Latest industry insights

Skype's 10th birthday

Skype’s reached double figures, hurray! By that I mean Skype has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Many happy returns to the birthday kid!

Since its founding way back in 2003, Skype has become a household name, one synonymous with free online phone calls, connecting families and friends across the globe.

Apparently, according to Skype worldwide daily usage equates to a total of 2,000,000,000 minutes per day. That’s equivalent to watching 16 million average length movies back to back!

Key highlights of the last decade, apart from its $8.5 billion acquisition by Microsoft back in 2011, include a Skype-enabled marriage, as well as a father witnessing the birth of his child over the web whilst on active military service! That takes care of the hatch and match and best left there me thinks.

So let’s raise a glass (or whatever you might have to hand!) in wishing Skype all the best for the future.

Talking of the future, what can we expect from Skype in the months and years to come?

Whilst crystal-balling gazing isn’t a particularly strong trait of mine, you can expect some 3D action to be hitting your device screens in the not so distant future.

Mark Gillett, Skype’s VP, recently revealed that the company has been conducting a not insignificant amount of in-lab testing and research into the capability of 3D screens and 3D capture in the past few months.

It goes without saying that the technology housed within the devices themselves still has some way to go, not least in terms of the multi-camera angle and calibration capabilities which would be required to deliver a quality 3D user experience.

Skype clearly is looking to take the bull by the horns with this one and I for one will be hoping to hang on for the ride, as this concept becomes reality in years to come!

Microsoft’s Ballmer steps aside as CEO

Now, for some news emanating elsewhere in Microsoft land, the retirement of Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer.

Whilst the news may come as a slight surprise to some, calls from investors for a new captain at the helm stretch some way back into the past.

Pressure for a replacement has since intensified. Indeed, Ballmer’s very presence has been increasingly cited by investors as acting as a dampening effecting company valuation levels.

Protagonists for the removal of Ballmer point towards the under-performance of Windows 8 and falling PC sales, whilst Microsoft’s presence in the fast-growing smartphone and tablet market remains extremely small.

Meanwhile, Windows’ personal user licence sales and corporate licence renewals continue to act as significant cash-cows for the business.

One of the key decisions for Ballmer’s successor will have to make, and sooner rather than later many would argue, is whether to chase new customers and seek to grow Microsoft’s consumer base. Or, should Microsoft seek to pursue a targeted market penetration strategy and one which focuses on Corporates as its primary future profit engine.

But before all that, the decision the Microsoft Board will have to make is whether they will opt for an internal candidate or seek to cast the net externally to acquire an outsider’s perspective.

Given Microsoft is currently in the midst of a significant overhaul of its internal organisation, the case could be made for both or maybe an interim appointment whilst the re-organisation concludes and beds in.

This same re-organisation will ultimately see 97,000 staff from five product-oriented divisions transition to what’s commonly referred to as a "vertical" model, under which marketing and design teams work across a range of products and services.

Ironically this is the same organisational model used by Apple, the company whose original iPhone concept was downplayed by Ballmer way back in 2007. He’s quoted as saying at the time “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

Now, how does that old saying go about words coming back to haunt?

Google halts employee side projects

News also reached me recently that has put to bed Google’s much vaunted employee side project allowances. As a quick reminder, Google had previously allowed employees to use up to 20% of their work time, or roughly one day a week, to help research and realise a new service or project initiative.

Out of this such services as Gmail, Google News, AdSense and Google Tools were born. Apple, Linkedin and 3M are all thought to have adopted something similar internally, but they have made this less explicit in their external recruitment activity than Google.

For example, back in 2004, Google’s co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, underlined the significance of this management philosophy to prospective IPO investors, “We encourage our employees, in addition to their regular projects to spend 20% of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google”.

Whilst it’s not 100% clear if the policy is being removed outright, apparently, it’s all about the internal productivity ratings as managers are keen to protect their internal efficiency ratings.

Larry Pages’ recent quote that Google would adopt a “more wood behind fewer arrows” approach also strongly points towards a desire to focus on a narrow range of project initiatives than in the past.

Only time will tell what impact this has on Google’s innovation culture, so watch this space carefully (Google glasses optional!).

Tablet sales down but far from out

News from CNET recently is that IDC the tech market researcher has downdialled its current and future tablet sale projections.

Whilst a 1 percentage point correction forecast may not sound like a big deal, the high unit base (220-230 million units) makes for a relatively large unit reduction.

Lack of new product launches (think iPad5 expectations for Q3), the pressure will clearly be on for tablet manufacturers to bring in a strong Q4 sales performance. Quarters 2 and 3 have traditionally been a sales hotspot for tablet manufacturers, with the advent of the holiday season previously acting as a strong sales trigger.

Other contributing factors also point to more long term trends. For example, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that device convergence, e.g. the rise of the 5 inch plus screen ‘phablets’ is also having an impact here.

But don’t weep too hard for tablet makers. Shipments are still up, as forecast figures point towards a 50% increase year on year.

The IDC is also forecasting a rise in shipments to over 400 million by 2017, a rise of nearly 100% on the current year’s forecast figures so the future’s bright, all be it slightly dimmed by some trimmed future sales projections!

Amazon investigated by OFT

Amazon’s Marketplace sellers will shortly be given complete freedom over price setting decisions.

This follows an investigation on the part of the OFT (Office Fair Trading), which found Amazon’s previous “price parity” policy to be anti-competitive.

Under the terms of the policy Marketplace sellers have up until now been prohibited from selling products for less than the website rate.

As a hardened Amazon consumer, I’ve never even realised this restriction was in place, but fully support the decision, not least by virtue of the fact this now opens the way to greater price competition, something which can only mean better news for us end consumers.

The policy change will however only apply to European Union member states, at least for now that is.

Vodafone commercially mobile and ringing the changes

As reported in last month’s blog, Vodafone has now entered the 4G fray in the UK. This ends an effective 9 month exclusivity period enjoyed by EE, the company formed following the merger of Orange UK and T-Mobile UK operator formed back in July 2010.

Meanwhile, Vodafone is also on the verge of sealing one of its largest ever corporate transactions on the other side of the pond as it seeks to exit the US market for good.

This follows confirmation by Vodafone that it is currently in talks with its US partner Verizon Communications over the sale of its 45% stake in Verizon Wireless, currently the US’ largest mobile phone network operator. The deal is rumoured to be worth around $80-90 billion with Vodafone seeking to use proceeds from the sale to fund future acquisitions or make cash returns to shareholders.

The confirmation comes only a month after Vodafone announced that it had secured a £9.1bn deal with Kabel Deutschland to strengthen its presence in the key German market.