Archive for the ‘NFC’ Category

This is certainly a belated post. I have been meaning to write it for many months but kept getting distracted. CES came and went with little that was earth shattering but a lot that was incremental. TV’s are more connected than ever while also getting bigger and thinner. Computers are slimmer and faster. The Macbook Air line is finally getting some serious competition but the pricing appears to be less than stellar. Here is a case where the Apple tax may be less than people suspect. SSD’s are slowly replacing hard drives and SSD speeds continue to increase. If you haven’t replaced your main hard drive with an SSD then you are in for a treat along with the concomitant blow to your wallet. Tablets are rushing forward. Vastly lower pricing should open tablets up to many more people and cause Android market share to surge. NFC is moving forward and uses are expanding. By 2013 I expect most top end smartphones will support NFC and that includes Apple.

There was, however, one area that brought a small amount of excitement – automotive. I have blogged before about Ford and their moves forward. There is a summary of the automotive announcements at Engadget so I won’t repeat a lot of it here. In general, phones, especially the iPhone, are being better integrated into automobiles and the move towards running apps on the automobile’s systems gets closer to reality. Right now most apps are proprietary but their numbers are increasing. Automobiles are getting more tightly connected to the web with the ability to send data between car and home. Back in 2009 GM and Ford announced that they intended to build Android cars. Here it is 2012 and we are still waiting but things are moving forward. The Chinese are there with the Roewe 350. Ford, GM, Mercedes et. al. are moving closer. In the end transparency of use and data will prevail and the automobile will merge seamlessly with the phone, TV and tablet.

By now most readers will be aware that Google is buying Motorola Mobility. I started to write about this when I first heard the news but I wanted to think about it and explore the implications and potential reasons. Time is up. Here are my thoughts.

The most straight forward reason is patent defense. When Google lost out to Microsoft and Apple in the bidding for the Nortel patent portfolio it left Google in a very bad position. Android violates several of the Nortel patents. Google launched an offensive claiming Apple and Microsoft were using patents, as opposed to compelling solutions, as a way to attack Google. We must remember that Google also bid for these patents and, had they won, would have probably used them against Microsoft and Apple. Furthermore, an offer to join with Microsoft and Apple in acquiring the patents was rebuked by Google. If the purchase of Motorola Mobility is indeed a defensive play then this is nothing more than another round of that old patent game “I’ll cross license mine if you will cross license yours.” Considering the large amounts of cash Google is sitting on, this might be a very sensible move.

Could there be more to the acquisition than patents? Google has made cell phones in the past when it was jump-starting Android. But, should they be a cell phone producer? In the PC space Apple has been a small closed ecosystem compared to the loose and very diversified Microsoft ecosystem. The result was a larger, cheaper and more diversified hardware and software ecosystem for Windows (Microsoft) compared to OSX (Apple). Recall that, at one time (Apple II), Apple dominated the desktop space. The diversity of the Microsoft based environment resulted in Apple becoming a niche player. Today, despite Apple’s early lead, there is a strong possibility that Android will be the Windows of the smartphone and tablet space. I see no reason for Google to try to “out Apple” Apple. Think of the strange relationship that is going to exist with companies like HTC and Samsung. In the recent past, market pressure pushed those companies towards Google. Apple was closed to them. Microsoft Windows Phone 7 was open but Nokia was clearly customer number one and in a special, preferred customer, position. Now Google is not just a supplier but a competitor. I think Microsoft is secretly happy about all of this. It makes their relationship with Nokia look tame by comparison.

Could this be herd instinct? Apple makes the iPhone. HP bought Palm. Microsoft is in bed with Nokia. RIM makes Blackberry. Perhaps Google fell victim to the “everyone else is doing it” syndrome. Somehow I doubt it. The people at Google are nothing if not sharp. Still, it has happened at this level before.

One possible reason for the acquisition might be to push NFC. NFC requires that very specific hardware be placed inside smartphones. The Motorola Mobility arm of Google could push this. However, I think NFC can be effectively pushed without making the phones themselves. I don’t buy this as a reason for the acquisition.

