Category: News

Microsoft turns to channel in Surface catastrophe

redmondMicrosoft will be reeling after top manufacturers dropped Windows RT as a platform one after the other with more rumoured production stoppages on the way.

Asus, Lenovo, and HTC have all ditched RT while Samsung is rumoured to quit production soon, and Toshiba and HP have not made clear any plans to push the operating system, as PC Advisor reports.

In the oversaturated tablet market where Android and the iPad are king, it is not particularly surprising RT failed to woo customers as a ‘cheap’ watered down alternative to Windows 8, that was actually anything but affordable. Microsoft’s none-message advertising campaign spectacularly flopped and while reviews were OK, the tech press was baffled by Ballmer’s insistence to keep the price tag high.

Even with a more recent price cut, the Surface RT is not particularly alluring.

The numbers in Microsoft’s inventory were staggeringly poor, with the company losing $900 million to its bet on the Surface RT sitting shipped but unsold in warehouses everywhere.

When even Windows 8 was not persuading potential customers to jump ship from Android or iOS with their smart devices, it was an expensive experiment for Redmond to insist on the viability of RT, and considering the company’s track record in hardware, even crazier to build and brand the Surface RT itself.

Now Microsoft hopes the channel will be able to convince business owners to cover its bad bet.

Today the Surface team announced the channel availability of both the Surface RT and Surface Pro in 17 new markets – including Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. Resellers will be able to offer device recycling, data protection, custom imaging, onsite service, and more.

But these resellers will have to persuade businesses that the Surface or Surface RT are actually useful devices. There may be a few bloated budgets channel players will be able to extract some cash from, but overall, the move stinks of Microsoft trying to dump as many of the tablets as far away as possible.

Here is the official line: “We continue to be committed to bringing business channel availability to all markets where Surface is currently sold. As Forrester analyst Tirthankar Sen noted in his blog commentary, extending from our initial U.S. commercial channel roll-out on July 1, this measured approach helps us to quickly gather feedback and improve while we grow our geographical reach in the business channel.

“This availability in international markets, along with the updates coming to Surface RT with Windows 8.1 are all important milestones for our customers”.

The blog post concludes: “We know that people who use Surface love it!”

IBM to buy Trusteer

ibm-officeIBM has coughed up the readies to acquire IT security company Trusteer, which it hopes will help boost its portfolio in advanced threat management and application security.

Big Blue is putting together a cybersecurity software lab in Tel Aviv, Israel comprised of over 200 IBM and Trusteer researchers, in addition to the company’s existing R&D in Israel. Together, they will focus specifically on mobile and application security, advanced threat, counter fraud, malware, and financial crime.

IBM security will take advantage of Trusteer’s knowledge in security as a service through the cloud, as well as counter-fraud and advanced persistent threat protection. Additionally, Trusteer points out in a statement, that half of the top 25 US financial institutions offer mobile finance management, meaning advanced security needs to be in place to protect the institutions and their customers.

IBM wants to roll Trusteer’s expertise into its own range of software and services, such as QRadar, i2, SPSS, InfoSphere, and Enterprise Content Management.

In a statement, Trusteer’s CEO Mickey Boodaei said the way organisations are protecting data is quickly evolving. “As attacks become more sophisticated, traditional approaches to securing enterprise and mobile data are no longer valid,” Boodaei said, adding that Trusteer already has large banks as customers.

Android tablets still lack tons of iPad apps

NexusSales of Android smartphones and cheap tablets are skyrocketing, but the same isn’t true of high-end Android tablets. While many models feature impressive hardware that could easily go toe to toe with the iPad, the app ecosystem just isn’t there yet. 

According to Canalys, out of the top 50 paid and free iPad apps in Apple’s US App Store, 30 percent are nowhere to be found on Google’s Play Store. Another 18 percent were available, but they were not optimized for tablets, which means they look and feel like oversized phone apps. Just 52 percent were available through the Play Store, optimized and ready for tablets.

“Quite simply, building high-quality app experiences for Android tablets has not been among many developers’ top priorities to date,” said Canalys senior analyst Tim Shepherd. “That there are over 375,000 apps in the Apple App Store that are designed with iPad users in mind, versus just a fraction of this – in the low tens of thousands – available through Google Play, underscores this point.”

Canalys expects all this to change, as the user base grows and Google introduces improvements to the Play Store. However, Google simply has to do more to support developers to invest time and money in high-quality Android apps for tablets. Since pricey Android tablets don’t sell well, the user base will remain limited. Most people who buy Android tablets go for cheap and small models, hence it is safe to assume that they are not willing to invest in premium apps and services, either.

