Short Takes: July 25, 2014

Short Takes: July 25, 2014

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news, including an expansion of Microsoft's retail plans, Yammer moves around as co-founder leaves, tablet slowdown doesn't explain iPad sales freefall, Google grilled by EU regulators over "right to be forgotten," e-book judge is troubled over Apple settlement proposal, and Amazon sells everything but profits.

Microsoft will open 13 new retail stores in the US and Canada this year

If you were wondering whether all the layoffs and changes at Microsoft would lead to a retreat from the retail store business, relax. Not only is that not happening, but the software giant intends to open 13 new retail stores in the US and Canada by the end of 2014. (That's 11 in the US and 2 in Canada.) To the everlasting disappointment of New York City residents, however, still nothing for the Big Apple. Which is ridiculous.

Yammer moves under Office 365 as Yammer co-founder leaves Microsoft

It's hard to keep track of this kind of thing, but when Microsoft acquires companies and their employees, it's not always clear where they all end up. Skype, for example, still operates as if it were separate from Microsoft, which is a fine who-do-you-do for a $8.5 billion purchase. And Yammer, well. Yammer was different too. That $1.2 billion purchase saw Microsoft initially treat it as a sort of separate entity too, though the one-time-standalone enterprise social networking company most obviously should have been moved into the SharePoint organization. But just as the departure of Skype's Tony Bates signaled some deep-seated changes in that org (Skype is now commingled with Lync and thus Microsoft's Office business), the departure this week of Yammer co-founder David Sacks is signaling similar changes to that org. That is, Yammer is being moved under Office 365. What's interesting to me, though, is that Yammer—like Skype, of course—is also being integrated broadly across the Microsoft stack, and the most forward-leaning new products that are coming out of Office/Office 365 in the coming months—Office Graph and Delve, most obviously—are all based on Yammer technologies. And you thought social networking was about sharing cat photos.

Just to be clear, tablet growth overall is slowing, but iPad sales are falling

In the face of a second consecutive quarter in which iPad sales fell year-over-year, Apple CEO Time Cook claimed that he was quite pleased by those results, and the firm tried to place the shortfalls in the context of the wider tablet market, which will this year see growth slow to 12 percent, down dramatically from last year's 52 percent growth. But what Apple and its most ardent fans don't get or are trying to hide is that slower growth is still growth: That is, tablet sales this year will be higher than they were last year, by 12 percent. But iPad sales are going down. That is, iPad sales in the past two quarters at least—we'll see what the rest of the year brings—were down from those same two quarters in 2013, so they're not slowing, they're falling. And even when iPad sales weren't falling, Apple was ceding market share to its largely Android-based competitors. Last year, for example, iPad fell below the crucial 50 percent market share mark, meaning that for over a year now, most of the tablets sold to consumers were Android tablets, not iPads. And this year, Apple's share of the market continues to fall, and it's at less than 27 percent. And falling. Yes, the iPad is still the best-selling tablet overall. But as is the case in PCs and smart phones, too, Apple doesn't compete against one other company with one other product. It's competing against a horde of companies that couldn't care less about destroying the price model and gaining share at all costs. Maybe it's time for an i-Watch or something.

Google, other search providers grilled by European Union regulators

Google, Microsoft and Yahoo—OK, mostly Google—were grilled by regulators from across the EU on Thursday about how they plan to implement the recent "right to be forgotten" law. The humorous bit? They also provided each company with a list of 26 additional questions that they want answered by next week, so it looks like someone will be doing some summer homework. Google, which was the subject of the lawsuit that led to "right to be forgotten" and has already implemented an ad hoc solution for EU residents, also provided an update on how that's going. It said that 50 percent of search result removal requests have been granted so far, with 30 percent rejected and 15 percent resulting in a request for more information. (Don't do the math. No, it doesn't add up to 100.) Apparently, the regulators will use the answers provided by the search companies to form a set of guidelines that it will publish in September, and these guidelines will essentially formalize what search firms must do going forward to adhere to the law there.

Judge is "troubled" over Apple e-book settlement payout ... the good kind of troubled

Don't worry, folks, Apple is still guilty as hell. The firm instigated and nurtured an illegal conspiracy with five of the world's largest book publishers aimed at harming the market leading and artificially raising the price of e-books for consumers. And don't worry, U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote still thinks Apple needs to pay up via a proposed $450 million settlement that will pay back those consumers for their e-book overpayments. No, what she's troubled with is a provision in the settlement that could see Apple pay "only" $70 million in settlement fees if an appeals court reversed her finding that the company is liable for antitrust violations because of a technicality and sent it back to her for further proceedings. That would harm consumers further, she says, by undervaluing their claims. In other words, Judge Cote gets it. Go get 'em, judge. You have the right stuff.

Amazon has it all. Well, except for the profits

For years, Amazon has been given a pass on its tiny profits because the company was on a rapid growth trajectory and was delivering ever-greater revenues. But after an abysmal quarter after which Amazon says will be another even worse quarter, investors have had enough, and they're calling on the online retailer to reign it in. Honestly, I just think Amazon is doing too much. Like Google, it just releases stuff and then sees what sticks. And that's not strategy, it's a game. A game called whack-a-mole.

But Wait, There's More

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