At CES 2013, Verizon Communications showed off a variety of updates for its FiOS TV service, as well as a demonstration of the forthcoming Redbox Instant service from the Verizon-Coinstar joint venture. Read this article on Telecompetitor…
Here is the second of two articles about IBC 2012. At IBC this year, I was on the lookout at the intersection of TV software – which has always been my focus – and multi-screen delivery. Two product categories enable multi-screen services: service delivery platforms and video gateways. Some suppliers have entries in both. This article looks at offerings from Viaccess-Orca, Cisco (with NDS), Nagra, and Motorola.
Update, October 28, 2011: According to reliable sources contacted after this blog entry was posted, only Intel’s Digital Home Group (the Marketing team) was dissolved and reassigned. The Atom chips themselves are alive and well. In fact, the next-generation 51xx dual-core series are in the hands of outside developers, and the first new products based on them are coming in the CES 2012 time-frame.
(Original Post: October 13, 2011) It’s interesting and unfortunate that Intel seems to have (suddenly) exited the Atom STB processor business – The CE4100 ‘Sodaville’ and CE4200 ‘Groveland’ chips. You’da thought it was a healthy business, given the effort and expense Intel put into promoting it just last month at IBC. A sizable booth, and about a half-dozen commercial implementations on display – and if it’s true, this move likely left these implementations in an awkward position.
It’s strange timing, just as the platform was beginning to get some market traction. The Boxee Box uses it. Logitech and Sony built GoogleTV devices around it. Amino built its Freedom product line around it, including a custom–built an Atom-based box for Telecom Italia. Not to mention Comcast and DirecTV and their upcoming Atom-based set-tops. But these chips were much more expensive than other STB chips and never got to real volume as a result.
From the initial news reports, it has not been clear if Intel has stopped taking orders for the chips altogether, or has only ended proactive marketing for them. Intel’s apparent exit follows in the tracks of (a couple weeks ago) Intel pulling out of MeeGo, which is the environment that Intel had been pitching to STB co’s for these chips. Now MeeGo has been merged with Limo, to expand its scope and shift it toward HTML5 (not a bad thing, but disruptive for developers).
Just goes to prove my old theory. In the end, so many companies always revert to “safe” businesses when the chips are down (and that’s literally, in the case of the Atom line). For Intel, it’s always been about the chips – the money they put into vertical markets such as TV are tactical marketing programs, not strategic.
Then there’s Cisco, which buys S-A and later sells its Mexican STB factory to Foxconn. Nobody’s quite sure what the story with Cisco’s Videoscape is, but its lead executive resigned. Cisco always goes back to its core networking businesses.
Google and Google TV? The Google TV platform was also implemented on ARM-architecture chips, so that platform itself is not in jeopardy with Intel’s exit. But (without going into the tangent about what Google might have planned for the platform after the Motorola Mobility acquisition), Motorola’s IPTV set-tops are Broadcom and Sigma (MIPS architecture) based. So (correct me if I’m wrong), wouldn’t GoogleTV have to be ported to MIPS in order to run on these Motorola boxes, if it hasn’t been ported already? That could make it a long wait.
Last week’s announcement that Google would acquire Motorola Mobility caused a fair amount of tea leaf reading by observers in industry segments ranging from mobile to tablets to TV (both the traditional variety of TV and the interactive Internet-enabled variety). Myself included. A lot of people reflected on Google’s pending (if it goes through) acquisition as a way that Google will arm itself with a bounty of patents that might deter potential Google adversaries.
I think that this event occurs at an inflection point for two device categories: tablets and mobile smartphones. Smartphones first. Briefly speaking, I agree with others that say the MMI acquisition will drive some mobile device companies away from Android unless there is some contractual assurance by Google that MMI won’t get any kind of competitive advantage over other Android licensees. But where would those device companies go? Right to Microsoft. Verdict: a win for Microsoft, and indirectly, a win for Nokia.
