Posts Tagged ‘AppleTV’

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.

If you have been following along with my comments on transparency you might think the only big prize is owning the phone market or the tablet market or both. There’s another prize that’s very big. To understand it you need to take a look at PayPal. When I am online I like it when PayPal is a payment option. I don’t have to pull out my credit card. I just have to remember my PayPal login and I can complete my desired purchase. What if every transaction in the US went through two or three companies? This would be like a super PayPal. It wouldn’t just be online transactions but local purchases such as groceries, gas, clothes and dining.

It’s time for some simple math fun. April 2011 retail sales in the US were approximately $390B. One percent of that is $3.9B. If a company could get a third of this it would be $1.3B. That’s per month or $3.9B per quarter. This is only for the US. How do you get 1% of every transaction? You make them flow through your device. With NFC, the phone is the gateway to your credit card. When watching TV,  think GoogleTV or Apple TV. What if all you needed was one account with Google or Apple and you could cover all of your bills using your phone or your TV? This makes iTunes look puny. Don’t kid yourself, both Google and Apple are eyeing this. I suspect Microsoft is too but they are a bit late.

Amazon, a company I haven’t mentioned till now, sees this  too. Their solution has been to be the central online shopping site. However, remember how the Germans went around the Maginot Line? Remember how I said Apple and Google were doing a similar end around on the Wintel alliance? We could have another end around play here. Imagine your phone being your main device for purchases i.e. replacing your credit card. Apple and Google could move in on Visa and Mastercard. Now that they have you funneling your purchases through them it’s a small step to begin guiding those purchases. Think Apple App Store on a huge scale. Think of the Google Market Place but selling more than apps. Both of these companies are sitting on large amounts of cash and looking for ways to turn that into even larger revenue and profits. What can Amazon do? They can take a clue from their Kindle line. I don’t own a Kindle. However, there are Kindle apps on my laptop, my desktop, my phone and my tablet. When I buy ebooks my first choice is through Amazon. I don’t buy through iBooks because iBooks isn’t as broadly cross platform as Kindle. It’s that old transparency of data thing again. By buying through Kindle (Amazon) I can read the book on all of my devices. I read them where I want, when I want, and on the device I want to use.  Amazon needs to be the one company that will allow both your Apple device and your Android device to use the same account. At all cost they need to make sure the various platforms are open enough to allow them to be the central clearinghouse for your purchases. The same can be said for Mastercard and Visa. Those two companies dominate the landscape right now. However, fundamental changes are afoot and that always spells opportunity for others. For the first time Visa and Mastercard are vulnerable.

When will this take place? No time in the near future as far as the general public will see. However, the initial steps are being taken now. At first you will just place your credit card information in your phone and use it instead of the physical card. This is only slightly different from having Amazon store your credit card information with your account. From there it’s a small step to add extras to the Apple and Google app stores. Finally, Apple or Google issue you the credit line and push Visa and Mastercard out. They will be able to do this by offering incentives from the savings generated by not shipping Mastercard or Visa 2%.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make some suggestions to Apple. As their recent meager earnings and growth show, they really need my advice.

Apple TV needs to be transformed. Start by allowing apps to run on it. The goal should be to make it a casual gaming platform. Card games would work especially well. The TV would show the overall table. Each player would view his hand on an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. A simple controller could be developed and sold for people without the above devices. The key is that this would integrate the Apple community of devices. iOS devices have already reached a portable gaming market share that challenges Nintendo DS.  It’s time for Apple TV to attack the Wii.

As the trends of transparency and convergence move forward it is going to be more and more important that moving from device to device is seamless. iOS on Apple TV needs to be the same overall as iOS on the iPad etc.

I said Apple TV needs to be transformed. That includes the hardware form factor. The present product is fine as an add-on device. However, GoogleTV is a big threat and the largest threat will be from TV manufacturers integrating GoogleTV into their TV sets. That will remove a lot of the value of getting an Apple TV device. This presents a dilemma. How does Apple retain total control of Apple TV, including the hardware, while attacking GoogleTV. The answer is to build a version of Apple TV in a slim card format that can be installed in a standardized slot on a TV. The manufacturer will get to advertise “Apple TV inside.” Apple will get to control the hardware and software. Furthermore, while TV sets have long replacement cycles, Apple will still be able to tempt consumers to update their Apple TV card every two to four years at a $99 cost. As GoogleTV gets built inside of TV’s this will be an issue for Google. We already see that the original Android phones can’t run the newest releases of Android.

