Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Facebook Knows You Voted, Can Advertisers Too?

Voted Yet? Facebook sure knows.

As anyone who has logged into Facebook today, they are bound to be bombarded by two similar but very distinctly different things on their newsfeed: people posting about their voting and Facebook making a post about each user saying they have voted. Two of the almost exact same statements, yet each having hugely differential implications for Facebook and its long term outlook and strategy in the years going forward. 

One of the good things about seeing either type of notification that your friend voted is the social influence that it has on your actions on the first Tuesday of November. According to a study done last month by researchers at the University of California San Diego, seeing the Facebook notification about voting caused an extra 300,000 potential voters to head to the polls in 2010, when turnout was at a dreadful 37%. But, Facebook's kind, if not nagging question of if you've gone to the polls and done your civic duty, isn't there primarily for building up voter turnout, but rather there to get a deeper understanding of who you are and fill in greater details about you.

The major way that Facebook is able to make money, is by selling ad space to advertisers based on what Facebook knows about you. They get this by having you voluntarily submit information about your likes and what you do, like stating that you have voted in a past election, either by Facebooks submission, your own status update or both.  What is the key difference between the two very similar statements that are posted on Facebook? In one word: targetability. When someone posts a status like the one to the left, Facebook has little ability to to use this information to allow for advertisers to target you and better target their advertisement. 

They can post a fleeting ad but, the status doesn't get ingrained into your profile for advertisers to better utilize. They might be able to serve an ad based on the words in your status, like "voted" but the status doesn't have any staying power to fill out your profile and who you are. Rather, by having you update your status with a binary, "Facebook Approved" status, that can either be "Yes I voted" or "No I didn't vote", Facebook allows for this to deeply ingrained into your profile. This has huge implications for Facebook in the future.

One of the biggest things that may do is allows for advertiser to more granularly target people on Facebook. For example, advertisers could want to target those who have voted in previous elections and are Republican, two factors that Facebook has at the ready, as users volunteer them when making their profile and upon voting. While Facebook has not yet rolled it out, the ability for them to is as simple as flipping a switch on their back end. The big implications for this data is when the next round of elections rolls around. One of the big pushes over the past few election cycles has been the GOTV or Get Out The Vote message. If Facebook allows for advertisers to access the voting information, political campaigns can tailor advertisements to specifically target voters who haven't voted in the prior election, but are registered for a specific party. 

I've sent Facebook a message to inquire how and if they will be using the data they are able to access for advertising purposes. I'll be sure to update the post when I hear back.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Surge that Caused the Surge

As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Northeast, companies made preparations on how best to cope for the storm. However, while other companies made defensive plans, Uber, the renegade taxi company, went on the offensive. Much like in times of high demand, Uber implemented surge pricing within New York, doubling the cost of a car pick up due to the impact that the storm had placed on New York City. As soon as they flipped the switch, people cried out in complaints that Uber was engaging in price gouging, intentionally taking advantage of customers in their time of need.  

After the public outcry, Uber quickly stopped charging customers the doubled fare, but paid the drivers the difference. This morning, they announced that they could no longer afford to keep paying the differential, and would have to charge the customer the full surge price. Is this price change price gouging or just the basics of supply and demand taking their toll on a market? 

What makes Uber so different from traditional taxi and limousines companies is that they do not own their own car fleet or pay for drivers for the cars. Rather, they provide iPhones to each driver they enlist, that allows for the driver to pick up fares that are called for from the Uber app. The drivers app keeps track of the total distance traveled and the total cost of the ride, and when the customer arrives at the destination their credit card is automatically charged. Uber takes a 20% cut of the transactions cost and the driver gets to keep the rest of the fare. However, when the market equilibrium is out of sync (more demand for drivers than available supply) , Uber will multiply the price of the ride using what they call Surge Pricing, which they notify the customer up front that they will be charged a much higher price than they are normally used to. This is usually the case on nights with high demand, such as New Years Eve, when the pricing multiple can get up to 7x the normal price causing a 1.5 mile ride to cost over $100.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Uber instituted Surge Pricing, doubling the cost of rides in and around the city. As people saw this, they called out Uber for trying to take advantage of people who needed rides with no one else available to fulfill their needs. While the public relations optics of the move are less than optimal, from an economics perspective it makes perfect sense. It is all a matter of supply and demand and what happens when one or both are disrupted from their normal point. When a market is functioning normally supply and demand intersect at a point (called the equilibrium point) which bases the best price that the market is willing to pay as well as the best quantity that the market will provide. When a market is disrupted due to some external event, supply and demand can change causing a new equilibrium point and a new price and quantity. 

