Category: Opinions

Deal could kill any hope of Dell Chromebooks

Dell logoChromebooks are the new netbooks, but not the in the sense that they’ll go extinct over the next couple of years. They are dirt cheap, making them ideal for some niches and recent surveys indicate that Chromebook deployment in SMBs and even some bigger organisations makes a lot of financial sense.

On the other hand, Chromebooks could help PC vendors weather the storm as they complement proper laptops and to some extent tablets. HP, Lenovo, Samsung and Acer are already on board. Asus is rumoured to be working on Chromebooks as well, but what about Dell?

Dell doesn’t do Chromebooks and The VAR Guy reckons that there’s a good chance it won’t do any in the future, either. Dell is trying to go private, some shareholders don’t like the idea one bit and one particular detail could end all hope of Dell Chromebooks. If Dell does indeed go private, it will have to accept a $2 billion loan from Microsoft.

It is speculation at this point, but a $2 billion loan tends to come with some strings attached. Needless to say Microsoft has a vested interest in keeping Chromebooks away from mainstream markets and it already has a great relationship with Dell. In fact, Dell is one of the few PC vendors that did not try to expand into Android tablets. It does make tablets, but they run Windows RT and Windows 8 rather than Android. Its only foray into Android waters was the Ophelia, a thumb drive PC based on Android.

It’s quite a conundrum and it might get even worse. Chromebooks are just getting started and if HP, Lenovo and the rest of the gang start reporting positive sales figures over the next few months, pitchfork wielding shareholders could start demanding Chromebooks and Android gear from Dell. Lenovo is already making a killing on Android smartphones and tablets, Acer and Asus are also doing quite well, so why should Dell shareholders settle for anything less?

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!”

Nvidia’s tablet push starts to take shape

tegra-tabNvidia is trying to reinvent itself and make up for lost ground on the PC front with Tegra, but simply designing chips isn’t enough for the GPU maker.

Earlier this year Nvidia showed off the Phoenix, a mid-range smartphone based on the upcoming Tegra 4i. Then it introduced the Shield, a curious little device which aims to combine PC streaming and Android gaming in one package.

There has been talk of Nvidia tablets for months and even that is hardly news. Nvidia’s first crack at the tablet market came last year, but it went under the radar. Kai was the name and it was a loose reference design for cheap tablets based on the Tegra 3, much like a Nexus 7. It never took off.

Now it seems Nvidia is ready to ditch reference designs and sell tablets under its own brand and the floodgates opened. Yesterday it emerged that the company trademarked “Tegra Tab” in the US, while Fudzilla reported that a high-end tablet based on the upcoming Tegra 5 is coming in early 2014. Today a Chinese tech site leaked the first images of an actual Tegra Tab. The photos reveal a 7-inch device with stylus support, microHDMI output and a rubberized back, similar to the Nexus 7.

There is still no word on specs, availability or pricing for the device, but the leaks are shedding more light on Nvidia’s tablet push. Like most tablet makers, Nvidia appears to be gunning for two form factors, 7 inches and probably something close to 10 inches. Tegra Tab is the brand name, but we’re not sure how Nvidia plans to play it out. It’s practically certain that Nvidia will roll out tablets under its own brand, but it might offer the exact same platform, perhaps even the brand name to its hardware partners.

Nvidia decided to design and market the Shield on its own. Since it is a rather odd device which doesn’t fall into any existing category and doesn’t compete with other Tegra products, the decision made sense.

However, if Nvidia starts selling tablets based on its latest SoCs, it could irk quite a few of its clients. Tegra 3 got plenty of traction in the tablet market, but Tegra 4 won’t replicate its success. The Tegra 3 powered a bunch of Android tablets last year, including the Nexus 7 and other Asus models. It also ended up in the Surface RT, which flopped quite spectacularly.

Now that Tegra 4 tablets are few and far between, it should be a lot easier for Nvidia to come up with its own tablets without burning too many bridges. Nvidia posted some rather disappointing Tegra figures in its latest earnings report yesterday and it pinned part of the blame on the failure of Windows RT. CEO Jen Hsun Huang admitted that Tegra revenue won’t recover in the short term.

Although the market for Android tablets is booming, much of the growth appears to be coming from cheap white-box tablets. Big vendors are struggling to turn a profit on high-end Android tablets and even hot 7-inchers aren’t doing very well. Entering the Android tablet market at this point is a bit like invading Russia in November.

