WE Technology, Strategy & Business

WE Technology, Strategy & Business is a part of the greater Weekend Economist, which is an interactive space aimed at being both a source of information and a place for discussion on developing stories related to Economics, Business, Technology, Finance and Geo-politics. Please feel free to post your comments and/or send us your own articles for publication by contacting us at weekendeconomist@gmail.com. Also, if there is a relevant topic you would like us to write about, please ask and we will be glad to meet your request. Finally, our other two blogs, the flagship Weekend Economist "Quaerere Verum" and The World Beyond The Weekend Economist, might be of interest as well. We hope you enjoy our site(s), Benjamin Valk & Jeroen van Bommel.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Why Apple Should Buy Facebook

Apple has positioned itself well in the upscale niche market of high end consumer electronics. Practically everything that Steve Jobs touches turns to gold. In terms of strategy taking over Facebook is not only bold, but beautiful as well.

First of all, facebook user base, is one of the main target groups for Apple's main product lines. College students, highschool students, and young profesionals are important driving forces behind Apple's growth in both consumer and computer products. Most importantly Facebook allows an important outlet for integrating its computer base with a strong online community.

Instant photosyncing, integrated address book services and great iChat connectivity. Furthermore, the iPhone offers even greater hardware/internet/connectivity integration which in combination with facebook services can turn an Apple/Facebook combination into gold.
Internationally, Facebook integration could drastically enhance the sales base of the iTunes store.The cash flows coming from advertising would also add another value driver to Apple's general business framework.

Facebook has made it clear that it's not in the business to be taken over. It has taken a rather strong willed and independent approach. But as Facebook becomes bigger and complex it could use the help from Apple in terms of usability and user interface. So even if it resists the future pressure from Google, Apple, Yahoo or another rogue party, it is going to need big friends in the big league. Zuckerberg, young as he may be, seems to have a clear vision where he wants to go, and it doesn't seem he's easily swayed by billion dollar offers. Partnership or buyout, whoever buys Facebook shurely needs deep pockets.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

To Wii or not to Wii

Having taken the plunge in december to try out Nintendo's latest game console (the Wii) I was mesmerized by its revolutionary game play. Having followed the both the hype and competition between the Wii and the Playstation 3, I was curious to see how events would unfold.

Well a little more than 6 months later, the Wii is still a spectacular success, for both gamers and Nintendo's bottom line. Both Microsoft and Sony have significantly lowered the price tags of their respective consoles. All to little avail must be said (for now)

The Wii is really not a console to be compared with the playstation 3 or the Xbox 360. Its target audience is much broader in the way that its appeal is well beyond the traditional "hardcore" gamer. With that approach Nintendo have cleverly expanded their target group by miles, all this whilst Microsoft and Playstation are battling each other on a small piece of turf. In many ways Microsoft is selling Porshes, Sony is selling Ferari's and well Nintendo is selling Volkswagens.

On the other hand the Playstation 3, remarkable advanced specs, means that it will be in the console race for quite some time. Furthermore, it is not unthinkable that Sony will be able to include Wii styled gameplay on their console, albeit with much more powerful processing and graphics. It is therefore far too soon to write off the playstation 3. It may be an expensive toy, but it is an impressive one, and will be until the next big thing. The playstation 3 is still early in its life cycle, the Xbox 360 is well into its mid career. And although the Wii is as young as the playstation 3, its hardware and graphics capabilities are rather dated.

For Nintendo's current strategy the Wii is well placed to compete. But at some point the novelty that defines the Wii gameplay will be copied. Does Nintendo have what it takes to power the next generation of game consoles, or will it be taken over by a strong mid career performance of the playstation 3 as we steadily merge into a world of HD entertainment.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Blueray vs HD DVD = Darfur

The whole discussion between blue ray and HD DVD is going to be rather superfluous when we look back at the so called "disc" wars of 2007/2008. The comparison's the the failed betamax and video 2000 versus the victorious VHS is an overused parallel. In fact, I don't believe they are as much comparable as "lazy" publi-shits claim them to be. Secondly, the whole battle is a rather useless one looking at the current trends of media consumption. So my word of advice is: it simply doesn't matter. The very conflict between the two media types is merely a clever marketing trick to bring either format to the fore of your attention.