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, drivers who would usually go out and pick up passengers would prefer to stay at home with their family and loved ones. In other words, they felt that the normal price that they were getting from Uber to pick up passengers was not enough to compensate themselves for the extra work they would have to do. In response to this, Uber tried to make going out to pick up people worth it to the drivers, by doubling the amount that drivers would get as a cost for providing the same ride. As the law of supply states; the more people are willing to pay for a good or service the more of said good or service suppliers will bring to the market. In other words, as Uber increased the price of rides, more drivers would be willing to drive for Uber, since there was more money in it for the drivers themselves. 

While it may make perfect economic sense, it leaves legal and ethical considerations in its wake. New York has a rule against price gouging, stating that during times of emergencies no business may charge "an exorbitant amount" for a good or service. New York does not lay out what constitutes an exorbitant amount and what does not, leaving many cases of suspected price gouging up to the circumstances surrounding the case. However, just across the Hudson River, in New Jersey, a price increase of more than 10% in times of an emergency is considered price gouging and causes levying of huge fines against the gouger. While Uber did double their prices, increasing them 100%, it is not an immoral or unethical action, given the circumstances. Where price gouging is especially harmful to consumers is if all suppliers for a certain good or service increase their prices exorbitantly. In this case, only Uber raised their prices after the storm hit. If a customer did not want to pay the higher price, they could have called for another car service or taxi service. These providers were probably not charging as much as Uber was, however there probably weren't as many cars available for rides as there usually were on a sunny day. 

For an example of where supply and demand do not change drastically in the aftereffects of the storm, was at gas stations. While complaining about the price of filling up at the pump is one of Americas favorite pastimes, the price of gas did not change so drastically. What did change was the demand for gas, since it was in need for much more than just driving cars around. In the aftermath of the storm, gasoline-fueled power generators were what many New York residents were using for power, causing the demand for gasoline to rapidly increase. If gas station owners were allowed to charge what supply and the increased demand had suggested, the price of gasoline would have probably spiked over $5 and perhaps gone to $6. However, since gasoline is such a ubiquitous good, gas stations would be hard pressed to rapidly increase their prices. Since they did not increase their prices to keep up with the increased demand, large lines formed at every gas pump. 

This is hardly the end of the story for Uber, as they put the Surge Pricing back on for New York consumers, while waiving the 20% cut that they get from each ride. As the days and weeks go on, Uber may find that their model of charging what the market is willing to bear may not be worth the increased PR troubles or they may feel that in times of increased demand or decreased supply, these price changes are good ideas.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

WWDC Predictions and Guesstimates

       With this upcoming week being the informal "Christmas for App Developers", Apple's World Wide Developer Conference, rumors have been flying around with what new things Apple will reveal, ranging from iOS 6 to the new iPhones and everything in between. 

       To begin with, new hardware is highly unlikely, as WWDC is primarily a conference for developers to be shown the new tools that can use. In the past, Apple has used its main keynote for showing off the latest and greatest software and developer tools that it has to developers. The one big deviation from this was the reveal of the iPhone 4 at WWDC 2010. It does not seem like there is much for Apple to reveal in regards to hardware this year, as most product lines have been refreshed already. With no real hardware, the big features of this years WWDC will have to be on the software and how it relates to future Apple products.

iOS 6

One of the big things that will be released at this years WWDC will be iOS 6, the latest iteration in the line of operating systems for iPhones and iPads. While not including huge new features to the iOS, like in previous versions, iOS 6 appears to be focused on ironing out the minor kinks in the software and continuing to keep iOS devices at the top of their game. Some of the minor pieces that have been rumored to be part of iOS 6 include the new mapping software that Apple has been developing, updates to iCloud, expansion of Siri, and most notably integration with Facebook.

The New iMaps

This rumor is that Apple will stop using Google Maps for its iOS stable of devices and instead will release its own mapping app for use in iOS devices. This will allow for Apple to reduce its reliance on Google for providing vital services for iOS while giving themselves a leg up to allow for developers to directly develop on top of the map application. This could allow for apps to directly utilize it. In order for the iMaps to be on the same level as Google Maps on Android phones, turn by turn navigation must be included. Apple has been buying mapping companies in order to develop a perfect mapping app for iOS devices.

