Short Takes: September 6, 2013

Short Takes: September 6, 2013

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news ...

So, Microsoft Picking Up Lumia Makes Sense. But Asha? And the Nokia "Dumb" Phones?

This week's blockbuster announcement about Microsoft purchasing Nokia's handset and services businesses makes sense on the surface, and most likely was forced by the ongoing financial difficulties at Microsoft's key (nee "only") Windows Phone partner. But where one could make a case for the firm picking up the Windows Phone-based Lumia devices (Surface Phone, anyone?), less of a case can be made for Asha, Nokia's entry-level feature/smartphone lineup that isn't based on Windows Phone. And no case at all can be made for Microsoft also picking up the Nokia-branded lineup of dumb phones, which are still a big deal (to the tune of ~50 million units per quarter) in emerging markets. But what's 50 million times a couple of pennies? And why would Microsoft, which has never made any money—ever—selling non-peripheral hardware devices, want to sell two device lineups for which it doesn't make the underlying software platform? There's vague talk about the firm moving its other products and services to these platforms, as if Office on a keypad-based phone made any sense at all. And there's talk about these devices being a stepping stone toward more full-featured smartphones. Which I'm sure they are. Android smartphones. I don't get it.

"Newkia" Is a Sad Joke

A number of tech news outlets are semi-understandably—if predictably—picking up the story this week of a supposed company called "Newkia" that was born in the wake of Nokia's hiring of Stephen Elop three years ago and the company's supposedly bad decision to focus on Windows Phone instead of Android. Started by ex-Nokian Anssi Vanjoki, who spent 19 years helping drive that company into the ground, this "Newkia" supposedly aims to create Android-based devices that are instilled with the old Nokia vibe and spirit. You know, the one that Vanjoki used to help drive that company into the ground and force it, on the brink of death, to find a new direction. Vanjoki is still madder than hell that he didn't get the CEO job at Nokia and the chance to finish the job, which I get. But anyone who gives this guy the time of day now is getting owned. Newkia isn't real, people, any more than is this guy's contention of the "shameful" direction Nokia took in his absence. Here's the truth: Nokia, like Apple in 1996, was hurtling directly into the abyss. And though it's clear now that no one could have really saved the company, Stephen Elop did the right thing. And Apple? That company experienced a miracle, plain and simple. Those things aren't very common.

Steam's Inconvenient Truth

Steam Cofounder Gabe Newell spent much of last year dumping on Windows 8, primarily because it was to have included a built-in apps store and gaming hub that might threaten his own online gaming service. No worries there: Windows 8 games are mostly a joke so far. But Windows 8 has certainly outperformed Newell's expectations, with more than 110 million active users now. More important, it has outperformed his expectations on his own service: Looking at Steam's own usage statistics, the 64-bit version of Windows 8 is now the second-most-often-used OS, with 14 percent usage share, compared with 2.15 percent for Mac and 0.10 for Linux. Heck, even the Windows 8.1 Preview is four times as popular on the service as Linux, which you'll recall was going to be Steam's savior in the face of the Windows 8 threat. Time to stop complaining and embrace reality, Gabe.

Xbox Team Continues to Confuse Its Biggest Fans

One of the biggest gripes about the Xbox One after its "reveal" event in May was that Microsoft didn't really talk about games at all, thereby angering its core customer set. Well, those folks are going to have a similar complaint about the first Xbox One TV commercial, which—wait for it—doesn't mention games at all. Instead, it focuses on the new console's entertainment capabilities, especially its TV capabilities. And although the ad is timed to the start of the NFL football season, which is fine, is there some reason a hyper-realistic football game couldn't have been touted in there somewhere? You know, a good reason? Or how about an ending tag line like, "... oh, and the best video games in the world!"? No? OK.

Apple Will Never Escape the China Labor Allegation Stuff ... Until It Builds Its Products in the USA

Sometimes bad news just sticks to you like the smell of death. And so it is with Apple and ongoing allegations of labor abuse in China. No, Apple is hardly the only electronics company that makes its products in Chinese sweat shops (heck, everyone is doing it is a core part of its defense), but there is something about this curiously successful American company and its "designed by Apple in California" slogan—more or less untruthful than Google's "don't be evil" baloney—that just rankles people. And so with yet another set of allegations emerging this week—this one involving Apple phones that aren't even being announced until next week—one has to wonder what it takes to get Apple to wake up. Of course, I cover Microsoft for a living, so I'm used to that kind of frustration.

Google: It's OK That We Mine Our Users' Email So We Can Sell Them Ads

Forced to defend its data-mining practices in court, Google this week said that a suit charging it with violating state and federal wiretap laws should be thrown out. The reason? It is OK for an "electronic communication service" to scan email messages "in the ordinary course of business." And since generating advertisements is its "ordinary course of business," what it is doing isn't just OK, it should be expected. Although this defense might sound akin to former US President Richard Nixon trying to explain that anything a president does is legal, the real problem is a bit deeper. Where Google claims to explain its data-collection policies, this complaint argues otherwise, that Google in fact "does not disclose the extent of its processing." And that is surely true, because I see precious little outrage over what this firm is doing and its inability to offer users an alternative. The complaint alleges, correctly, that Google "exploits" its users by secretly scanning their email "for its own benefit unrelated to the service of email." No word yet on which way the judge is leaning, but a court date next month will help determine when the trial starts. Let's just say I'd love to see Google slapped down for this deceptive practice.

But Wait, There's More

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and the Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows. And check out my free ebooks, Paul Thurrott’s Guide to Windows Phone 8 and Paul Thurrott’s Guide to Xbox Music. Next up: Windows 8.1 Book!

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