Google+’s First Screwup: Brand Pages

Google+, which was launched just about 3 weeks back is the fastest growing social network in history. It already has close to 20 million users and has received great reviews across the blogosphere. Now, while it has been welcoming users with open arms (yep, it’s not really exclusive anymore), it had made it clear early on that it won’t be allowing brand pages on the portal yet. It even put up a form where you could apply to get admitted into an early trial and set up a brand page for your company on Google+.

However, many blogs and companies (like Mashable) just created their brand pages on Google+ anyway, while some (like Techcrunch) didn’t. Google didn’t delete the brand pages which had been created, leaving everyone confused about whether or not they should put up a brand page for their company.

Well, yesterday, Google started taking down all the brand pages it could find. It momentarily banned Mashable’s account too, which by then had more than 100,000 followers. Apparently this made the guys at Techcrunch, who played by the rules, quite happy. But then, the Mashable account as restored when Pete Cashmore changed it to its personal account, and pulled a few strings to get it back up.

Now, Google+ has been driving a lot of traffic lately, with millions of users eager to share stuff, which is what drove the guys at Techcrunch mad with envy, and led them to create a fake account on Google+ – Techathew Cruncherin… which lasted all of 2 seconds, before Google banned it. Now I doubt that they ever thought that it would work, but they definitely thought that their stunt would compel Google to ban all fake brand pages, like Mashable’s. But apparently, it didn’t.

Now despite the tone of this article, I’m with Techcrunch on this one. However, I just don’t give enough of a shit about whether or not we should have a brand page at Google+, though it does seem to drive a lot of traffic.

Google, please clean your act up, and make the same rules apply to everyone.

Also, here’s a great post by Danny Sullivan, which sums up the whole shitfest.

Google Gets Serious About Patents; Wants to Hire Patent Agents

While Android is probably one of Google’s biggest successes, it has been getting screwed by almost every major technology company which has a few patents to its name. The patent wars, as I like to call them, have intensified so much, that almost every mobile company in the US is involved in a patent lawsuit with each other. Apple is suing HTC and Samsung, Samsung is suing it back, Nokia is suing Apple, and Microsoft is making more money from Android than it ever did (or will) from Windows Phone 7. Dying giants like Nokia are making more money from patent settlements and licensing agreements than they make by selling smartphones.

Even Oracle, which is known for its huge army of patent lawyers is suing Google, over the use of Java in Android, and hopes to make a few billion dollars out of it. It seems like everyone except Google is going to make money off Android now, which is probably why Google is now taking things into its own hands.

It has been trying to get its hands on some patents related to wireless telecommunication, just so it can fight off other companies wanting a piece of the Android pie. It bid billions of dollars for the Nortel patent portfolio, even going crazy momentarily, bidding all sorts of weird numbers like Pi billion dollars, but eventually lost the auction, when Apple, Microsoft and some others decide to gang up against it bidding a huge amount which was ridiculously high even for Google.

It has apparently shown interest in acquiring InterDigital, which has a huge patent portfolio, but Apple is trying to crash even that party. Apple has roughly double the cash reserves of Google, and it is willing to go to any lengths to ensure that Google doesn’t get hold of any patents.

So now Google seems to be trying the standard way – inventing stuff and applying for patents. It has put up a job opening on its website for patent agents.

Patent Agent @ Google – Job Listing

“As a Patent Agent, you’ll help protect Google’s valuable and growing intellectual property. This is a vital role on the Patent team in which you’ll work with and manage outside counsel during their preparation and prosecution of domestic and foreign patent applications. A significant portion of your job will be to acquire a deep understanding of Google’s business and technologies and to collaborate with engineers and product managers for the purpose of harvesting ideas for new patent applications. This will include educating them on the intricacies of the patent system. Your responsibilities may also grow to include assisting with the review of third-party offers to license and/or purchase patents and supporting due-diligence activities in merger-and-acquisition transactions. You’ll work with an invigorating, inspiring team of innovators who are passionate about future technologies and excited about resolving their ensuing legal challenges.”

Good luck, Google. You need it. You are probably going to get screwed a lot in the coming months. I’m rooting for you.

