Barclays buys 8,500 iPads

From The Next Web citing The Register.

In what is believed to be one of the biggest rollouts of the iPad in the UK, Barclays Bank is to outfit its staff with more than 8,500 units of the Apple tablet in an effort to improve service levels, The Register reveals.

A Barclays spokesperson confirmed that it was bank employees that demanded the iPad, allowing them “to assist our branch colleagues to interact with customers, improving the customer experience”.

“We investigated a number of different tablet options and in this instance, we concluded that iPads were the best solution for their specific needs. We are now starting to use these across Barclays branches in the UK,” she added.

This is interesting because up to now some observers assumed that one reason the iPad was selling into companies for corporate work was that Microsoft didn’t have a tablet. But now it does, so perhaps this decision by Barclays is actually very significant?

Old combatants, new wars

This morning’s Observer column.

This has been quite a week in that strange, frenetic universe known as techworld. Two major companies did things that they once vowed they’d never do: Apple launched a small iPad in order to attack similar-sized devices marketed by its rivals – Samsung, Google and Amazon – and Microsoft launched the first computer it’s ever made (a tablet called Surface). So we have Apple playing catch-up and Microsoft getting into a business – hardware manufacture – it had hitherto wisely avoided.

Our new software monoculture

This morning’s Observer column.

Apple has to date authorised 500,000 [Apps] for its iPhone. The corresponding number for the Android platform is 600,000. These numbers provide ample justification for the late Steve Jobs’s great insight: phones were really powerful hand-held computers that could run useful applications. And so it proved. Jobs unleashed an explosion in creativity as programmers raced to create apps that people would buy in huge volumes. The result is a world in which smartphones are basically app-running devices that can also make voice calls. Ditto for tablets, except that they don’t bother with the calls.

So that’s all right, then? Not quite. Look closer at this explosion of creativity and you find that much of what it has created is either trivial or downright crap. You can, for example, get an app to put an image of bubblewrap on your iPhone screen. Then there’s the Halloween Sound Machine (“Sneak up on your mates with the sounds of a rusty chainsaw, go on, you know you want to!”). Or how about iBeer (“turns the iPhone’s screen into a showy pint of the foamy stuff”)? And gentlemen trying to decide between a walrus moustache, Victorian sidewhiskers or a goatee beard will doubtless find Beard Booth invaluable.

I could go on, but you get the point. A large proportion of smartphone apps are the contemporary equivalent of those plastic gee-gaws my kids bought all those years ago: impulse purchases that provide a moment’s entertainment – or even delight – and are then forgotten…

Apple’s Big Patent Win: implications

Interesting WSJ piece by Mike Isaac about Apple’s victory over Samsung.

If there’s one takeaway from Apple’s massive win over Samsung in the most-watched patent trial of the year, it’s this: If you copy our stuff, we’ll go after you.

That’s the message delivered alongside the verdict on Friday afternoon, in which the jury found Samsung guilty of infringing upon six out of the seven Apple patents in question. The result? More than $1 billion in damages awarded to Apple (or $1,049,343,540 if you want to get nitpicky about it), and of course, bragging rights in what has been Apple’s longstanding claim that Samsung devices were “slavishly copies” of Apple’s iPhone and iPad.

And now that Apple’s day in court has validated most of its patents and claims, the technology giant is armed to the teeth with enough ammo to go after any and every OEM out there.

The obvious implication is that Android OEMs need to be careful (as Charles Arthur points out). A less obvious one is that this might be good news for makers of Windows phones, on the grounds that they are less vulnerable to IP attacks from Apple than Android OEMs. Hmmm…

Ultimately, this patent verdict is bad news for everybody except Apple — as Dan Gillmor points out in his Guardian column. And it confirms the extent to which the patent system is broken.

Whatever happened to Microsoft?

This morning’s Observer Networker column.

Here’s a question you don’t often hear asked: whatever happened to Microsoft?

