Yesterday HP announced that it will be entering into a “non-equity joint venture” (think big strategic contract of some kind with a lot of details still in flight) to address the large-scale web services providers. Under the agreement, Foxcon will design and manufacture and HP will be the primary sales channel for new servers targeted at hyper scale web service providers. The new servers will be branded HP but will not be part of the current ProLiant line of enterprise servers, and HP will deliver additional services along with hardware sales.
The motivation is simple underneath all the rhetoric. HP has been hard-pressed to make decent margins selling high-volume low-cost and no-frills servers to web service providers, and has been increasingly pressured by low-cost providers. Add to that the issue of customization, which these high-volume customers can easily get from smaller and more agile Asian ODMs and you have a strategic problem. Having worked at HP for four years I can testify to the fact that HP, a company maniacal about quality but encumbered with an effective but rigid set of processes around bringing new products to market, has difficulty rapidly turning around a custom design, and has a cost structure that makes it difficult to profitably compete for deals with margins that are probably in the mid-teens.
Enter the Hon Hai Precision Industry Co, more commonly known as Foxcon. A longtime HP partner and widely acknowledged as one of the most efficient and agile manufacturing companies in the world, Foxcon brings to the table the complementary strengths to match HP – agile design, tightly integrated with its manufacturing capabilities.
Google acquired Nest for billions, and then Facebook spent several more billion on Oculus VR. We’re only a few months into 2014, and already billions have been spent by some of the world’s largest digital players, with each of these companies eager to own the next big thing. Mobile is right here, right now, but everyone knows that very soon, there will be something else. But what else?
In the battle to find and claim the next device that everyone will want, these companies will soon realize that next big thing is not a thing at all: It’s your voice.
Voice control suffers from the same things plaguing augmented reality or virtual reality: It has been around for so long that we think we know what it is. Any fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation knows that voice control involves invoking an invisible computer with a command, “Computer,” followed by a query, “How many Klingons does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Maybe that’s a question you don’t want the answer to, but the computer — as voiced by Majel Barrett in the TV series — would know it.
It’s possibly a long history of popular depictions of voice control that made us collectively show so much enthusiasm for Siri when Apple first debuted it in 2011. It’s also partly to blame for why we quickly turned on Siri, declaring her soothing semi-robotic tones to be merely amusing at best or irrelevant at worst.
When Microsoft recently announced its long-rumored Cortana voice service for Windows Phone 8.1 as a catch-up to both Siri and Google Now’s own voice interface, the interest was modest, perhaps because if Siri hasn’t changed the way millions of Apple users use millions of Apple devices, how can Microsoft initiate a wave of behavior change when it has so few Windows Phone users?
Lenovo’s made three strategic moves in just one month: 1) Buying IBM’s x86 server business, 2) Reorging into four business units – most importantly including one called “ecosystem and cloud group”, and 3) Buying Motorola Mobility. The later two are driven by the mobile mind shift – the increasing expectation of individuals that they can access information and service, in context, in their moment of need. Smartphones are central to that – as are the ecosystem and cloud services that deliver value through the smartphones.
Lenovo has stated intentions to become a leading smartphone maker globally, building on their leading position in the China market. Buying Motorola Mobility is a much quicker way for Lenovo to access the premium smartphone market with a leading Google Android (not forked Android) offering - than trying to do it with their existing design teams and brand reach. Using Motorola, just as Lenovo used the IBM ThinkPad brand, to gain quick credibility and access to desirable markets, and built critical mass makes a lot of sense.
But Motorola has not been shooting the lights out with designs or sales volumes in smartphones. So the value is simply in brand recognition to achieve market recognition faster - and to dramatically expand the design and marketing team with talent experienced at US and Western markets.
Google’s acquisition of Nest has stirred a lot of interest and reaction, some of it misguided. After talking to lots of reporters, here are ten quick thoughts on why Google bought Nest and what it means:
1. Google bought Nest for talent and strategic perspective, not products or data. Nest is too small and not scaling fast enough to justify the acquisition. This is about getting a great team that can teach Google about a new market realm, how the Internet of Things comes into the Connected Home.
2. The price is ridiculously high – unless Google gets a huge head start on Connected Home. Google’s acquisition of Waze for $1 billion and Nest for $3.2 billion look pricey – but they are strategic bets for the long run, and can’t easily be compared.
3. Building the next generation of Google Now is the goal, not snooping on our temps, room locations and smoke alarms. The Nest Labs team will help fuel development of the next generation of Google Now as it shifts more toward proactive assistance and advice.
4. Google’s aim is to get an early start on identifying and adding software interfaces (APIs) to Gmail/Google Drive that connect it to smart products. This is not about Android in the home or about a battle for the device OS – it’s a battle for whose cloud service platform will coordinate an individual’s smart products – and their digital self.
5. Identity, privacy, and security will also crucial in building out the Connected Home. Blanket privacy policies won’t be enough. Fatemeh Khatibloo’s research on contextual privacy shows the new way that privacy and identity will have to be managed.
How much stuff do you own? The answer for most people ranges from a few changes of clothing to a large house full of possessions – your material self. It turns out that most of us also have a digital self – the information and items we create or that others collect about us. It is your footprint, your impact on the digital world. Without a digital self, you don’t exist in the world of computers and the Internet.