Updating the iCloud

iCloud was one of the big features of iOS 5, featuring the ability for iOS users to upload and download music and pictures from the cloud. The leaks about iCloud have shown that Apple will expand iCloud into the Reminders and Notes apps that are iOS standards. What would be a truly expansionary leap for iCloud would be its use for integration with all apps on the iOS software. Imagine being able to begin playing Angry Birds on the MacBook Pro, stop mid-level, pick it up on your iPhone and finish the level off on your iPad all at the same time. Perhaps one of the more functional uses of iCloud would be to help resolve the iMessage problem of receiving a notification of getting the same message across all devices regardless of having read the message on one device already. The expansion of iCloud would allow for the different iOS devices to communicate and inform one another that a message has been read.

Say What Siri?

Siri has been one of the most controversial Apple releases in recent times, with some people loving it, with others saying it is so bad that Steve Jobs would have "lost his mind" over how poor performing it is. Part of the reason for this has been because Siri is still in beta and requires people to interact with it in order for it to learn and provide better information to users. In order to get more interaction volume Apple must either hope that existing iPhone 4S users increase their usage of Siri (and those celebrity ads aren't helping) or they must increase the volume of iOS devices that use Siri. Thats why with the release of iOS 6, Siri will be a mainstay on all new devices, allowing for more people to use Siri and eventually improve its quality. 

Apple Likes Facebook
One of the biggest rumors bordering on a truth that will come out of WWDC and the new iOS 6 is a deeper integration of Facebook along with Apple. This deep integration is a potential win/win/win for Apple, Facebook and the consumer with both companies getting synergistic effects and the consumer getting a tighter integration between two titans of the tech industry. 

The big benefits of Facebook integration with iOS would allow for Facebook to gain deeper information about what  users are listening to, much like what Spotify does tying deep into Facebook's Open Graph to provide advertisers with even more granular information about the individual consumer. In addition, the integration of different events in the Apple ecosystem being triggered on Facebook could lead to increased sales of music and apps. 

The other big benefit to Facebook being integrated with iOS, would be the ability of different apps to be able to utilize the friends list on Facebook. One of the big uses of this would be for populating Game Center, which has languished on iOS ever since its release in iOS 4. It only seems natural that Game Center would get integrated with Game Center because iOS 4 was supposed to come pre-integrated with Facebook. One of the big questions for the integration of Facebook with iOS is if it will help jump start the languishing Ping or if Apple will realize that no one really uses it and will just kill it off.

Apple TV SDK

One of the biggest Apple rumors is that Apple will release a new iTV that wil "kill cable" and run the living room. However, since Apple is reluctant to release hardware at WWDC, they will probably begin to get developers on the bandwagon to begin to develop apps for the new iTV. Rather than let select developers in on the fact that new hardware is coming out, Apple will allow for developers to create apps that run on the current Apple TV, and when the new iTV is released, most apps will be easily portable. While most things developed for Apple TV will not be games like Fruit Ninja or Cut The Rope, different apps will be developed and certain ones will rise to the top and become differentiators for buying an iTV when it is released.

WWDC is a place where the newest tools for Apple developers come out to play and new software is released to the public. Irregardless of there being no new hardware released, Apple often releases groundbreaking software. We'll find out exactly what the biggest new features for iPhones and iPads are tomorrow.

Did we miss anything? Anything we're off base on? Let us know in the comments.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Biggest Friend Request

With the impending Facebook-IPO-mageddon set to kick off this Friday, it seems like the best time to answer some long held questions about Facebook's business model, the value of their stock, and what the future of the company could be. This isn't meant to be an all encompassing primer on Facebook, but a look at some of the big issues surrounding the company, and where it moves from this point in time. 

Q. How does Facebook make its money?

A. Facebook has two current streams of revenue right now. Their largest one is from advertising along its website, while the second  one is from the use of Facebook Credits across its platform. Facebook is able to get such a premium on its advertising placing due to the fact that it has unique and specific information about each user that the user voluntarily gives up to Facebook to use, by filling in their profile and liking certain things. This allows the people running advertisements on Facebook to fine tune the reach of ads and who the ads are displayed to based on incredibly detailed information. The second revenue stream that Facebook has is their Credits system that is used across all applications on Facebook from Farmville to Words With Friends. For every dollar of credit that is purchased for an app, Facebook takes a 30% cut of the purchase. This revenue stream accounts for about 15% of Facebook's revenue, but has the chances to continually grow as Facebook begins to allow for in-app transactions and expands its credits so it becomes as pervasive on the internet as the ubiquitous like button.

