Google set two records yesterday: it was hit with the largest fine ever assessed by European Union anti-trust enforcers, which didn’t scare Wall Street because its stock price – actually, its nominal parent company Alphabet’s share price – hit the highest level ever.
The $5 billion fine was accompanied by an order for Google to radically change the way it markets the Android mobile phone operating system, according to a tweet by Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s competition commission and a former member of the Danish parliament…
Fine of €4,34 bn to @Google for 3 types of illegal restrictions on the use of Android. In this way it has cemented the dominance of its search engine. Denying rivals a chance to innovate and compete on the merits. It’s illegal under EU antitrust rules. @Google now has to stop it.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai shot back, also via Twitter, saying that the company will appeal.
The three business practices that Vestager says are illegal are:
- Requiring mobile phone manufacturers who install the Google Play store to also install the Chrome browser and Google Search apps.
- Paying manufacturers to give Google Search exclusivity, by not preinstalling other search apps.
- Requiring manufacturers who preinstall Google apps to pledge not to make, or even develop, devices that run alternate Android versions, aka Android forks.
Big manufacturers have tried to launch their own app stores and operating systems, notably Samsung with Bada and Tizen, but could not compete with Google Play’s ecosystem of apps, services and content. The only company that’s made any headway with an Android fork is Amazon, which installs the Android-based Fire OS on its own devices, and uses them to sell its own services. Amazon has also attracted Vestager’s attention and, like Google, hit a record high valuation yesterday.
2018 is shaping up to be a rough year for tech giants. Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. and regulators in Brussels are taking aim at them. Politics and protectionism might be behind it, but big, dominant companies are properly the concern of trust busters. They need to move cautiously and prudently, though, else the cure will be worse than the disease.
But the test pattern is marvelous.
The speed required to deliver 4K video via the Internet is still 15 Mbps. That was the consensus at CES two years ago, and it is still the minimum speed that Amazon recommends for its 4K video streams, according to B A Winston, the global head of video playback and delivery for Amazon Video.
He was on a 4K panel at CES last week, and said that Amazon’s challenge is delivering content over unreliable networks – more bits means more congestion – and working within the limits of whatever connectivity and technology consumers bring to the table. “Our goal from a consumer perspective is it should not matter to them”, he said.
Amazon started streaming, and producing, 4K content two years ago, and now most of its content is shot in that format. The number of subscribers viewing those streams has tripled over the past year.
Winston said that they have to consider the device a viewer is using, the viewing software on that device and their own delivery system in order “to figure out exactly what is the best optimum path to deliver to consumers over that device”.
It doesn’t always work. The quality of online streams will dial down to match the connection, but past a certain point, that means dropping down to a lower quality format. That’s an opportunity for studios that release titles on disc, said Ron Sanders, the president of worldwide home entertainment distribution for Warner Brothers, who was also on the panel.
Figuring out the optimum path includes dealing with quality of service issues, such as network congestion or jitter, that crop up. There’s a limit, though. Amazon and other online video platforms will do what they can, but if your device doesn’t have a connection that will move enough bits quickly enough – 15 million of them every second – then you won’t get a 4K stream in real time.
Amazon’s planned drone deliver service didn’t get any love from the Federal Aviation Administration, nor did proposals to use unmanned aircraft as Internet access points, but at least the door is now open for companies to use the technology for commercial purposes. After two years of thinking about it, the FAA released draft regulations that would allow commercial drone use within limits. A summary is here.
For example, operators (or an observer) need to maintain visual line of sight with the drone, which can’t deliver cargo and can’t fly any higher than 500 feet or faster than 100 miles an hour. You can’t fly over “any person not involved in the operations”. Although still very restrictive, the rules aren’t as bad as feared – earlier rumors had the FAA bowing to lobbyists for pilots and requiring full on licensing and other commercial aviation red tape. That didn’t happen.
The rules aren’t final yet. The FAA is thinking about carving out an exception for very light drones, up to 2 kilograms, that might open the door for flights over people or even autonomous operation.
