droid ad agency – Stealth bombers do not fly during the day, hence the word “stealth”)

See my other comments on the ad campaign at the end of this blog article.

VZW is a company with a great network and a lagging device lineup. Moto has raw engineering and production talent for mobile devices and has largely fallen off the radar screen in recent years.  Google, the dominant player in the present  generation of Internet advertising, is seeking to maintain and grow that position in the next generation.

So, Google is playing a pre-emptive attack strategy in mobile. VZW is playing catch-up to the iPhone.  Moto is, perhaps, playing their last “bet the company” card on Android technology.  Offense, defense and survival makes for three very motivated partners.

With the expected proliferation of Droids and other smartphones, Google’s purchase of ADMob is both stunning and obvious.   Another winner in this market shift will be, as I have written about in the past, the major social networks.

So who are the losers this past week?

On the Wireless Carrier side of the equation, Sprint and T-Mobile have to be concerned.  The gap between them and the leaders  (AT&T and VZW) is widening.   I  expect one less mobile service company in the U.S. in the next 12 months.

The emergence of Android platforms is likely the end of Palm as a mobile platform.  The Palm Pre never got the consumers attention and thus critical market share.

Too little, too late.

Palm will not be able to compete with Google and Apple in this round.  Their demise is written on the wall (in Graffiti).

500x_smartphonemarkshareRIM also has to be very concerned.  The launch of their touch screen device, the Storm was, well, stormy.   Blackberry has a strong market position and is well entrenched.  It has made significant growth in the consumer segment in recent years.  Will that growth reverse with maturing Android devices?  While Blackberry is in a much stronger position than Palm, the combined investment potential and application resources of Apple and Google will be a major challenge to RIM’s Blackberry.

All that said, RIM still commands over 20% global share in smartphones

Application developers will have to start to prioritize their porting and promotion of new applications between four major global platforms – Symbian,  Blackberry, Apple and Android.

It will be interesting to watch the global leader in the smartphone category – Nokia and their Symbian Operating System.  This platform is relatively unknown in the U.S. market, but is dominate in the rest of the world.

The next obvious question is how do these moves motivate other players in the industry to react?  Microsoft is desperately playing catch-up to Google in present generation search engines and advertising.  Their own version of a mobile operating system has made, at best, niche inroads.  Microsoft has suffered from execution issues and seems to be the biggest example of true  “innovators dilemma” in the last 20 years.

Yahoo has some mobile applications but seems to be a company unable to focus the attention necessary on any one initiative.  Perhaps some Corporate Ritalin is in order?

My conclusion is that both Microsoft and Yahoo will likely go shopping for a focused next gen advertising company.

Ad Agencies that have largely focused on managing creative production and bulk television ad buying are increasingly on the wrong side of the technology curve.  They are, however, in a good position with the depth of their industry relationships, to be a major force in the next wave of Internet/Mobile advertising,. The question is are they willing to move from their existing business models and develop the expertise in the methodologies, either in-house or through acquisition that can maintain their market positions in the value chain for the next generation.

The technology of smartphones, advertising and applications has now combined to make the next generation of consumer services and commerce a break from the past.  At least that’s what I hear from all of the “Conventional Wisdom”.

Notes on Droid Ad Campaign:

The more I thought about the Android “Stealth Fighter” ads the more I realized that that imagery was quite familiar.  I have added four additional videos for your viewing.  Theses video are the trailers for the 1953 and 2005 versions of “War of the Worlds” , the trailer for Armageddon and CNN footage of the bombing of Baghdad.

With these videos you can draw your own conclusions.  Please let me know what you think.

In my opinion, these images all have some resemblance to the Droid commercial.  In each of these cases the situation did not end well for the “entrenched” establishment.  Mass destruction was the result.  In one case a virus saved mankind.  This is hardly the message that a smartphone operating system might want to promote.    The droid-like figures eventually emerge to destroy everything in sight –they really do – you can Google it.  In the CNN footage a nation watched mesmerized by the imagery, only to learn that perhaps the wrong war was fought.

All interesting imagery for the first shot in a new generation of smartphones.

Subtle – this is not.