Q. But I heard that companies were pulling out of placing ads on Facebook because it didn't make them enough money?

A.  This week General Motors announced that they were taking their $10 million Facebook ad campaign and going home. They, like some other companies have realized that running ads on Facebook don't pay off for them in regards to new customers. In the case of General Motors, their failure to generate increased sales from the fact that the products that GM sells are not those that are easy to sway consumers just by targeting them with ads. Ads can help sway some people who are on the fence, but not for a product that is so important and requires heavy research as a car. So long story short, advertising on Facebook might not work for every company in the world, but the wealth of data that Facebook has that allows for ads to be custom tailored for each user to get the maximum impact.

Q. So lets get down to the money. How much is Facebook worth?

A. Well, Facebook is set to offer shares of its stock to the public on Friday with a price range between $34 and $38 and will offer over 420 million shares of common stock to be traded in the first day. This offering is different from other tech stocks IPOs which relied on releasing a small number of shares in order to drum up demand and thus drive up the prices. While Facebook plans to price themselves near $38, this is the price offered to the first select investors who have a good relationship with the investment banks. When the stock reaches regular trading, it will most likely rise quickly as investors clamor to get a few shares of the stock the price will probably reach the high $40s and touch the $50s. This will set Facebook's value as a $100 billion company. 

Q. So is it worth is? Should I buy into Facebook?

A. Depends on what you are looking for in a stock. If you want  stock in a company that is fully controlled by Mark Zuckerberg, will not announce a dividend any time soon, and will put long term growth ahead of short term profits, than by all means buy Facebook. If you are looking for anything else, or don't trust that Zuckerberg will be able to continue to grow the company, don't buy it. The big question is if the companies valuation is this high because we are in another tech bubble, reminiscent of the one in the early 2000's with such luminary companies like pets.com being worth millions with no real income to speak of. While Facebook had real profits to stand by, their potential P/E ratio would stand to be close to 100x, obviously inflated by the stock bubble that is slowly inflating around the world. Once it pops, companies that have no real business plan would crash and burn, but companies like Facebook that have enough profits to weather the storm could survive. In many ways Facebook is the equal of Amazon, with its longterm view of the company and the desire to pursue long term growth over short term results. 

Q. What does this mean for Facebook as a product?

A. Well, not much really. Life will go on, people will continue to poke each other, pictures will get tagged, statuses will be liked, like they always have. However, investors will desire for Facebook to come up with some new revenue generating idea, or the expansion of the Facebook Credits system. In the short term, Zuckerberg does not have to pay attention because he has iron-clad control over the company, but in the long term, he must look out for the growth of the company, by increasing revenues.

Anything that was missed? Point of contention to anything that was said? Drop a line in the comment section below!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Nothing Really Matters... Anyone Can See

     With the revelation by activist investor Daniel Loeb that there were discrepancies on the resume of Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson in regards to a Degree in Computer Science from Stonehill College, Loeb and many in Silicon Valley have called for his dismissal A.S.A.Y. (as soon as yesterday). However, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter that he doesn't have this Computer Science degree on his resume. 

    If it does come out that Thompson has lied on his resume in order to get a leg up on his odds for being hired to the CEO position at Yahoo, he deserves to be reprimanded for a breach of ethics. Irregardless of that point, the notion that he actually needs a degree in Computer Science to be the CEO of Yahoo is patently ridiculous. (see what I did there... with the patents... Its funny cause they're... never mind)  Just because Yahoo is considered a "tech company" does not mean that they need someone who knows how to code in five different languages and hack away at the website. Compared to other tech companies, Yahoo is in a league of its own based on its offerings as well as where it is in its lifetime as a company. 

     While founders like Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg all were Computer Science geeks, they were heads of their companies when it was starting out as just a concept in their head. At this point, they needed to be all in on the project doing the lions share of the work in order to bring their idea to fruition. They didn't have the money to hire enough engineers to do their coding for them, as they were only starting out. However as the companies began to evolve, the founders could be able to, and need to, step back into a more executive role and oversee the day to day operations of the company. Larry Paige does not go to work each day and make changes to the code underlying the Page Rank system. Instead he has a team of engineers who tweak the code, as he outlines from his role as an executive. 

    If Thompson has lied on his resume, it marks another misstep for the once proud internet company. Nevertheless, even if Thompson does not have his degree in Computer Science, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. As the executive, he is not taking an active role in the engineering and coding of Yahoo properties and portals. Secondly, Yahoo is on the lower end of the technological spectrum, in relation to other companies of the Web 2.0 generation. Yahoo gets its main revenue from selling ads and not from some major technological prowess that companies like Netflix, Facebook or Twitter requires. Yahoo ranks close to Groupon, in that it is mostly pages linking to each other.