So what’s behind Nvidia’s decision to start building Tegra based tablets, consoles and phones? It might be strategic thinking, diversifying and going after new markets should appease investors in the short term, although it might be a while before Nvidia’s Tegra consumer hardware operations turn a profit. Nvidia is no longer in consoles, the high volume low-end graphics market is disappearing and the Tegra business should fill the gap, backed by high-end consumer GPUs and professional graphics. Nvidia could potentially start bundling Shield consoles and cheap tablets with high end cards or allowing embattled AIB partners to build tablets based on its reference designs.

The other explanation is desperation rather than long-term strategic thinking. Tegra 3 was the company’s biggest success in the SoC market to date. It ended up in the HTC One X, Nexus 7 and Surface RT, along with a bunch of other devices. Even so, it wasn’t a big seller as the combined shipments of the Nexus 7 and Surface RT are estimated at 6.5 to 8 million units, depending on who you talk to. Asus and other vendors also used the Tegra 3 in their own designs, but very few of them actually shipped. Tegra 4 was late, too big and too hot, so it scored even fewer design wins and it doesn’t power a single phone.

Even if Nvidia somehow manages to score the majority of high-end Android tablet design wins, it would not end up with impressive volumes. An HTC One or Galaxy S4 routinely outsell all high-end Android tablets combined. Meanwhile Tegra 4i won’t be ready for the next four months and even when it ships it will go after mid-range phones. Nvidia is running out of options, fast. If it doesn’t score any high-volume design wins with the Tegra 5, it might have no choice but to use its chips in its own gear.

That is not a strategy. That is doing the only thing that can be done and calling it a strategy. That is tactics.

PC gaming hardware bucks negative trend

gamer-sexAlthough the PC market is going through a rough patch, sales of gaming hardware seem to be weathering the storm quite well. Hardcore gamers are enthusiasts, they can’t trade in their beloved desktops for laptops, let alone tablets. Even console gaming is frowned upon in many circles.

As a result, gamers are continuing to spend and upgrade their high-end PCs. Jon Peddie Research found that sales of gaming hardware will continue to grow and at a CAGR of 3 percent over the next three years. Sales slumped this year and they are expected to hit $18.3 billion. By 2016, however, JPR reckons they will reach $20.7 billion.

Jon Peddie, President of JPR said “Not only is gaming becoming an even more important purchasing influence of PC sales due to the offloading of more basic functionality to smart devices, but we are forecasting growth in the most expensive discrete graphics products. We are also impressed with the embedded graphics offerings this generation and going forward.”

Analyst Ted Pollak also pointed out that many new games are placing increasing demands on the CPU, hence swapping out the graphics card doesn’t do the trick anymore – gamers have to upgrade their CPUs as well. In many cases this means they have to replace the motherboard as well, while investments in additional components such as faster memory and power supply units are not uncommon in such scenarios.

JPR believes that traditional PCs have an advantage in casual gaming as x86 tablets expand the market, and new powerful CPUs with built-in graphics have opened the door to the living room. Nothing can surpass PCs at this point in time because they can run ultra high resolution graphics better than any other platform. Sadly though, 4K or UHD monitors and TVs are still years away from going mainstream, as they could generate even more demand for high-end GPUs and CPUs.

However, although JPR’s forecast is good news for many vendors, we have some long-term concerns.

PC gaming doesn’t come cheap and with record youth unemployment and very little in the way of disposable income, high-end gaming PCs are simply out of reach for many potential buyers. AAA titles don’t come cheap, either. Furthermore most gamers grew up with PCs and they developed a love for tinkering and hardware at a very young age. Now that most kids’ first contact with computers comes in the form of tablets, smartphones and consoles, it will be increasingly difficult to recruit new PC gamers.

In addition, the pace of hardware development in the PC industry is slowing. While we see twofold performance improvements with each generation of ARM-based SoCs, big GPUs and CPUs used in high-end PCs simply can’t deliver such boosts and the performance difference between subsequent generations is narrowing. This trend is here to stay, due to technical limitations, but development of ARM chips is also likely to slow down, as they hit the thermal barrier. Cloud gaming and streaming are also potential threats. A few years down the road gamers might be leasing processing power and streaming games to any screen they want, which would be very bad news for some vendors. Luckily, that won’t happen anytime soon.

Chinese smartphones to shake things up

android-china-communistSales of high-end smartphones are still very strong, but the market seems to be slowly shifting to cheaper gear.