Don't get me wrong, blue ray and HD DVD are a stark improvement when compared to either VHS or DVD. But the very struggle is somewhat reminiscent to a far away conflict in Africa: everybody has an opinion, but for the rest not much is happening. And in that regard history will soon judge the uselessness of the whole choice between HD DVD and Blue Ray.

The Internet, not a content monopoly utility such as HD DVD/Blue Ray is going to define the way that we enjoy entertainment in the future. Blue Ray and HD DVD's are just a quick fix for those with deep enough wallets and too little patience to wait for the next big thing. In my opinion, all discs, be it DCD, CD, Blue Ray or HD DVD are at the end of their life cycle. In the same way that cd's are obsolete, so are digital video disks. The difference is that most people haven't realized this yet. In that respect I'd rather give my money to Darfur than spend it on obsolete technology.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Gubuntu- Google and Linux

Gubuntu, Glinux or Ginux could all be worthy names if Google were to seriously consider entering the platform battle. A more united and professional Linux front headed by a behemoth such as Google could help Linux achieve a mainstream market.

Dell's move to offer computers with linux instead of the standard windows configuration is indicatory of future trends. Dell has realized it needs to listen more carefuly to what consumers and business wants, instead of complying to the usual Microsoft platform hegemony. Google's wellestablished name and market access could act as a fitting catalyst to make this possible. A linux strategy would make them more independent from Microsoft and allow them to capture and access a growing market share of Linux based platforms.

Looking at the adoption rates of Apple Computers in family homes, I do believe that Google's venture into the desktop market would come at the right time. Many current computer users either have to opt for a new pc to comply with the hefty standards of Microsoft Vista or instead buy an Apple. Google could capture significant market share from those people unwilling to buy a new computer, but who are fed up with the limitations of Windows XP.

More and more applications are web based, therefore an OS should only serve as a platform to serve those applications. This platform should be secure, lean and efficient. Currently XP and Vista are far too clunky to offer the support and dedication that a web based platform requires. The internet, not the OS, is the sandbox of human-computer and human-human interaction. Microsoft only seems to accept this unwillingly with their OS. On the other hand, Xbox 360 is a far better future oriented product than Vista will ever be.

Coming back to Google, they do have the pockets and engineers to make Gubuntu or Glinux possible. As both a mac and pc user I can only applaud it if this ever happens.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Enlightened World of Music

EMI's latest turnaround on the subject of DRM free music, perhaps partly inspired by Steve Jobs open letter to the world of music, is too little too late at best. DRM stands for digital rights management and has been a serious bone of contention to the entire music community. It is supposed to protect the rights of artists and inherently the labels.

The industry has changed in that music is no longer a commodity that in its current form can be protected. The power of distribution is no longer in the hands of labels. So unless labels reinvent themselves along a different business model, they are dead. Music is now on an equal footing with digital information, which in most cases is free. At least free in the sense that there are no cash transactions involved.

The Internet really has been a double edged sword for the entire music community. It has given them the power of labels through virtually cost free distribution of music, as well as tremendous abilities to find and cater for audiences they would have never being able to serve before. Peer to peer file transfer networks, torrent sites, myspace and last.fm all contributed to an explosion of music and file sharing. The problem in this new world of music distribution is that major labels and artists are no longer able to make the kind of money that they are used to.

Labels really are the pimps of the music industry, whoring out the most popular and willing candidates for their "product" lineup. However, in the Internet age, it is no longer they who discover and spread the rumor of new artists and talent. It is the giant social engine powering the Internet that has replaced them in that role. Musicians and artists have their own responsibility to reinvent themselves in this digital market place and find a new way to make a living. There is little reason these days as an artist to sit around and wait for a big label to sign you on when the risk versus reward payoff is so incredibly negatively skewed.

