Reviews, Security, Technology

Who’s Winning the Latest Tech Industry Battles?

December has become consistent with the Chinese curse, “May You Be Born In Interesting Times.” We are up to our armpits in wars, and each is very different. Qualcomm and Intel are fighting for 5G control, and Intel is tearing itself apart. Microsoft passed Apple in valuation, largely because it has not been focusing on Apple.

Canadian authorities just arrested the daughter of the Huawei founder, at the request of the United States, cratering the stock market again, and setting up a chain of events that could ensure that President Trump might lose not only the next election, but everything.

I’ll share my thoughts about those things and close with my product of the week: the Always Connected Lenovo Yoga C630, the laptop that showcases our coming always-connected 5G future.

Qualcomm vs. Intel

One unpleasant aspect of my job is that I get really sick of watching companies repeat mistakes. I think I should publish a book of mistakes and number them, and then I could save myself a lot of words by just saying I’m going to talk about mistake No. 42, and then move on to something new and interesting.

I’m writing this from Hawaii, where Qualcomm held a brilliant December event, showcasing its 5G progress and launching its 855 5G platform, which easily overwhelms anything Intel is capable of in 2019 in mobile.

I can say this because we already know Intel is more than a year out with its competing solution and is showcasing benchmarks with its next solution, which is only marginally competitive with what Qualcomm is shipping today.

Even with this event, Qualcomm is out-executing Intel. By choosing Hawaii, the company attracted the folks it wants to influence, drawing them away from the other conferences going on this same week. At the end of the year, most of us are sick of travel, so another trip to New York or some other freeze-your-butt-off location doesn’t appeal to us.

Further, Hawaii is between Asia and the U.S., making it convenient for both markets. Also, because we can bring our families (at our own cost), this becomes a forced vacation, allowing our significant others to escape the cold. This makes them appreciate Qualcomm and turns us into heroes.

This is something Intel just doesn’t get, having killed IDF, its event designed to focus people on its products. At its event next week, a tiny subset of this group will show up already primed to be skeptical of anything the company showcases.

At the same time, Intel’s board has been unable to select a new CEO, being torn between hiring an ex-Qualcomm executive and someone who actually knows something about the market the company is in, rather than the one it continues to fail to penetrate. (To be fair, Qualcomm doesn’t get servers either, but it wisely backed away from that effort.)

I’m coming around to the idea that the “I” in Intel stands for “idiot.” Apple’s favor is the only reason Intel even has any presence in mobile, and we know Apple is both planning to move away from Intel’s core x86 platform and hiring its own modem people, with the clear intent of separating from Intel entirely. Yes, the “I” in Intel stands for “idiots.”

Microsoft vs. Apple

Microsoft passed Apple in valuation not by focusing on Apple, as it did so horribly with Zune, but by focusing on making customers happier. Yes, it did roll out the Surface hardware, but Surface isn’t hurting the iPad Pro as much as Apple’s inability to pick and support one platform.

Apple has signaled that it will kill off the Mac, but it seems unable to actually pull the trigger, which isn’t exactly helping sales of either platform. It has doubled down on the lock-in strategy, which it believes will keep users from escaping increasingly inferior offerings. However, rather than focusing on making its users happy, it has focused on cutting costs while raising prices.

That never ends well. A similar strategy almost killed IBM in the 1980s and Microsoft in the 1990s. (It did effectively kill both AT&T and RCA.)

Microsoft last week announced that rather than lock customers into Edge or work to destroy Google Chrome, it would embrace Chromium. This strategy will allow Microsoft to focus on things like better security, performance, and user experience, rather than carrying on a pointless standards war with Google.

In effect, Microsoft is beating Apple by ignoring Apple and instead focusing on making its users happier. I’m pretty sure that is Business 101, and I remain shocked that it seems to be more an exception than a rule in the tech segment. Apple’s latest “brilliant” move is to stop reporting unit sales, which conceals how badly it has been doing.

