Microsoft’s Push into Push Email

Microsoft’s not happy with its dominant position in the operating system and software market. Just look back to the Xbox. They felt the need to enter a field that had been dominated by Sony and Nintendo. Last year, they announced that they were interested in an iPod competitor, but also hinting that it would be more than just an MP3 player, with the ability to play games, and videos. People poopooed the idea of an Xbox portable, a la PSP. And early this year, at the 3GSM convention in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft named its next target, the push email market.

You’ll probably know the company that is the biggest player in this market, Research in Motion. Located in good old Waterloo, Ontario, RIM is the maker of the Blackberry and the software that makes it work. ‘Push’ email allows a user to receive emails on their devices when they enter a wireless coverage zone without having to manually access the email server. When the user has the device switched off or running outside the appropriate area, emails will be stored on a central server until they can be ‘pushed’ to your device. Additionally, with the inclusion of either a full QWERTY keypad or a semi-shared keypad on the more cellphone-like Blackberries, users can easily and quickly fire off a response.

The technology itself is quite simple and several competitors have tried to dethrone but it hasn’t yet happened. Why is that? Research in Motion has only somewhere between 4 and 5 million subscribers to its service. Yet, Microsoft is predicting that nearly a billion people will be in the target market for this technology by the end of the decade. So why have these competitors not been able to capitalize and how will Microsoft’s ‘push’ be any different?

The Blackberry is amicably named the ‘Crackberry’ by many people as well as users. They’ll joke that it’s only a small addiction and life would definitely still be possible without it, but if you were to try and take it away, I’d definitely have some sort of protection on. So what makes the Blackberry so likeable? Think iPod. Why is the iPod so popular? It’s not the most feature-filled piece of gadgetry. Based on specifications alone, you wouldn’t expect anything extraordinary from it. Yet, it still manages to take a huge amount of the market share because it just works. It’s much the same with the Blackberry. Who wants to fiddle around through menu systems to get what they want, emails? It’s also a sort of icon of status for management and executive types. When you pull out a Blackberry, it seems as though your importance level automatically increases several notches. Just like the iPod is the thing to have amongst teens and young adults, the Blackberry is the thing to have for executives and VIPs.

Take a look at the ongoing patent lawsuit between Research in Motion and NTP, an American holding company. Even if an injunction is placed against Blackberry service and hardware in the US, provisions will be made for government officials to continue using their Blackberries. Yes, the government stepped in on this issue of all things. The Blackberries must continue to work! And guess how many government officials use the Blackberry service? There are approximately 3 million users in the United States. Roughly one-third of those would be exempt from the injunction. That’s a lot of government.

How does Microsoft change the scene? It already has it Exchange Server software that does much the same thing as the Blackberry email service. It’s got a lot more muscle in the tech industry than someone like Research in Motion has. Already, Vodafone, Orange, Cingular and T-Mobile have announced that they will provide free upgrades for Microsoft’s implementation of push email. With the smartphone taking up more and more of the wireless market, it’s definitely possible that Research in Motion will be surpassed in the wireless email market. But this is assuming one thing: that it just works. Most users don’t want to be inundated with a bazillion features. They want something that is intuitive and works reliably. So far nothing has been able to touch the Blackberry in these departments. And RIM is not standing still. While this NTP lawsuit has caused it some headaches, the CEO of RIM, Lazaridis recently said that he sees very strong growth going forward despite the ongoing lawsuit (…number of BlackBerry customers rose by 100% last year and he sees “no reason why growth should not continue at the same rate”). But the scent of blood is in the air and the competition is eager.

With Nokia already supporting the Blackberry Connect service on its Symbian smartphones and Palm also going in this direction, it looks as though it’ll be a battle between the OS juggernaut and the maker of the Crackberry. The prize is the better part of a billion customers.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Shock, Horror! No TWiT this week

Well, there you have it. There was no TWiT show for this past week. They haven’t missed one in who knows how long. But this blog must go on. I’ve compiled a list of interesting things in the tech world this past week.

Windows Vista Aero Glass too much for 50% of today’s computers

Probably not entirely unexpected, but the Aero Glass theme is predicted to bring around half of today’s existing PCs to their knees. Aero Glass is the new UI for the next generation Windows incorporating a lot of transparencies and animated effects. I’ve used the Vista December CTP and I was not impressed at all with its performance, even using the normal Aero theme which uses WinXP-Luna effects. And that machine, an Athlon64 3000+, 512MB RAM, integrated nVidia Geforce 6100 is supposed to be Vista compatible. It’s definitely better than the average machine most users are using nowadays. They’ll definitely have a hard time running Vista, and even more so with the Aero Glass theme. For most, one of the biggest aspects of new OSes is the ‘eye candy’. If they don’t get that with Vista, I doubt many of them will be upgrading to the new OS. To be honest, I didn’t even find that much of a difference between Vista with the Aero theme and a Windows XP machine. Sure menus are set up differently and stuff like the control panel are changed around a bit, but you can’t feel the difference really.

Will this mean a new wave of computer purchases for the average user? Perhaps, I definitely don’t think many will rush out to get video card upgrades to run Aero Glass that’s for sure. If they want to run Vista, they’ll probably just pick up a low end system that can barely run Aero Glass and restart the whole complaint they had with WinXP when it first came out; man this is slow.