Microsoft Had $17.37 Billion Revenue in Q4 2011; $69.94 Billion in FY2011

Microsoft has announced its Q4 results for the year ended June 30, 2011. Judging by the numbers, it looks like Microsoft has had a great quarter. It reported Q4 revenues of $17.37 billion, up 8% year on year. Its operating income grew to $6.17 billion, up 4% from Q4 2010, while its net income grew to $5.87 billion, an increase of 30%.

For the entire fiscal year 2011, Microsoft reported revenues of $69.94 billion, a 12% increase over FY 2010. Its operating and net income grew to $27.16 billion, and $23.15 billion, up 13% and 23% respectively.

“Throughout fiscal 2011, we delivered to market a strong lineup of products and services which translated into double-digit revenue growth, and operating margin expansion,said Peter Klein, Microsoft CFO. Our platform and cloud investments position us for long-term growth.”

Microsoft’s Business and Windows divisions are doing very well. Microsoft has sold over 100 million Office 2010 licenses and more than 400 million Windows 7 licenses. It successfully launched Office 365 and has a very good chance of dominating the cloud based productivity software market. Even its Server and Tools division is growing reasonably well, driving revenue growth. Though Bing’s U.S. market share is up to 14.4% now, the Online Services division is still bleeding money.

The Entertainment and Devices division has seen its revenue jump 30% in Q4 and 45% for the full year, thanks to the spectacular success of the Xbox 360, Kinect, and Xbox Live. Coming to Windows Phone 7, it doesn’t represent a significant portion of the revenues, but with Android mired in lawsuits, it is well positioned to become a leading platform in the coming years.

Check out: Microsoft’s 2011 Earnings Release

Google and Apple Slugging it Out to Acquire InterDigital and its Patents

Google is in a very tight spot right now. Being a relatively young company, compared to Microsoft, Apple, IBM etc, it doesn’t have many patents to its name. It has surely been innovating a lot, and has been building its patent portfolio in the past decade, but it is still nowhere compared to Microsoft or Apple, with less than 1000 patents in its portfolio. Its plan to acquire Nortel’s patent portfolio, which had over 6000 patents, failed when it lost a bidding war against a consortium of its greatest rivals – Microsoft, Apple, RIM and some others.

In the meantime, almost every company (well not every company, just Apple, Microsoft and Oracle so far) is bullying Google and its partners which make Android devices over patent infringement related to Android. To put an end to all the bullying and litigation, Google needs to bulk up its patent portfolio, and the only way to do it fast is by acquiring a company which has a huge one, related to telecommunication. Once Google acquires a decent number of patents, it won’t remain vulnerable and can easily defend itself and its partners against patent infringement lawsuits from the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Oracle.

Google obviously knows this, which is why they bid billions of dollars for the Nortel patents in the first place, but it’s hard to win an auction when you are up against heavyweights like Apple and Microsoft, who have billions of dollars in cash waiting to be used.

According to a report by WSJ, it seems like Google has another acquisition target in its sights – InterDigital. InterDigital has almost 8,800 patents related to wireless technology, and is possibly the best option for Google right now. Apple knows this, and with $76.2 billion in cash, it will likely try to acquire InterDigital as well. Ever since word of a possible acquisition got out, InterDigital’s stock has jumped up almost 65% in 3 days. Its market cap is now $3.3 billion, which is still way lower than the $4.5 billion Apple and Microsoft paid for the Nortel portfolio.

InterDigital’s management team knows this very well, and will try to auction itself to the highest bidder. Google is running out of options, and Apple has nearly double the cash that Google does. So, none of them are going to back off easily.

If I had to pick one stock to invest in, right now, it would definitely be InterDigital. It’s priced quite high right now, but I expect to rise even more, however irrational it may seem. Currently, patents are worth their weight in gold, and with Apple and Google’s billions in the game, the prices are very likely to be bid up. Winner’s curse, Auction theory 101.

Disclosure: I have no open positions in any of the companies mentioned in the post.

Nokia’s Q2 2011 Results Announced; I AM DISAPPOINT!

