Friday, May 28, 2010

Apple to Microsoft: "Eat My Dust!"

microsoft.jpgYesterday Apple passed Microsoft to become, for the first time, the 'world's most valuable technology company,' according to the New York Times. Apple gained a stock-based valuation of $222.12 billion while Microsoft's was $219.18 billion.

Does this make Steve Jobs the Bill Gates of technology?

Although Microsoft is still a powerful and important company, it has been skating on its Windows operating system and Office productivity suite for a long time. In an op-ed, a former Microsoft vice president called it 'a clumsy, uncompetitive innovator' with a monolithic culture, characterized more by politics than technology.

Apple, on the other hand, has made its way back in the last decade from the brink of a final fall to become a much-celebrated innovator, focusing on user experience and design. The resurgence began with the introduction of 1998's candy-colored iMacthat was followed in turn by the iPod, the iPhone and most recently the iPad.IMac_Bondi_Blue.jpg

Carl Howe, an analyst at the Yankee Group, pointed out early this month that the iPad looks to be 'the fastest consumer product growth to the $1 billion revenue mark in history,' taking under 80 days.

It didn't hurt that, as Gartner pointed out, worldwide mobile phone sales for Q1 this year have been tremendous, favoring Apple.

'Worldwide mobile phone sales to end users totaled 314.7 million units in the first quarter of 2010, a 17 per cent increase from the same period in 2009... Smarpthone sales to end users reached 54.3 million units, an increase of 48.7 per cent from the first quarter of 2009. Among the most successful vendors were those that controlled an integrated set of operating system (OS), hardware and services.'

It's been a long time since Microsoft created that type of market-influencing drama.

As of Wednesday, Wall Street valued Apple at $222.12 billion and Microsoft at $219.18 billion. The only American company valued higher is Exxon Mobil, with a market capitalization of $278.64 billion.

At $58.4 billion, Microsoft's revenue still exceeds Apple's, $42.9 billion, according to the Times.

'But Microsoft is sitting on far more cash, $35.7 billion to Apple's $23 billion, which makes the value assigned by the market to Apple -- essentially a bet on its future prospects -- all the more remarkable.'

Now, who's that coming up from behind, trying to pass Apple on the outside? Oh, probably nobody.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Android 2.2: FroYo Is a Major Update

Google announced today Android 2.2, a major update for Google's mobile operating system. There are many changes and a lot of new features that are really useful.

Android now uses a just-in-time compiler that improves the performance for some applications, especially for games. 'The new Dalvik JIT compiler in Android 2.2 delivers between a 2-5X performance improvement in CPU-bound code vs. Android 2.1 according to various benchmarks,' says Xavier Ducrohet.

Android's browser includes the V8 JavaScript engine created for Google Chrome, so web pages that use JavaScript heavily will load much faster (some benchmarks show a 2-3X improvement). Google claims that Android's browser is the fastest mobile browser available today.

Developers have a new API for app data backup, which is really useful if you want to switch to a new Android device or you want to install a custom version of Android. There's also an extremely useful messaging API for sending data to an Android phone from another device. For example, you'll be able to send a link from your computer to your Android phone and the phone will automatically open the browser and navigate to the web address. You can also send files and install applications from your computer over the air.

Android Market will have a web interface, applications can auto-update and you can quickly install all the updates, instead of manually installing each update. Another change is that applications can be moved to the SD card. Google also announced that it has acquired SimplifyMedia, a company that developed some cool applications for streaming your music.

Android 2.2 has built-in support for tethering and it can transform a phone into a portable hotspot. Android Market includes some great applications for tethering, but it's nice to see that's now a built-in feature.

Flash 10.1 is now available as a beta application in the Android Market, but it requires Android 2.2. The first phone that will be updated to FroYo is Nexus One and Motorola Droid is expected to be updated next month. HTC says that 'if your phone was launched this year, we will most likely offer an upgrade for it to the Froyo version. This includes popular models like the Desire and Droid Incredible as well as hotly anticipated phones like the Evo 4G, MyTouch slide and upcoming models. (...) We expect to release all updates in the second half of this year but can't be more specific yet.'

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The New Hotmail Challenges Gmail

Hotmail, Microsoft's webmail service, has improved a lot in the past two years. Hotmail is now a modern web application that no longer traps users's data and focuses on important things like speed, usability, fighting spam and integrating with other communication services.

The latest Hotmail update, that will be released as part of Windows Live Wave 4, tries to show that Microsoft finally managed to develop a better email service than Gmail and, in many ways, succeeds.

Hotmail improved its spam detection algorithms and it's now able to tweak some parameters based on your actions. Hotmail can now flag messages as spam even after you've received them.

Another interesting improvement is that Hotmail categorizes messages, so you can quickly find the messages from your contacts, messages from mailing lists or notifications from social networks.

Hotmail no longer has limitations for email storage and the main reason is that large attachments can be stored in Windows Live SkyDrive. 'With Hotmail, we've combined the simplicity of sending photos through email with the power of Windows Live SkyDrive so that you can send up to 200 photos, each up to 50 MB in size, all in a single email. You can send all your vacation photos at once without worrying about attachment limits,' explains Microsoft. This is an important feature that's missing from Gmail and it's surprising that you can't upload photos to Picasa Web Albums or upload documents to Google Docs directly from Gmail.

Microsoft also integrated Hotmail with Office Web Apps, so that documents can be previewed and edited online, without having to install an office suite. Now that attachments are stored in a single place, the total attachment limit for a message is 10 GB, while Gmail offers about 7 GB of storage for all your messages.

Hotmail added many of the features that used to be available only in Gmail: conversation view, full session SSL, watching YouTube videos inline, but Microsoft managed to make some improvements. The active view feature doesn't work only for YouTube, it's enabled for many other sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), so you can accept invitations or reply to a Twitter message directly from Hotmail. There's also a feature that lets you create a single-use password for signing in on public computers.

Google has a lot to do to catch up with the new Hotmail, but that's a good thing. Competition is what makes products better.