Stunted By Reality Just another know-it-all talking about life, business, technology, sports and music.


HP’s margin envy will be the death of them

Palm Pre shot from Mobile World Congress.

The first ever phone with a lip.

It didn't come as a surprise when HP decided to kill off all it's WebOS related projects. From the time they paid $1.2 billion dollars for Palm in order to get their hands on the by all accounts 'great' operating software they have consistently made the  wrong moves.

With the company making most of their money from selling hardware to other companies it was always a dumb move in my opinion to get rid of the Palm brand once the acquisition had gone through. Palm had pedigree in the high-end consumer market that formerly crossed over into the business user market way before RIM ever got there. It didn't stop HP from renaming all the Palm devices with the HP prefix which I think never had the same brand cache to compete with Apple. HP definitely skipped a beat there as they could have had their own 'Lexus' of the mobile world. A brand with which they could package the best part of their low-end stuff in a shiny slightly different case and still have users falling over themselves to buy it in the mis-guided belief that it was somehow more exclusive because it was pricier. Works every time in these days were even us poor people can buy a Mercedes or an iPhone without paying a penny upfront.

In addition I think that Palm had only lost the battle with Apple simply because their pockets were not as deep. The only thing they probably needed from HP was their money. Can you imagine where Palm would be now if HP had poured in another billion, given the Palm access to their manufacturing base and stayed well clear? The initial Palm Pre wasn't good hardware, but I think there was enough to work on and if they'd simply been given the money to match Apple's annual release cycle and copy HTC's lineup of all-touch and qwerty keyboard handsets, they might have made an impact.

Only 18 months after the right move was stunted by the wrong strategy we now hear that HP are throwing the towel in following the dismal sales of the WebOS tablet. Not only that, but they are also looking to spin off the whole PC and hardware business and acquire the UK software house Autonomy. Leo Apotheker the CEO who has only been in the job less than a year has called the moves and it seems that just like Mr Elop at Nokia he already had pre-conceived ideas about what direction he wanted to go before he joined.

I can see where he's going with this. He wants HP to be making high margins. Well higher than they are right now and higher than you can get flogging hardware to corporates. It's admirable but sometime you just have to stick to making money the best way you know how. There's isn't much evidence that HP know the services and software business or that they can stake out a claim against, Microsoft, Apple and whilst fighting away the millions of small start-ups with new and innovative ways to do the same things cheaper and faster.

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Me and my nokia n900

The Nokia N900 showing system information in x...

N900. A handheld computer.

I got a Nokia N900 two months ago to replace my old Nokia N770 internet tablet. Just like the old tablet, this one has been one of the best buys I’ve EVER made.

I’m a media junkie. I like to consume as much of it as I can on any medium, and for me that used to consist of watching a lot of TV (no it’s not bad for you), listening to radio, reading newspapers and books. A LOT. Like most information junkies its a masochistic thing isn’t it? Its the thrill of possibly stumbling onto some stuff I absolutely disagree with and just going mental about it. I’m that guy you see shouting at the radio when you’re stuck in a traffic jam!

Nokia 770

N770. Finger not required.

Anyway, the N770 when it came out, was my way of extending my media consumption. It came out in 2005 and I got it towards the end of that year. On that device Nokia realised early on what other tech companies are starting to get now. Modern portable devices have to combine the function of two to make them worth carrying. As well as being an internet tablet that did internet and email very well for it’s day, the N770 also did satellite navigation.

I’ve had a great five year run during which I used it quite a lot at first; Mostly by reading books and feeds whilst listening to music. It has great battery life and was able to multi-task way back then in 2005. Who would have thought it eh Apple? After two years I was not a using it as much; but then lately I have once again been using it a great deal since last year. During the current online music craze I found a app for the N770 and that was what got me back into it.

In March this year my mobile phone contract expired on the Nokia E71 I carry. For me it doesn’t make sense not to have a mobile contract if you’re going to be spending anything upwards of £15 per month on phone calls. You might as well get a free phone on a £15 or whatever contract. So it was logical I get the N900 just so I could keep it at home as an always on internet device.

Nokia have put phone capabilities on the N900 but to be honest that’s not what it does best. I’m really please with it because it does internet the best of any similar sized device I’ve used. It has proper Flash in the browser and doesn’t squirm when someone posts a video of a 2 year old kid in Indonesia puffing away on a cigarrette to my Facebook wall.

