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Showing posts from 2008

PC OEMs: act now to answer smart tablets like the rumored iPod Touch

Whether or not you believe the rumors of the coming large-form iPod Touch, the larger story is that there's an obvious amount of pent-up demand for such a device. While I'm sure Apple delivering it would create quite a stir, it's worth noting in the Android realm, there are heavy hitters who span from vending everything from handsets to notebooks. If they weren't thinking about building a "smart tablet" before, they likely are now. And thus Apple will be compelled to as well.

This form factor is perfectly sized to slip into a purse. As I've noticed anecdotally, users of netbooks in coffee shops tend to be skewed towards the female persuasion. But smart tablets will slip into any kind of bag, so they could be popular with either gender.

So the first question in the minds of OEMs, as they choke on the margin erosion from netbooks, is "do I build one of these?" I'd propose asking the question a different way, "what if I don't buil…

ARM specs in the wheel-house of Intel Atom

With all the buzz in the netbook space, Qualcomm(QCOM)'s November announcement may have gotten lost, the one for its QSD8672 1.5GHz dual-CPU Snapdragon single-chip solution. Why this announcement is particularly noteworthy is that it's the first ARM(ARMH)-based solution for netbooks which has comparable specs to Intel(INTC) Atom chipsets, and for some features arguably better.

While the current Qualcomm Snapdragon generation runs at 1GHz, the newly announced chipset is a dual-CPU 1.5GHz single-chip solution, manufactured at 45nm by TSMC(TSM). Those are specs that bring the ARM architecture well into the Intel Atom wheel-house, albeit with better battery life and a highly integrated single chip solution.

The new Qualcomm chipsets will start sampling by 2H2009. In the mean time, various vendors are building netbooks with the current 1GHz Snapdragon generation, with products expected 1H2009. Following are some of the specs of the announced QSD8672:
Processor: 1.5GHz dual-CPU (45…

Apple's iPhone sales to get bruised by Android in 2009

Apple has done phenomenally well so far with iPhone. They've built a smartphone sensation, application store and developer community based on absolute control. It's a veritable fortress of a business model. But as goes an old Korean proverb:
"Power lasts 10 years, influence, not more than a hundred."
Nothing lasts. And Google's Android has all the "ducks in a row" to change the order of things in 2009. My thesis is that Apple's bent on control is just the reason iPhone's ascent will falter. A quick examination of one of the top requested features on iPhone, and a little contrasting with the Android platform will expose Apple's addiction to control.

Viewing Adobe Flash while browsing the Web

The three top run-time environments for PCs are Flash, Java and Silverlight. None of them are available on iPhone. Flash is by far the most pervasive on the web, reaching 99% of Internet viewers. While Steve Jobs has previously said Flash video was…

Projecting your mobile device, built-in miniature projectors

Want to show a presentation from your mobile device, but don't want to lug your notebook? Or shares some photos or videos with your friends? While you might not expect projection to be possible from a handset device, companies such as Texas Instruments are enabling just that.

TI's DLP Pico projection demonstrated in 2007, appears directed towards an interesting market with its DLP mobile chipset. According to Pacific Media Associates:
“Texas Instruments is making headway in an untapped market and appears to be forging a leadership position. We expect projection within handset devices to start appearing in 2009, in a market where significant volumes are expected over the next five years.”Projection would be a interesting feature on mobile devices sold to the corporate world. I would think that would be a logical initial market which could absorb the extra costs associated with any newly added premium feature. But there is great follow-through potential in the consumer market…

Windows XP deadline to drive used PC market, low costs PCs

Don't give away your old PC just yet if it has a valid copy of XP. While Microsoft has largely put a hard time cap on XP sales, low-cost PCs and netbooks seem to be exempt until June 30, 2010. It's been no secret that Vista has not been well-received by either business or consumer. And it's successor, Windows 7, is not reported to be ready until late 2009 or 2010.

If the thesis is correct that this pent up demand will seek computers with XP, then certainly purchasers will chase exempt low-cost PCs and netbooks. But that's a trend that's largely been ongoing, along with the attendant rise in Linux as an offered operating system.