To many people, it will seem a silly question. Microsoft, they point out, is still around – with a vengeance. It’s a huge company worth $250bn (£160bn) that employs 94,000 people worldwide and earns vast profits. (OK, it made a loss last quarter for the first time in its history, but that’s because it had to write off $6bn it blew in 2007 on a company called aQuantive which turned out to be a turkey.) Microsoft dominates the market for PC operating systems and Office software, products that are still licences to print money: its Xbox game console sweeps all before it; its server software is a big seller in the corporate world. In 2012, the company’s net revenues totalled $74bn.

[…]

So why does it remind me of General Motors around the time that Toyota arrived in the US automobile market?

LATER: Nice meditation on the same theme by Karlin Lillington in her Irish Times column.

How to blow $6.2bn

Verily, you could not make this up. A headline saying that Microsoft had made its first-ever loss caught my eye. I assumed it must be a mistake: Microsoft doesn’t make losses for the simple reason that it has a licence to print money. It’s called Windows+Office. But then it turns out that Microsoft blew $6.2bn a while back on an advertising company which has now turned out to be worthless. What always amuses me about tech company valuations is how solemn are the assurances from men in suits that the valuation they have arrived at by consulting the entrails of a goat is in fact a perfectly rational assessment of the asset’s value. I am sure that that $6.2bn valuation was likewise quality-assured by the same clowns.

Microsoft has written down the value of an online advertising firm it bought five years ago by $6.2bn (£4bn).

Microsoft bought Aquantive for $6.3bn in cash in an attempt to catch rival Google in the race to increase revenues from search-related advertising.

The writedown effectively wipes out the acquisition’s value, although there was little impact on Microsoft’s shares in after-hours trading on Monday.

The purchase of Aquantive in 2007 was then Microsoft’s biggest acquisition.

It has since been eclipsed by the company’s $8.5bn purchase of internet phone service Skype last year.

Microsoft said in a statement on Monday that “the acquisition did not accelerate growth to the degree anticipated, contributing to the writedown”.

Microsoft morphs into IBM/GE

Perceptive TechCrunch post about what happened to Microsoft. It’s become a middle-aged company. Soon it’ll be safe for widows and pensions. And nobody will get fired for investing in it.

Five years ago, Microsoft reported revenue of $14.398 billion. They reported a profit of $6.589 billion. Last week, for the same quarter, Microsoft’s revenue was $17.407 billion. Their profit was $6.374 billion. The company is still growing, but not fast. And they’re actually making less money.Compare that with Apple. Five years ago, revenue was $7.1 billion. Profit was $1.0 billion — the first quarter with a billion dollar profit in company history. Last quarter, the company reported $47 billion in revenue. And they recorded $13 billion in profit.On the surface, an apples-to-oranges comparison, perhaps. But it points to something that has happened. Apple has completely taken over the consumer market, while most of Microsoft’s growth these days comes from the enterprise side of things. Apple has destroyed Microsoft as a consumer technology company.

Sure, Microsoft is still making plenty of money — billions — off of their consumer goods. But the decent quarterly numbers they reported last week in some ways mask what is really happening: Microsoft is slowing morphing into a full-on enterprise company.

The venerable PC: not dead yet

This morning’s Observer column.

Unless you have been holidaying on Mars, you will have gathered that Apple launched a new version of its iPad last Wednesday. They’re refusing to call it the iPad3 but everyone else is. I’d be more inclined to call it the iPad2S, following the nomenclature the company has adopted for its mobile phones. That’s because, no matter how the Apple Reality Distortion Field spins it, the latest iPad is really just an evolutionary advance on its predecessors.

Granted, it has a significantly better display, a more powerful processor (therefore better graphics performance), a better camera, which will record HD video, and a wider range of mobile connectivity options. But otherwise, it’s the mixture as before – though that didn’t stop the Apple website being swamped on Wednesday evening, presumably by folks anxious to pre-order the newest new thing. (Memo to Apple: why not set up a system whereby customers’ salaries are paid directly to the company and they are then issued with food stamps and other necessities as the need arises?)