As smartphone penetration rates in developed markets are already relatively high, much of the new growth is coming from emerging markets which don’t have the capacity to gobble up millions of pricey iPhones and flagship Galaxies.

According to IDC, the average price of smartphones has dropped from $450 to $375 since early 2012. As growth is now being generated in China and India, cheaper smartphones are starting to take off. Lenovo stands to gain from the trend, as it already has a very powerful grip on the Chinese market. Chinese players like Huawei and ZTE should also do well. The big losers might be Apple and Samsung, but nobody expects them to sulk and sob in the corner while their lead evaporates.

Apple is apparently working on a cheaper, plastic iPhone, designed specifically to target emerging markets. Samsung and HTC already have mini versions of their flagship phones and although the Galaxy S3 Mini was a disappointment, HTC seems to have cracked it with the HTC One Mini. Motorola’s new X-phone, or Moto X, is set to launch in a week or so and it won’t be a high-end device as many had expected.

However, Chinese smartphone makers still might get the best of big brands. We are seeing similar trends in the low-end tablet market. Chinese manufacturers can respond to changes much faster, they are more dynamic and their costs are much lower. Samsung and Apple might spend hundreds of millions on marketing, but no-name smartphone makers can’t rely on an overpaid hype machine – their only choice is to come up with low-BOM (bill of materials), yet competitive low-margin products, which means China is actually teaching the West a lesson in capitalism.

ABI analyst Michael Morgan told Bloomberg that the days of fast growth in the high-end smartphone market are over.

“It’s the Chinese companies who know how to survive on tiny margins that are ready for the fight that’s about to ensue,” he said.

In other words we may be in for a repeat of the PC price slump of the mid nineties. Chinese manufacturers can churn out cheap smartphones and tablets, much like PCs, but this time around the shift might even be faster. Even if Chinese companies can’t access the latest and greatest in mobile tech, that doesn’t really matter in the mid-range and low-end. Last year’s tech is good enough and it’s cheap, which is exactly what they need.

Furthermore, most chipmakers should have no qualms about selling their latest processors to anyone willing to pay – since most of them don’t have their own smartphone business, although Samsung is an exception. The same goes for most other components and some chipmakers have a vested interest in peddling their own designs. Nvidia seems to be leading the way, as it is already working on reference smartphone and tablet designs. Its next SoC (Tegra 4i) is a mid-range chip with LTE and the first products based on the new chip, and possibly Nvidia’s reference design, should appear in early 2014.

This is also pretty bad news for Nokia, which had hoped to replace its Symbian and S40-based offerings with cheap Windows phones. However, Nokia feature phone users in emerging markets seem to be choosing cheap Chinese Androids instead.

However, most high-end smartphone sales in Europe are still coming from carriers, thanks to comprehensive (and usually quite pricey) two-year plans. If European and US carriers embrace more mid-range Chinese phones, things could change in a heartbeat.

Intel in Atomic damage control mode

Intel-logoIntel reported its second-quarter earnings on Wednesday and the general consensus is that the numbers were weaker than expected. Net income was down 29 percent, while sales of PC chips, which make up about two thirds of Chipzilla’s revenue, were down 7.5 percent. Sales fell five percent to $12.8 billion, missing analysts’ forecasts by $100 million. 

Microsoft way below the Surface

titanic-ship-wreckThis week Microsoft announced that it was cutting the price of the ARM based version of its Surface tablets.

Instantly it kicked itself an own goal with many of the more cynical types in the industry saying that it was a fire sale which HP did when its tablet failed.

Both were trying to do something fairly radical.  HP was trying to convince the world that its WebOS was up to snuff and Microsoft was trying to tell the world that it could run on ARM chips.

HP ended up flogging its warehouses in a fire sale and no the thought is that Microsoft has done the same.

There are some similarities between the HP situation and what Microsoft is doing now, but it is not to do with a fire sale.  Microsoft did make a number of mistakes when it came to its Surface and not it is trying to repair that error.

The biggest error Microsoft did was on an increasing saturated market it attempted to launch a product at a price which was far too high to push it into the market.

It also initially launched a product based around ARM which could not do half the things that the x86 version could manage.

At the time there was a good rumour that Microsoft was going to release its keyboard based Surface at about $100 to $150 lower than Apple.  This would have to be subsidised, but would certainly have proved popular and could have gotten Vole’s foot in the door.