Musicians are back to square one: they have to be entertainers by playing live shows, instead of recording a CD in a fancy studio and letting the labels to the rest. Being a successful artist these days is not a couch potato business. Rather, it is one where the bus, hotel, or airplane becomes your home. One thing is for sure, at least this should create more music we can all relate to as hard working people.

Monday, April 16, 2007

"Phony Leopard"

For a device that's aiming to get only 1% of market share, Apple sure has committed a lot of resources to the iPhone. Is this surprising? Hardly. Apple's change of strategy was reflected at this years Macworld when Apple changed its name from Apple Computers to just Apple. Allthough this went fairly unnoticed by most people, many Apple users are realizing that it's becoming a sour bite.

The delay of Leopard makes Apple's previous rants (redwood start your photocopiers) all the more ironic, including all the previous Microsoft Vista bashing. Furthermore, the delay comes at a critical juncture in consumer computing. Just when Apple could have offered consumers a "new, fresh and better" choice in the world of computing, Apple put it's chips in a futuristic, over-hyped phone device that is still months away from release. Not that the iPhone is a bad product, but Apple may have made a grave strategic error in terms of priority.

What Apple should have done, is committed the resources and attention needed for a timely release of Leopard, iWork and other Apple software in need of an update. To make matters worse, at last year's developers conference, the general public was made hungry for the then up and coming release of Leopard. Apple's failing to deliver, first in February, then March and now who knows when, clearly shows the rest of the computing world that Apple has "dropped the ball."

A new OS coupled with an updated macbook or other computing products would have had a much more positive impact for Apple's market share and most of all for consumers. Apple is a goodwill driven company, much of its core users are a fairly loyal community of professionals and students willing to pay a premium for quality. It is this community that Apple is now alienating by becoming a company of hype, rather than delivery. Even if I am going to be one of many standing in line for the new iPhone, consciously, I would have been much happier with a new release of Leopard, iWork and iLife.

The problem with leopard is probably twofold. One is that Apple probably has over concentrated on the iPhone and sapped the leopard project of the engineering resources and talent needed to finish a project of such magnitude. Secondly is that Apple is simply getting nervous living up to the hype and expectation of Leopard. Even if there was a releasable beta that could be passed off as a Leopard release candidate, it would have had to live up to enormous expectation. Vista for all it's flaws is a solid looking piece of functional eye candy and Ubuntu is also catching up, so anything Apple releases better be pretty damn flawless and revolutionary. That is quite a burden of expectation to live up to. In that regard the iPhone comes as both a timely reason and excuse to delay the "undelayable."

Technology, Demographics and Lay Trading

After the boom and bust around the turn of the century, it seemed that small discount brokerages would be hard pressed to survive. Many professionals and amateurs alike got burned as the markets retreated after 9/11 and the bursting of the tech bubble. In recent years we are witnessing a clear uptrend in the use and popularity of discount brokerages. "Amateur" investors are once again rushing to the market place and there is some hefty wooing going on to attract those flushed with enough cash.

We are now witness to the rise of a new kind of investor. This new kind of investor is an active trader that has become known as a "day trader." These are mainly amateurs and semi-professionals who play the short term markets in various ways, be it by trading in commodities, currency markets, using leveraged products, futures or options. Often it is a retired professional with some knowledge of financial markets. Then there are also the "early" retirees (late 40's, early 50's) who are using day trading to supplement their income and financially secure their retirement. The new day trader community is a mixed bag of complete amateurs, gamblers and semi-professionals alike.

The recent upswing in US and Global markets has provided ample money making opportunities for this group of day traders, which has lead to an increasing number of amateurs joining their ranks. By sheer word of mouth, the success of Joe the neighbor, who sits at home making "easy" bucks, is a fairy tale concept that is capturing the imagination of many. We could coin a new term for this growing class, namely "lay traders." This is a play on the words "layman" and "trader," put together in the same way that the term "day trader" is. Lay traders are amateur traders who try their luck on short term market fluctuations. It is true that even aspiring lay traders can make money in bullish markets. But what will happen to these traders when markets turn bearish?

