AllThingsD says Yahoo will lay out its turnaround strategy for its employees tomorrow. Presumably they’ll hear about ad technology and search, and some new developments for the home page and email. The home page may become even more of an aggregation tool, and add more social media. Yet Yahoo of all companies knows that customizing the home page is too much work for all but its most loyal and tech-savvy users. Historically, it’s been done by 20 percent of Yahoo users. Still, Yahoo is good at personalization without necessarily needing explicit user input, so maybe we’ll see more of that. It better not de-emphasize the prime ad inventory on the home page – that’s one of the few mass-reach premium-value spots online. Search is supposedly front and center. I outline what Yahoo could do there in my Weekly Update.
Sunday’s New York Times featured a lengthy article detailing the somewhat bumpy relationship Microsoft has had with the people and the utility of Quincy, Washington. Like Yahoo and others, Microsoft went to Washington for cheap electricity from the Columbia River. The major points of conflict have surrounded Microsoft’s willingness to burn off excess electricity rather than face fines for using too little power (towns instate these provisions for minimum power use because they have to build out the networks to provide a minimum of power), and the pollution related to Microsoft’s reliance on diesel generators, which has been a problem in Silicon Valley as well. The diesel generator issue reminds me of the problems that plague the developing world with diesel or worse, bunker fuel, being used for power generation, creating awful pollution. It’s getting to the point where grid level batteries should be considered for data center backup power generation or more likely, fuel cells, which run on natural gas and which Apple and eBay are now implementing. And which, as it turns out, Microsoft is considering.
We’re already up to our ears in coverage of iPhone 5 sales, so I’ll use this space to direct your attention to a provocative piece at Seeking Alpha that slams Microsoft’s recent mobile efforts. The post, which was written by Saibus Research (whom I am not familiar with), claims (among other things) that Microsoft has made a crucial error by launching Windows Phone 8 six weeks after Apple’s latest iPhone hit the market. That’s a huge factor, to be sure, and it will absolutely hurt sales of Windows Phone 8 handsets out of the gate. But Windows Mobile has immense support by some of the industry’s biggest (and wealthiest) players, and I think its long-term prospects are still OK.
Apple has encountered some fierce blow-back from its decision to replace Google Maps in iOS 6 with its own home-brewed concoction that seems to have started out with bad directions. Some critics have accused Apple of using it users as cannon fodder in its jihad against all things Google. Others have argued such a screw up never would have happened if Steve Jobs were still alive (as if there were some way to undo that problem) — a criticism that may have reached its peak over the weekend in an op-ed in the New York Times by former business columnist Joe Nocera, who asked, “Has Apple Peaked?” By this morning, however, the backlash to the backlash had set in. Fortune’s Philip Elmer-Dewitt maintains Apple would have been crazy to keep Google Maps on the iPhone, and that the decision to drop is was almost certainly made long ago, by Steve Jobs. Tech blogger Brian S. Hall calls Nocera “a dumbass” for even raising the question, while Jean-Louis Gassee, in his widely read Monday Note, argues that Apple had no choice and that its critics are being short-sighted.
Facebook apps using Open Graph auto-sharing were pretty much all or nothing. Now Facebook is enabling app developers to offer users more finely grained control. This is infinitely sensible, though it isn’t really aimed at helping those developers increase usage. And I expect many if not most users won’t bother to go through the process. Social media’s role in content discovery is increasing, and the tools for publishers and apps evolve rapidly. Of course Facebook is notorious for tinkering with its platform to balance user experience versus marketing needs. None of these factors is changing soon.
For anyone looking for a very detailed analysis of the efficiencies involved in pairing a battery with a solar rooftop system, UCSD’s Tom Murphy has an extensive breakdown of how well his own home built solar-battery combo worked out. His panels deliver 16 percent efficiency, converting 16 percent of sunlight into electricity, but what Murphy is interested in figuring out is what percentage of that electricity makes its way into his home and is used. His overall efficiency in that category is 62 percent. SolarCity is working on its own combined solar panel and battery system, most recently for Walmart, and this is clearly the dream, to pair energy storage with solar in a distributed model. It could be a total off the grid solution. Murphy notes that for grid tied utility scale solar systems, the efficiency (amount of electricity that reaches customers and is utilized by them) would be in the range of 87-90 percent, perhaps a vote that the utilities can do the battery-solar combo better than individuals homes. On the flip side for remote areas where running distribution lines is prohibitively expensive, the distributed model is much more cost effective which is why it makes so much sense for the developing world.
It’s an unusually busy Friday in the world of mobile: GigaOM’s Mobilize 2012 continues today in San Francisco (follow the action via livestream here), and Apple’s iPhone hit the market today to long lines, stock shortages and the inevitable flurry of stories questioning whether the device has structural flaws. Perhaps the biggest news of the day, though, is the rash of negative reviews for Apple Maps, which debuted this week in iOS 6. Apple appears to have rushed its new offering to market prematurely just as maps have become a new battleground in the mobile platform wars. Those reviews haven’t deterred all those consumers standing in line this morning, but Apple needs to improve its maps in a hurry to prevent some customers from turning to other maps providers — and maybe other platforms.
How big a misstep was Apple’s botched mapping software in iOS 6? The blowback has been loud enough to prompt a rare “we’re working on it,” statement out of an Apple spokesperson. But I wonder if it doesn’t hint at a deeper problem at Apple. The decision to drop Google Maps from iOS and replace it with Apple’s own map application was part of Apple’s jihad to rid its devices of Google and all of its works. But in this case, Apple’s anything-you-can-do-we-can-do-better attitude has not served its users well. Google Maps is a very good product. And Apple has a very long way to go yet before it can deliver a comparable product of better quality. There’s sometimes a very fine line between scrappy competitiveness and mere truculence.
The powers that be in Hollywood seem finally to be grokking the fact that the decline in DVD and Blu-ray sales is irreversible and requires a fundamental re-balancing of the risks and rewards of movie making. Speaking at an investor conference in New York yesterday, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said revenue assumptions during the movie green-lighting process have changed so dramatically, particularly with respect to disc revenue, that Paramount has been compelled to restructure deals with talent and other parties with a claim on revenue streams. “We don’t mind sharing the upside [of a movie with talent] as long as we don’t have a downside, or we have a sharing of that risk,” Dauman said, as reported by Home Media Magazine. “The way we look at the movie business is that we want to create great films and we want to manage the downside, the risk/reward equation if you will,” Dauman said. Meanwhile, BTIG Research analysts Rich Greenfield argues in a blog post that studio efforts to create new revenue streams, such as Fox’s early EST release of “Prometeus” simply aren’t bold enough to move the needle. “Shortening windows and reducing digital movie pricing is a logical move, particularly to encourage HD digital ownership,” Greenfield wrote. “However, the more important question that remains unanswered is how much bigger would the early digital release be if it came far sooner than fourteen weeks post-theatrical? “