However Microsoft decided instead not to do that.  In fact there was some indications that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did not want to hack off his OEMs too much by releasing a cut price tablet which would have knocked them out of the market.

After coming into the market late, and with a product that was going to be overpriced and a tough sell, Microsoft did not do too badly.  However the figures did leave Microsoft with shedloads of overpriced tablets sitting in its warehouse.

The answer to this was to come in late with price cuts and hope that cheap and cheerful RTs would encourage future upgrades to the concept later.

But typically with things Microsoft, it mis-handled the whole thing.   What Microsoft wanted to do was issue a new range of Surface tablets with a better spec.   It wanted to empty its warehouses so it could introduce a better selling model.

If it were Apple it would start the world talking about the new spec first.  Then no one would question what the price cuts were all about.  Those who wanted the new machines would wait, while those who did not care too much about future proofing would believe they had a good deal.

But Microsoft kept the news of its new tablets quiet until after the cuts were announced, giving the impression that they had not sold.  This re-enforced the view that the Surface was really dead in the water.

All the way down the line, Ballmer has mis-read what is happening in the Tablet market and mis-judged how Microsoft should have responded.  This is despite having a tablet which is arguably a better product than anything on the market.

 

Mobile PC market in the doldrums

pc-sales-slumpThe mobile PC market has suffered its worst performance in 11 years, according to an IHS report.

Mobile PC shipments worldwide sank 6.9 percent compared to the first three months of the year, marking the first sequential decline since Q2 2002. Traditionally there has been growth in the second quarter, with the exception of 2002 and now, including last year where mobile PCs grabbed a 3.9 percent boost.

But analyst group IHS believes the poor results will spread beyond the second quarter. Taking the first half of 2013 overall, mobile PCs have had the worst performance since 2003 – with a 11.2 percent contraction compared to the same time last year.  This can be compared to a 41.7 percent surge as recently as 2010 to understand where the industry has found itself.

Ultrabooks have failed to woo consumers and, in the midst of global economic crisis, potential buyers are holding off on upgrading, even with price cuts and special offers from manufacturers.

“The mobile PC industry on the whole is struggling to find any momentum for growth as upheavals rock the market,” IHS compute analyst Craig Stice said. “In particular, more nimble devices like media tablets have taken over among consumers given their ease of use and unique form factor”.

IHS noted that innovation in mobile PCs has stagnated and low cost tablets have taken away further market share.

This all fits in nicely with the dominating narrative that the PC is dead, but this will not be the case. Although tablets are a far nicer experience for computing on the go or lazing around at home, it’s rather hard to get an essay done or other work finished on those devices. Instead PC makers will have to adapt and understand that the world is simply too out of pocket to justify upgrading to a new machine every couple of years. PCs have gone from being all in one devices to finding their niche in useful work or serious gaming. The rest can be done with a tablet or smartphone.

As IHS says, Intel’s Bay Trail and AMD’s Temash processors could inject some life into the market as PCs become lower cost, but higher performance and lower power. PC makers, IHS says, are “contemplating a new class of  performance PCs that would incorporate the new processors at affordable prices”.

There is still a current of hope for ultrathin devices, too, but Intel really put all its eggs in one basket when it arrogantly thought high cost Macbook Air knock-offs would fly off the shelf as the whole world got seriously more out of pocket.

“If a new low-cost PC offering strong performance can become available on the market and meet consumer expectations, then PCs could be set for more growth,” Stice said. “Not like the glory days of the 2000s, but growth nonetheless.”

Android consoles stumble

nvidia-shieldSony, Microsoft and Nintendo have rolled out their latest generation consoles and although they feature very impressive hardware, some analysts are already saying that they could be the last generation of big consoles on proprietary operating systems.

Sales of mobile consoles have also taken a hit, as more and more consumers traded them in for smartphones and tablets. It’s nothing new, we saw the same trend with personal media players and compact cameras.

However, if mobiles are indeed cannibalising consoles, isn’t it time for smartphone makers to capitalize on the trend? Google seems to think so. Late Thursday several reputable outlets reported that Google is indeed working on some sort of Android console. It is apparently loosely based on the Nexus Q, a streaming device which flopped before it hit the market. Google is starting to take hardware quite seriously. A couple of years ago it only sold a single product, the developer friendly Nexus smartphone series. However, over the past 12 months Google also introduced two Nexus tablets and Google Glass. Let’s not forget about the company’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility, either.

