Google has officially turned 15 marking a milestone moment in the search-turned-hardware and software giant's history.
While Google has celebrated the news, like all teenagers, Google's fifteenth year looks set to be a turbulent one. This is because despite concerns from privacy groups, having taken control of well over 90 percent of the search market, Google has been increasingly eager to create new ways to monetise its valuable customer data over the last half decade.
The story of Google and its quest for customer data, as all great start-ups do, started in a basement, where in September 1998 Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched the first iteration of Google Search. Taking on the then embedded leaders, like former heavyweight Yahoo, Google proved a hit and by July 2000 the search engine was listed as the world's most popular, responsible for one billion indexes.
Riding off the early success and clearly realising the value of its search data, Google decided to embark on a wave of service releases designed to expand and refine the amount of data it could collect. This started in 2001 when it expanded its search engine to offer image search to its users. However it was only in 2005 when Google really hit its stride, releasing its Earth, Maps, Talk and Video services and making what could be argued as its most important purchase to date - Android.
The purchase of Android was a clear bid by Google to increase the data it could collect, with smartphones and tablets running the OS offering the firm a means to collect previously unknown information, like customer location data. Aware of this, Google's focus has gradually shifted to devices as well as software, with the company releasing its first own-brand Nexus device, the Nexus One in 2010 and buying former mobile heavyweight Motorola in 2011.
Since then Google's device and software development business has boomed, with Android currently being listed as the most used mobile operating system in the world. However, the success has come with a cost, with numerous privacy groups getting increasingly angry about the amount of data Google's storing. This anger culminated over the summer when it was revealed Google was one of the main companies targeted by the NSA during its PRISM campaign - which saw the agency siphon vast amounts of customer data from Google.
Unperturbed by this, Google's unveiled its latest KitKat Android version and has pushed forward with the development of its Google Glass wearable computer - a device again surrounded by privacy concerns. For this reason, while Google's first 15 years may have been entirely focused on collecting customer data, its next 15 may well be about finding ways to secure it and win back concerned customers trust - a fact apparently not lost on Google, which according to recent reports has begun working to better encrypt data being stored and passing through its data centres.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
Tech acquisitions are always dicey for any company, with the question of exactly how the two firm's will combine all but impossible to know.
In the past there have been some success stories, for example when Chinese tech company Lenovo bought IBM's Thinkpad business-focused brand. In this instance the rather than simply killing off the competition, Lenovo ran with the business, creating a slew of awesome new devices that reignited enterprise interest in the brand.
However, others have been less successful, like Google purchase of Motorola. Google originally shocked the tech world in 2011 when it announced plans to pay $12.5bn to buy Motorola Mobility. The move was a shock as Motorola was one of the few firms not to have partnered with Google to create an own-brand Nexus device.
The oddness of the deal split opinion, with some arguing the purchase was a purely defensive move on the part of Google, designed to protect it from further patent infringement claims from competitors like Apple. Others took a more positive attitude, hoping it would lead to a fresh wave of innovative handsets from Motorola, which had struggled since its heyday with the original feature phone Razr.
Sadly the first group turned out to be right, with Google showing little outward interest in the company, leaving Motorola to release good, but not great smartphones - with the notable exception of the Intel-powered Razr i which is still one of the best examples of what the chip-maker can offer the smartphone world. As proof of this Motorola continues to be one of the few big name tech companies not to have made a Nexus smartphone or tablet, with Google choosing Asus and LG for its latest run of own-brand devices.
The sad example set by Google and Motorola leaves me nervous that history will repeat itself with Microsoft and Nokia. During the speeches by soon-to-be-gone Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer and current Nokia head Stephen Elop neither really paid much attention to Nokia's top end technologies, like Pureview. Instead the emphasis was entirely on app development and using Nokia's Asha range as a stepping stone to get people onto Windows Phone.
While this emphasis makes perfect sense, after all every analyst under the sun has listed emerging markets as the next cash cow for mobile phone makers, it could be bad news for tech heads. In recent years Nokia's carved out a serious name for itself by creating top-end premier Lumia Windows Phones capable of competing with Samsung and Apple in terms of innovation.
This trend peaked earlier this year when Nokia unveiled its Lumia 1020 (pictured above). Featuring an amazing 41MP rear camera sensor, a host of custom Nokia apps and featuring the Finnish phone maker's iconic Lumia design, the phone truly showcased the best Windows Phone could offer.
While Microsoft and Nokia have promised the deal will "boost innovation" in the Windows Phone ecosystem, I'm not convinced it will be in the high-end space. Instead, I think it'll be solely aimed at creating affordable handsets designed to appeal to buyers on a budget or emerging markets. These fears are compounded by the departure of key players that have helped shape Nokia's top end offering, like designer Marko Ahtisaari.
