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.
Windows 8 is a make or break product launch for Microsoft. Windows will endure a slow start as traditional PC users delay upgrades, while those eager for Windows tablets jump in. After a slow start in 2013, Windows 8 will take hold in 2014, keeping Microsoft relevant and the master of the PC market, but simply a contender in tablets, and a distant third in smartphones.
Microsoft has long dominated PC units, with something more than 95% sales. The incremental gains of Apple’s Mac products over the last five years haven’t really changed that reality. But the tremendous growth of smartphones, and then tablets, has. If you combine all the unit sales of personal devices, Microsoft’s share of units has shrunk drastically to about 30% in 2012.
It’s hard to absorb the reality of the shift without a picture, so in the report “Windows: The Next Five Years,” we estimated and forecast the unit sales of PCs, smartphones, and tablets from 2008 to 2016 to create a visual. As you can see below in the chart of unit sales, Microsoft has and will continue to grow unit sales of Windows and Windows Phone. But the mobile market grew very fast in the last five years, while Microsoft had tiny share in smartphones and no share in tablets.
If you look at the results by share of all personal devices, below, you can see how big a shift happened over the last five years as smartphone units exploded and the iPad took hold.
Microsoft Windows will power just one-third of personal computing devices sold during 2012. Say what? Over the past five years, the transition to mobile devices has transformed Microsoft’s position from desktop dominance to one of several players vying for share in a new competitive landscape.
And so Microsoft is making some very bold moves to transform Windows: creating a singular touch-native UX for a seamless experience across PCs and mobile devices, building an app store distribution model, and engaging its vast user base to develop core personal cloud services.
You’ll learn about the trends and behaviors shaping a painful, but ultimately successful, five-year migration for the Windows franchise. We will size and forecast the future of Windows’ presence in a device landscape where market share is measured across all computing devices, not just PCs. And we will outline the new personal computing success metrics for OS providers and ecosystems, which look beyond device market share to customer engagement across multiple formats, online services, and content delivery.
This week, the New York Times ran a series of articles about data center power use (and abuse) “Power, Pollution and the Internet” (http://nyti.ms/Ojd9BV) and “Data Barns in a Farm Town, Gobbling Power and Flexing Muscle” (http://nyti.ms/RQDb0a). Among the claims made in the articles were that data centers were “only using 6 to 12 % of the energy powering their servers to deliver useful computation. Like a lot of media broadsides, the reality is more complex than the dramatic claims made in these articles. Technically they are correct in claiming that of the electricity going to a server, only a very small fraction is used to perform useful work, but this dramatic claim is not a fair representation of the overall efficiency picture. The Times analysis fails to take into consideration that not all of the power in the data center goes to servers, so the claim of 6% efficiency of the servers is not representative of the real operational efficiency of the complete data center.
On the other hand, while I think the Times chooses drama over even-keeled reporting, the actual picture for even a well-run data center is not as good as its proponents would claim. Consider:
A new data center with a PUE of 1.2 (very efficient), with 83% of the power going to IT workloads.
Then assume that 60% of the remaining power goes to servers (storage and network get the rest), for a net of almost 50% of the power going into servers. If the servers are running at an average utilization of 10%, then only 10% of 50%, or 5% of the power is actually going to real IT processing. Of course, the real "IT number" is the server + plus storage + network, so depending on how you account for them, the IT usage could be as high as 38% (.83*.4 + .05).
Apple's new iPhone 5 is a case study in incremental improvement. Nearly every aspect of the product -- the CPU, display, cameras, radio modem, size, weight, etc. -- are all improved over the iPhone 4S and at the same $199 price point. No doubt, the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 will sell millions of units, preserve Apple's momentum, and hold off the competition, but significant threats are mounting that Apple cannot afford to ignore:
Nokia is delivering Apple-quality innovation. As Nokia demonstrated last week at its Lumia 920 event, Nokia's innovation engine is firing on all cylinders. When the Lumia 920 launches (rumored for November 2), it will outclass the iPhone 5 in key areas such as imaging (PureView imaging, Cinemagraph) and location (Maps, City Lens, Transit) as well as bring wireless charging and NFC into the mainstream. While the breadth of accessories will be nowhere near what the iPhone offers, Nokia gets strong marks for showing Apple how NFC can enhance the accessory experience.
Last year Netflix attempted to shift its business strategy to focus mainly on streaming video. Although I wasn’t present in the boardroom discussions, it’s a reasonable bet that Reed Hastings and his team had decided the future was online streaming and that physical discs were a dinosaur. Since the war for content would be fought over streaming, Netflix would focus on adding value to its streaming customers and spin off the disc customers. On the surface this seemed to many a reasonable strategy, especially since Netflix reported that its digital streaming customers and the disc-in-the-mail customers were mostly not one and the same. So Netflix execs crunched the numbers and decided this was the right move for them. Perhaps they had hoped to spin off the disc side of the business to raise some capital. Whatever their thinking, their strategy choices left some gaping unanswered questions for observers like me:
Recently, my colleagues Brian Walker and Sucharita Mulpuru released a great overview of Amazon and its role in retail. What’s clear from this report is that Amazon is affecting everyone, both retailers and consumers. In fact, it shows that for many shoppers, Amazon is increasingly their first stop on the retail path: Thirty percent of US online buyers said that they began researching their most recent online purchase on Amazon.
In Europe, we asked online Europeans about the websites that they used to research products/services in the past three months. In the UK, France, and Germany, Amazon was mentioned most often. While some local retailers hold their own, such as Argos in the UK and fnac in France, eBay is the runner-up in most of these markets.
The poorly kept secret that is the Google Nexus 7 tablet was just announced amid much developer applause and excitement. The device is everything it was rumored to be and the specs — something that only developers care about, of course — were impressive, including the 12 core GPU that will make the Nexus 7 a gaming haven. True, it's just another in a long line of tablets, albeit a $199 one that competes directly with Amazon's Kindle Fire and undercuts the secondary market for the iPad.
But as a competitor to the iPad, Nexus 7 isn't worth the digital ink I'm consuming right now.
But Google isn't just selling a device. Instead, the company wants to create a content platform strategy that ties together all of its ragtag content and app experiences into a single customer relationship. Because the power of the platform is the only power that will matter (see my recent post for more information on platform power). It's unfortunate that consumers barely know what Google Play is because it was originally called Android Market, but the shift to the Google Play name a few months back and the debut of a device that is, according to its designers, "made for Google Play," show that Google understands what will matter in the future. Not connections, not devices. But experiences. The newly announced Nexus 7, as a device, is from its inception subservient to the experiences — some of them truly awesome — that Google's Play platform can provide through it.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.