If you look at the annual performance of both firms, Microsoft has been kicking Apple’s butt, and that is because it really don’t care about Apple anymore. Microsoft has been focusing on doing the right thing for users.

There is a Zen aspect to this that I find elegant. I wish more companies would get that the path to winning doesn’t come from effectively enslaving your customers and then mining them, or cheating to win, but from building the best product and focusing on making your users love it.

At the beginning of this decade Apple was ahead in this, thanks largely to Steve Jobs. Now Microsoft is ahead, thanks to Satya Nadella. Nadella and Jobs are/were right. Winning over the customer is the goal — but you want to focus on making the best product from their perspective, not mining them for the most money. Ironically, if you do the former, you’ll likely get the latter — and rather than eventually hating you, they’ll love you for it.

US vs. China

The U.S. government is seeking extradition of Meng Wanzhou, daughter of the founder of Huawei and the firm’s CFO, arrested last week in Canada for violating U.S. sanctions. The Dow Jones, which was already nervous, dropped 400 points (it had dropped a whopping 800 points the day before). I’m pretty sure a lot of Republican supporters started thinking maybe it was time to support Democrats — or, at least, politicians who actually understand math.

Now putting this in context, China isn’t exactly known for promoting women’s rights. However, the U.S. has entered a pro-woman #metoo era. Arresting someone’s daughter, regardless of age, isn’t going to play well, particularly given President Trump’s reputation. To say the optics are bad with this would be a colossal understatement.

The timing — coming right during a major Chinese renegotiation to eliminate tariffs — couldn’t be worse. I’m sure some wondered if the administration had pumped the stock market illegally to print wealth for the wealthy in-the-know. Were I in the SEC, I’d immediately look at the large trades of those close to the president — and nobody likes that kind of attention.

Now China’s obvious response would be to arrest Hillary Clinton. Yes, lock her up — but there would be method behind that madness.

Were China to arrest one of Trump’s kids, it could lead to war. Arresting one of the top U.S. CEOs would make China look petty. However, arresting Hillary Clinton would make Trump look weak (because mister “lock her up” didn’t). China could use Trump’s false statements as the basis for its action. Once released, Hillary would be a hero while appearing anti-China — although she actually would be indebted to the Chinese for making her a viable presidential candidate again.

If the State Department argued for her release, it would have to argue that Trump either was dishonest or unhinged. If it didn’t, her being incarcerated (likely in a luxury hotel) would serve to provide a “Remember the Alamo” type of slogan for both women and Democrats, ensuring not only the fall of Trump, but also the purge of many Republicans.

This has to be one of the most colossally stupid things I’ve seen a government do, and I doubt it will end well. One final comment: The CFO in a company is responsible for compliance, but arresting that official in a case of violating sanctions (when the decisions likely were made by sales or operations management) is like arresting a police officer who is under-resourced for not stopping a crime. In this case, the action is particularly inflammatory for targeting one of the few women in the job.

This administration has to get that attacking women isn’t a viable course of action right now, particularly given the optics that surround the president, and failing to understand that most certainly will ensure that a re-election effort will fail — and for very good reason.

Wrapping Up: Stupid Wars

I’ve come to the conclusion that even though the rank and file at Intel have been executing, the company’s board has too many idiots. The person who should be chairman, and who is the most qualified, is Tzu-Jae King Liu. She should take over and reconstitute the board, involving people who understand Intel’s business.

If Intel really wants to support women, then putting the most qualified person in charge — who also happens to be a woman — would be a critical first step. The company’s war with Qualcomm, particularly given that Apple clearly plans to stab Intel in the back, is just incredibly stupid — or “I” for idiotic.

Speaking of Apple, Microsoft has showcased an almost Zen-like strategy of ignoring Apple and focusing on the user as a way to compete. The Zen is “to win don’t focus on your opponent, focus on the goal” (I think I may be channeling Bruce Lee in that statement).

Microsoft’s moves to embrace open source further with Chromium (it also likes Linux now) and focus on doing what users/customers want is its best path to success, and the one we want the company on. Impressive work.

