The Holidays are coming and here come the tablets!!

It does not seem a day goes by where the tech news is not lit ablaze with news of the latest tablet coming to market. This week alone there is news about the pricing of the Microsoft Surface. The impending release of the Apple iPad mini. The newest version of the Amazon Kindle Fire. The Samsung Galaxy. Google Nexus. A dozen or more Windows 8 tablets coming. We are truly in the age of the tech savvy consumer.It is a very exciting time in technology. as what we knew, the desktop, is dying and being replaced with more functional and more fun devices.

One thing is clear in all this haze of devices is that the enterprise IT departments have lost control of the ability to define technology,  Truth be told this has been going on for sometime.  We could probably pin point it to the release of the iPhone.  When the iPhone came out corporate execs were even telling their IT departments to provide support on the corporate network for the iPhone.   At my former employer. Microsoft. who despised the iPhone were being pushed about by disgruntled Windows Phone users, to the point that there were over 7,000 iPhone’s on the Microsoft network.  Apple even had to license Microsoft Active Sync so Microsoft Outlook users could get their email on their iPhone.T hen the iPad was released and before you knew it a new acronym was created BYOD (Bring Your Own Device).  Users were fed up with waiting for corporate IT to deliver devices that yielded productivity they had their own ideas.  Users today are not waiting for IT to deliver on their needs they are driving IT to meet their needs.

What does this have to do with the holidays?  This year is shaping up to be a significant year as the tablet craze will drive into high gear and cause more challenges and pain for IT managers. When people come back from the Christmas break they will be armed with a slew of new devices, not just tablets but new smartphones.  The Chief Security Officer will face a dilemma, ban BYOD or face rebellion.  The market is changing and evolving.

Do I see a winner in the technology race?  Windows 8 launches on Oct 26th.  However in an attempt to mute the noise Apple will look to launch the iPad mini on Oct 23rd.  Not to mention that there are plenty of Android based devices out on the market.  However this week Apple released a whole new line of iMacs and Tablets and they are slick Each device has its advantages.

I do foresee the Amazon Kindle Fire having a big holiday as the device has now matured as it has had a year to grow and improve and at a price of $199 it’s hard to beat on cost alone.  I like the Amazon approach which is more like which is similar to game consoles, lose money on the device and sell additional services.  Amazon is that dark horse in this category that I see being very successful in this category down the road.  Companies that succeed in today’s tech world seem to understand the intersection of the consumer and the internet.  Being the world’s largest online retailer seems to have helped Amazon understand this and they are quickly learning how to profit from this intersection.

On the Apple front I am curious as they now have two devices the iPad and the iPad Mini, if one will be wildly more popular than the other.  Steve Jobs was fond of saying, “If you do not cannibalize your product, someone else will”. Unlike the iPad the mini is not breakthrough, in fact it looks like Apple is following others lead, in releasing a smaller form factor.  Which for Apple is not the norm. It is also priced higher.  But Apple as a loyal base of users, and though I think it will ship millions, can it meet its own lofty expectations?

With the Microsoft Surface there is something fundamentally different being offered, kind of.   I had a Toshiba Tablet about ten years ago which could flip between laptop and tablet.  It was not very good,  It used a stylus.  It looks like Microsoft has engineered something far superior and it is inf fact Microsoft hardware.  It has colors and it uses the new Windows 8 touch screen UI.  Some are calling this a new category of device.  I don’t need a new category between laptop and tablet, but try they will.  It’s a tablet and it’s a good one, what Microsoft needs is a product in this category to catch fire.  They so want so desperately to be hip, they are like the aging Rod Stewart of technology.  They need Surface to be a home run.

Finally the Samsung Galaxy.  On the tablet side Galaxy has always seemed to trail badly to the iPad.  This is despite being the most popular mobile platform on the planet.  They have a lower price point and with each release they seem to get better.  It also does not hurt that like Apple they have a huge app store.  Samsung as a company is starting to look like a modern version of GE, but unlike GE who looked to the past Samsung looks to the future for growth. As good has they have been I would be more worried for them than Apple as it seems likely the main tablet competition will aim to knock them off as Apple is too far in the distance in this category.