The other problem facing Android developers is fragmentation. Apple developers need to design tablet apps for just two screen resolutions and form factors, both of which use the same aspect ratio. They don’t face nearly as many as many challenges as Android developers, who have to deal with dozens of different resolutions, form factors, Android versions, APIs and application processors.

Worse, at the end of the day Android developers have a very limited market for bespoke tablet apps, as the user base is still small and it’s growing from the ground up, i.e. growth is coming from low-end tablets that weren’t designed with anything serious in mind.

Intel talks up the PC market

Intel-logoIntel is in the middle of a leadership change  and on top of that it is facing headwinds coming from all directions. The chipmaker finally seems to be getting it, at least if statements from CEO Brian Krzanich and President Renee James are anything to go by, and they are.

However, although the new Intel is all about Atom and hybrids, the company is still trying to put a positive spin on dismal PC sales. Intel commissioned an IDC survey of 3,997 US adults which apparently found that the PC is still alive and well. We beg to differ.

The survey found that 97 percent of respondents still believe their PCs are their primary computing devices, not smartphones or tablets. They consider access to their PC essential and 73 percent said they would rather go without exercise than without their PC. Geeks aren’t into exercise, but they are into candy and sweets, yet 71 percent said they would rather ditch their sugary treats than their PCs. Another 65 percent said the same about caffeine, 58 percent would rather ditch their TV, while 33 percent would rather spend a few days without their car than without their PC. The average time spent on computing devices was 43 hours a week and half of that was spent in front of a PC.

However, these figures don’t matter nearly as much as the next one – the average PC is four years old. Just a few years ago this would mean that the average PC is ripe for an upgrade, but this is no longer the case. The upgrade cycle has slowed down and average users have little to gain from getting a new PC. Professionals and gamers are a different breed, but the bulk of PC purchases comes from mainstream users.

Over the last decade or so the PC has become so mature that it is practically treated like any other household appliance. People get a new one only when the old one breaks. Nobody buys a new microwave because Samsung launched a new one, with a colour touchscreen. The same is slowly becoming true of PCs.

On a more positive note, the PC is still practically the only platform for productivity. Tablets and smartphones can’t replace it and they can’t even come close, at least not in the foreseeable future. As a result, 83 percent of respondents to the IDC survey said they are more productive on their PCs than on smartphones or tablets. As for the remaining 17 percent, we’re not sure they know what “productive” means.

AMD, Intel gain share in GPU market

graphics-cardsGPU shipments are recovering and according to Jon Peddie Research, the graphics market increased 4.6 percent last quarter, while the PC market as a whole took a 2.5 percent sequential dip. Intel and AMD upped their market share, at Nvidia’s expense, of course.

The increase in overall GPU shipments reveals that many customers are choosing to “double-attach,” or add a discrete GPU to a system with integrated graphics. This doesn’t really paint the full picture, as practically all Intel non-server chips ship with integrated graphics and the same goes for more than two thirds of AMD chips. As a result, the average PC today has 1.4 GPUs on board.

On a year-to-year basis total graphics shipments in the second quarter dropped 6.8 percent. Once again this was better than PC shipments, which slipped 11.2 percent. JPR expects the total shipments of graphics chips in 2016 to hit 319 million units and the CAGR from 2012 to 2016 now stands at -1.4 percent.

jpr-gpu-market-2q13

AMD’s overall PC graphics shipments increased 10.9 percent and the company upped its market share to 21.9 percent. However, shipments of APUs declined 9.6 percent. Shipments of APUs in notebooks increased 47.1 percent, but it should be noted that AMD’s presence in notebooks is rather limited. With that in mind all it takes to get such a high figure is a few design wins.

Intel’s desktop graphics shipments dropped 1.4 percent, but notebooks were up 12.1 percent. Intel’s overall shipments increased 6.2 percent.

Nvidia was the big loser last quarter. Its desktop discrete shipments were down 8.9 percent, while discrete mobile shipments were down 7.1 percent. It should be noted that Nvidia scored the vast majority of Haswell notebook design wins, but new notebooks aren’t exactly flying off shop shelves right now.

Although some of the numbers are encouraging, total GPU shipments were down 5.2 percent from the same quarter last year. The trend for discrete GPUs remains negative, with a CAGR to 2016 of -2.2 percent.

