Thursday, 21 October 2010

What will Apple do with that $50 billion?

File this one under 'thinking allowed'....
Image courtesy of Ben Stanfield, 2007, Flickr
Steve Jobs Keynote

Yesterday Apple had their 'Back to the Mac' event in which they unveiled a new series of MacBook Airs and updates to the iLife suite of software, as well as Face Time for Macs. They also made some impressive sales announcements regarding the success of iPhone 4, despite falling a little short of the iPad sales they were hoping for. You can watch the full event by clicking this link.

However, yesterday's event was all about the Mac computer range.  The US market share of the Mac is 20.7% and the machine makes up 33% of Apple's revenue.  13.7m Macs sold in the 2010 financial year, bringing its revenue to  more than $20 billion.  There have been 7 billion downloads from the app store to date and they to launch a similar store for Mac software.

These reveals all came on the back of an earlier report which claimed its quarterly profits leapt by 70% to $4.31 billion and its revenues increased by 66% to $20.34 billon as it sold 14.1m iPhones, up 91%, and 4.19m iPads (they had expected to shift 5 million iPads).  So much for 'antenna-gate' harming sales.  Their last quarter revealed turnover of $20 billion and they are sitting on a cash reserve in excesses of $50 billion.  Based on their market valuation, Apple are set to overtake the oil company Exxon within a year (after already having overtaken Microsoft's value).

Money from Apples

What I'm really interested in is what Apple are going to do with that $50 billion.  Steve Jobs has hinted that there may be some big acquisitions in future.  What could Apple realistically buy?  It seems unlikely that they are going to go for a shares dividend and their real success in the last decade has come in the guise of harmonising hardware and software, so it wouldn't make sense for them to buy a certain troubled search engine would it?  This seems doubtful as that would pit them against one of the other tech behemoths with whom it is already fighting on the software front, namely Google (Android vs iOS4).  There were rumours back in April that Apple were interested in ARM for their CPU business, but that no longer seems likely given the success of their own A4 chip.

It would seem logical that Apple would build on their strengths (hardware+software integration), design principles (usability+simplicity), and their recent successes in the gaming sphere (iPad+iPod Touch+iPhone+Steam for Mac+Game Centre) and enter the next-generation gaming market place.  Both Sony and Microsoft have announced that they expect their current generation of systems to last another 5 years before being replaced which would give Apple ample time to design and build a system that would be ready for launch in time for the next console cycle - they might even be able to steal a march over their rivals...

Apple are a savvy organisation and Jobs has a keen eye for market opportunities.  They've had great success with their portable gaming devices and must be acutely aware of the rapid domination of the gaming sector when it comes to home entertainment.  They already have infrastructure success when it comes to direct selling of entertainment direct to consumers (iTunes and the App Store), and the industry is currently awash with talk of cloud-based gaming services.  How long will it be before Apple realise that they can take a bite out of this sector?

This idea isn't new; games analyst, Michael Patcher, predicted something similar back in March this year, however, Apple have never been in a stronger position.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Future of Higher Education?

In a few hours I'm about to be in the audience for a BBC Radio 3 recording taking place at the National Glass Centre during which the future of Higher Education will be discussed.  This is part of the BBC's Free Thinking series presented in association with the University of Sunderland.   The event is being billed as bringing together "an outspoken panel to tackle one the most pressing issues for future generations" - namely how cash strapped universities are to cope with impending cuts in public funding.

This comes on the back of the recent publication of the Browne Review which calls for the present cap of £3290 to be lifted in the face of removing the current regime in which the public pays a proportion of the true cost of a university degree.  A video featuring Lord Browne's proposals can be found below, as can the full report.

There have been numerous criticisms of the report, some of which suggest that middle income families would be hit hardest by the newly proposed funding ventures, whilst others have claimed that the huge increase in fees would out off potential students from the poorest backgrounds.

 I'm sure that this Radio 3 debate might get a little heated.  Hopefully I'll be able to tweet from the audience after 7pm GMT.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Future of TV: Google?

This month Google has released a new video highlighting their new proposition for revolutionising television.  It seemed like only yesterday that Apple were making big noises about their TV proposition. Michael Gartenberg (Engadget) has blogged about this Apple/Google assault on TV here.

Quick Tour - Google TV
(Image: Chris Messina, 2010, Flickr)

In case you didn't already know Google are planning on releasing their take on TV in two forms: a new internet-enabled set-top box which plugs in to your high definition TV as well as hardware deal with Sony (TV) and Logitech (peripherals). The hardware is due for imminent release and will be based on the Android software which runs on many smartphones and upcoming tablets.  It will also use a version of the Chrome browser.

I've embedded the latest video below, so go ahead and take a look.

Right.  Did that make you want to buy one? Me neither. I'm not sure I'm going to benefit from having stocks and shares info displayed down the side of my screen.  I'm also not sold on going to my TV to read Twitter - personally I like to use Twitter on a smaller device whilst watching TV.