What's interesting is that the same pent up demand, will also largely boost the whole used PC sales and service ecosystem. The computer repair firm Rescuecom, for example, is a company which has resold XP-based PCs. Those genuine Windows XP certificates of authenticity (COA) could become a new form of currency. It's worth having…

Methane meltdown, global warming will accelerate

The most brief way to synthesize progress in World governmental climate change policy is to quote an NGO representative attending the recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC):
We can now expect only procedural movement out of Poznan, with almost no progress on substance.Most governmental efforts (especially those with a number of players involved) in climate change read something like "we'll start in a few years from now, and do what we should have done years ago by 2050." Players clamor on about the financial impacts. Questions are asked about who will finance such efforts. Goals are watered down and dates are pushed back.

Yet Global Warming has hit a critical threshold which has made even some thought leaders in the space wonder if it's still reversible. Troubling new signs of a collapse are occurring, beyond the periodic reports of large disappearing swaths of ice. Now, boosted by increasing temperatures, frozen methane is thawing. …

"Peak Phone" nearing, transition from handset to smartphone to smartbook

According to reports from Nokia, IDC, and iSuppli, the mobile phone market will shrink in 2009. Shipments aren't predicted to surpass the levels of 2008 until 2011, according to iSuppli. This phenomena has occurred only once before in 2001, year of the tech bubble bursting. This change can't be assigned only to an economic slowdown. With a current world handset market of 1.22 billion per year and an estimated 6.7 billion world population, the mobile phone market is becoming saturated.

Going forward, attracting customers to replace mobile phones is key, and requires more capable and feature-rich phones. This will accelerate the trend towards smartphones, which have the capacity to offer users more and more of the Internet and media experiences that PCs are currently used for.

Smartphones which can utilize the display of TVs and other devices, may further supplant some of the usage (or need) for PCs. Also as consumers familiarize with the UI and environments of smartphones, …

Netbooks are a usage-model, not defined by size and capabilities

Thus far, netbooks have been defined largely by the artificial market segmentation restrictions put on them by hardware and software vendors, as a way to prevent cannibalization of more premium SKU chips and software. The media has been quick to pick up these restrictions and regurgitate them as a defacto definition of netbooks, without thinking about what a netbook really is.

We've all heard netbook characterizations such as, clamshell notebooks with a 7 - 10.2-inch screen that is "purpose built for Internet use". Or, is a small, low-cost, mobile computing device designed for consuming content, rather than creating new content. Those characterizations may be good for segmenting lower-end chips and software into platforms, so as to short-term stave off some cannibalization. But let's first talk about the usage model of a netbook, which is a much better place to start for a definition, and then look where things are quickly headed.

A simple way to say it, is that a …

Netbook sales projections are way low!

According to the latest IDC projections, projected netbook sales will be 21.5 million in 2009. Now that is what I call conservative! If you're basing your business on projections, I strongly advise you do your own diligence here. Quick reality checks:

According to DisplaySearch, 5.6M netbooks were sold in Q3'08 alone (outpacing iPhone). I'm certain Q4'08 will be much higher but that's a yearly run-rate of 22.4M, and netbook sales are going exponential. A quick check on Amazon showed that all top-10 entries on the best-seller list for notebooks were netbooks/mini-laptops! They're cheap, and are substitutes for notebooks, especially when the World is getting hammered by a recession.

Looking forward, ARM netbooks will debut mid next year, likely with Android. And some with Ubuntu. Those aren't even factored in. Additionally, the European model of subsidizing netbooks with a wireless service plan has entered the US market, and will likely enter others, dr…

No MIDdle ground: lack of Moore's law for pocket size

The press is abuzz with talk about smartphones vs MIDs vs netbooks. Some analysts are forecasting huge volumes going forward for MIDs. Let's step back for a moment and do a quick reality check.

The "form factor" of a pants pocket has not changed considerably, since the inception of a pocket, which probably started as an external pouch hung from the waist. If anything, it's generally gotten smaller as pants have become tighter and more stylish. Or as I like to joke, "there's no Moore's law of pocket size!" At the same time, smartphone UIs have enabled us to do more with the same physical form factor. For examples, using more of the fa├žade for display area, flip-out (or virtual-only) keyboards, multi-touch and momentum scrolling allow a much more rich experience, and thus those devices serve more of our needs for more of the time.

On the tech side, Moore's law is alive and well. Looking in the ARM space (given iPhone and Android are currently…

Smartphone companion instead of netbooks, no syncing or extra data security worries!

Netbooks have a usage model consistent with the latest smartphones, except they have bigger screens and near full-size keyboards. And looking forward, smartphones will offer compute power necessary to deliver a full Internet experience, with storage densities sufficient to hold the files you need for your mobile life.