That brings me to one final reason for the purchase – set top boxes. I have discussed how the real goal is a very broad and unified ecosystem. The TV is a big part of that. Google could merge GoogleTV into the Motorola Mobility set top box units. As a competitor in the set top box space they might be in a good position to drive their ecosystem. I have argued before that consumers don’t like extra boxes and hence AppleTV and even external game boxes (PS3, Wii, Xbox) are interim solutions. The one external box that has some life left is the cable box.  Google could merge the cable box, GoogleTV and Android games into one piece of hardware. Moving between cable product, internet streams and applications could be made very unified and essentially transparent to the consumer.

Summary: This acquisition is all about the patent portfolio and using it as a counter to Apple and Microsoft. However, Google is left with a hardware business that competes with key customers.

My recommendation: If I was willing to tell Apple what to do then why not another multibillion dollar company that is highly profitable? So Google, here is what you should do. Sell off the mobile device arm of Motorola Mobility but keep set top boxes. Keep all of the patents and just license them to the entity acquiring the cell phone business. Finally, merge GoogleTV into the cable box and make GoogleTV fully compatible with Android games. Use your new found cable box presence to drive a broader ecosystem that is more unified than what consumers have now.

It may seem like I have been mostly regurgitating news. Look deeper. I am trying to point out the trends of convergence and transparency and how they are reaching everywhere. On the surface Google Wallet is a nice tweak to how you pay for what you buy. In terms of those affected it is easy to see the retailers, banks and credit card companies. If you look on the surface at semiconductor companies you might just think about those chips which enable NFC. This is part of something much bigger that affects many more companies. NFC services like Google Wallet will make transactions more transparent i.e. easier and more convenient. They also converge services into the phone and continue pushing the phone towards becoming your dominant computing platform. This is what I started this blog off with. It doesn’t matter if Google Wallet in it’s present form becomes big or not. It’s a symptom of a larger movement. No matter what business you are in you need to evaluate your strategy with convergence and transparency in mind. How will your business play out when the phone is the dominant computing platform? Intel and AMD are reacting to this today. For once the interests of AMD and Intel are aligned. They need to bring the X86 architecture to tablets and then mobile phones. Microsoft is also reacting as they worry about Windows being marginalized. Think how differently this would have been had the iPhone and iPad been based on the Atom processor. For the other chip companies there is the increasing importance of LTE and the cloud. Flash memory will continue to be pushed to grow in density and decrease in price. The world is moving towards one gigabyte of storage in the phone. Remember reading about how over built the global network is? Think again. OLED screens will finally become a mainstream technology driven by the phone. Eventually they will grow to be the dominant technology in both laptops and TV’s.  This shift affects media. The RIAA and  MPAA continue their vain attempts at protecting intellectual property rather than embracing the technology trends and profiting from them. That’s an entire blog (or two or three) in and of itself. Is your company preparing for the upcoming changes? More importantly, have you looked deep to see how convergence and transparency will change your business landscape?

I have mentioned PayPal in not one, not two but three different posts. Yesterday PayPal got upset and filed a suit against Google. It’s the usual stuff about stealing employees and with them intellectual property. What it is really about is Google daring to attack PayPal and PayPal getting scared. I suspect this is a pointless battle. Lawyers will make money but otherwise progress will march on. The system will get more streamlined and efficient. PayPal will ultimately disappear or get merged in with an electronic wallet system. It’s not like this is the only attack on PayPal. The credit card companies are also starting to offer PayPal type services.

Google just finished announcing Google Wallet. This is their NFC based payment system. In reality it is a lot more. You can read the details here. I have talked about this before. I don’t want to regurgitate details already covered but I do want to cover a few obvious items and some not so obvious one. The first involves why Google is doing this in the first place. In the near term (more about this later) they are making nothing on the transactions run through Google Wallet. The seeming financial beneficiaries are the store involved, the credit card company and the clearing house. We must ask our selves what Google’s business model is. It’s advertising. Targeted advertising is more valuable and hence able to fetch a higher price than random advertising. In the near term this is all about knowing who you are, where you are, and how you spend your money. If you are getting a little edgy about your privacy there’s a reason. You won’t have any. Google already knows more about you than the government does and that knowledge base is growing. Google Wallet extends that knowledge base. You do get benefits in return. For giving up your privacy you will gain ease of use and discounts on your purchases.