   All in all, Loeb will probably get his wish and Thompson will be removed from his position as CEO and Chairman of the Board. This will not be because he does not have a degree in Computer Science, but rather because he exaggerated his prowess about his knowledge of computer science. Shame, because to be the chairman of Yahoo, one really doesn't need that much in the way of a knowledge of Computer Science.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Let’s Spend a Billion Dollars…

              Two huge, billion dollar pieces of tech news today; both with giant implications for all parties involved. First off was Microsoft’s acquisition of some 800 patents from AOL for just over one billion dollars. Second was Facebook’s acquisition of popular photo sharing app Instagram for one billion dollars as well. Much like the Hollywood red carpet “Who Wore It Best”, let’s play a game of “Who Spent It Best”


Right now, the jury is still out on what exactly Microsoft got in its package of 800 or so patents from AOL. It appears likely that AOL sold patents that are no longer useful to their core business of display advertizing and content. These patents are related to social networking communications (from AIM), mapping technology (from AOL’s ownership of Mapquest), streaming technology and other miscellaneous patents. However, these appear to be incredibly helpful to Facebook in its patent lawsuit against Yahoo, since Microsoft owns a small part of Facebook and will be willing to defend Facebook in this and many lawsuits that are sure to follow. Perhaps secondarily, these patents will help Bing mount a greater challenge to Google’s dominance of the search market, namely in maps. With Google Maps beginning to charge high volume users for the use of the service, there is a void that has been filled in the most part by OpenStreetMap. With mapping patents in hand, Bing can be a refuge to companies who have been displaced by the rule changes from Google and make its maps more prevalent. With the increased number of patent lawsuits occurring in tech today, having multiple patents is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury. While the price may seem large, it breaks down to an average of 1.25 million dollars a patent, which is a small price to pay when the Oracle/Google lawsuit and the Yahoo/Facebook lawsuit are seeking damages of amounts in the billions of dollars.


Perhaps the one glaring weakness in Facebook’s mobile offering was the photo taking and sharing mechanism. By purchasing one of their greatest mobile photo competitors, Facebook is able to kill a few birds with one stone. Firstly, Facebook gets an incredibly innovative app and a huge user base to boot with over 30 million registered users (and continuing to grow thanks to the release on Android phones last week). While acquiring an app of this sort would be a huge asset to any company, it takes Instagram out of direct competition with them. Secondly, Facebook gains a creative team of new developers who are able to help enhance the Facebook photography experience. Thirdly, while Mark Zuckerberg promised that Instagram will be run independently from Facebook, he made no mention of the massive amounts of data that Facebook now gains the rights to everything from locations of where the picture was taken to the actual photos themselves. If this acquisition gets more people to share and display their Instagram photos on Facebook, Facebook gets more photos to be displayed and as such gets more places to put their ad inventory. One of the biggest issues in this acquisition is the fact that Instagram has no revenue whatsoever to its name. While Facebook is already profitable, throwing a billion dollars at a company is a huge risk when it has revenue at all.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

                While both acquisitions are great for their acquiring company, the bigger winner in today’s spending spree appears to be Microsoft. It gets a whole bundle of patents that are bound to come in handy at some point in the future both offensively and defensively. While Facebook’s purchase of Instagram comes with great engineers to help retool the Facebook photo experience, leaving Instagram as a standalone app, poses the problem of cannibalization of Facebook’s photo options. All things being considered equal though, the biggest winners are Instagram and AOL in these sales.

                Instagram was an app that had no way to generate revenue at the moment and was trying to build up traction by increasing its user base. It was last valued at $500 million, a huge amount for a company with no revenues, or actions to begin to generate revenues. With the sale to Facebook, investors in Instagram get a huge profit on their initial investment and Instagram ends up attached to a company who is willing to put long term goals over short term profits.

The biggest winner of the day has to be AOL by a wide margin. Not only did it get much more for its patents than it was supposed to have gotten, it gets to keep them as well. When AOL began the shopping of the portfolio, analysts suggested that the value was much less than the $1 billion that AOL was suggesting it was worth, with some estimates of a quarter of a billion. By selling these patents that are no longer core to their business, AOL is able to free up value and gain much needed cash. AOL also signed an agreement with Microsoft that allowed them to continue to use the patents that Microsoft had purchased for defensive purposes, much like getting to continue driving in a car that you sold to someone else. Finally, this move is tax neutral, meaning that AOL gets to keep all of the money as profit, since they were able to sell some assets at a big enough loss to offset the income from the sale of the patents.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Through The Looking Glass+

     In case you missed the announcement, Google announced that they were releasing information about their new Project Glass which was the showing of what their hypothetical new glasses could do, as seen above. Predictably, everyone freaked out about the privacy ramifications, and allowing Google to see your every move. However, most bloggers have not been looking at the obvious cues and tips that Google has been signaling, either intentionally or unintentionally. 