Boston signs distie deal with Mellanox

bostonskylineBoston Limited has just signed a distribution deal with Mellanox Technologies to sell the latter’s Infiniband and Ethernet Interconnect kit, as well as rigging it up with Boston’s own server and storage tech.

Boston hopes the contract will help its growth and development in offering high performance server and storage, especially as enterprises are after scalable options running with high performance and efficiencies.

Mellanox increases efficiency, the company says, by offering the highest throughput with the lowest latency to deliver data, quick, as well as using a system to the best of its capabilities. Interconnects like adapters, switches, software and silicon will all be on offer to optimise HPC, enterprise data, cloud, storage and financial services.

Mellanox’s Darrin Chen said adding Boston Limited as a distie partner will help the company “better address customers looking to achieve their performance”.

“Across EMEA, organisations are increasingly demanding new systems with the scalable and high performance interconnect products to increase application performance and business productivity,” Chen said.

The Mellanox products are available to buy from Boston now.

Smartphones overtake feature phones

smartphones-genericSmartphone sales are up again, but growth is slowing. The worldwide market gobbled up 435 million phones in the second quarter, up 3.6 percent over the same period last year. However, worldwide smartphone sales have now reached 225 million units, up 46.5 percent from a year ago.

It was only a matter of time before smartphone shipments outpaced feature phone shipments and according to Gartner, this happened last quarter. Feature phone, or dumb phone shipments totalled just 210 million units, down 21 percent year-on-year.

“Smartphones accounted for 51.8 percent of mobile phone sales in the second quarter of 2013, resulting in smartphone sales surpassing feature phone sales for the first time,” said Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner. Asia/Pacific, Latin America and Eastern Europe exhibited the highest smartphone growth rates of 74.1 percent, 55.7 percent and 31.6 percent respectively, as smartphone sales grew in all regions.

Samsung still reigns supreme, with 71.4 million units shipped last quarter and a 31.7 percent market share. Apple ranks second with 31.9 million units, but it is losing market share fast. LG and Lenovo had a very good quarter, shipping 11.5 and 10.6 million smartphones respectively. ZTE ranked fifth with 9.7 million units. Nokia, HTC, Blackberry and Sony are no longer in the top five. However, the top five vendors accounted for just 60 percent of the market, while 40 percent went to smaller outfits, including an ever increasing number of Chinese white-box manufacturers.

gartner-smartphones-august2013

Gartner found that much of Samsung’s demand is now coming from mid-tier products and high-end devices with ASPs up to $400. It concluded that Samsung needs to do more to make its mid-range offering more appealing.  Oddly enough Apple also saw a dip in ASP, which is currently at the lowest level since 2007. This is the result of surprising strong sales of the iPhone 4 in some markets. Apple has recognized the trend and it plans to introduce a new, cheaper iPhone next month.

But Lenovo is the name to look out for. It’s making a killing in the dreary PC market and it’s doing even better in smartphones, although much of its effort goes unnoticed in the west. Lenovo almost doubled its share over the last 12 months and the company plans to bring its smartphones to western markets soon, possibly even next year.

Android remains the dominant operating system, with a 79 percent share, up from 64.2 percent a year ago. Apple’s iOS ranks second with a 14.2 percent share, down from 18.8 percent in Q2 2012. Microsoft gained some ground, but Windows Phone 8 still has a tiny share, 3.3 percent, up from 2.6 percent last year. Blackberry’s share halved to 2.7 percent and the Canadian company is now looking for a buyer. As with all things Blackberry, the decision comes three years too late.

Tablet shopping survey reveals strange new sofa habits

smartphone-shoppingA report fresh out of Nielsen found that shoppers behave quite differently when they’re doing their shopping on tablets rather than smartphones. Tablets are a lot more likely to be used for product browsing and tablet users write more product reviews.

Two thirds of smartphone shoppers use their devices mostly at home, while the same goes for four fifths of tablet users. More often than not, they watch TV while their playing with their smart devices. Tablet owners are more active with product research (59 percent) and are more likely to purchase physical items (38 percent) than smartphone shoppers (24 percent).

However, smartphone shoppers make up for it by being more active outside the home. On the other hand, Nielsen found that quite a few mobile shoppers are on the sofa while they’re shopping. This is true of 95 percent of tablet users and 72 percent of smartphone users, who make their purchases from home. Tablet users are more likely to make a purchase overall.