Watching the players in this was interesting. Each took their assigned segment. Google proclaimed they were the altruistic software provider that happened to make money on advertising but nothing else. Sprint  was happy to be the carrier placing the services on the phone. Citi wants to be the bank involved, Mastercard the credit card company and lesser known First Data the clearing house. Then there was the lineup of retailers happy that it would be easier to part you from your money. In many ways, players like Mastercard, First Data and Citi have little choice. This is going to happen with or without them. All of these players will be near term winners. I wonder, however, if any of them have a little fear about the long term future. The immediate losers are companies like Groupon. The retail coupon business is slipping into a Google business unit. Groupon isn’t a very large outfit nor are the others like it. I doubt many will see this as a big deal. A bigger potential loser is PayPal. Not mentioned was the fact that Google Wallet will quickly pick up the capability of PayPal. All of this is relatively near term. What happens later as mighty Google and it’s rivals Apple and Microsoft seek new avenues for increasing revenues? Google, with the world’s most powerful computer network, will have to ask itself why so much of this process, including the profits, goes to others. Perhaps they will decide to become the clearing house and edge out First Data. After that perhaps Mastercard will be a target. I doubt they will want to be your bank but who knows. Some of those faces that were smiling today might be wearing frowns in ten or fifteen years.

For the consumer, Google Wallet and related moves will mean a further increase in retail efficiency. Generally this is a good thing. Purchasing will get easier and tracking purchase will get easier too. Lost receipt issues will go away. Coupons will be easy to use and not a low paying paper cutting  job as it sometimes seems. While privacy will diminish, it will mean advertising that is relevant and generally useful.

I’m a semiconductor guy. What does this mean for the chip business? It means volume in everything related to this process. It means smartphone sales, and the chips inside them, will increase. It means lots of readers being deployed so stores can accept Google Wallet. The reach doesn’t stop there. Behind all of this will be massive data centers and a lot of network bandwidth. That means all of the chips that support these areas have a bright future.

Near field communications, NFC, is about to be a big deal. NFC is a very short range radio link which can read passive tags such as RFID tags on items. Two active devices can share data similar to syncing devices. An example might be transferring contact information or sharing a document. Rather than repeat a lot I’ll let you read the Wikipedia entry here. Other interesting applications include letting your phone be the key for your car or allowing your phone to use stored credit card information to check out at the supermarket. NFC is key to the phone becoming the central convergence device. As I keep saying, convergence is big; very, very big. It will take longer (think many years) but the phone will become your house keys too. The idea is to eliminate all of those separate items you load into your pocket and wallet. I am not claiming that everything will be eliminated but it will be thinned down. This is powerful stuff and I expect to see the phone s credit card becoming mainstream soon. There has been speculation that iPhone 5 will support NFC. If it doesn’t then iPhone 6 definitely will. Ice Cream Sandwich, the upcoming unification version of Android, hs NFC support including something Google calls 0-click. This shows that Google is actively working on transparent usage models. The potential, and the danger are large. Security will be an issue with the usage model having to make sure that things that you don’t want to happen don’t happen inadvertently. For instance, you might not want someone to have your phone number. Still, the attraction will be overwhelming. Take a look at this “How to NFC” presentation from Google I/O 2011. It’s a long video so, if you aren’t a developer,  jump to the 6 minute mark but be sure to watch through the 17 minute mark.

This is transparency coming to your life and it’s just a start. What Google is showing is the basic enabling interface technology along with a few demo applications. Developers will take this and run with it.

The financial impetus for this is huge. Think PayPal. What if every credit card transaction went through the iTunes store or through Google with Apple or Google taking a very minor piece of the financial action? The numbers are staggering. With huge dollars at play expect a long term battle to be your NFC transaction supplier.