The era of Internet has spawned riotous new forms of business disruption as cheap tools and services combined with Internet reach and social media have empowered anyone on the planet to compete with the largest, most established businesses. James McQuivey’s reports and book on digital disruption highlight the fast rise of new hardware devices such as Microsoft’s Kinect and Apple’s iPad, and the fast mainstreaming of new Internet services such as Dropbox, Twitter, and Facebook. Companies in the business of retail, books, movies, and music have been toppled or transformed, with more to come.
Watching Amazon.com cut the prices of last year’s Kindle Fire devices shortly after they debuted, you may have concluded that Amazon’s tablets weren’t performing well. You may have further speculated, as I did earlier this year, that maybe Amazon didn’t need to commit to the tablet strategy. After all, Amazon has a great relationship with its customers whether they’re on PCs, mobile devices, or iPads. You (and I) would be wrong. Today Amazon doubled down on a tablet strategy, announcing three new devices for sale later this year. A new 7-inch Kindle Fire HD (starting at $139), a 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX (from $229), and an ultra-skinny 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HDX (from $379). In one fell swoop, Amazon:
Commits to tablets as a way of committing to customers. Yes, tens of millions of people already have iPads, but another 40 million people in the US will get their first tablet between now and the end of 2016. And chances are very, very good that Amazon has a credit card on file with most all of them.
Yesterday Intel had a major press and analyst event in San Francisco to talk about their vision for the future of the data center, anchored on what has become in many eyes the virtuous cycle of future infrastructure demand – mobile devices and “the Internet of things” driving cloud resource consumption, which in turn spews out big data which spawns storage and the requirement for yet more computing to analyze it. As usual with these kinds of events from Intel, it was long on serious vision, and strong on strategic positioning but a bit parsimonious on actual future product information with a couple of interesting exceptions.
Content and Core Topics:
No major surprises on the underlying demand-side drivers. The the proliferation of mobile device, the impending Internet of Things and the mountains of big data that they generate will combine to continue to increase demand for cloud-resident infrastructure, particularly servers and storage, both of which present Intel with an opportunity to sell semiconductors. Needless to say, Intel laced their presentations with frequent reminders about who was the king of semiconductor manufacturingJ
For the history of humanity, for one person to make a difference, the individual had to convince many others to join the pursuit. And the convincing part was tough — whether you were Martin Luther or Martin Luther King, Jr., the amount of effort was high, and the probability of success was low. (Certainly the list of people who tried to change the world and failed is long; it’s just that we won’t know their names, which itself is part of my point.) From Christopher Columbus to Steve Jobs, individual power has really only amounted to much infrequently, and only when backed by very large and wealthy entities. Kings and queens financed the discovery of the Americas; Wall Street and venture capital bankrolled Silicon Valley.
After traveling 5,000 miles in three days to speak about digital disruption (I know, it's odd that my physical body has to go somewhere to talk about being more digitally disruptive), I fell asleep on a train yesterday and missed one of the most noteworthy events of the week: Amazon acquired Goodreads.
Full disclosure on this one up front: Amazon published my recent book, Digital Disruption. At the same time, I am a Goodreads member for more than five years; in fact, if you have read any of the most-liked reviews of the Twilight books on Amazon, chances are good you've read mine. That is to say that I am not exactly neutral on this one. But I'll do my best to be objective in answering all the anger being expressed on Twitter and in the trades when I point out that Goodreads was not saving itself for Amazon like some virginal tribute. It has been sitting there, all along, waiting for the right offer to come along. That's how venture capital works, people.
That's not to dismiss altogether the reactions I'm seeing, which range from Amazon wants to own the whole world (and to be fair, maybe it does) to How could Goodreads do this to us. But among all the hurt feelings and handwringing about the fall of publishing and the eventual reign of cohabitating cats and dogs (oh, I do hope you get that reference), I have an important question to ask, one that I am stealing from author Nick Harkaway (@Harkaway) who wrote this on Twitter the morning after:
Today is, apparently, Cyber Monday in the UK. But there's a more interesting story in the UK's eCommerce market. It's about tax.
The debate is about the tax policies of a number of prominent multi-national businesses that operate in the UK, including Amazon, eBay, Google, Starbucks and Vodafone, most of which pay little or no Corporation Tax, which is levied as a percentage of profits. (It's relatively easy and perfectly legal for a subsidiary of a multi-national company to avoid taxes on profits in one country by buying services from a sister company in another country so that it makes no profit in the first country.)
Today, the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons published a scathing report on tax avoidance by multi-national companies operating in the UK. As the report puts it about Starbucks, which has made no profits in the UK for 14 of the past 15 years: "We found it difficult to believe that a commercial company with a 31% market share by turnover, with a responsibility to its shareholders and investors to make a decent return, was trading with apparent losses for nearly every year of its operation in the UK." What the committee says about Amazon is, if anything, worse.
What's the relevance to eBusiness? While it's uncomfortable for Google and Starbucks to be in the limelight for the wrong reasons, demand for both information and coffee is (presumably) fairly constant through the year. But for retailers Amazon and eBay, the timing couldn't be worse, because this debate is taking place in the run-up to Christmas, the crucial sales period for all retailers in the UK.