Nokia Q2 ResultsNokia used to be the number one smartphone maker in the world. It created the smartphone market in the late 90s and dominated it for years. But then, in 2007, Apple launched the iPhone. It redefined the entire category, and soon became the number one smartphone company in terms of sales, in the US. Trying to emulate Apple’s success in smartphones, Google launched the Android OS, and it soon dethroned Nokia’s Symbian as the leading smartphone platform worldwide.

Stephen Elop, the man who people call Microsoft’s trojan horse in Nokia, has been at the helm of Nokia for about a year now. He has been making some changes to Nokia’s strategy to make it a smartphone giant again, but they don’t seem to be working. Nokia has pledged allegiance to Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform, sidelining Symbian and MeeGo in the process.

Today, Nokia released its Q2 2011 earnings report. Compared to Apple’s outstanding results, they are extremely disappointing.

Nokia has posted a €487 million operating loss, down €782 million from a profit of €295 million in Q2 2010. Its sales are down to €9.275 billion, from €10 billion in Q2 2010. While it had nearly €1 billion in cash last year, it now has €176 million in debt. Even its EPS is down to €0.06; a drop of nearly 45%. The sales of all its product divisions have been dropping; smartphone sales are down 32% while feature phone sales are down 20%. Apple sold more smartphones than Nokia, at a much higher profit margin. In other words, it is completely fucked.

Nokia hasn’t launched a single successful product this quarter, as it concentrates its efforts on the Windows Phone 7 devices it plans to launch soon. If it screws up its Windows Phone 7 launch, which I think is very probable, it will likely end up either dead, or will be acquired by Google, Microsoft or Apple for its enormous patent portfolio.

Interestingly, Nokia seems to have made nearly €430 million as patent licensing fees, most of which is probably from Apple, as part of a settlement in a patent lawsuit that Nokia won.

Nokia’s Q2 2011 Earnings Release

Samsung N100, First MeeGo Netbook Launched in India at Rs 12,290

Samsung N100Today, Samsung announced the launch of the first MeeGo netbook in India – the Samsung N100, via a press release.

The Samsung N100’s design is based on the very popular Samsung N150P, a Windows 7 netbook launched last year which sold more than 3 million units.

The Samsung N100 weighs just 1.03 kg, and comes with a 10.1 inch matte LED display with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. It is powered by Intel’s MeeGo OS, but also comes with options for free DOS and Windows 7.

It is powered by the Intel Atom N435 processor which is clocked at 1.33 GHz. It comes with 1 GB DDR3 RAM and a 250 GB hard disk. The graphics are handled by the Intel GMA 3150 chipset.

It is priced at Rs 12,290. While I highly doubt the prospects of MeeGo in the Indian market, the N100 offers a solid piece of hardware at a low price. It’s definitely worth considering if you are in the market for a cheap netbook.

Apple Can Now Buy Dell. Twice Over. And Still Have $10 Billion in the Bank.

“What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders”.

That’s what Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell Inc. said in 1997, when asked how he would fix Apple, which was in dire straits then.

What he didn’t (and couldn’t) anticipate, was how Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, who was ousted out a few years back, and returned as CEO only a few months before he made the statement, would completely change the computing and mobile landscape, and turn Apple into the juggernaut it once was, and even bigger.

Apple Logo

Yesterday, Apple released its Q3 FY11 earnings results, and to be honest, they were mind-blowing. Apple’s results beat even the most bullish estimates on the street, and of course, its own guidance.

Its market cap is now close to $360 billion, more than 10 times Dell’s market cap. It is very likely that Apple may soon overtake Exxon Mobil to become the most valuable company in the world. My money is on that happening soon after the iPhone 5 launch, assuming that oil prices remain relatively stable.

But here’s the most interesting part – Apple now has almost $76.2 billion in cash reserves. That’s the biggest war chest of cash held by any company, ever. What’s even more interesting is that Apple can now buy Dell (market cap: $33 billion) using just its cash reserves. Twice over. Even then, it will still have $10 billion left in the bank.

Michael Dell may be regretting ever making that statement now, with Jobs having the last laugh.