So going forward, do we maintain redundant wireless services for both a smartphone and a netbook (or at least pay additional for tethering)? How do we maintain syncing data on both these devices and our home/work PC? What about syncing all environments with the same apps? Do critical apps exist on all environments? What about app configuration?

One solution to this syncing hell, is provided by the smartphone companion concept, which is essentially a netbook form factor which does nothing but act as a smartphone terminal. For example, Celio offers the REDFLY which currently interfaces with Windows Mobile devices, via USB or bluetooth. Celio was a CES 2008 Innovations…

Android Market already offers 25% as many apps as iPhone store (imputed math)

There are approximately 500 apps available on the Android Market currently. In consummate Google style, the Android Market is in beta, and only offers free apps. If we were to impute the number of apps that would be available if paid apps were also included, using the same ratio of free/paid on the Apple iPhone app store (about 1/5 of apps are free), then Android Market offers the equivalent of ~2,500 iPhone apps. That's already 25% of the 10,000 apps that Apple offers!

Disclosure: no positions

Credit card grinch steals '08 Christmas

While the US government is busy bailing out banks with billions of taxpayer money (by buying parts of them at inflated prices), banks are busy increasing credit card APRs by double or more, even to low-risk consumers.

With a number of bubbles popping in near synchronicity and an economy generally heading into the dumpster, one might think the last thing we need is for the issuers of credit cards to absolutely obliterate consumer spending right as the Christmas buying season is upon us.

Here's another major force to keep the downward death spiral momentum going... Christmas '08 was already lining up to be awful. Now it's going to be really awful. Unless you're a grinch...

Disclosure: no positions

X86 vs ARM for netbooks: does it really matter?

Being Internet and multi-media centric, netbooks have created a new usage model which is not focused on the conventional local-apps computing model which x86 has dominated for so long. This warrants an honest and fresh look to see if there really are still many legacy factors tethering the netbook market to x86, or if ARM is set to be a true competitor.

Intel has marketed that the Internet is built on x86, and that ARM does not deliver the same quality of experience for web browsing and consuming web content. That certainly held some truth at one point. But ARM has subsequently refuted Intel's claims. So let's a have collective and forward looking review of just how tied netbooks will be to any particular architecture. This blog is all about participation; please offer any new thoughts.

Let's 1st define netbooks as smaller notebook-like devices which are used for consuming Internet and media content, and doing lightweight Internet tasks. Which is to say, let's not …

PC as a service: from margin erosion to new business model

It's no secret that PC prices have been decreasing due to ever-increasing commoditization. And then came the netbooks! Netbooks are cheap, they're portable and they're disruptively fitting with the new world order of cloud computing. The "race to the pricing bottom" is officially on, only accelerating commoditization even further.

The one component of PC pricing which has not maintained parity with the hyper-commoditization curve (at least for developed countries), is the Microsoft software stack. The more lower end PC pricing comes down, the more lopsided the BOM pricing component of Microsoft's wares becomes. This has been one of the major factors in the Linux-ification of netbooks.

Ultra cheap netbooks combined with a shift from local to web-based computing, is creating a new PC value system whereby selling the PC hardware itself is not necessarily the core business value. Rather, there are a multitude of services which can be offered and sold to users…

Capitalism opens up secrets to sustainability adoption

"Tell them it increases their earnings and decreases their expenses." That's how Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, recommended that management be pitched on eco solutions at the Corporate Eco Forum (around the 40:15 mark).

Or in the words of Bill Green, from VantagePoint Venture Partners:

“You really don’t want the chief sustainability officer, you want the chief financial officer,” he says. “We need to change this conversation around. The chief sustainability officer, man he’s your friend. He drinks the cool-aid, he wakes up in the morning, he reads your blog, he so gets this, he hates George Bush, it’s all good. That’s not going to get us to done.“The chief financial officer wakes up and says ‘here, regardless of my personal view, my fiduciary responsibility is to earn money for company X. How does this work exactly?’
Over the last decades, great intentions from the sustainability movement have lost ground to worsening global conditions. Reading through the history of, and moni…

Can coastal "dead zones" produce the next alternative fuel?