But the tablet story could have been more interesting. Unlike the smartphone, whose market dynamics are a three-player game between Google, Apple and Microsoft in a mature category, the tablet category could have had four or five players for some time (“tablet wars” could have echoed the “browser wars” of the 1990s-2000s). At first glance, the MMI-Google alignment seemed to compress the number of tablet operating systems down to two: Google (Android) and Apple (iPad/iOS). But I don’t think that game is yet quite over.
According to Strategy Analytics, Android had 30.1% share of the tablet category as of Q2 of 2011, up nearly 30% from a year eariler. Apple had 61.3%, down 33%. The fact that Android is on the rise bodes well for MMI’s Android-based Xoom tablet, which has been available from Verizon and others since early this year. Because Motorola is an incumbent supplier to pay TV service providers as well as to wireless carriers, the Xoom is well positioned in front of two kinds of consumers.
Granted, Hewlett-Packard’s sudden discontinuation of the H-P TouchPad – and the rest of its WebOS business, formerly Palm, which was acquired by H-P just 16 months ago – also helped consolidate the tablet category. Not only did H-P discontinue the device, it discontinued the whole operating system. RIP Palm, really this time. The TouchPad was launched amidst an expensive advertising campaign and promises that it would be everywhere in our lives – only about 50 days ago. It went into fire sale mode a few weeks later with a permanent $100 discount. A 64GB version was launched in Europe just last week! Clearly, the decision to kill that business was made some time ago – and the launch was done just to clear inventory. H-P seemed to be “all in” – H-P even launched a store – until H-P was suddenly “all out” (except for the inventory). Only Carly Fiorina could love such a debacle. Sad.
RIM’s PlayBook tablet debuted to mixed reviews. This device anticipated that HTML5 would win over Flash for video delivery (and had a little help from Apple). As a nod to its corporate enterprise accounts, it’s tied to the Blackberry ecosystem – but it’s at a time when iPads are gaining acceptance in the enterprise. RIM’s QNX operating system was ranked #4 in tablet OS market share by Strategy Analytics in Q2 of 2011, that share was only 3.3 percent. The tablet OS called “Other” made up just 0.7 percent, but H-P was not even part of that, since the TouchPad launched in July.
In summary then, Apple and Google are the clear category leaders, while another potential player (H-P) exited the category abruptly. Perhaps RIM will stay in the tablet category for awhile, having its greatest appeal in Blackberry enterprise accounts, but its overall share will remain very small – maybe small enough for RIM to fold its hand. If so, that would leave two, right?
Not so fast. First, Apple is defending its leadership position not only through innovation but also through litigation. Samsung was barred from selling its Android-based Galaxy Tab model in Europe and Australia, although it won at least a temporary reprieve soon afterward. And according to some analysis posted by Daring Fireball, the number of Android-based tablets actually in use is much lower than its market share estimates. In other words, they are selling in to the reseller channel; they’re just not selling through to consumers.
Then, there’s Microsoft. According to Strategy Analytics, Microsoft holds the number three spot in the tablet category, at 4.6%. For Microsoft, tablets have always been seen as another distribution channel for the Windows franchise. Microsoft has already demostrated Windows 8 on tablets.
In fact, Microsoft may actually (finally) fill a gap that needs to be filled in the tablet category. One of the frustrations of the iPad is that it does not have the full Mac experience. Unless an iPad user accesses a Mac via a virtual machine, he or she does not have access to most of the tools that are fundamental to the Mac, such as Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc. So, the iPad is not a Mac substitute. Google does have virtualization to Google Docs, so in that respect, Google offers a better solution than Apple does, for Mac users. But for Google Docs, you need to be online. Therefore, neither Apple nor Google provide a satisfying solution. (Yes, I know – the iPad is a ‘lean-back’ device, and was not envisioned as a computer replacement. It makes a fine TV sceen via the Slingbox or via ‘TV Everywhere.’ Bla bla bla – call me old-school.).
Because Microsoft offers a full Windows experience on computers that are built in a tablet form-factor, there is less compromise. Funny, because Microsoft has been trying to succeed in the tablet category for upwards of 20 years, and finally it seems to have a formula.