The democratization of trading is not going to be a blessing for everyone. In fact, there is a significant risk that these new lay traders could overexpose themselves to risks that their financial situation does not allow for. The smell of easy money is one that has the potential to blind even the most experienced and confident investors. The end of the tech bubble has shown the devastating effect that declining markets can have on traders. Significant financial damage was caused to countless traders who lost their entire savings, sometimes in a matter of months. The threat of losing all they own is a serious reality for today's bullish day traders.

Technology has been a critical aspect with respect to providing near professional real-time trading tools for the aspiring lay trader. The technology transfer from the professional market makers to the amateur trader has the same potential as what blogging offers traditional media. The paradigm in creation has the potential to create a small hurricane in the traditional brokerage and trading community.

However, discount brokerages always expand in boom times, only to sound a hasty retreat when markets go down. The same could very well happen to the growing "lay trading" community. On the other hand, when the market goes down, only the most able and skilled traders will remain, weeding out the amateurs and speculators blinded by easy money. Perhaps this is nothing more than a healthy, Darwinist example of "survival of the fittest." Either way, "laytraders" are here to stay, driven in part by demography, technology as well as a human hunger for more than it can safely devour.

Friday, April 13, 2007

iPhone Mania: Is it Worth the Wait?

Honestly, who wasn't "wowed" when uncle Steve presented Apple's latest "wannahave" the iPhone. After months of intense speculation and a successful bid at maintaining secrecy Apple did reveal the iPhone. Unfortunately Apple and gadget lovers alike will still have to wait a few months before they can get their hands on one.

Even the most grumpiest geek will admit that the iPhone clearly has some great features packed into (it seems) a very enjoyable user interface. However, if we look purely at features, then there is really not that much worth waiting for. Most Sony, LG, Motorola, Blackberry and Nokia phones come fairly close feature wise. Secondly, those phones are available now, and are in almost all cases cheaper then the iPhone. Thirdly there is also the battery life issue, some people have claimed that it is absolutely abysmal. The iPhone will become most definitly a city slickers whanahave and really not be very useful for people on long journeys. Will Apple also supply a mobile power generator for recharging their device? They could call it the iPower or iCharge for all it matters.

All this waiting for the iPhone is making a hungry public hungrier. Let's hope that the iPhone can live up to its expectations without too many stomach aches: at 500$ price tag it surely is hurting my pocket. But what about 25% of America's Teenagers who confessed to wanting an iPhone? How are they going to cough up the cash to buy an iPhone? Even if the iPhone is more hype than product, Apple sure can expect to make a lot of money. And maybe...just maybe they'll come up with something that will solve that prickly battery life issue.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Nintendo and Apple: A Match Made in Heaven

Let's face it; Nintendo and Apple are two of the hottest companies in the world at the moment. And from a consumer electronics perspective, both Apple and Nintendo have a tasty lineup of great innovative products.

From a product synergy perspective, both have a lot to offer one another. This would also be inherently better for the consumer. Apple is quite deficient in the gaming arena and Nintendo would love a slice of the digital media sphere. Imagine if Osx would be compatible with Wii games, throw in complete Wiimote functionality and you've got yourself a great combination.
Also, a marriage between the Wii and the Apple TV could render the ultimate consumer product. An AppleWii tv would give consumers an ultimate all in one device.

Secondly, a merged product that takes the best from Ipod and Nintendo DS could create a fantastic consumer entertainment product, essentially outfoxing Microsoft and Sony in one swift move. When you think about it, an Apple Nintendo marriage really doesn't sound that strange. Infact, I would love to see a "DSpod".

One question remains: who would benefit the most from such a partnership? For the consumer it's a 100% home run. For Apple it would be a great opportunity to add more value and diversity to their current product lineup. Furthermore, it would earn them big time kudos with the gaming community. On a personal note, I would love to use the wii-mote for presentations in keynote. Just imagine the possibilities or using two wii-motes to lay down a drum part in your garageband. Forget guitarhero, what about the drumsmaster deluxe?