Sunday, 14 October 2012

What I've been reading this week

I’m of the belief that participants in the TMT industry need to read widely in order to understand the present and future dynamics of the market. To that end, this post is a collection of the articles that have caught my eye.

This week: $10 ereaders, AOL discovers social media, robots fly in formation, Vodafone eyes cheap SFR deal & Apple poaches Samsung’s chip guru

Digital media

CDNs account for 40% of the traffic flowing into ISP networks and I can only see their role getting more significant as the web gets richer in content terms and quality of service and latency become ever more vital in powering experiences like augmented reality. Doesn’t mean there’s much money in the industry, mind you. Moore’s Law makes the infrastructure side of the CDN business a Sisyphean task.

This FT article about the unexpected benefits of digital media to studios is right in one regard – the Freemantle’s of the world can make good money producing for online video companies. What this doesn’t mean is that services like NetFlix and Youtube can make a profit on the deal. Audiences just aren’t big enough yet.

I’ve said before that ebook business models are just starting to become more sophisticated, going beyond the simple “book on a device” that’s predominated so far. Self-publishers will be one of the main drivers of this trend and services like Ganxy, a marketing and distribution hub for self publishers that launched last week in Frankfurt, will appear in increasing numbers over the next couple of years.

Readers themselves just get cheaper at the bottom end. Txtr now offer a hardware unit for $10, with much of its processing done on a smartphone.

Online advertising continues to grow, with search and mobile leading the charge. I worry about TV advertising in this context, as you know.

Like it or not, pornography forms a significant part of the traffic on the Internet. This European study exposes some of the myths of the porn audience and suggests that the genre is becoming more acceptable.

Gree is the largest games company you’ve never heard of and now the Japanese mobile gaming behemoth is courting studios in the US to try and increase its global share. EA and Activision must be casting a nervous eye over their shoulders on this one.

Speaking of gaming companies you’ve never heard of, AOL – the Internet company you’ve long forgotten about – are relaunching to take advantage of social networks, which AOL have just heard of and think might be the next big thing. Prescient.


Interesting. US PC shipments fell 17.5% in Q3. Don’t get alarmed, we’re not in a post-PC era just yet. What I think is happening is that PCs simply last longer. They’re more self-contained and built stronger than in the past. And, of course, if you buy Macs, they cost more. The PC is here to stay, as a form factor, if not as a vertically integrated technology market.

Google’s new acquisition, Ukrainian facial recognition company Viewdle, will doubtless prove useful in making Google Glass the experience that Google hopes it will be.

Persistent health monitoring is another technology that I expect to take off next year. Lark’s take on the concept sees you wear the band overnight as well as during the day. I’ll try and get my paws on one when they become available.

Technology doesn’t just have to get more complex as this new diagnostic tool developed in the US demonstrates. It uses treated paper to identify molecules that could show up various diseases for pennies, rather than using thousands of dollars of specialist equipment.

1% of UK GDP is spent on technology. Pretty scandalous if you ask me and a result of indulgent mega-projects under the last government. This one seems more sensible, although austerity politics are unlikely to get them elected again.

Competition on tablet specifications at the top end of the market is pretty ferocious. Struggling chipmaker AMD will hope that their new combination CPU/ GPU chips will grab some market share from Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel and Texas in this space.

Formation flying is a tricky thing for a human pilot to do, let alone a machine. That makes the latest US Airforce Global Hawk trials with formation aerial refuelling all the more impressive. Without a weak human pilot’s stamina to worry about, drones that can refuel each other would allow for extremely long loiter times in war theatres. In the longer term, formation flying is anticipated to be one way to reduce fuel consumption in trans-continental airliners. Computers can do that too...

Ultra low power server technologies have been steadily building momentum over the last couple of years, in line with rising energy prices. Intel’s offer in this space was a recent prototype of an oil-bathed motherboard for servers. Calxeda – recent recipient of $55m of funding – have a rather more sophisticated approach. Their processor can run a server on 5W. No 5W-40 required.

Emerging markets

Manganese Bronze – the British Taxi company behind the black taxi – faces an uncertain future due to a mass recall on faulty steering boxes supplied by a Chinese partner. An object lesson in the dangers of long range outsourcing.

Superpower politics

Apple is becoming a leader in silicon chip design and trying to become less dependent on suppliers like Samsung. Poaching the latter’s chief chip designer is just another salvo in this battle.

Negotiating with global tech’ companies is a serious struggle if you’re a local player, which is why I expect continued consolidation of the mobile operator market. To this end, Vodafone are apparently looking at buying back SFR, the French mobile operator in which they owned 44% and in August sold to Vivendi. It looks like a cheap asset and therefore an attractive one for a wealthy trade buyer like Big Red.

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