20090728

Korea Semicon United v. Chaiwan Reunited

Recently LG and Samsung have been enjoying spectacular sales overseas as the Korean Won slumped against other currencies. But Wisely, Korea Inc. has also been massively investing in R&D during the downturn.

The Government wants to go even faster and seize the opportunity to diminish dependence on foreign components key to the IT sector. Yesterday, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy announced that it would contribute to 51% of a KRW 13.3 bn (USD 10.7 M) project in semiconductors which, down the line, may turn KRW 300 bn yearly imports into KRW 300 bn yearly exports*... and whatever the outcome, will result in the creation of new jobs at a most crucial moment.

More than money, the Government seems to be providing a new R&D ecosystem with a set of fair play rules : the most spectacular dimension of the project is the unprecedented alliance of IT rivals Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics on "global digital TV receiver chips", LG developping the core chips and Samsung testing and producing them. Burying the hatchet in this most strategic field could speed up innovation and boost the tandem's overall global sales for many key devices.

The State will also finance 58% (KRW 2.8 bn / 4.8 bn) of a project where SK Telecom shall develop a wireless connectivity SoC for smartphones (WiFi, GPS...) with local chipmakers and system-on-chip expert Xronet.

Korea cannot afford to waste time and energy as China is de facto absorbing Taiwan's industry. They can't compete in volumes in the long term, but need the capacity in order to remain one step ahead in innovation.

This may not sound disruptive, but it's a giant leap since the times when Korea invested in a company called Qualcomm...

Bringing speed and decisiveness, now that's good politics.


* see "
Samsung, LG, SK Telecom to develop advanced semiconductors" (20090727 Yonhap)



20090724

News BioRhythms

Before the introduction of printing in Europe by Guthenberg, people would travel for books. Then books could multiply, move and reach different readers in different locations. Now you don't even need paper and anyone can consult any priceless ancient manuscript from anywhere without fear of damaging it*.

Earlier this year, there was a exhibition in the library of Florence's Convento di San Marco on the process of book making, featuring beautiful objects and illuminations. I remember thinking, as I moved from one marvel of patience to another, about how people would look at a newspaper press a few years from now.

Doesn't it already seem like a black and white scene from Citizen Cane ? The journalist getting his scoop, writing it down, submitting it to the chief editor, the prints running like crazy, a headline splashing on a newstand, yelled by a street vendor...

Scenes from last millenium.

The future of newspaper definitely looks like "more news and less paper".

Many players are folding their last issues, and folding, period. The sector had been looking for new business models for years when depression struck, precipitating bankruptcies in an already fragile ecosystem.

Sourcing, writing, editing, printing, distributing, advertising... now it's less a linear value chain than a shape shifting value cloud. But there's still value out there, be it in relevance, ergonomy, utility, actionability, exclusivity, analysis / insights / advice, local, reassurance, trust, fun... or why not, the quality of the paper (actually, that's the reason why there's still a thriving market - readers and advertisers - for certain magazines).

Likewise, brands are more often scattered among media, platforms, authors, journalists, and contributors who can even be anonymous members of a popular online forum. With a high churn rate because things and people tend to come out of fad more quickly by the day. Any local newspaper can get its 15 Warholian minutes of fame because say, their cute kitten rescued from a fire in Armpit, TN has been over-retwitted as a scoop of michaeljacksonian magnitude.

Reading has become a multimedia experience with pop-ups, background music, rollover images... you start reading an article and end up watching a movie while purchasing virtual pop-corn for your tamagotchi.

Sometimes, the article you're reading is being edited under your very eyes. Like that page devoted to post-elections unrests in Iran on HuffPost, or
DemConWatch's SuperDelegate list, which I consulted about every other minute last year.

News and hoaxes are everywhere, and each individual has what I call his or her own "News BioRhythm" : depending on the context you consume more or less but you somehow have to be fed at certain moments of the day.

The future of newspaper ? The term will more often cover the medium instead of the media brand : you won't be talking about the NYT nor the WSJ, but about your favorite epaper smartphone application, your favorite dedicated device (ie your Kindle, your foldable screen...), where you chose to consult the news.

We all have tools to arrange our own newspapers, but that's not necessarily what you want nor need. I started with My Yahoo! around 1995-96 but quickly switched to a more pervasive browsing mode. There are usually about 30 sites always on on my screen - half of which about news, news gathering, or keeping track of news I read.

I know, I have a problem with my NBR... I should twit my shrink about it (he takes only $13.59 + taxes per character).


* These days, you should fear more for your dutifully purchased ebook (see "
Kindle's Total Recall")
---
initally published on blogules.



20090722

Plastic Logic Ltd on AT&T, a Kindle for pros ?

Barnes & Nobles is claiming its leadership back as the leading library in the ebook arena. After all, its Bookstore app is the first of its kind in App Store downloads, and it's about to cash in after purchasing Fictionwise. ebooks already represent over 4% of book sales, and CAGR means we will soon enter into over 10% territories, meaning the real mass market thing.

