Microsoft may pay $2.6 billion to Samsung, Huawei, Sony, others to make Windows Phones (Update: MSFT response)
Jan15

Microsoft may pay $2.6 billion to Samsung, Huawei, Sony, others to make Windows Phones (Update: MSFT response)

Update: Microsoft’s communications lead Frank X. Shaw responded to the numbers provided in this post. Scroll down to the bottom to check it out. When Microsoft persuaded Nokia to go Windows Phone, one of key reasons for the  switch was the $1 billion a year in “platform support” payments Ballmer offered to Finns. While the partnership had a very rocky start, by the end of 2013 we could call it a moderate success. At least for Microsoft. Even if from very low base, Windows Phone is growing nicely. Android and iOS still rule mobile, but if the viable third ecosystem ever emerges, most experts agree that it will be Microsoft who will own it. There’s only one problem. Nokia now ships 70 to 90% of all Windows Phones worldwide. And when Microsoft finally acquires Nokia’s mobile division, it will be them making 9 out of ten Windows Phones. While Ballmer&Co may have some hardware ambitions to show off the best Windows can offer and push OEM partners to innovate more, becoming the sole maker of mobile Windows devices is not what they want. So now they are doubling down on “platform support” payments and will start offering a pile of money to smartphone OEMs to make Windows Phones. According to Mobile Review’s Eldar Murtazin, who was the first to tell us about Microsoft’s plans to merge Windows Phone and Windows RT and a major redesign of Metro UI,  Samsung is on board and will get $1.2 billion from Redmond this year. There’s also Huawei, in line for $600 million and Sony with $500 million for their WP8 handsets.  Another $300 million are earmarked to others. That’s $2.6 of hard cash doled out to smartphone vendors to push WP8. Conspicuously absent from the list of major WP8 smartphone OEMs is HTC. But with their current troubles and declining smartphone volumes, they are probably lumped among others. Panasonic’s upcoming rugged Windows Phone might be part of this program too. Will platform support payments work? There’s no way to tell right now. It sort of worked with Nokia and helped to get Windows Phone off the ground. Windows Phone is also getting better and is gaining some consumer traction, especially in the low-end. The key question is what will smartphone vendors do with Microsoft’s money and how committed they will be to their Windows Phone success. The key reason Lumias are doing ok today, is that after it abandoned its own platforms, Nokia didn’t have anywhere else to go. It had to put it al out there to make Windows Phone work. That level of commitment is obviously not in the cards with other OEMs....

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Microsoft Surface Mini may have Kinect like somatosensory tech, Intel Bay Trail CPU and 8” 1080p display
Dec17

Microsoft Surface Mini may have Kinect like somatosensory tech, Intel Bay Trail CPU and 8” 1080p display

The smaller Microsoft Surface Mini tablet has been rumored for months. First we expected it to show up together with the second generation Surfaces.  Then learned that Mini has been pushed to spring 2014, because Microsoft had to pull tablet team members to finish the new XBox for Holiday Season launch. And now we may know why Microsoft had to transfer people from Surface Mini to do the XBox stuff. According to WP Dang, a Chinese website with a pretty good track record of Microsoft leaks, Surface Mini is getting Kinect like somatosensory technology. When released, the Mini will be able to recognize people’s faces, human hand movements, and should work much smoother than “Air Gestures” currently available on Samsung flagships like Galaxy S4 and Note 3. WP Dang also says that Surface Mini will come with 8” 1080p display and Intel Bay Trail CPU, so it should run full Windows 8.1. Though ARM based Win RT Mini version might be in the works too, similar to what Microsoft did with bigger Surfaces this fall. I am not sure whether Kinect like stuff is actually needed on a tablet. But you’ll never know before you try it. And Microsoft really needs to do something to set its slates apart from iPads and Androids. Who knows, maybe the face recognition and well working touchless controls will do the trick. Source:...