However, there did seem to be a number of interesting features hinted at in the video.  The presence of the search bar that should help web-TV users locate audio/video content on the web and quickly display it on the screen could be useful. Google's killer app is still its search dominance and if it can find a way to bring that to searching for TV-on-demand content then they might just oust FilmFlex (Virgin), Lovefilm or Sky's on-demand services.  However, I strongly suspect that Google are not going to provide their own platform for video content (other than YouTube) and will partner up with services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon in order to deliver that content.  This seems similar to the Apple TV proposition.  Come to think of it, even Microsoft and Sony are playing around with this type of delivery via the Xbox and Playstation platforms.  Suddenly, the space under the living room TV is seeming a little over-crowded.

The ability to stream audio/video content to the "best speakers in the house" (er, they would be what now - the 5.1 system or the hi-fi?) seems like a decent proposition especially when many HD TVs come with underpowered audio.  Also, the Android Marketplace seems like a great idea for providing a platform that can grow and evolve as time goes by.  There are rumours that Apple are planning the same thing with Apple TV (especially as it runs a version of iOS4 - the software that powers the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch).  But the biggest issue that needs addressing here is advertising revenue.


Google has got to where it is today by being able to harness the power of search and attach relevant targeted advertising to the several hundred million search requests it receives daily.  If Google can manage to break into the TV market place and gather information about viewing habits it would have another feather in its cap.  It could deliver real time targeted adverts to TV viewers in a way hitherto impossible for mass broadcasters.  This seems to be a logical reason why Google would want to enter the TV market place.  Who else has the power to disrupt existing arrangements between broadcasters, content makers and advertisers?  If Google are successful, they could transform the way in which advertising revenue funds the commercial television model by taking the funds needed to support investment in expensive content out of the hands of producers and broadcasters.

I'm not sure that this is such a good idea, but there's no guarantee that Google TV will actually be successful.  After all, Google has a track record of products that haven't gone on to change the world (Wave didn't transform email).  Perhaps, their TV venture may not succeed, but it's built on a platform (Android) which is already proving its worth.  The future of television looks a little cloudy from here...

Friday, 8 October 2010

Tracking Playstation Plus: August and September

I kind of forgot to review the Playstation Plus proposition for August so I figured I'd bundle that month in with September. It's been a while... since I last updated this series of posts but in the last one I covered the content on offer for August.

Below you should be able to see a little table charting the content I grabbed and an overview of the estimated value for that month...

Back in September Sony released the following content for Plus subscribers:
  • PSN: Sam and Max: Devil’s Playground (entire season)
  • minis: Vector Tower Defense, Echoes
  • PSOne Classic: Abe's Odysee
  • Full Game Trial: Warhawk (Plus exclusive 50% discount for Plus members on purchase), Inferno Pool
  • Exclusive Discounts: LittleBigPlanet Ico and Shadow of Colossus costume pack - 50%; Metal Gear Solid (PSOne) – 50%; Warhawk – 50%; Pixel Junk Shooter – 20%
  • DLC Exclusive: UFC Undisputed 2010
  • Dynamic Themes: Exclusive PlayStation Move theme; Exclusive ‘Fish Tank’ theme
  • Premium avatars: Eye Pet Blue Goalie Avatar; Eye Pet DJ Avatar

On top of that there were a few additional add-ons.  New subscribers to the annual package were given the full game (digital download) of Ratchet and Clank: Quest for Booty to keep permanently.  Early access to the following demos were also given: God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP),
 PES 2011 and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.  If that wasn't enough on the 27th of September Plus subscribers were also given exclusive beta access to the multiplayer version of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - this was something worth having! Oh, and an exclusive Infamous 2 theme, although that wasn't much to shout about.  Below is the table of content I downloaded:

The total monthly savings for August (£20.34) and September (£29.45) had I paid for this would be £49.79.  If we include the £14.77 from the month of July then the running total quarter way through the year stands at £64.56.

It's very difficult to measure how much the exclusive content costs, especially as the beta for Assassin's Creed has been rumoured to go on a more general release for non-subscribers at a later date, but it certainly did sweeten the deal.  It's also not the last beta to be announced - read on.

October's content

The following material has been announced by Sony for October:
  • PSN: Street Fighter 2 HD Remix
  • minis: Aero Racer, Yeti Sports
  • PSOne Classic: Syphon Filter
  • Full Game Trial: Ferrari The Race Experience; Tomb Raider Underworld
  • Exclusive Discounts: Burn Zombie Burn  - 50% discount (inc. free exclusive Home item for Plus members who buy); Trine – 50% discount; Alien Breed: Impact – 20% discount; Gravity Crash – 50% discount; Ace Armstrong Vs. The Alien Scumbags – 20% – day 1 discount; Shatter soundtrack and Dynamic Theme – 50% discount
  • DLC Exclusive: n/a
  • Dynamic Themes: Exclusive Move ‘Start the Party’ theme; Exclusive ‘Halloween’ theme
  • Premium avatars: Pain: Jarvis and Le Toot Avatars (2); SingStar: Wannabe and Rising Star Avatars (2)
October did look a little underwhelming in terms of content (with the exception of the acclaimed Trine at half price) until the announcement that Killzone 3 would be an exclusive beta for the first 10,000 Plus subscribers who sign up on October 13th.  This is a real draw as Killzone 2 is one of the best FPS games on the system.  Also, any new annual subscribers get an extra 3 months of Plus for no extra cost. IS ta enough to make you buy?