Still, it is early days and key details about the deal remain unknown so my fears could well be misplaced and, as a business strategy, a focus on emerging markets would make perfect sense. Because of this, even if I am right, at worst the new strategy will simply leave myself and other early Windows Phone adopters sad not to see another top end Nokia Lumia.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
02 Sep 2013
BT has closed its dial-up internet service for consumer customers, marking the end of a notable chapter in the UK’s web history.
For years that weird and wonderful 'bzzt, prrr garrrrrrrrrrr e-donk, tahhhhhhhh, zzzzzzzzzzz' noise was the stuff of wonder and awe, as the worldwide information superhighway awaited. However, it is no more.
BT was keen to stress that none of the 1,000 or so customers that still enjoy this sound would not be left high and dry without a connection, with dial-up still clinging to life as part of its Plusnet subsidiary.
“BT can confirm it has closed its dial up service for consumer customers. This is a legacy product that is only used by a tiny number of customers, most of whom can easily transfer onto broadband for a cheaper price,” it said in a statement. “No-one is being left without the option of an alternative service.”
It is a notable milestone for the nation, though, as it underlines the fact that always-on connections are now the norm in homes across the land, as broadband becomes the fourth utility for households alongside gas, electricity and water.
What's more, with the rollout of superfast broadband services in counties across the UK beginning as contracts are signed with regularity, the idea of 'phoning the internet' and blocking up the telephone line for others in the household will lead to incredulous looks from future generations.
For those of you that miss that melodious sound of dial-up internet listen below (complete with some madcap humour) and recall those halcyon days when AOL CDs littered your desk and Windows 95 was a fresh and funky operating system.
22 Aug 2013
HP's financial results posted today do not paint a particularly pretty picture for the IT firm; the company has many fingers in lots of pies, but most of those pies are causing minor burns.
Personal computing was down 11 percent year-on-year, while printing also fell by four percent. Its enterprise division didn't just lose 9 percent of its revenue, but also lost its chief, as David Donatelli was shifted into another role within the company. The only ray of sunshine for HP was its software division, but even that only managed a one percent increase in revenue.
So where does HP go from here? Right now, analysts are unsure, with the company not giving clear pointers as to where its focus lies. What's worse, the places in which HP is losing revenue are all totally different aspects to its business, so it can't blame one particular part of the market.
The personal computing business is of course suffering much of the decline coming from the consumer side of things, according to Ovum analyst Tom Reuner, with consumers still unwilling to upgrade their laptops as often as they used to. The firm had previously toyed with the idea of selling off its personal computing arm, but Reuner isn't so sure that would go down well with investors. "It's such a large chunk you need something to replace it because top line is still important for investors." Indeed, personal computing is HP's biggest money spinner after its enterprise business, worth $7.7bn in the last quarter.
HP was also rumoured to be looking at making a play for the smartphone market but, again, with the market so utterly saturated by a combination of Samsung, Android and Apple, it would be a hard slog that probably wouldn't amount to much. "It's such a commoditised space, when you look at PCs and smartphones as a lever for other products and services but from a smartphone point of view it's more difficult to see where the turnaround could come from," explained Reuner.
So with enterprise still the biggest earner for the company but also appearing to be in significant decline, it only makes sense to oust the current head and look elsewhere. David Donatelli's replacement is Bill Veghte, previously the firm's chief operating officer. Veghte has strong experience in the competitive and burgeoning cloud business, and HP hopes that he will be able to better unite cloud and enterprise services.
It hasn't been all bad for HP, which secured a $3.5bn US Navy contract last month but, again, these huge deals don't always result in big profits. "But it is a promising promising sign that HP is able to be selected for major projects again," said Reuner
Meg Whitman has now been CEO for two years, a long period of stability for the firm, but she will need to find focus soon if HP is to continue on the road to recovery.
Written by V3's Michael Passingham, who prefers ketchup
The highly anticipated Steve Jobs biopic has had a somewhat disastrous week, failing to achieve the box office success it expected, taking just $6.7m after being played in 2,381 locations.
The figure was revealed by Cinema news website Box Office Mojo, which also gave the movie a middling B-rating for its "deification of Steve Jobs".
The sentiment was mirrored by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who made a similar criticism, arguing that Ashton Kutcher was overly kind in his portrayal of Jobs, in a public review he posted on Gizmodo.
"I saw the movie tonight. I thought the acting throughout was good. I was attentive and entertained but not greatly enough to recommend the movie. One friend who is in the movie said he didn't want to watch fiction so he wasn't interested in seeing it. I suspect a lot of what was wrong with the film came from Ashton's own image of Jobs," he said.
"I felt bad for many people I know well who were portrayed wrongly in their interactions with Jobs and the company. The movie ends pretty much where the great Jobs finally found product success (the iPod) and changed so many of our lives. I'm grateful to Steve for his excellence in the i-era, and his contribution to my own life of enjoying great products, but this movie portrays him having had those skills in earlier times."
With this in mind, it's unsurprising that the film failed to meet its $8m to $9m opening week sales projections and did not match the performance of Jobs' creations such as the iPhone 5, which broke the five-million sales mark in its opening weekend. Still, considering how interesting Jobs was and what great insights the original 2011 biography book by Walter Isaacson gave into his life, this still feels like a missed opportunity for cinema gold.