(Apple, are you listening? How about a MacBook Air that’s built in a tablet form factor, with keyboard attachable via USB, Thunderbolt or Bluetooth? I – and I’d bet many others – would buy one, since Windows ‘insists’ on being more and more difficult to use with every subsequent release.)
This morning, we were greeted with the announcement that Google – a company that built its business on top of the Internet, search and advertising – would be buying Motorola Mobility (MMI), the mobile smartphone, TV set-top box and home networking portion of Motorola that became a stand-alone company at the beginning of 2011.
There is little doubt as to the strategic and product-level advantages that this combination would give to both parties, should the acquisition be approved by shareholders and regulators. Strategically, it’s about intellectual property, as stated in Google’s afore-linked press release – with the un-said subtext that it will probably give pause to potential adversaries before becoming embroiled in the kinds of law suits that have gone back and forth between Apple and HTC, Apple and Samsung, and others.
Product-wise, in addition to the obvious synergies between Google (Android) and Motorola in the mobile smartphone (Droid) and tablet (Xoom) device categories, Motorola benefits by having an opportunity to make Google’s industry benchmark search technology native within all of its products. Search has been a long time focus of Motorola, on the TV infrastructure side. We’ll see over time whether or not this drives non-Motorola Android-based smartphone makers into the clutches of Microsoft Windows Phone.
Google potentially benefits in that MMI has the industry presence to help move Google’s Google TV technology from something of a pariah status within the TV industry into the industry mainstream. This would give Google TV a better opportunity to receive a broader test in the marketplace, through Tier-1 pay TV operators that buy from Motorola. With Motorola’s imprimatur, TV service providers might be more apt to test and adopt it (content owners willing). Conversely, if Google TV were to receive more of an industry blessing as a result, Motorola’s value proposition could be strengthened.
There are some “devil in the details” things that hopefully will be ironed out. For example, a Google-owned Motorola Mobility will have two IP television security solutions for conditional access and encryption: Google’s Widevine and Motorola’s SecureMedia. Will one of them “win”? My belief is that they could be complementary, and not an either-or situation, because Widevine shifted its focus to connected consumer electronics devices (e.g. smart TVs and other video-capable devices) a few years ago. Of course SecureMedia is going in the ‘multi-screen’ direction too, so we’ll see.
Another interesting area will be how the two companies leverage one anothers’ advertising technologies. MMI has an investment into Black Arrow, an advanced advertising specialist; and has an entire product line (Medios) devoted to the merchandizing of content on any screen.
It’s the cultural fit that’s less certain. Can the acquir-or handle the business that the acquir-ee brings? Will the acquir-ee bring some grown-up discipline to the acquir-or? In a way, I liken today’s Google to the Cisco of years past. Google’s acquisition binge of recent years resembles Cisco’s of 10-15 years ago. By its own admission, Cisco lost some of its focus in the process.
In retrospect, Cisco has been, and will remain, a network infrastructure provider (just as, at the end of the day, Intel will always be a chip company). Strategically, Cisco’s acquisition of one of Motorola’s biggest TV industry competitors – video infrastructure and set-top box supplier Scientific-Atlanta – a few years back made sense for Cisco, since video helps Cisco justify its network offerings. But culturally, Cisco has never truly become a “video” company, even with the company’s launch of Videoscape, which purports to unify large subcontinents of Cisco under a video solutions banner.
I ask myself: why did Cisco (S-A) lose its momentum in its video business, which has resulted in Cisco selling off a set-top factory, not to mention big layoffs, and not to mention Cisco’s abrupt shut-down of the once-hugely-popular Flip video business. Will the same thing happen to Motorola Mobility in a few years?
Or we can go off on another tangent and ask whether – by having bought its way into being Nokia’s primary smartphone OS supplier – Microsoft will have brought both Windows Phone and Nokia back from the brink – just as Android breathed new life into MMI’s mobile phones a couple of years back. Or, we can ask whether Apple feels in the slightest way threatened by any of this. Sequentially, too early to tell, and they’d never admit it if it did. But Google’s effect on Motorola Mobility, and vice versa, is not tangent to the conversation at all.