The one thing that is clear whomever comes out the winner this holiday the real winner will be the consumers.  The free market will win  as competition will drive down prices and increase innovation.  I wish the health care industry worked this way, but being sick does not seem to be a choice.  There are going to be some losers come earnings season as some of the vendors will not see the increases they desired in profits and market share.  If I had to go out on a limb I think Kindle Fire will be hot and I think Apple will sell a lot of mini’s as I still feel they are in the hot zone (though I do not view the mini as anything great).  I am a bit torn on the Surface.  It is an exciting entrant from a technical perspective, but will it capture users imaginations?  I don’t think a new touch screen UI is enough. The keyboard is cool – I guess the question are people looking for an all in one device?  I think the Galaxy may see a drop this holiday, but that is more based on my gut than any real market data.  I will try to come back to this in January and see where everything landed and how my predictions came out, in any case I want to wish everyone this holiday season, Happy Shopping!!

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann October, 266, 2012

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Wintel coming to an end?

One of the legendary technology relationships is hitting a bump in the road. Like in many existing marriages it starts with poor communications.  Usually by poor communications we mean silence.  Things are not being spoken.  Then when spoken it comes as a surprise to one party or both.  That has been the case of late between two of the industries legendary companies: Intel and Microsoft.  For so many years the term Wintel has been synonymous with the PC industry. If you bought a desktop it would simply come with the Windows operating system and the microprocessor would be a Intel x86 chip.  With each new release of Windows Bill Gates would meet with Andy Grove to talk about the future of computing and what type of power he could expect with next microprocessor.  How could Microsoft software best leverage increased processor capabilities.

But over the course of the past few years that relationship has started to become a bit fractured. One of the big shifts in the industry over the past decade has been the increasing fast paced move to mobile devices.  Today this comes in two primary flavors: Smartphones and Tablets.  The shift to the mobile revolution has happened quickly led by Apple Computers and followed by others.  We have lot’s of choices we as consumers can make.  Do I want to go down the Apple path?  What about Google?  Amazon Kindle Fire?  A Nook anyone?  With choice comes competition and the rules of ninety percent market share are being changed.  With that partnerships are being challenged.  What was once cozy and friendly is being cooled over with thin sheets of ice.  It is dangerous in the world of business to get comfortable.  Comfort is usually something that happens with time and understandably or not, Microsoft and Intel got too comfortable. Microsoft recently has seen the wedge driven by Apple and in particular the iPad.  The iPad’s power management and instant boot capabilities really changed consumer expectations in how a PC should work.  the idea of instant on has been around for a long time.  I remember in the days of running WindowsNT at Microsoft the pain of booting up every morning.  It seemed like a five-minute process (I am pretty sure it was).  Not to mention the number of times I had to reboot during the course of the week.  I am sure over the course of a year a day or two of productivity was lost just due to the Windows boot process.  Then along comes the iPad and with the touch of a button and a swipe of a finger I am on the internet.  How?  Well it is interesting in the Steve Jobs biography that originally he was going to build the iPad with a Intel based micro processor.  He viewed the partnership Apple had developed with Intel since moving off the Motorola chip as important and working well. However some smart people at Apple said we can get a lot better performance if we go with a RISC based  chip versus the Intel CISC based chip.  The power management capabilities and over all performance trumped the partnership.  Apple had the right idea, in the end customer experience outweighs all. The success of the iPad and creation on a new market, the tablet space, created disruption in the industry.  However you define it, make no question that many people postponed a laptop purchase and decided to buy a tablet.  Thus requiring no Microsoft software and no Intel chip. The result has been both companies pursuing  individual market opportunities.  Intel has sought out Google to try to forge a closer relationship to support Android based tablet devices and pursue the other larger player in the tablet pie.  Microsoft announced over a year ago its pursuit of supporting and later creating a tablet based on ARM (RISC based chip).  As PC and Laptop growth slows it will be vitally important for each company to have a play in the mobile market place.

In fairness to both companies it is a testament to their legendary status in the industry that the relationship has been so harmonious for so long.  Over two decades.  In any industry to have such a long-lasting relationship that has been both cordial and successful is quite amazing.  However in technology things move quick and to get too comfortable with the future is to be the surest path to making certain your demise.  In this regard both Microsoft and Intel are guilty.  I have felt for a long time that both companies felt in the computing industry that they felt the hub of all technology experiences would be the PC.  In the age of the internet where everything is being decentralized and it is being distributed across he network , keep in mind it knows no boundaries.  That includes our homes and businesses.  Our homes have wireless networks distributed between desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.  The future will only bring more devices.  Where I once could say 100% of my internet time is on the PC, in a distributed environment the number continues to shrink.  That is why smartphones and tablets are disruptive technologies.  It is also why Intel and Microsoft are dimming stars gradually fading and reaching out to grab a last strand of light that once was.

Good Night and Good Luck

Hans Henrik Hoffmann October 11, 2012

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