6 Sep 2011
The Insane Month of August: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye!
We have crazy months from time to time, but August will likely go down in history as one of the biggest tech news months of any year. From the torpedoing of Android by Google(Nasdaq: GOOG), to the off-again, on-again TouchPad sales, to the departure of Steve Jobs, to the slashing of Oracle’s (Nasdaq: ORCL) US$1.3 billion settlement, to the…
Well I’ll get to all this in a moment, and I’m sure we are all glad to look back at the insane month of August.
I’ll end with my product of the week: the first five-door hatchback that I might actually be tempted to buy, the Audi A7.
HP’s Do-Over Month
August was the month that I think HP (NYSE: HPQ) would like to do over. Pretty much every time I turned around, I was trying to explain something it did. It may have had good reasons, but with its valuation down sharply, its execution left a bit to be desired.
The biggest was its getting out of, er selling, er spinning out, the PC business. Now to be clear, nothing will be changing at all in the next 12 to 18 months, and then you’ll only know the plan — which will likely take three to 24 months to execute (depending on the details). So there should have be no news here, certainly nothing actionable.
Yet by announcing it was thinking of doing something big, it scared the crap out of buyers (both consumers and businesses) and investors, and put a smile on the face of Michael Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) and his peers at the other PC firms. The reason it did this was that the plan to develop a plan had leaked out, and given this would be clearly material, it needed to avoid an SEC event. Boy, if there was ever a firm that should borrow Apple’s (Nasdaq: AAPL) “loose lips sink ships” posters, it is HP.
That alone would have been enough to cause HP to stand out, but it also discontinued its TouchPad and then un-discontinued it so it could discontinue it again.
Now HP made a ton of mistakes bringing the TouchPad to market, from the name it chose to the method used for the merger with Palm (more than 80 percent of mergers like this are unsuccessful).
Then Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) threatened to send a ton of unsold TouchPads back, and HP pulled the plug — this despite the fact that most reviewers I know placed this crippled product right behind the iPad, suggesting the second generation (which now won’t exist) could have kicked some Apple butt.
Then it un-pulled the plug because pulling the plug created too many short-term problems. The whole thing had some folks even questioning whether HP could run a data center.
Who would have thought that selling more tablets than Apple did iPads in a given period would be a bad thing?
Oracle Out of Luck
HP’s mortal enemy Oracle had a very strange month as well. There was the filing it made in the Oracle/HP litigation that must have been made to make it look like Oracle’s attorneys were doing something to justify their hourly charges.
They maintained that Oracle wouldn’t have settled with HP on Hurd’s hiring if Oracle had known HP was going to hire on old (like more than a decade old) Oracle CEO as chairman and an ex-SAP (Oracle competitor) CEO as the new HP CEO. These things were so not related, it put a new meaning on the term “throwing sh*t against the wall.” Seriously Oracle, no one was planning on pulling the plug on Itanium; this won’t fix that.
Adding to this impression is the latest news that Oracle had its $1.3B judgment against SAP(NYSE: SAP) overturned. That’s not chump change, and the attached pleadings would indicate that Oracle didn’t meet its burden. It is really tough to lose on appeal like this. It is great to see a legal team really step up.
OK, I shouldn’t kid about this because Larry is likely running around shooting attorneys this week. Wonder if he wants any help?
Speaking of help, Oracle fell under bribery investigation. Now I used to be an internal auditor, and bribery charges like this are a bit of an inside joke. You see, to do business in some countries, you have to use bribery. The only other choice is to exit the country, and no one — including the U.S. government — wants to you to do that.
On top of that, the cause is that the politicians and bureaucrats who require the bribes are too powerful to touch. So this is kind of a Russian roulette tax; virtually no one goes to jail — instead you pay a hefty fine and then are allowed to go on your way. You do this hoping the next company caught won’t be you (the Russian roulette part). In effect, it just became Oracle’s turn to be punished for doing something pretty much everyone agrees they have to do.
Google Buys Motorola
Boy, after Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) experience with the Zune, Apple’s with licensing MacOS, and IBM’s (NYSE: IBM) with OS/2, if there’s one hard rule in tech, it’s that doing hardware while trying to license software is a losing battle. No, that isn’t right — it is typically a multibillion-dollar disaster. So what does Google — the company that hasn’t met a Microsoft mistake it doesn’t repeat — do? It buys Motorola and announces “Android Will Stay Open.” Which in tech speak means it probably won’t be open much longer.
August also saw the Samsung Galaxy Tab get blocked and unblocked in a running battle across Europe, which also likely contributed to Samsung’s interest in a less litigation-prone platform. One accountant argued Google did it for the tax breaks. Sure it did.
Steve Jobs Leaves Apple
I’ve said plenty about this before (The Day the Magic Died), but Jobs is not only the glue that holds Apple together. It is largely his design influence that is keeping us from going back to cheap white box computers and largely uninteresting smartphones.
His exit as CEO did have a bunch of us looking back and talking about different aspects of the Jobs’ experience. One of the best was this piece on why Apple thought tablets were stupid. I did point out that one of our big problems as an industry is that under current hiring practices, Google, Microsoft and even Apple wouldn’t ever hire a young Steve Jobs.
And that is ending us on a sad note. But I think HP, Oracle, Google and Apple folks can all smile about one thing. August is over.
Product of the Week: Audi A7
Occasionally I get to do car reviews, and I really look forward to them. The five-door hatchback has been one of those configurations that always seemed to work poorly — outside of SUVs, where it kind of dominates. My own Infinity FX35 is in this class, but we consider it a truck even though, being based on the car platform, it really isn’t.
The Audi A7, however, is the most perfect blend of performance and practicality I’ve yet seen, and it is wrapped with one of the most stunning designs and best technology packages I’ve ever tested.
It really is a very pretty car — supercharged so it is fast, and four-wheel drive so it sticks like glue. And it seems to draw admiring glances regularly.
In tech, it has the Nvidia-based infotainment system, which provides strong graphics, in-dash DVD playback (when you aren’t driving) — and new this year, tablet-like interface elements that are fun to learn and use.
At around $60K it isn’t cheap, and the S version isn’t out yet (which will be more) — but I fell in love with this car in the brief week that I had it, so it is my product of the week. I think of it as my portable man cave.