Amazon isn’t happy, saying it might move drone delivery research and development out of the U.S. To make a package delivery service work, the rules would have to allow cargo drop offs, autonomous flying out of the view of operators and flights pretty much anyway, whether or not people were around. That’s not on offer.
The FAA’s proposed rules aren’t particularly relevant to proposals to use unmanned aircraft as – take your pick – tall towers or low flying satellites for telecommunications purposes. But the draft does open the door to more experimentation, so it’s a step in the right direction.
Looks like someone ordered a barbeque.
Amazon’s PR people deserve a hearty round of applause. They dropped the perfect Cyber Monday story this Sunday evening when Jeff Bezos teased plans to build a fleet of drone helicopters that will deliver five pound packages in half an hour.
But assuming it has some remote connection to reality, the real news is what it implies about Amazon’s roadmap for expansion. Those drones are not supersonic. Even with zero time to process and pick an order, a half hour service radius of 50 kilometers would probably be an overly optimistic guess – Bezos talked about a 10 mile range. To cover a metro area, you’d need several large, well stocked, centrally located distribution centers. Which Amazon can build whether or not it resorts to drones.
In other words, Amazon is pushing its bricks and mortar presence closer to its customers, creating a physical version of a content delivery network. It’s a way of moving big box retailing into communities that have so far resisted it. Walmart has to locate its stores in places that shoppers can easily reach. Amazon, on the other hand, can put a distribution center in an industrial area where it would attract little, if any, opposition.
Such a facility would be powered by broadband. Orders, inventory, stock picking and delivery would all be managed and controlled electronically, of course. To attract a 21st century retail logistics center, industrial areas need the raw materials of the Internet: dark fiber and access to Tier 1 network nodes. That’s why California cities like San Leandro and Benicia are putting a particular emphasis on lighting up brownfield industrial properties.
Google might not be far behind, by the way. There’s already speculation that it will tie its robotic development program to its driverless car project, creating a fully automated ground delivery system. Chances of either drones or robots showing up at your door and asking you to sign for a package any time soon are slim, but slim is a huge improvement over none at all.
The best explanation of today’s announcement that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is buying the Washington Post comes from the Post’s own story of the deal…
Throughout his storied business career, Bezos, who has a net worth of $25.2 billion, has been an empire builder, although he has never shown any evident interest in the newspaper business. He has, however, maintained a long friendship with [Washington Post CEO Donald] Graham, and they have informally advised each other over the years. Graham, for example, advised Bezos about how to feature newspapers on the Kindle, Amazon’s popular e-reader.
The purchase is personal: the Amazon company is not directly involved and the newspaper will be privately held by Bezo’s alone. With no Wall Street analysts to please, he will be free to experiment . The end result, though, is likely to see digital content merged into Amazon’s Kindle and online media platforms.
Bezos is getting both the online and dead tree versions of the Washington Post, along with some affiliated local and spanish language papers and production facilities. Slate and other online properties will stay with the Graham family.
Presumably, he’s also getting the intellectual property rights to the vast store of content created by the Post since its founding in 1877. That plus the future output of a news gathering organisation with 2,000 employees is a solid foundation for experimenting with digital distribution of news and information.
I’m sure there’s something to the speculation that Bezos is buying the Post out of a sense of civic responsibility, but I hope that’s not his primary motivation. He can do a lot more for the cause of good journalism and speaking truth to power by, once again, making it a highly profitable business.
Amazonian elephant coming up from behind.
There were three global technology elephants left standing at the close of the Consumer Electronics Show in January – Samsung, Google and Apple. Microsoft was last seen rumbling toward the elephant’s graveyard and the two likeliest candidates to replace it, Amazon and Facebook, were still shy of the necessary bulk.
Recent days have shown why Samsung and Google will rule the herd for a long time to come.
Google has so many market-default services that it’s accounting for 25% of daily Internet traffic, with 60% of the world’s devices touching it every day. Samsung has the same kind of diversification across sectors it either dominates or ranks within the top tier of competitors.
