Thursday, September 15, 2011

My tech predictions related to Microsoft and Amazon

Being a follower of tech news, I just think this year so far has been fascinating. So many things happened that are regarded as milestones in the tech landscape. The latest firing of Yahoo’s CEO is just a footnote of the long term struggle of this once-internet giant. The most prominent news gotta be the resignation of Steve Jobs from Apple as CEO. Come in close second is Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility which is a watershed moment for Android future development. The ‘infant death’ of WebOS under HP is another one.

Based on what have happened so far and what I’ve read, I would like to make some comments on few items. Yes, most of them are not ‘new’, as they could be found on the net somewhere. I just happen to agree with those views, that’s why I’m raising them here. Usually, this kind of review and prediction takes place at year end, but I just can’t help but sharing them today. Maybe or maybe not, I will have a revised one by then. Anyway, here I go:

Window 8 will be release 4Q 2012 and it will be less successful than Window 7

MS hasn’t announced the release date, but I guess they will push it as late as possible. It’s because there are still so much works need to be done to launch this product which I will consider as a make-or-break product for MS. MS tries to cover both PC and tablet market with one OS. This is something that I guess both Google and Apple will do ‘partially’ down the road. So, in future looking back, MS is actually ahead of the curve. Would that be a success? I would say No, at least not at the level of W7.

My rationale is that MS is trying to do too much too soon. What is happening in the marketplace right now is competition of tech ‘ecosystems’. MS does have enough pieces to try to build one of their own, don’t get me wrong about that. But, the problem is that their pieces are quite varied in term of quality, and MS has not been proved to succeed in such integration in the past 10 years. As I said, MS tries to make W8 to cover both PC and tablet, both of which still have their uniqueness that respective OS still make sense. PC (desktop and laptop) is more suitable for information creation. With the success of iPad, Apple finally hit the sweet spot of creating a device (the concept of tablet is in fact decade old and promoted by MS) that fit for information consumption. Such clear distinction of hardware functionality is a milestone in consumer tech I think. Though PC can do both information creation and consumption, and has been doing so for a long time. iPad gives consumers a better option and they love it so far. When I say consumers here, I mean both for business and retail users.

When I said Apple and Google will try to merge the tablet OS and PC OS partially down the road, I think there are already signs for their happening. E.g. Apple’s App store concept once proved to be successful under iOS, it is now on Lion OSX, the incorporation of multitouch on Macbooks and iMac by means of touchpad, more gestures are added in the Lion OSX, even the look and feel of UI on Mac has shown similarity to iOS. For Google, the sign is not too obvious, but I believe that it is quite natural that Google will give up its development of ChromeOS and incorporate the essence of that product into future versions of Andriod down the road. However, my point is that both Apple and Google are not using one OS to cover both PC and tablet at this moment is because the timing is just not right.

Mobility in information consumption and the power to support content creativity are competing in contrast for hardware to fully support both. There are just so much to be concerned with: weight of device, battery life, cooling of device, chip structure, 4G connectivity, Cloud vs harddrive development, costs and prices, etc. I think both Apple and Google still can’t find the ‘sweetspot’ to sort out the matrix of components above that could optimize user experience. As such, I doubt MS is able to do that with W8!?

I think the overall review of W8 will be that. Though it tries to cover both tablet and PC market, consumers will find it to be short-changed on both ends. PC side would fair better, given that it is the strength of MS. People will simply turn off the tablet UI and stick with the familiar Window UI when they are using that on PC, but they will hate the ribbon for the start. The upside is that W8 is rumored to run faster on current PCs that run W7. The downside is that, either retail consumers or businesses will jump on the W8 bandwagon when they have just spent money moving on W7 which they are so far satisfied with the performance (unlike the Vista). Particularly for the corporations which are usually much slower in adoption of technology advancement than retail users. With budget constraints in the current economy, I doubt they will open the wallet to ask for upgrade if W7 is doing fine. The biggest potential gains are from the current users of XP. But, if they need to be convinced to pay extra to adopt a more radically changed W8 rather than W7. It’s gonna be a tough sell by MS.

On the tablet side, MS would need ‘magic’ to find some hardware maker to make attractive hardware that run W8 to compete with Android and iPads. They will need to make it not on par, but much better than the existing tablets on the market in order to convince consumers to jump ship to the W8 land. That would be very tough, given the headstart of iPad and Android tablets and their vast apps. My guess is that consumers will still most likely stick with their iPad2 or 3 then. I just can’t see the first Gen MS W8 tablet to be polished enough to compete with 3rd Gen iPad, or 2nd Gen Andriod 3.X. That’s my take on W8 so far.

iPad’s greatest competitor will be released later this year – the Amazon Tablet.

As I said, the current competition in the techland is on ‘ecosystem’. Tablet is mere the device to access the ecosystem. That’s why only competing on tech spec will not win, just see RIM’s Playbook, Motorola’s Xoom, and Samsung Galaxy, though the latter one is doing ok, but still…with Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility, I don’t think Google will be close to Samsung more than Motorola down the road. Thus, a rebirth of Xoom could be coming. However, more imminent threat to iPad is the Amazon Tablet, because of the strength of Amazon’s online stores with the tens of millions of consumers in their database (including me). This is simply a gold mine that is gonna be explored. Amazon is gonna bundle its tablet’s functions to its online stores so close that consumers will be able to complete a transaction in just few clicks after logging in. Amazon is already working on its online store front to format it in a way that it will be optimized for the scale of tablets. I’m sure Amazon will sell the tablet below cost just for the sake of getting the device on as many consumers’ hands and as quick possible, just looking at the consumers‘ reaction to the fire sale of HP’s tablet, you get the point. As such, Amazon Tablet with a heavily customized Android version will be the second most popular tablet in 2012. I predict the sales ratio of iPad vs. Amazon Tablet in 2012 will be 5:2, given the supply is available.

Amazon will buy WebOS

There is rumor that HP will sell WebOS, and a list of potential buyers included Samsung, Sony, HTC, even Apple and Google. It is said that HTC has the highest chance among that group, but I would add Amazon to that list and to be close second most likely buyer. My point is that WebOS actually fit Amazon more than any other because Amazon has a different business model. Unlike the other potential buyers, I really doubt Amazon will step in making its own mobile phone. Its presence in iOS and Android are enough on phone space. However, having its own tablet with customized UI should fit more to its business model. For Amazon, a tablet is similar to a TV remote control, it is a just a tool for consumers to access its online store. Kindle is proven to be a successful tablet with narrowed functionality. So, Amazon has the experience to channel its own device to vast customers. What they want to do is to expand the product scope that their consumers to access. A tablet is a natural choice. With Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility, although Amazon can still use Android for their tablets, they would certainly think about having their own OS down the road. If WebOS is available, why spending to develop their own? Other potential buyers need to deal with both phone and tablet, perhaps hedging the risk by adopting W8, on top of them, more patent-related lawsuits back and forth against Apple, and undercut their profits of using Android by paying patent fee to MS. There are just too many hassles to be deal with. I think it would be wise for Amazon just to get the functionality proven WebOS once for all and go with it. Amazon just needs to move fast to get the deal done before HTC snatches WebOS. However, given HTC is a Taiwanese company and Amazon is native in the States, I would say the latter should have a higher chance to get a deal from HP than HTC.

That’s my two cents on tech predictions.

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