First things first, Google+ is going to be the engine beneath this entire project. Or rather, Android isn't going to be running the glasses. Throughout it all, all the programs run are either primary Google services (Google Calendar, Google Maps, Google Tasks) and Google+ social tools (Google+, Google Hangouts, Google Latitude). No Gmail nor is there Google Play (née Android Market) were shown off. The guy checks in on Google+, shares a picture with his Circles, and has a hangout with a girl who he is trying to impress. Google is leveraging their ghost town of a social network to be the adhesive of the Google Glass products. Getting people to use Google+ with the Glass will make more people want to be on Google+, creating a positive network effect (a key example of this was Blackberry phones and BBM being a deciding factor in getting a Blackberry over another phone).  Without people on Google+ the Glass will be utterly useless, as it does not have a useful network that everyone can use. Google is truly going all in on Google+ and is willing to create other products just to get people to use it. 

If Google+ is the engine beneath the Glass, could the rumored Majel be the glue that holds everything together and a true knockout punch to Siri. From the video alone, the Glass is able to take a voice command  from the onboard microphone, and set a reminder to his calendar to pre-order tickets to a show. Surprisingly, this is already a feature that Android phones offer,   however, the video seemed to hint at a much tighter integration between Google services with voice commands performing all of the tasks. The sign that this may be some stronger type of personal assistant, is when, coming upon the 6 train, the glass warns that the subway service is suspended (not an uncommon occurrence in NYC) and offers to show alternate routes by walking or bus that can be used. This seems to hint at a location aware component that can react and advise the wearer alternatives when certain plans do not go as planned. Potentially, the Glass could see that you have a 5:30 meeting uptown in your Google Calendar and need at least an hour to take the train, alerting you that you need to begin to leave in order to catch the train and make it to your destination on time. 

While everyone has been calling them the new Google Glasses, they have been overlooking a key semantic wording in the release: it is called Project Glass, not Project Glasses. While Google has only shown the concept for glasses, the wording seems to hint at something much more grandiose that just designer eyewear. The naming of the project as Project Glass seems to hint that Google will try to make full scale glass screens that can act as full screens much like that in Minority Report. Imagine your entire Google universe tied together in a full screen display that can show you your full day and map out your plans. By not pigeon holing themselves into being forced to make just glasses, they are now able to create a new set of products of all shapes and sizes. Furthermore, the fact that this was revealed today seems to not be a total coincidence, as it has been one year since Larry Page took over, and Page has been one to emphasize  huge projects as well as pushing Google+.

    While only a two and a half minute video and a few shots of what proposed glasses might look like, there are several concerns that might doom this to quirky idea rather than complete game changer in the tech field. First is the 8 billion pound gorilla in the room in regards to privacy and location awareness. In order for these glasses to work, you need to be able to allow it to share and track every move that you do. With people becoming more and more concerned about privacy and the lack of clarification they get in regards to it, a product that takes every detail of their lives and broadcasts it to their social network 24/7 is potentially off-putting and could doom it from the beginning. Also, Google is under 20 year supervision from the FTC for its many lapses in privacy and will be hard pressed to justify this total expansion of taking customer data to be used. Secondarily, the glasses appear to be always connected, requiring a 3G/4G connection at all times, making the glasses like a second phone that you have to shell out a monthly data bill for turning off many people. Thirdly, there is no real way for Google to directly monetize these glasses after sale. Assuming that Google sells these at cost, the glasses were not able to search Google and be served up hyperlocal ads based on what they were looking up and where they were. Rather, since the glasses are held together by Google+, the increased populating of your social feed will provide Google with more data that they can use to better tailor the advertisements that are shown. 

   These glasses look incredibly useful but a long time before their release and perhaps even longer till they gain widespread consumer traction. As the year progresses, expect Google to announce more on this project, as well as many initiatives that help coalesce Google into one big integrated company held together by social and Google+. 


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Siri, Will Apple Announce A Dividend?

     Apple is going to have a big announcement tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. New iPad? iOS 6? Apple TV? No, Apple will be talking about their gigantic hoard of on hand cash and will "announce the outcome of the Company’s discussions concerning its cash balance." Apple's wallet doesn't have a couple of twenty dollar bills and a few moths, but close to 100 billion dollars on hand. I'll just let that sink in for a moment with this explanation by Dr. Evil...

A lot of people (mostly those who hold Apples stock) have been calling for Apple to issue a dividend, or cash payment to those who own shares in the stock. However, that being tomorrows outcome seems unlikely for a few reasons.