Micromax A70 Launched in India; Priced at Rs 8999

Micromax was one of the first Indian companies to launch an Android handset. The Micromax A60 was one of the cheapest Android phones in India when it launched. Admittedly, it was the most inexpensive Android phone, but it was also very slow, and probably the worst Android smartphone I ever used. But it did see a lot of sales, and succeeded in bringing Android to the masses.

Micromax recently launched the successor to the A60 – the Micromax A70. It is much better than its predecessor in all aspects, be it the design or the specifications.

Micromax A70

The Micromax A70 comes with a 600 MHz processor and is powered by Android 2.2 Froyo. The amount of RAM hasn’t been revealed, but it should be around 256 MB.

It will sport a 3.2 inch TFT capacitive touchscreen display with a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels. It will come with a 5 MP camera with autofocus.

It also offers the usual connectivity options – GPRS, EDGE, 3G HSDPA, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g and Bluetooth 2.1. It will also offer a Wi-Fi hotspot feature, and will come with a 1450 mAh battery.

It will come with M! apps, which is a custom application store by Micromax, but it seems like it will ship with Android Market as well.

It has been priced at Rs 8,999 and is available now.

Samsung Galaxy S2 to be Launched in the US in August

Consumers in the US usually get all the cool gadgets first, while their counterparts in other countries have to wait for months. Thankfully, there are some exceptions to that rule.

The Samsung Galaxy S, for example, was first launched internationally, and came to the US market only a few months after the initial launch.

Similarly, the Samsung Galaxy S 2, which was first launched in Korea 3 months back, and subsequently in many other countries including India, has not been launched in the US yet.

However, images of a Sprint variant of the Samsung Galaxy S 2 were leaked last week, which seemed to indicate that a US launch was probably near.

Today, Yonhap News reported that Samsung will launch the Galaxy S2 in the US market next month.

“We expect to release the Galaxy S2 in the U.S. market sometime in August,” said Shin Jong-kyun, president of Samsung’s mobile business and digital imaging, at a media briefing.

The Samsung Galaxy S 2 is widely regarded as the best Android smartphone to date. It has blown away the competition and has sold more than 3 million units in less than 2 months of its availability. It is probably the only Android smartphone, which can compete with the Apple iPhone 4, in terms of popularity.

You can check out our comparison of the Samsung Galaxy S2 and the Apple iPhone 4: Samsung Galaxy S 2 vs Apple iPhone 4: Comparison

Apple is expected to launch the next version of the iPhone in September. Samsung expects to sell more than 60 million phones this year, including Android smartphones as well as other budget phones.

Like its predecessor, the Galaxy S, it’s likely that the Samsung Galaxy S2 will be launched on all major carriers. Stay tuned. The Droids are coming.

Google on the HTC-Apple Lawsuit: “We Will Make Sure They Don’t Lose”

Apple has already won the initial ruling in its patent infringement lawsuit against HTC, which alleged that HTC had infringed upon two of its patents by using the Android OS in its devices.

With the HTC lawsuit almost won, Apple has a very good chance of winning similar lawsuits against other Android manufacturers, as most of them use the same features described in the lawsuit.

With this set of patents, Apple joins the exclusive club of those companies who stand to make billions in revenue from Android, which currently include Google, Microsoft and Oracle.

I also pointed out that Apple now had a chance to shut down the sale and import of all Android devices in the US, though it may have seemed a bit far fetched.

Today, at the Google Mobile Conference in Tokyo, Eric Schmidt said that his company will back HTC in its patent fight against Apple.

“We have seen an explosion of Android devices entering the market and, because of our successes, competitors are responding with lawsuits as they cannot respond through innovations,” he said. “I’m not too worried about this.”

He also commented that “We will make sure they don’t lose, then”, when asked whether Google will be providing financial assistance to HTC. He didn’t reveal any more details, about how it planned to defend its HTC and its other hardware partners.

Google doesn’t have nearly as many patents in its arsenal as Oracle, Microsoft or Apple. It recently lost the Nortel patent auctions, which could have doubled its patent portfolio and provided it with some much needed ammunition in its patent wars against Apple and Microsoft.