On the other hand, it must be said that Google’s idea is anything but original. Kickstarter sensation Ouya is about to hit the market, after a couple of delays. Based on Nvidia’s old Tegra 3 chip, the Ouya was envisioned as a homebrew Android console with a $99 price tag. The first reviews weren’t impressive, but then again this is hardly surprising given the nature of the project.

Nvidia also entered the fray with Project Shield, a handheld console based on the much more powerful Tegra 4 SoC. It’s a bit bigger than Sony’s or Nintendo’s handhelds, but it also has a unique trick up its sleeve. It can be used to stream PC games, but the feature is still not ready for prime time. It has a 720p screen and a $299 price tag, but yesterday Nvidia announced that Shield would be delayed by a few weeks due to a mechanical fault.

The delays illustrate that Android consoles are bound to face a number of teething problems. Android still lacks truly compelling games designed to attract hardcore gamers. Most Android games are made with the casual gamer in mind, and with relatively poor hardware. However, hardware shouldn’t be an issue in the long run. Mobile chips are evolving at a much faster pace than their PC counterparts. New SoC designs like the Snapdragon 800 and Tegra 4 feature vastly improved GPUs and they are capable of delivering a pleasant gaming experience at 720p and even 1080p, with some caveats. The level of detail still can’t come close to PC or console games, regardless of what spinners would have us believe. Although a 1080p game could look lovely on a 4.8-inch smartphone, it wouldn’t be much to look at on a 40- to 50-inch television.

Software might be a tougher nut to crack. Piracy is rampant on Android and even if that wasn’t a problem most users prefer casual games on the go, rather than big budget games that can generate plenty of revenue to pay for the eye candy needed for 1080p televisions. Attracting big developers won’t be easy, but someone has to make the first step and in this case it seems as if Nvidia has the best chance of getting some devs on board, as it is trying to get the best of both worlds, with PC streaming on a portable Android console with pretty good hardware. To make Android consoles truly attractive, developers must start coming up with titles specifically designed to make good use of physical controllers and fast chips used in such devices. The one size fits all approach, used to develop tablet and smartphone games, just won’t work. With next to no Android consoles on the market, this won’t happen anytime soon.

If Android consoles do take off, and we believe they will, sooner or later, the gaming market could be in for a frugal surprise. An average high-budget Xbox game costs about $60, yet the Ouya is priced at $99 and the Shield should sell for $299. This is a massive difference that won’t go unnoticed in emerging markets, or in the West for that matter. The Play Store could also democratize the market, allowing small outfits with good ideas to publish their games with ease, ending up with a runaway hit. Such success stories are not uncommon in the iOS and Android universe, as the market is not dominated by huge developers with endless budgets. The openness also means other software can be developed and put to good use, transforming Android consoles into proper home entertainment centres, capable of handling rudimentary computing, thus putting even more pressure on the embattled PC market.

All this leaves us with a very interesting emerging market, with plenty of pitfalls and opportunities for all involved. As tablets and smartphones mature, hardware makers will start exploring smaller niches. Samsung already has Android cameras and a strange phone-camera hybrid with a zoom lens. Smaller outfits are building dirt cheap Android sticks and some are experimenting with other form factors, like gaming tablets.

Although the first generation of Android consoles doesn’t seem too impressive, the market will be anything but boring over the next few years.

Analysts call on Acer to rethink its strategy

acer-logo-ceLast week Acer held its annual shareholder bash in Taiwan, which was marked by a strange mix of optimism and admissions that the company was unprepared for the boom in tablets. Acer chairman Wang Jeng-tang issued an apology to shareholders, as he failed to boost the company’s shares, but he reiterated Acer’s commitment to the traditional PC market.

The dangers of big corporate partners

Finding-Nemo-Shark-Wallpaper-HDSalesforce is writing a cheque for $2.5 billion to buy ExactTarget in a move which should be putting the frighteners on its marketing software partners such as Marketo.

Buying ExactTarget will push Salesforce deeply into marketing software which is a region it has so far looked to its partners to provide.

Salesforce owned several marketing-related technology outfits but these were mostly to put adverts on social media sites. But ExactTarget looks at multi-channel marketing automation, an area where Salesforce.com has generally relied on Marketo.

In the announcement Salesforce highlighted a Gartner report which predicted that chief marketing officers will spend more money on IT than CIOs by 2017.

Salesforce.com and ExactTarget’s products, when combined, will “create a world-class marketing platform across email, social, mobile and the web,” Salesforce.com said in a statement.