In a brick-and-mortar setting, smartphones reign supreme. As many as 70 percent of smartphone shoppers use a store locator to plan their shopping trip, while 37 percent arrive with organised shopping lists stored on their phones. The majority of smartphone and tablet shoppers use their devices to check prices before pulling the trigger. More smartphone users do this in physical stores. Smartphones also lead the way when it comes to mobile coupons and mobile payments.

Even when their shopping spree is done, many shoppers turn to their tablets to write product reviews or write comments about their purchases on social media. The majority of smartphone and tablet shoppers also use their devices to track the progress of their online orders.

Microsoft faces class-action suit over Surface RT

surface-rtNow that the true extent of Microsoft’s Surface RT flop is becoming obvious, some investors are bent on dragging a bunch of Redmond execs to court, to answer for their misdeeds.

US law firm Robbins Geler Rudman and Dowd has filed a class action suit against the software giant, claiming that the company mislead investors and tried to hide the true scope of the disaster. CEO Steve Ballmer, former CFO Peter Klein, Corporate VP Frank Brod and Executive VP of Marketing Tami Reller are all named in the suit, reports Neowin.

So what exactly does the suit allege?

The firm claims Microsoft deliberately issued materially false and misleading statements regarding the company’s financial performance and the Surface RT in particular. It goes on to state that Microsoft’s financial statements for the first quarter were materially false and misleading and that company officials made misleading positive statements about the Surface RT.

Although Microsoft has a responsibility to its shareholders and it can’t just go about inventing numbers that suit it, we do have to note that a simple Google search for Surface RT painted a terrible but true picture long before Microsoft execs allegedly made the controversial statements. Surface RT was dead in the water when it launched, that was basically the consensus of the tech press months ago.

However, last the official line was somewhat different and it wasn’t until last quarter that Microsoft officially admitted the failure, by announcing a massive $900 million write-down for Surface RT stock. Shipments were dismal and even the recent 30 percent price cut can’t turn things around. As if that wasn’t enough, Microsoft and Nvidia are already working on a new Surface RT tablet and this time next year we’ll probably be reporting on how it failed.

How did it go so terribly wrong? Well, the Surface RT is a Microsoft hardware product and it’s not an Xbox. Need we say more?

IDC expects further IT spending slowdown

pc-sales-slumpIDC has taken a second look into its crystal ball and revised its earlier forecast for worldwide IT spending. Of course, the new numbers are lower.

In May IDC forecast 4.9 percent growth, but now it expects 4.6 percent. What’s more, if tablets and smartphones are taken out of the equation, spending will be up just 1.7 percent. IDC’s May forecast was 2.6 percent.

IDC cites a slowdown in economic growth in emerging markets as the main reason behind its decision to lower forecasts. Growth is slowing down in China and Asia Pacific. Europe is not even worth mentioning. However, it’s not all bad news. IT spending in the US is now expected to increase 4.6 percent this year, up from 4.2 percent forecasted in May.

There’s some good news for mobile outfits, too. IDC expects spending on tablets to be up 39 percent this year, up from a May forecast of 32.5 percent. Smartphone projections are also up, 18.5 percent over 17.2 percent in May.

Unsurprisingly there is nothing good to report on the PC front. PC sales worldwide are now expected to decline 7.2 percent this year. The May forecast was just 2.6 percent in the red. That’s a huge revision in the space of less than three months and the PC market is clearly in worse shape than analysts thought.

Dell grabs 1st place in notebook education

Michael DellDell has been approved under all three National Desktop and Notebook Agreement framework lots, meaning the company will once again be able to sell its  gear to consortia-affiliated universities and colleges.

Dell is now certified in six National Framework Agreements for universities, further education, and the UK’s Research Council, the company points out.

NDNA is a significant procurement path for selling products to the higher education sector, with the majority of institutions subscribing to the framework.

The company can provide desktops, notebooks, and services, marking an approximate combined value of roughly £310 million for the up to four years of the framework.

Dell grabbed first place in the notebook lot, meaning the consortia can contract Dell without bids from the competition.

The company cited its existing relationships with universities like Aberdeen, Cambridge, and UCL, and that it has supplied over 40 percent of UK unis with desktops or notebooks.

If universities so want, they can buy Dell kit without lengthy tender processes, as well as consistent pricing across desktops, workstations, thin clients, services, and tablet hardware – though the latter may not be particularly appealing to date. Dell also has a technical pre- and post- sales team dedicated to higher education.