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Microsoft: smart watches/glasses 3-5 years away from mainstream. Google preps Glass 2&smartwatch launch
Oct29

Microsoft: smart watches/glasses 3-5 years away from mainstream. Google preps Glass 2&smartwatch launch

Microsoft has been notorious for missing some major computing trends over the last decade, then spending years and billions of dollars trying to catch up. Usually without much success. And, if wearable computing in the form of smart watches and glasses takes off in a year or two, they may do it again. Because at least some of Microsoft execs are pretty skeptical about the hype surrounding Google Glass and various smart watch efforts. According to Focus Taiwan, Microsoft corporate VP and chairman of the company’s Asia-Pacific research group, Zhang Ya-qin, had this to say about wearables during Global Views Business Forum in Taipei: “I think wearable devices require more time, maybe three to five years in development, before they can become mainstream. We expect to see a lot of try-outs of the devices in the coming years, in forms that include watches and eyeglasses” Maybe it is a misdirection, because Microsoft most definitely has a lot of wearable stuff cooking in its R&D labs: Or maybe Zhang Ya-qin is right, and technology for a mainstream consumer wearables is just not there yet. But Google has been testing a real Glass device with real people in real life for more than half a year now, collecting a lot of valuable usage data, and has a version 2 almost ready to ship. While WSJ reports that Google smart watch will enter mass production within a few months. Apple  also is all in on wearables and will, most likely, have a consumer ready iWatch out before the end of 2014. Sitting still on the commercialization of wearable computing devices, playing with the concepts and prototypes in R&D labs, waiting for the right technology to come around, while major competitors around you are busy launching real devices, sounds like a recipe for another disaster for Microsoft. Microsoft had almost monopoly in browsers, a lot of other Internet properties and yet it ignored the importance of search and search advertising until it was way too late to catch up with Google. After the decade of devlopment and tens of billions invested, Microsoft Bing is still a distant second in the field. They’ve been in smartphones since the beginning of this age. And yet, when the new true mobile computing paradigm came along, Steve Ballmer laughed at iPhone right until the moment he had to kill Windows Mobile and start fresh with Windows Phone. 3 years later and billions down the drain, the results of Microsoft mobile efforts are pathetic. Even if wearable computing is just a hype today and is not ready for prime time, can Microsoft risk to be wrong on this? I hope the new CEO in...

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Original Microsoft Surface Pro has its price cut a further $100, down to $699
Oct24

Original Microsoft Surface Pro has its price cut a further $100, down to $699

Back in August, Microsoft decided to slash $100 off of the price of the first-generation Surface Pro tablet. That made this device’s pricing barely more palatable, but today there’s some even better news if for some reason you may be interested in grabbing one. As the Surface Pro 2 has been available for a couple of days now, Microsoft probably needs to clear out its remaining stock of the older version of the tablet. And what better way to do that than with another, further price cut? Exactly. So, if you’re in the US or Canada, you can head on over to your local online Microsoft Store and purchase a 64 GB Surface pro for just $699, and the 128 GB model for $799. Those prices are both $200 lower than what the tablet was initially going for, so some may call this a great deal. However, the new Surface Pro 2 is better than its predecessor in almost all respects, so while it is more expensive it’s probably worth it – that is, if you’re already in the market for a tablet powered by ‘proper’ Windows and not the RT version of the operating system. Otherwise, if you just want a tablet, any tablet – iPads and Android-powered Nexus devices await (for a lot less...

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Windows Phone 8 GDR3 officially presented, updates coming in the next few weeks
Oct14

Windows Phone 8 GDR3 officially presented, updates coming in the next few weeks

Microsoft has taken the wraps off of Windows Phone 8 Update 3 – also known as WP8 GDR3. As you may have heard already, the new version of the OS comes with two major improvements: support for Full HD (1920 x 1080) displays, and support for quad-core processors (including Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 800). Of course, this means that now Nokia can announce its Lumia 1520 phablet – and it will almost certainly do it next week, on October 22. The 1520 will be the first WP8 device to come with the GDR3 update out of the box. Large displays, including the 6 inch 1080p one of the upcoming Lumia 1520, will enable “Start screens with room for six Live Tiles across instead of four.” Windows Phone 8 GDR3 also brings Drive Mode – a new feature that’s “designed to limit notifications on the lock screen—including texts, calls, and quick status alerts—until you’re safely parked.” New accessibility features, plus improved internet sharing, and “hundreds of under-the-hood performance tweaks and enhancements” are included as well. Current Windows Phone 8 handsets will start receiving GDR3 updates in the coming weeks. The roll-out “will continue over several months.” Nokia’s Lumia smartphones will probably be the first to get the new version of the OS. We’ll keep you posted. Via Windows Phone...