1. The Check is in the Mail

      Most of Apples cash is held abroad in foreign markets, and has been avoiding the watchful eye of the United States tax man. At last estimate, over 66% of Apple's cash is help abroad. If they were to bring some or all of that cash back home to the U.S.A., it would be hit with a 35% tax once it hit American soil. 

     Lets just put some numbers to that scenario. At last count, Apple has $97 billion in cash reserves. Let's assume that 2/3 of that is abroad and would be brought back. That's $64 billion itching to taste American Apple Pie. However, the IRS will take 35% of that sum upon landing, leaving Apple with around $42 billion that can be effectively brought in to the US. That would leave Apple with about a cash hoard of $72 billion. Nothing to sneeze at. However, Apple doesn't hold all of that in cold hard cash, but some is in short term assets that they might not be able to get the whole return on. In addition, this cash is in foreign currencies, so exchange rates will also eat away at some of the hypothetical repatriation. So lets be conservative and say that Apple could have $67 billion at their use tomorrow morning if they wanted it.

2. The Price is Right

     The average dividend yield for a company on the S&P 500 is around 2% a year. (Dividend yield is the dividend divided by the price of the stock) So lets play the assumption game again and say that Apple goes and declares a 2.5% dividend, which has been suggested. Apple has a current share price of $585.57 and has been climbing, with its price up over 40% this year. In order to get a 2.5% yield, Apple would have to pay each and every shareholder $14.65 for the year. How many shareholders does Apple have you might ask? They have 932,370,000 shareholders as of the last quarter. So at a price of $14.65 times 932,370,000 shareholders, Apple would need to pay out $13,659,220,500 to its shareholders. That would be 40% of Apple's cash holdings in the United States and 20% of Apple's hypothetical cash holdings if everything was in the US.

3.  Hit Me Baby One More Time

         So Apple goes ahead and announces a dividend yield of 2.5%. Whats that going to do to its share price? It will shoot up, and continue to increase, as Apple turns out record breaking quarter after record breaking quarter. If Apple is serious about keeping a yearly dividend, and does not want to lower the dividend yield, they will have to keep increasing the cash dividend they pay out, costing them more and more cash. Lets assume that Apple goes up to $650 and they want to declare a 2.5% dividend again. That's $16.25 a share and a total cost of $15,151,012,500. A company can't just hit it and quit it on a dividend. They have to keep a constant dividend payment in order to keep shareholders happy. Even if Apple is a cash generating juggernaut, they can't keep up an untenable strategy of increasing their dividends year after year.

4. It's Bad Business

     If Apple goes ahead and declares the hypothetical cash dividend of 2.5%, that is over 40% of their US cash holdings. A company needs to have good cash management, and keep enough cash on hand to be able to weather any unforeseen circumstances that may occur. Taking a huge 40% bite of their US cash pile would force Apple to bring some foreign cash back to the US, where it will be taxed at the highest rate in the world. If Apple does not need to bring back any cash (and they do not), why would they if the circumstances are not in their favor?  Other companies can afford to declare dividends because they are much smaller and a 2% yield is a much lower cost. However, larger companies like Berkshire Hathaway, can never declare dividends because of its prohibitive cost to the company. Furthermore, Peter Oppenheimer has been the CFO of Apple since 1997, a year after Apple last declared its dividend. Why would he decide to have such a change of heart now, as opposed to in other years with a equally large cash pile?

    I fully believe that Apple will announce that it has made an acquisition or that it will continue to use its cash for investing in the company or even share buybacks, increasing the share price and earnings per share. Only one way to find out.... Tune in tomorrow morning bright and early.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nose, Meet Face. Spited Much?

     With news of a potential sale of their ad platform, Yahoo is trying the  "throw anything at the wall and lets see if it gets us back on the right track"strategy. According to Kara Swisher, Yahoo hopes "to turn a cost center into a revenue source" and outsource the entire platform to a third party. 

     In a word: NO. Don't do it. Does Scott Thompson know how Yahoo makes its revenue? They have no magic online product that they can charge for, nor do they sell any tangible good. They are solely "a premier digital media company", or in short a company built on advertising. Why would you then outsource the one thing that you do to a third party. That would be like Ford outsourcing the full production of their cars to an auto shop. It doesn't make any sense on paper, nor does it make any sense in implementation. This just shows Yahoo is reaching a desperation point and is willing to rob Peter to pay Paul. Yahoo is willing to do anything in order to eke out a few more months of survival including cutting off its nose in order to spite its face, even if that means using some (dubious) patents to sucker punch other companies when they can't respond. 