Google Stock Continues Slide After ‘Dismal’ Earnings

It seemed like Google had set out to prove the common saying that what goes up must come down. For the longest time, the web giant looked to be unstoppable surpassing all expectations. Well, it seems like even Google is vulnerable to the greed of investors and analysts. After failing to meet analysts’ growth estimates in the 4th quarter, Google’s stock has been punished. Apparently an 86% year over year increase in revenues was not enough and neither was the 82% increase in earnings over the previous year. However one does have to keep in mind that the reason Google flew to such heights was because of the astronomical results analysts and investors were expecting. When a stock has been bid up in anticipation of 100%+ growth, 80 odd percent does seem like a letdown.

But even since then, Google has not been able to shrug off the negative sentiment towards its stock. Are people realizing that Google can indeed do wrong? Baron’s, an influential publication speculated that Google could potentially drop another 50% of its value. This is of course, based solely on valuations. A drop to the $180-190 range could be possible in that case. Let’s put this in perspective. At one point, Google actually became the second most valuable company only after Microsoft listed on the Nasdaq (it even surpassed Intel for like a day when Intel’s dismal earning brought that stock crashing down). At that point, it was worth right around $140 billion USD. Now, it’s hovering right around $100 billion. That’s quite a drop for such a large company in about a month. Now, it’s been once more eclipsed in value by Intel and Cisco at the Nasdaq. But keep in mind, Google stock is still up almost 100% for the year. An impressive track record no matter what has happened recently. So where does Google go to from here?

Many analysts are still sticking by their (in my opinion) astronomical and ridiculous price targets. At these levels, pure optimism and speculation cannot be the only foundations of a company. Google must deliver. While earnings have been growing at an amazing rate, they’re bound to slow. People and companies pockets are not bottomless. Additionally, companies like Yahoo and Microsoft are stepping up to the plate to bring heavier competition to Google. I can easily see Google’s stock trading pretty much sideways for quite a while as revenues and earnings catch up to the getaway train that is Google’s market capitalization.

When people catch on, companies change the rules

Netflix, an internet DVD rental company has changed the rules. The movie renting company has unlimited rental subscriptions for around $18USD per month. Some people were renting 18-22 DVDs a month, making it an extremely good deal. However, in January, Netflix’s new system started ‘throttling’ rentals to heavy users. So instead of the usual 18-22 movies that this one man used to get, he’s only getting around 13 a month. And he’s not alone. While it’s not a terrible deal by any means, even for 13 movies a month, it goes against the company’s advertised ‘unlimited’ movie rentals. And this has some people reamed. Seems like when people know how to play a system and get good at it, the companies change the rules. After all, they don’t want to be losing money. They’d much rather save those limited DVDs for limited users who have to pay much more per DVD rental than the unlimited subscribers.

Just can’t beat the system can you?

1 Billion iTunes Songs Countdown

Doesn’t it seem like yesterday that Apple was holding its contest for its 500 millionth song? Well, soon, very soon, the Apple iTunes store will be reaching its 1 billionth downloaded song. Clearly iTunes has been an absolute runaway success for Apple, pulling in, well more than a billion dollars at least since its inception. While I now own 2 iPods, I have still yet to download my first song from iTunes, but I do know many people who have spent hundreds of dollars at the online music store. I have to admit, the system is very slick and efficient, even if you don’t get a physical CD to hold in your hand. Of course, CD quality is still better than the xxxkbps AACs you get off the iTunes store. Have you bought any songs from the iTunes music store?

Intel Core Duo USB battery drain issue demystified?

Tom’s Hardware Guide thought it recently discovered a puzzling ‘feature’ of the new Intel Core Duo based systems. With a USB2.0 device merely plugged in (not necessarily being used or anything), power was being drained at a much quicker rate than if no USB2.0 device was connected to the system. The issue was traced down to a Microsoft bug in its USB 2.0 driver for Windows XP. Essentially, a USB scheduling service was constantly running even if didn’t have to be, preventing the system from entering lower power states and thus wasting power. AnandTech however decided to look deeper into the problem and discovered that the problem isn’t merely limited to the new Core Duo systems but potentially every laptop with the Microsoft USB 2.0 driver (so… just about every laptop with USB 2.0 running WinXP). The Microsoft knowledgebase document is not actually supposed to be publicly available, but a user at Slashdot was nice enough to provide us that document.

Clearly the problem is not limited to the new Core Duo systems at all and affects all systems. The biggest tip would be to either apply this fix or try to plug in any USB 2.0 devices while your laptop is on the move. One problem that gets in the way here is the fact that some laptops come with built in webcams, which may run on the USB2.0 bus, meaning unplugging all your external peripherals won’t solve the problem. In that case, the only way to get your stolen battery life back if to apply the fix. Power increases are pretty dramatic, anywhere in the range of 25%. That’s an awful lot of battery power you could be getting if not for this issue. Hopefully Microsoft will release an updated driver in the near future addressing this issue. This is definitely something for all laptop users to look into.

Halo 2 for PC… but Vista Only!

If you liked the first Halo for the PC and look forward to the sequel, look no further. You’ll have to first upgrade your operating system to Windows Vista. One of the possible reasons for this is that Vista will come with the new Windows Graphic Foundation (or DX10 if you like), but there are no reports that Halo 2 will be improved at all in terms of visual quality from the Xbox to the PC. So clearly DX10 should not really be required. If you read the article linked here, you can see quotes of ‘clarity’, ‘focus’, ‘customers’. Clearly the thing to focus on here is the customers part. How’s running Halo 2 on a Vista machine going to automatically give a user more ‘clarity’ as they put it? It’s going to be a part of the huge marketing push for when Windows Vista launches. And from what I’ve seen so far of Vista, Microsoft’s really going to have to push the marketing spin on this new operating system to get it to sell.