Director for education at Dell UK, Kenneth Harley, said that IT is a “vital component” for education institutions to maintain their competitiveness and attract top students. “To do this, the provision of a personalised learning experience supported by best in class, affordable IT is crucial,” Harley said.

Pricey PCs kill any hint of recovery

pc-sales-slumpPC shipments have been slow for months and they should start bottoming out soon, but the PC cause is being undermined by pricey laptops, analysts believe. A new breed of high-end designs based on Haswell parts is shipping, but their prices seem out of touch with reality. 

Buyers just don’t want to pay the premium for new chips, touchscreens or new form factors – and that premium can be quite steep. Most new Haswell laptops and ultrabooks cost a lot more than the average budget laptop and quite a few of them are priced north of £1,000.

“The thought that you can sell a $1,400 notebook is ridiculous. The mess is partly credited to Windows 8,” said Roger Kay, president and principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, reports IDG News Service. “In their bones they don’t get it. They refuse to deal with the reality of what’s going on.”

Mikako Kitagawa, research analyst at Gartner, believes laptop prices have stabilized and may even creep up. PC vendors are trying to position laptops as premium products compared to tablets, which means they are more likely to focus on high-end and mid-range models, with higher margins.
This may leave more room for cheaper brands, who could focus on entry level laptops, but then again such laptops are experiencing high cannibalization rates from tablets, so the trend is a mixed bag at best. Still, someone always finds a way to make the most of a crisis and we reckon Chromebook makers could do well in such a climate.

However, things aren’t that great in the high-end, either. Now that most people are used to dirt cheap laptops and equally cheap tablets, convincing them to pay more for “premium” models won’t be easy.

Other than prestige or brand snobbery, it’s really hard to make a convincing case for high-end laptops right now. There will be no shortage of executives willing to pay £1,000 or more for a stylish piece of kit, or enthusiasts who go for even pricier, boutique offerings. However, most users will probably be better off buying a budget model for £500 and spending the rest on a tablet, or a vacant apartment complex in Spain.

Touch gambit won’t pay off for Microsoft, Intel

tablet-POS-cash-registerFor months we’ve been hearing talk of new and exciting Windows 8.x devices, with touchscreens and exciting new form factors. Now that they are slowly starting to appear, it seems that the optimism was unfounded, and that’s putting it mildly.

Although some industry leaders like Acer’s Jim Wong said touch enabled notebooks would make up about 30 to 35 percent of all shipments, IDC believes the actual figure will much lower.

“We forecast that 17 percent to 18 percent of all notebooks would have touch this year,” IDC analyst Bob O’Donnell said in a recent interview. “But that now looks to be too high, to be honest.”

O’Donnell said IDC would probably slash its estimates to between 10 percent and 15 percent of touch-enabled notebooks. NPD DisplaySearch puts the number at just 12 percent, reports Computer World.

This is very bad news for Microsoft and Intel. Users simply don’t appear to be interested in touchbooks and to be honest they shouldn’t be. Simply slapping a touchscreen on a computer with Microsoft’s user interface doesn’t transform it into an appealing tablet. Microsoft gambled on touch support in its radical UI interface in Windows 8 and the gamble didn’t pay off. Traditionalists used to the old Windows 7 layout and the Start button hated it. At the same time it didn’t manage to attract the tablet crowd.

Cost is another problem. Touch-enabled notebooks are still relatively expensive and O’Donnell believes the prices aren’t falling fast enough, as they are still in the $699 to $799 range. In other words customers are being asked to say yes to a massive premium for something they essentially don’t need and don’t really want.

O’Donnell believes it’s time for Microsoft to recognize that touchscreens don’t have the Midas touch they won’t help sell notebooks. He stressed that Microsoft has to make sure that Windows 8.x works well in a non-touch environment, as ninety percent of PCs sold this year simply won’t have touch support.

Academia expands portfolio

salamancaEducation technology group Academia is launching a new commercial business team within Academia Technology Group as a reseller for enterprise customers.

Leading the team will be Richard Faucher, who has previously worked at PC World, Misco, Insight, and Computacenter, and has 20+ years in the IT sector. It will be branded Academia for Business.

Academia hopes to built on its reputation as an existing Apple, Toshiba, Adobe, HP, and Microsoft supplier but to expand with mainstream server and storage to help business customers.

In a statement, Faucher said account managers will focus on different markets, including publishing and media, telecoms and technology, law and finance, and sports and leisure.