Although Samsung has nearly a third of the global smart phone market and just reported a quarterly operating profit of $8.5 billion, there was something of a panic last week because it’s looking like it is close to exhausting the immediate growth potential of this planet’s 7 billion or so potential customers.
Samsung’s response was to talk about chip and screen making as new growth areas, allowing it to continue its march to higher profits while it tries to figure out a reason to get everybody in the world to trade in their current Samsung Galaxy for a new one. It’s a company that uses dominating heft in one technology sector to gain market share across all business lines. In contrast, Microsoft’s warring fiefdoms keep it from building strength upon strength. The post-Jobs Apple looked like it might be going in that direction, too, but Tim Cook seems to have headed it off for now.
Facebook staged a stock price come back last week as it demonstrated a new command of the mobile advertising market. But it’s still a one platform pony. With global leadership in online retailing and a front-of-the-pack position in core Internet services, Amazon is best positioned to occupy the empty fourth elephant’s slot. It has enough weight, it just has to learn how to throw it around.
Samsung had their attention at CES 2013.
Samsung left Las Vegas with a firm grip on the industry’s leadership crown. Its CES presence overshadowed other traditional consumer electronics companies, cementing its position as a dominant global technology player.
Paying Bill Clinton to guest star at its keynote address was just icing on the cake. Arguably, the flexible touch screen that Stephen Woo, Samsung’s president of electronic device solutions, also demonstrated on stage drew more attention than the ex-president.
With cutting edge products in pretty much every category present on the CES exhibit floor and the growing strength of its Galaxy tablets and smart phones in the critical mobile sector, Samsung had no peers. Sony and Panasonic tried to measure up, but fell far short. LG also combines success in mobile technology and devices with a full range of consumer electronics products, but lacks the strategic and market presence to lead.
Samsung was on the minds of most of the experts and executives who spoke at CES, and particularly at mobile and telecommunications oriented events and programs. Apple and Google were often mentioned too, but neither was at the show. And both depend on their mobile operating systems – iOS and Android – to maintain market control. Samsung has the luxury of choice. It can build products on top of the current technology leaders or nurture new ones.
Of the four mobile and technology “elephants” going into the show, the loser at CES was Microsoft. With mobile market share scraping along in the sub–5% range and maybe even falling, Windows 8 was an afterthought. Also absent from CES, Microsoft relied on technology partners and manufacturers like, well, Samsung to carry its message. It got little more than lip service.
Facebook and Amazon were most frequently mentioned as Microsoft’s likely replacement at the head of the pack. They didn’t exhibit at CES, either. This year’s show belonged to Samsung.
The “four elephants” of the mobile electronics industry – if not the entire tech world – are Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung, as Tae Hea Nahm, founding general partner of Storm Ventures put it at a recent Wireless Communications Alliance event. They’re prepared to do “whatever it takes to win.”
Samsung is positioned to take honors as lead bull at CES next week, if only by default. Apple and Microsoft won’t be there. Google is relying on partners like LG and, maybe, Intel to build buzz. But even if they were there, Samsung would still be the odds on favorite. CES is home turf.
So, which one of the remaining three is the likeliest candidate for the elephant’s graveyard?
It won’t be Apple. Their product sales and zeitgeist share are as strong as ever, recent share price turmoil not withstanding. Google has the mass market side of the mobile operating system business firmly under control and occupies commanding positions in other tech sectors. No signs of weakness.
Come the end of the year, it’s Microsoft that won’t be mentioned in the same breath as the rest. Speculation about its collapse is years premature, but it no longer controls its own future. Mobile carriers and manufacturers, computer makers and IT professionals will make the decisions and launch the innovations that will determine how small Microsoft’s eventual slice of the pie will be.
The more interesting question is who will take its place. LG isn’t giving an inch to Samsung. Amazon is a champion in both consumer technology distribution and core Internet services. They’ve scored one hit with the Kindle and might be ready to expand further into mobile devices. Or maybe it’s finally time for a Chinese player like Huawei to step up.
Watch for signs of someone making a move on the front of the herd next week.