Since the 1960’s, the number of ocean "dead zones" has doubled every 10 years. As a lot of the ocean's sea life lives in coastal areas, this doesn't bode well for marine life.But does this spell an opportunity for harvesting the next alternative energy source? In part, these dead zones are a result of nitrogen rich agricultural run-off, which feeds and makes phytoplankton proliferate, and ultimately die and sink to the bottom as organic matter. Could this massive amount of organic matter be harvested and converted into a viable bio-fuel source?Mankind is essentially fertilizing the coastal waters. Not that this is a good thing, but could we take advantage of a bad situation by "farming" the resultant organic matter?Disclosure: no positions

2009: Out with the iPhone, in with the Google phone

The iPhone is an example of a device built to give users what someone else wants to give them. For example, there is no substitute for a tactile keyboard, and the iPhone did not prove an exception. At a party I went to, a half dozen of us were talking about the iPhone, and it only took a minute to work into a group commiseration of the lack of a real keyboard. People hate the on-screen touch keyboard, and hey Apple, can you at least landscape the keyboard in all the important apps, like SMS?I see iPhone losing its luster, and Android picking up steam for a number of reasons:Android is an open platformAndroid will run on a myriad of devices, giving people choices to buy one suitable to their needsThe very 1st Android platform has a keyboard!Android devices will quickly be adapted to the preferences of usersThe real money is in Android being a platform to offer targeted search and location based services, so the devices do not have to hold a substantial profit marginDisclosure: no po…

2009 is the year of the Linux desktop (on netbooks)

It's been forever the Linux community's hope that Linux would make a big splash on the desktop, but that hope has not yet materialized. However the netbook category has created a new set of circumstances which has set up Linux to finally have a sizable presence on the netbook desktop:Netbooks need to be inexpensive (currently $300 to $500); in fact that's their biggest drawA proliferation of models from various OEMs/ODMs will drive fierce competition and razor-thin profit marginsIn some cases, netbooks will be given away in return for service provider contracts (the mobile phone model)Netbooks are largely Internet centric (web browser, IM, VoIP, web apps, ...) and thus don't have as much, the Windows application compatibility constraintsNetbooks tend to have smaller screens, making new UIs more compelling. This opens a path to disruption by LinuxNetbooks tend to have less resources than full notebooks, making bloatier software less compellingIntel has created a Mobli…

Solar creating global warming: Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) cap-and-trade anyone?

Just when you were trying to forget that production of polysilicon solar cells creates extremely toxic waste which is often dumped unabated into the environment of foreign lands, along comes the ironic news that nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) is far more prevalent in the atmosphere than previously estimated.What's NF3? It's a greenhouse gas, 17,000 times more potent at global warming than carbon. It's created in the manufacturing of thin-film photovoltaic cells and plasma TVs, and it's increasing at about 11% per year.Next time you're sitting around watching your plasma TV, powered by your thin-film PV cells, drinking beer and passing gas (methane, another greenhouse gas), turn the channel from the Discovery Channel program on global warming to CNBC. Maybe you'll see some news about a new NF3 cap-and-trade system coming.Disclosure: no positions

Carbon Credits Scam-ometer Ratio: 0.30

I noticed when talking with people, regardless of political affinity, that they are innately skeptical of carbon credits/offsets and the whole carbon trading thing. It's as if there is something that makes the subconscious mind think, "this doesn't smell right". So off I went to devise a wholly unscientific measure of the public scam-mi-ness sentiment of carbon credits, using the Google search auto-completion mechanism.The short of it is that I took the number of searches for "carbon credits scam" (390,000) divided by searches for "carbon credits" (1,280,000) and got 0.30. That's astounding! Carbon credits have a massive negative PR problem. In a future blog, I'll cover some reasons why.Disclosure: no positions

Linux *is* a bare-metal hypervisor

There's been a lot of talk about bare-metal hypervisors in the virtualization realm. All academic arguments aside, the reality is that Linux + KVM is a bare-metal hypervisor. You can create a small Linux+KVM image, embed it in a computer like firmware, and add all the same end-to-end attestation that you can with any other software stack. The fact that KVM is a kernel module doesn't change much other than how someone might draw boxes in a powerpoint presentation.Most of the proponents of Xen based virtualization talk ad nauseum about the attack surface size of a bare-metal hypervisor. Well, then what do you about the monumentally big efforts of creating drivers for all the varied hardware out there, especially on the endpoint? Why you take Linux and ram it into Xen as a control OS. What about the OS features which Linux has grown 17 years to do? Unfortunately, you need to train Xen to handle those -- things like the NUMA model, scheduling, memory management, power manag…