Finally, if you are being accused of being a massive misogynist, then taking steps to arrest the daughter of a Chinese government-connected CEO (particularly when your own daughter is active in government and business) is incredibly stupid. It opens the door to an orthogonal response from China. I suggested one that I would choose, which would ensure Trump’s re-election loss.

Meng Wanzhou’s arrest is certain to personally piss off the country that may soon be the most powerful in the world. Were positions reversed — if Steve Jobs’ daughter were arrested China, for example — the Chinese certainly wouldn’t enjoy the U.S. response.

This move will hurt efforts to resolve the tariff issues. It already cratered the stock market, and it sets up the potential for a devastating response on an issue (say, Iran sanctions) that doesn’t have broad support in or out of the U.S.

In short, there are a lot of lessons here, but the core theme is that unnecessary conflict should be avoided. Microsoft is actually the best example of how to compete and thrive by focusing on doing the right thing. Doing what the customer wants, regardless of ego, generally ensures a better outcome than focusing on anything else.

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

Things are happening fast, because it was only a few months ago that I got my first Always Connected PCs to test. I looked at both the Asus and Lenovo units. I preferred the Asus, because it was more like a laptop and less like a Microsoft Surface clone.

I travel a lot, and the tablet-forward Surface design with the kickstand tends to fall off airplane tables in both coach and business class with annoying regularity, so I prefer the more laptop like 2-in-1 designs where the keyboard folds over.

I don’t use these as tablets (typically too large and heavy), so I prefer a design optimized for my laptop-forward use. My issue with the Asus was that it looked and felt cheap to me, and I think the laptop I carry reflects on my taste.

Lenovo must have heard me, because this new Lenovo Yoga C630 is not only a laptop-forward 2-in-1 design, which I favor, and it looks like an expensive laptop.

This is a fan free design, so it is dead quiet, and the biggest and best feature is battery life. I forgot to plug it into the charger last night, and unlike most laptops — which would be on vapors after such a mistake — this still showed nine hours of battery life, suggesting that I likely could have gone three days, given that I only had about five hours a day to work with it.


Lenovo Yoga C630 Laptop/Tablet

Yoga C630

Performance is adequate. This is no gaming box by any stretch of the imagination, but Office, Edge and Chrome work well. I noted that the Chrome browser seemed to be particularly power hungry, though, suggesting it wasn’t yet tuned for this unique ARM/Windows platform.

Speakers are decent for a laptop with good range. Like most laptops, they’re lacking in the low range, but because they flank the keyboard, you get decent separation if you are working on the laptop.

At around US$850, it isn’t cheap (probably less than you paid for that recent iPhone though). At around two and a half pounds, this thing actually feels lighter than it is.

It’s big strength, thanks to the Qualcomm 850 processor, is its connectivity. I found that at an event, when the WiFi got saturated, I generally could connect to the Verizon network and get adequate bandwidth (that solution did vary in effectiveness, because a ton of people apparently were on that network as well). For most, assuming folks didn’t saturate the cell tower, you’d see more impressive bandwidth.

I’ve also noticed that when landing in a plane, when GoGo inflight stops working, the 4G modem is a godsend, allowing me to finish the email or paper I’m writing while the pilot tries to find the gate.

It displays movies well, but the annoying fact that you can stream but not download Amazon Prime content, even content you’ve purchased, keeps this from becoming my go-to tablet replacement for movies on planes.

I’d understood that Amazon’s requirements were met, but Amazon apparently is in no rush to fix this annoying problem (bandwidth on planes simply isn’t good enough to stream anything). Fortunately, Netflix downloads work fine, and you can buy movies on the Microsoft store (but I have a ton of bought movies on Amazon, making this incredibly annoying).

I really like the Lenovo C630, it is a challenger for my favorite PC of the year and for those that want massive battery life, low carry weight, and are focused mostly on productivity apps and browsing the web, this could be the laptop for you. As a result, the Lenovo C630 is my product of the week

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