B&N eBoosktore (bn.com/ebooks) proposes 700,000 titles, more than twice Amazon's catalog... not to mention Google's public domain books (over half a million titles). But Barnes & Nobles doesn't propose a double user generated content platform : Amazon competes with classic editors (Booksurge) as well as with such pure players as Lulu.com (CreateSpace).

eReader is available on such smartphone platforms as Blackberry or iPhone. New devices keep coming out of the pipe if not on the shelves yet.

B&N will be exclusive provider for Plastic Logic's eReader (plastic display, electronic ink, touchscreen, 8.5 x 11 x .25 inches - see plasticlogic.com). This newcomer, founded and run by senior managers and researchers from the PC world (HP for CEO Richard Archuleta, Hitachi for Pr Henning Sirringhaus...), supported by big names in VC (including Intel and Siemens), and boasting locations in California (not far from Big G in Mountain View), UK (Cambridge), and Germany (Dresden) is also discussing with all press groups to sex up its big screen.

But novels or newspapers are not the key content here : the idea is to give business users a new gizmo to manipulate all kinds of documents and presentations (PDF, Word, Excel, PPT...) on the go. Thus the touch screen and the wireless connectivity. I guess the idea is to build a niche between classic ebook readers and Tablet PCs.

Trials with AT&T are about to start, targeting a commercial launch "early 2010".



20090720

Kindle's Total Recall

If wonder if Amazon fully considered the pros and cons of their embarrassing Orwellian moment : remotely deleting "1984" or "Animal Farm" ebooks was a perfect proof of concept for content providers, but a terrible PR operation for consumers.

From the start (see "
Kindle Kindle little star - take my Word"), the retailer seemed to be targeting partners rather than than endusers. And here again, the message is more meant for publishers : look, I control the value chain and have the capacity to fight piracy... stop being afraid and come on board !

If Amazon gave some consideration to its other customers, it would prepare a nice PR campaign instead, providing some time to their customers, and some buzz to a much wider audience. And why not, a nice promotion on top of it.

But no. They decided to go for the automatic, intrusive option.

This goes much further than a product recall : it means that what you purchased is not your own, including the device. Somehow, your Kindle is not your own.

ADDENDUM 20090723

An Apology from Amazon

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our "solution" to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we've received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,

Jeff Bezos
Founder & CEO
Amazon.com


NB: no kindling ?



20090715

Google Voice on Android and Blackberry, iPhone soon to come

Definitely a Busy summer for Google. It didn't take them long to release the mobile version of Google Voice : four months after the rebranding of GrandCentral (see "Google Voice : Next Stop GrandCentral Terminal").

According to Michael Arrington (TechCrunch.com - 20090714), "
Google Voice Apps For Android And Blackberry Are Here", and iPhone is coming next.

Beyond this key App, the message is that Google is improving its integration processes for everything mobile. Developpers and competitors, pay attention.

Well. If endusers somehow end up paying something as well, I guess Mountain View execs won't feel unhappy either.



20090708

Mama don't take my Google Chrome OS

According to Sundar Pichai, VP Product Management and Linus (!) Upson, Engineering Director*, "Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google."

In other words, Google found the perfect way to celebrate Darwin's bicentennial : we couldn't euthanize one pet project, both are so young, imperfect, and cute... why not let nature decide for us ?

The other message is for Microsoft : we're taking a hit from Bing, take that on your own core business. You want war ? We are building a brand, with the whole shebang :

"Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform."


The third message is for Brussels and anti-trust authorities : we completely forgot you, sorry. Chrome browser was a black box, Chrome OS will be worse, and the branding confusion between a browser and a OS is a gift for Microsoft's lawyers.

Mountain View's eggheads didn't kill the pet : they simply shot their own feet.



*"Introducing Google Chrome OS"

---
20091121 UPDATE :

Sergey Brin sees the light and confesses both OS may eventually merge, Chrome being as expected the victim (see among other sources "Brin: Two Google Operating Systems May Become One" - PCWorld 20091120).



20090703

UK 1 down, France 1 up ?

All options on the table for T-Mobile UK ? France Telecom - Orange officially not interested, Vodafone and Telefonica - O2 considering the case, 3 below the radar.

Considering the value suggested by DTAG's own finance czars (less than the fees paid for their 3G license nine years ago), one way of optimizing the garage sale could be to sell chunks of spectrum to North Korean investors (insisting on potential health hazards), infrastructure to Myanmar, and customers to, say, one or two M-VNOs. Or even Three.

T-Mobile UK boasts 16.7 M customers, including Virgin Mobile UK. Virgin Mobile France is still officially hot for France's fourth license, along with partner Numericable-Completel*. I think that just like Iliad-Free, they're even hotter for any deep pocket investor with a MNO background (Orascom ?).

Whether France gets a fourth 3G MNO or not, UK will have to go down to a more reasonable level than the initial 5.

European incumbents will probably get a better ROI in India. Vodafone Essar didn't wait for the upcoming 3G auctions (more spectrum, more markets available), and invested with infrastructure partner Nokia in seven new regions.


You know the heyday of the Empire is over when a portion of India looks more exciting than UK as a whole.

* note that Numericable, a customer service laughing stock a few years ago, has been taking things seriously recently, particularly since Pierre Danon joined.



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