The slide-out keyboard is very good despite only having three rows. It’s like someone building an eight bedroom house and thinking that it would be good to save space by having three instead of four bathrooms! That doesn’t make sense because the N900 is already on the big-ish side. Nevertheless is still pocketable though I wouldn’t carry it if I wore skinny jeans.

Apps are there though not as much as for that other phone or on Android. In fact apps on the N900 are mostly functional stuff and some games. I’m not really a games person but I get the feeling there are'nt too many native ones for N900. To compensate it does run a good number of emulators.

The one thing missing so far is the free navigation that Nokia has given to all the newer phones. I hear that this will be corrected sometime and I look forward to that day. When that happens I will probably no longer carry my Sony digital camera because the N900 shoots decent daytime pictures. Night time pictures are better than you’ll see on most phones because of the dual LEDs and Carl Zeiss lense; though they are nowhere near as good as a decent digital camera.

Overall there’s enough on the N900 to make it the best gadget I’ve ever bought simply because it’s so usable. It’s not as big as an iPad which I think it’s actually more in competition with than the iPhone. The weight and portability are just incomparable making it useful even when lying in bed. I know there are better things to do in bed, but hey…

Of course I’m yet to play with an iPad, but the thought of a beautiful, 1.5lb ‘portable’ device that doesn’t do anything unique is not appealing to me. Convergence is what it’s all about nowadays and the N900 does that very well.

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Patently mad. The absurdity of patents continues

The idea of patents is a good one. In theory. You invent something and apply to get it registered so that what you have made is exclusive to you for a period of time. During that period you can recoup the costs of coming up with your invention whilst copy-cats are barred from profiting at your expense. To qualify a patent has to be new, inventive or useful.

I say in theory because, it turns out you can apply for patents on ideas and also on software (which pretty much is a logical application and something of an art too). This is where things get muddy, because patents apply to everything in the modern world. From the medicine that the poor countries badly need to the cell-phones on which billions of people depend.

A couple of things in the last week have served to highlight the massive change needed to bring the system up to date if the technology world is to be prevented from going into a race to the bottom.

It started with Facebook being awarded a patent on the ‘newsfeed’, that page you see on logging into Facebook which tells you who poked who, and other ‘newsy’ stuff in your friends circles.

Then Apple sued HTC who make tons of phones for just about everyone in the industry apart from Apple and Nokia. Why, because HTC is said to be infringing on Apple’s patents including one for “Unlocking A Device By Performing Gestures On An Unlock Image.” Awarded on February 2 in 2010! You couldn’t make it up if you tried. In simple terms that means any phone company using that system where you unlock your phone by swiping it has to pay Apple for the right to use it. Absolutely ridiculous, especially when you consider that I have had a phone that does exactly that since before the iPhone was around. Step forward Neonode.

                          Is that an icon based menu? Quick let's patent it!


I bet Neonode didn’t apply for the patent because they thought it was too obvious to be granted! Anyway the whole thing has a lot of geeks shaking their heads whilst lawyers can’t stop salivating at the prospect of more long and drawn out litigation.

Ultimate blame however, has to lie not with those who are granted the patents, but with those who look at these applications and say “Yes, that is novel, it’s new, it’s inventive and it’s useful.”

For an illustration of the ridiculousness BusinessWeek featured this invention in their ‘Most ridiculous patents’  article.

Bear right dad! Double saddle coming on!

Dad Saddle

Patent awarded: 2002
Patent says: “A number of devices have been devised for carrying infants and young children. Such devices often are not appropriate or useful for carrying larger children. Nor are known conventional arrangements adapted to support a standing child.”
Business Week say: If your child is too big for a stroller, it’s probably time he or she learned to walk.


Who needs marketing when you have fans in the media?

If you’ve just come back from Mars, then you may not know that Apple launched a new gadget yesterday. Please have a good look at my browser screenshot of VentureBeat (one of my favourite tech blogs) by clicking the image on the right. It’s ridiculous and illustrates the hype that is constantly bestowed upon Apple products by the media.

It’s one thing people having an interest, but its quiet another when the media feeds our interest in Apple with such an overload of coverage. VentureBeat is by no means the most Apple-eyed blog out there (that’s why I read it). Thus it makes you wonder what the Apple-centric blogs are going through right now.

Tis’ the Cult of Mac indeed.