    I hardly think that this is the last that will be heard from Yahoo. They are a desperate company who is just realizing that the music has stopped and they are without a seat in the game. I fully expect that Yahoo will use its thousands of patents to make more foolish moves, further ostracizing itself from the tech community. It wouldn't be surprising if Pandora slowly found Yahoo's targeting bulls-eye on them next for Yahoo's patents that relate to music, like this, and this.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

LTE and Siri and No Buttons Oh My

With the impending Apple announcement on March 7th, I wanted to run down some of the rumors that were attached to its release and what I see as occurring at the press conference.

What's Likely

1) Retina Display: The new display bump makes sense, following both Apple's natural progression of the displays on their devices as well as the invite's wording about something to see. There has also been reports of website analytic getting hits from iPads running what appears to be iOS 6 and a screen resolution of 2048x1536

2) The Same Price: It would be a deviation from past Apple pricing to have a price increase on the new iteration of a piece of hardware. That combined with the fact that there aren't that many new improvements to differentiate the iPad 2 from the new iPad, Apple will probably drop the price of the iPad 2 down and keep the prices of the new iPad at the prices the iPad 2 is currently at. Furthermore, the reduction of the iPad 2 price point would help make the price more palatable to schools, helping further the iBooks adoption in schools. 

3) Siri: It is a perceived differentiatior between the iPhone and Android phones, and the extension of the personal assistant to the new iPad would help keep the iPad on top of the tablet hierarchy, and help justify it over the Kindle Fire and its much lower price. Including Siri in the new iPad would make it a necessity in enterprise functions as it would replace the basic usages of a secretary by automating tasks. 

4) LTE: One of the reasons that Apple has avoided using LTE and 4G as their data processing is that it was a battery hog. There has been new advances in LTE battery life with the very slim Motorola Droid RAZR Maxx, getting over 8 hours of usage time. According to the Wall Street Journal, both AT&T and Verizon will sell the new iPad that can run on their 4G LTE network. That makes sense as neither Sprint nor T-Mobile offer 4G LTE at the moment and are both transitioning off of their WiMax and HSPA+ to LTE in the next few years. If Apple was going to release a 4G tablet, why would they release it for two networks that were going to be obsolete in the next few years anyway? By releasing it for only LTE, they stat true to their pattern of keeping the choices limited, especially with something as confusing as 4G.

What's Not Likely

1) No Home Button: There are gesture touches for the iPad 2, but the Home Button is a hallmark of the iOS devices, much like the clickwheel was for the iPod. There are two possible reasons for why the button is not appearing in the invitation. One is that the iPad that is in the picture is orientated in landscape instead of portrait where the Home Button resides. The other, and more reasonable answer is that the button was photoshopped out of the picture. If you look at the finger, there is a bluish tint under the finger, showing that there was something that was emitting light and is no longer there. Also, the Home Button just does so much already, that removing it would cause new mapping for major functions of the iPad, causing fragmentation between generations of tablets and setting a differential between the iPhone and iPad.

2) The iPad Mini: There is no threat from the Kindle Fire or any of the other smaller tablets. Steve Jobs was dead set against 7 inch tablets and Apple wouldn't fragment their tablet offering into different sizes like so many Android tablets.  

The Final Wildcard

From the details that have been leaked, there doesn't seem to be enough to conceivable call the new iPad release the iPad 3. Instead, I believe it will be called the iPad HD, to show its new HD display and enhanced visuals. However, to put the iPad over the top, I expect that there will be a special guest from Microsoft revealing the new Office apps on the iPad. The Office  suite has been seen in the wild, and was teased by representatives from Microsoft as coming soon, and wait and see. That would make the new iPad a pure enterprise dreams with both Siri and Office helping create a super tablet that could help untether workers from their desks. 

What I'm Trying to Do Here

I'm taking up blogging because I'll read the same piece of news five times over with no unique or original analysis or commentary. Here I hope to take the issues of the day and add commentary and what I think will occur, with my commentary. Also, I feel like my life sometimes looks like a Venn diagram, with all different circles connecting. That goes for what I'm blogging about as well. My interests are: 
  • Consumer Technology
  • Sports
  • Business
  • Politics
As a heads up, I have no conflicts of interest. I don't own any stock in any company, have any investments in any start up companies, or know anyone in the tech scene, sports sphere, business world, or political realm (influential or otherwise). And if I ever had a conflict of interest, it would be fully disclosed on every article that I write, potential conflict of interest or not. 

In conclusion, welcome aboard and hang on for the ride.