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Twitter : Getting New Management?

twitter_logoThe rumor mill of possible suitors for Twitter blogs, buzzes and Tweets with different theories. The largest speculation, at least in terms of media attention, has Twitter pairing up with either Google or Apple. While these reports are officially unsubstantiated – they did get me to think about what Twitter would be like under new management, and what the significance would be for Internet Services.

The Internet has re-invented itself several times in its brief history. From a government funded cold war project, to an academic research vehicle, to a closed consumer oriented portal (AOL, Prodigy, Compuserve) product, to the World Wide Web (often referred to as Web 1.0), to an interactive, interrelated, multi-device user content environment of today (aka Web 2.0). Each of these transitions has left many companies in the dust; with some companies merely surviving the transitions and a small select group thriving through the changes. Web brands and services such as Amazon, Google, E-bay, Apple (iPhone, iTunes) are examples of those that have thus far thrived through transitions.

It’s the next transition that is presently underway that makes the Twitter rumors particularly interesting.

Web 2.0 was initially defined in terms of user-generated content. In a rough sense the social media giants of today would be in that category. The way I define Web 3.0 is the total social integration of the Internet. Facebook, MySpace, and a collection of second tier players, plus the media darling, Twitter, are leading this social integration. Web 3.0 is all about Social media.

While both Google and Apple have benefited from social media, they are not in themselves social media leaders. An acquisition of Twitter for either company would thrust them into a major Web 3.0 position.

Lets look at this from the viewpoint of “Fear” and “Greed”.
Fear is motivated by losing something you have. Greed is the motivation of obtaining something you want.

Which company needs Twitter more?

The answer to this question is neither.

Google could continue being Google, and benefit from the eventual ad placements and paid search on Twitter, just as it has in the general web. The strategic question for Google is can they continue to have unfettered access to ad inventory without owning the social networks? Do they have to be a social networking giant also?

The Facebook/Google dustups on ad placements and “connect” services must have sent alarm bells ringing in Mountain View.

google-logo

Google went after the mobile industry with its on mobile device platform, why not social media with its own network? Since Google is the undisputed heavyweight champion in internet advertising, it is the motivation of “fear”, of losing what they have, that would drive them to a Twitter acquisition.

Apple, like Google, can derive benefits from Twitter without an acquisition. There are various methods to Tweet your iTunes selection(s) directly on Twitter. Twitter has many iPhone applications and is likely a driver (albeit modest) for iPhone sales.

apple-logo12Apple may have the most loyal clientele of any modern tech company. They have, however, not yet significantly leveraged this large, loyal, and generally satisfied customer base into a Web 3.0 style social network. Apple has tons of trade magazines and web sites on the virtues of Apple products, the product pipeline, self-help, and troubleshooting. The natural leveraging of this existing community into a social network must be on the strategic whiteboards at Apple HQ.

I do not think that it would be fear that would motivate Apple to acquire Twitter, but “greed”. Apple has ridden the waves of portable computing, rich media, digital music, handheld devices, smart phones, web services and the need for great user experiences across everything, to ever increasing prominence and success. Extending these competencies into the next wave of social networking is natural.

Would an acquisition of Twitter thrust Apple into social networking leadership? Or would it be a distraction from their core strengths of devices, software, digital content, and UI design?

There is another company that could be motivated by both fear and greed.

Microsoft

Microsoft has been playing catch-up to Google and Yahoo in paid search for a decade. They were late to the game for Web 1.0 and have been eclipsed in all of the major Web 2.0 services. They are an example of a company that has survived transitions in Internet services, but have not thrived. They leveraged their virtual monopoly in desktop operating systems to a dominant browser position (regardless of how the courts ruled). The browser position gave MSN and Microsoft search products critical web traffic.

Five years ago the market share of IE was 93%, it is now 65%. Both of these numbers are staggering high for any tech product. Despite, the dominance of their browser, Microsoft is a third rung player in search and ad revenue. This browser advantage, completely leveraged from their operating system position, is eroding at an accelerating rate. This market loss has to create a fear motivation within Microsoft.
While I believe that Microsoft managers are breed for greed, they suffer from Innovators Dilemma. They are so large and so dominate, that truly new ventures, new innovation is difficult when compared to protecting the core. But the greed is still present. It is for this reason that I expect a Microsoft play for Twitter. An acquisition that would thrust Microsoft ahead of Google and Apple in Web 3.0 social media Internet.

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