Salesforce is coy about the effect that such a move will have on its business partnerships, in fact it is hardly mentioning it at all.

However, the move might cause some alarm. When the economy is at a low ebb, bigger aggressive companies can pick up some of their partners quite cheaply.

Marketo has suddenly found that one of its closest partners has now become a rival. It is fairly likely that it will not be the first channel partner to find itself in such a situation.

It might be worth partners, who are dependent on multi-national, cash rich outfits, to pop around with their sales figures and customer lists and suggest that the bigger companies buy them out. Certainly it might give them some form of job security and direct the bigger company’s attention away from rivals before it is too late.

Google – the egregious corporation

Google the OgleDoes being the Jack of all Trades and the master of none apply to Google? I fear so. Having oodles of cash has tempted Google into all manner of strange ventures but it’s pretty clear that some of its wacky ideas are way off kilter.

Take the supply chain, for example, and Google’s venture into being a hardware company. The evidence is that it simply doesn’t have a clue about the very complicated infrastructure in Asia – the original design manufacturers (ODMs) need to be cultivated and have learned from the School of Hard Knocks that most of the trouble in the world come from vendors that make microprocessors and operating systems.

To be fair to Google, it has been consistent. It has, like Amazon, destroyed more industries than it’s created.  Bookshops. What are they?  Books? Google will take care of that problem, thank you very much. Google has also undermined the publishing and the advertising industries. You might say that is a good thing, but ask any large publisher what they think of Google and you will hear a torrent of bad language that would make a navvie quake.

Then there’s news. Google News is one of the stupidest concepts on the planet and is well on its way to destroying journalism, with hacks everywhere not bothering to cultivate contacts but simply copying what other hacks have written. So much for investigative journalism – Google News has turned hackdom into a crazy carousel.

The Google search engine is, of course, bloody useful, but it encourages laziness too and the search results are tainted by Google adverts.

Google’s motto about doing no evil implies it is doing evil.  These mottoes invariably turn into their opposites – think of the League of Nations, think of the United Nations.  Any organization that uses the word harmony contains within itself the seed of chaos.  Catchlines are minetraps.  Google is a money making organization and altruism is no part of that.

Don’t let yourself be bullied by Google. Nor by Microsoft or Intel. Rant over.

Windows 8 gear set to get cheaper

pc-sales-slumpThe PC market is in the middle of its worst slump ever, but there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. PC makers believe prices of Windows 8 devices will fall dramatically in the not so distant future. 

On Wednesday Acer President Jim Wong said Microsoft is becoming increasingly considerate to its hardware partners and that it is finally starting to listen to their suggestions and ideas. Shifting the focus to cheaper products seems to have been the loudest suggestion. Wong also pointed out that touch enabled devices will open up a lot of possibilities for PCs, but he also warned that many simply don’t need touchscreens on their trusty PCs.

On the other hand, more touchscreens and mouth-watering price points could spell more competition in the cutthroat tablet market, dominated by Apple and Android gear. A number of manufacturers are already working on smaller Windows 8 tablets as well. The success of the iPad mini and even cheaper 7-inch ARMdroids did not go unnoticed, but it will take some effort to make Windows 8 truly competitive in this market, which is already becoming overcrowded.

First of all, Windows 8 is a bloated operating system by tablet standards. This means Windows 8 tablet designs need a lot more storage than their iOS or Android counterparts, which tends to drive the price a bit higher. Windows 8.1, or Windows Blue, could try to tackle this shortcoming. Secondly, they need very efficient x86 chips to be economically feasible, but upcoming x86 SoC designs from Intel and AMD should go a long way towards addressing this issue. Finally, Redmond has to cut Windows 8 prices, plain and simple.

However, Asus CEO Jerry Shen warns that there is no quick fix for Microsoft’s tablet woes. Windows 8 tablets are quite a bit pricier than their Android counterparts and they cost at least $150 more. Shen believes the price gap could narrow to about $50 this year, which should considerably improve Microsoft’s competitiveness.

Acer Chairman J.T. Wang said Microsoft’s willingness to adapt to change is a good sign for the PC industry, reports the Wall Street Journal.  He was rather blunt about it, too.

“In the past we consider they (Microsoft) live in heaven,” he said. “But now they go down to earth and they start to learn how people living on earth think.”