When OSX and iOS merge, Apple will have a single solution across desktop, laptop, tablet, phone, and TV. Furthermore, most of their solution will fit the model of upgrading every two to four years. That not only generates increased revenue but it allows the software to move forward without being hampered by legacy device issues. Microsoft has been hindered by the need to have Windows run on old hardware. This has been less of an issue for Apple. Apple should work to maintain that advantage.

Eventually the content on your phone will link to your TV. Video calls will transfer seamlessly from device to device. The winning companies will be the ones that generate an integrated and transparent ecosystem of devices. Apple has a tremendous opportunity here. The iPhone and iPad are seamless to move between. OSX, with the introduction of Lion, will look more like iOS. That leaves the TV. Apple can certainly position the iMac as a TV. However, that market will be small compared to the TV market as a whole. They will be in danger of being overwhelmed by GoogleTV. Today companies like Panasonic offer their own, proprietary internet connectivity solutions. In the future they will look to go with a mainstream third party solution. Apple needs to make sure they are a big portion of the solution.

Apple TV has been almost a hobby device for Apple. That is changing. It’s time for Apple to see how important it is to make Apple TV become the standard for TV connection to the internet. Eventually it become a streaming media world. As convergence progresses the DVD player will disappear as will the set top box. The game console will disappear too. There will just be the TV. Apple needs to make sure they are in that TV.

When most people talk about device convergence they are talking about the smartphone. There are actually parallel convergence trends at play and they will eventually run into each other. I mentioned the TV having the potential to pull the media player into the set itself. Now I want to step back just a little and look at that physical ecosystem surrounding the TV. There is the cablebox, the game console, perhaps a media player and maybe even a Slingbox. My system has a TV with a DVR (cable box), Wii, PS3, and a Slingbox.At one time there was also a Netgear media player but that was a less than positive experience. There are two things that immediately stick out with respect to my setup. First there are a lot of wires. Secondly, a lot of capability exists only in one place. The cable box in the bedroom lacks a DVR. I can’t play content recorded on the living room DVR in the bedroom. U-verse would solve that issue but I would have a slower internet connection. I can’t play Wii or PS3 games in my bedroom; nor can I watch Netflix or stream movies off my file server. The tough question is how all of this can be merged into one device, the TV, that can be replicated in each room and networked together. The path is going to be jagged and have many different paths along the way. This means it is a major trend. Let’s outline some potential pathways to my goal. I’m going to start by throwing some things out. The first is the DVD player. As streaming gets better, services like Netflix will diminish the importance of the DVD player. I’ve already discussed the media player merging into the TV. AS for the DVR that’s more difficult because of resistance form companies like Comcast together with Hollywood. I can dream of a Comcast box that resides on my network and serves up video to all of my TV’s while also being my cable modem.  Eventually there will be a single high bandwidth connection to the internet and all movies and TV shows will be streamed to your TV. What about gaming on the Wii and PS3? That’s harder. There is a path but it happens in a couple of stages. Look at how iOS devices are attacking portable gaming. Now look at Apple TV. Why oh why can’t it run apps? It cries to be a big screen version of the iPad.  Well, your TV won’t take touch input but it could take input from your iPhone or iPad. Apple TV doesn’t have to be a great system for the serious gamer. The PC is the serious platform for those guys. The PS3 and the Xbox 360 fit somewhere between the Wii and the PC. Similarly, Android or Google TV could perform the same function running on a or a media box. Once Apple TV has games the only remaining step is to integrate it into the TV. The same is true for the Google platforms. Oh yeah, I haven’t covered the Slingbox. Once your media streams over the internet when you want it rather than on a fixed time schedule, the Slingbox becomes superfluous. It feels weird to write that because, right now, I love my Slingbox and can recommend it highly. However, times keep changing and I don’t see it surviving.