Here's hoping we get a better look at Jobs the second time round when the Wozniak-approved biopic comes out later this year.
Written by V3's Alastair Stevenson
In fair Euston we set our scene, where news has emerged that author Mark Forsyth discovered that newly installed WiFi filters at the British Library have banned possibly the greatest work in the history of the English language: Shakespeare's Hamlet.
The filters were acting overzealously to some of the more bloody elements of Hamlet, which is about murder and revenge, after all. The British Library acknowledged the error, blaming the newly installed WiFi service, which it offers free, for being set too strictly.
"We have recently introduced a new WiFi service. It’s early days in the implementation of this service and we are aware that the new filter has been blocking certain sites erroneously. We are actively working to resolve this issue," it said in a statement.
There’s a nice element of irony in this, as it shows just how ridiculous filtering can become, especially as the government attempts to impose this upon internet service providers, claiming it will protect people from horrible content. The filters may protect them from a few dodgy sites, but they will also stop them reading the nation’s greatest writer.
In honour of this story, and with our deepest apologies to The Bard, we humbly offer this sonnet, telling the tale in rhyme.
In the halls of the British Library
An institute of learning and knowledge
Filled with scholars and students from college
A man uses the WiFi, offered free
He searches ‘Hamlet’, the Bard’s finest tale
Told with wit, charm and artistic license
But also filled with death and violence
So much so it is deemed beyond the pale
By the WiFi filters that have been set –
So nasty and evil sites can be blocked
And rightly too, so users are not shocked –
But they have ended up banning Hamlet!
Shakespeare would laugh at our filter terrors
Calling it a comedy of errors
By V3's Dan Worth, who hopes his creative writing teacher would be proud
The organisation that represents the concerns of mobile network providers has lashed out at EC commissioner Neelie Kroes' comparisons between the dairy industry and mobile network operators.
Tom Phillips, chief government and regulatory affairs officer for the GSMA, said Ms Kroes' comments were "beyond the pail". He was referring to a press release published by the European Commission earlier this week, which inferred that the prices consumers pay for mobile services differ far too much throughout the EU.
"There are much smaller price differentials in other categories of basic goods and services in the European single market. For example a litre of milk can be bought for between €0.69 and €0.99 wherever they are in the EU, a price difference of 43 percent," it said.
Philips was intolerant to this comparison, striking back with some dairy comparisons: "Dairy producers are not rolling out 'next-generation' milk infrastructure that is central to European economic competitiveness," he stated.
He then continued to milk the issue: "Nor are they meeting consumer demands by offering people 'all you can drink' contracts."
Kroes wants EU consumers to have free choice over where they make calls, and suggests that the pastures in the US are much greener, with a single market policy for mobile network providers. After poring over the press release, Philips decided it curd not be a fair comparison, adding that that instead of moo-ving forward with even stricter regulation, the EC should consider "co-ordinating the release of spectrum made available through the digital dividend".
Also, after (semi-)skimming over the data the EC presented to make the point about price differences, we found that the information was also a couple of years past its sell-by date; only statistics from 2011 were available to make the point. We contacted the EC to see if any fresher data was ready for market, but there was none.
All we can say is that this issue has turned rather sour.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who thinks the EU is in a glass of its own
The UK’s average broadband speed is now almost 15Mbps. Yes you read that right. No doubt many readers will splutter on their coffee, tea or something stronger as they read that and run a quick speed test to see if they can hit double figures, let alone the 14.7Mbps download speed they should enjoy.
However, Ofcom’s data, from 736 million tests carried out in May seems fairly hefty, and enough to form a good impression of the UK market.
While such numbers garner the headlines, and demonstrate an impressive fourfold improvement since November 2011 when it was a paltry 3.6Mbps, another figure in the release also caught the eye for the wrong reasons: the average upload speed is 1.8Mbps. Yes, you also read that right.
The average upload speed is almost ten times lower than the average download speed, and while downloads are increasing notably each time Ofcom carries out its research, the average upload speed had increased by just 0.4Mbps since the last data was collected in November 2012.
This is highly disappointing, and a tad worrying, as many people are having to suffer upload speeds that render the use of many web services almost impossible. This matters, because putting content online is central to many people’s use of the web.
Think of batch uploading images to Facebook, videos to YouTube, documents to cloud services like Dropbox, and corporate services likes Yammer or Box, which are integral to many people’s working lives.
It’s all very well and good working from home if you can download key files and presentations in the blink of an eye, but once you’ve made amendments or want to upload your own contribution, sitting there watching it slowly crawl online is frustrating.
Focusing on download speeds is the right course of action, as that's where the greater need is for the wider benefits of the web. But in future, once coverage is available for all at high speed, urgent attention must be given to uploads if we're to be a nation that can engage with the web in both directions.
By V3’s Dan Worth, who loves a speedy upload