Although tablets are generating all the buzz lately, there are some changes on the PC front as well. An increasing number of all-in-ones and more powerful mini-PCs are hitting the market. Ultrabooks sales are still failing to impress, but there is some good news to report on the notebook front as well. Prices of Ivy Bridge notebooks are seeing double-digit cuts, as Intel partners gear up to introduce Haswell-based models over the next few months.

Ivy Bridge notebook prices slashed

Intel-logoThe UK market is following in Taiwan’s lead and slashing Ivy Bridge notebook and desktop prices in preparation for Intel’s Haswell launch, resellers have said.

However, they have warned that in the current climate the company is doing itself no favours with the price reductions.

The comments come after a report in DigiTimes suggested  that retail channels in the Taiwan market had begun to slash prices of Intel’s Ivy Bridge machines, which retail from $611, by an average of 10 percent. However, other models were reduced further with discounts between 20-30 percent.

And the orders from above have filtered down to the UK with resellers also feeling the pressure to slash.

“We’re getting orders for reductions too for the same reasons. But, this isn’t anything new, it’s the way the cycle works,” one reseller told ChannelEye.

“I’m not sure about the 20 to 30 percent reductions. At the moment we’re seeing five to 15 percent. But as the date of launch comes closer we’ll probably be forced to slash prices even more.”

However, others claimed the company wasn’t doing itself or the new launch any favours with the reductions.

“Whenever Intel is about to make a new release we see the old models, even if they haven’t been on the shelves for long, slashed in price,” another reseller added.

“While it works for us in terms of not carrying so much surplus stock, for companies it means they are losing potential customers and money with consumers and businesses now taking heed of these sales and waiting until these price cuts happen.

“Once the new products are launched the sales circle starts again.”

Another agreed, telling ChannelEye: “This is nothing new. It’s the way of retail life. But it’s not a good model to follow, especially in this climate where consumers are waiting to pounce on bargains and refusing to pay full price for anything.

“Maybe Intel should concentrate on getting existing lines right before making price cuts and new products that will no doubt be left sitting on the shelf.”

Demand for SSDs to stay strong

hdd-hugeAlthough the PC market has seen better days, shipments of solid state drives are expected to grow more than 600 percent by 2017, according to the latest figures released by IHS. However, even at this rate, two thirds of PCs shipped in 2017 will still have mechanical hard drives, although many of them will probably be hybrids. 

PC SSD shipments are expected to hit 227 million units in 2017, up from 31 million last year.

Hard drive shipments will drop to 410 million by 2017, down 14 percent from 475 million in 2012. In just five short years SSDs will claim 36 percent of the market, up from just six percent last year. HDDs will account for the remaining 64 percent, but memory makers stand to cash in from them as well, as hybrid drives hit the market in ever increasing numbers.

The driving force behind the SSD boom will be ultrabooks and other ultrathin devices. IHS analyst Fang Zhang believes ultrabooks and ultrathins, combined with touch screens and convertible form factors, will become very compelling machines, designed to lure consumers away from smartphones and tablets.

Of course, none of this is possible without more consumer interest. Although enthusiasts have been buying SSDs for years, the standard PC box buyer doesn’t care too much about the latest storage technology, which is still too pricey for mainstream adoption. Ultrabooks are slowly changing the public perception of SSDs are geeky devices for gamers and enthusiasts. Consumers are slowly starting to appreciate the added agility and responsiveness of SSD-based systems, and prices are tumbling as well.

On Tuesday Seagate announced its first series of SSD products designed to cover all market segments. The news was closely followed by an announcement from Western Digital and SadDisk, who will collaborate on new hybrid drives. Traditional HDD churners simply have to transition to SSDs and hybrid drives, it is just a matter of time.

“SSDs have dropped in price this year. The industry would probably put this down to supply and demand – but if I’m honest I think it’s all down to competition. Big players are moving in and really taking this industry to the next level – this week WD and Seagate separately announced their SSD push – and it wouldn’t surprise me if these larger players triggered a price war to push smaller players out of the market,” a reseller told us. “In terms of getting consumers more involved isn’t it just a case of making them a more prominent feature of gadgets and cost points? The average consumer just cares about what they can get and for how much.”

More marketing cash from the likes of Seagate and Western Digital will help, but so will tablets and smartphones. Consumer are already enjoying the perks of speedy solid state storage on their iPads and Androids, which means they are far more likely to go for an SSD based PC next time they upgrade. It is basically a case of not downgrading from a horse to a donkey, as Balkanese old wise men would say.