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Microsoft asked Samsung and Huawei for Windows on Android devices too. Dual-boot Galaxy Tab in the works
Oct07

Microsoft asked Samsung and Huawei for Windows on Android devices too. Dual-boot Galaxy Tab in the works

When I first heard that Microsoft was talking to HTC about loading Windows Phone on Android devices, it sounded crazy and desperate. But it is actually happening. Microsoft is really that desperate to do something, anything to create at least an illusion growth of Windows on mobile devices. Furthermore, HTC is not the only vendor Microsoft went to with the offer. They are asking Samsung and Huawei the same thing too. And are offering Windows Phone OS for smartphones and Windows RT for tablets, for free plus compensation for necessary adaptation costs. Samsung already has a dual-boot Galaxy Tab 2014 Edition with Android and Windows RT on board. It’s one of Sammy’s large tablets (probably 12″+), about the size of  A4 paper sheet. It is very thin, with very good metal imitation plastic chassis and “crazy good” retina class display. The tablet is very fast and, according to people who played with it, the whole dual-boot concept works rather well.   This info comes from Mobile Review’s Eldar Murtazin, who was the first to break the news that Microsoft is going to merge Windows Phone and Windows RT in Windows 9, and the first one to tell us about NVIDIA reference design tablets early this year. He also now reiterated that there will be app compatibility break in Win 9, and also major changes in overall User Experience. Which means Metro UI is getting a major overhaul too. Source: Mobile-Review, Digestive (mp3 in...

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Microsoft wants HTC to make Windows Phone the second OS of its Android handsets. What?
Oct04

Microsoft wants HTC to make Windows Phone the second OS of its Android handsets. What?

Terry Myerson, Microsoft’s Executive Vice President of Operating Systems, has reportedly been in talks with HTC, trying to convince the Taiwanese company to “load Windows Phone as a second option on handsets with Google’s rival software.” This sounds almost unbelievable, but the info comes from Bloomberg, which quotes people familiar with the matter, so it has to be true. Apparently, Microsoft is willing to license Windows Phone to HTC (for its Android phones) at “little or no cost.” These are preliminary talks, and nothing has been settled – or confirmed, for that matter. Terry Myerson may plan a visit to Taiwan this month, to meet with HTC execs for further talks. It’s unclear how Microsoft and HTC would make Windows Phone a second option for already existing Android handsets (like the One, or One Mini). They could make them dual-boot devices. They could also just develop WP-exclusive versions of them. But I guess some hardware modifications are required in both cases. (HTC One with Windows Phone 8 – our mock-up) Of course, HTC is already selling Windows Phone 8 handsets – the 8X, 8S, and 8XT (released this year as a Sprint exclusive). But these have been WP devices from the beginning. And they didn’t help HTC much...

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Stephen Elop’s $25M conspiracies debunked. How, why and when Nokia CEO received his equity grants. Pt2
Oct02

Stephen Elop’s $25M conspiracies debunked. How, why and when Nokia CEO received his equity grants. Pt2

The fierceness of the accusations directed towards Nokia board over Stephen Elop’s $25 million golden parachute last week, was nothing short of a witch-hunt. According to the accusers- at best, independent Nokia directors were dumb incompetents for signing a contract with Elop in 2010, that created a set incentives for him to run Nokia’s mobile business into the ground and sell it cheaply to Microsoft. At worst- they colluded with American hedge funds and Microsoft on a secret, hostile and illegal Nokia takeover. The problem is, when you look at the publicly available facts, how when and why Elop was compensated the way he was, those accusations turn out to be an absolute nonsense. Here’s the detailed breakdown of facts that helped me arrive at conclusions I made in part 1 of this post. All the numbers are from Nokia annual reports you can find here, and from Proxy materials for shareholder meeting, found here. _______________________________________________ There are 3 types of equity that Nokia board awards its CEO and other execs. Stock options – a right to buy Nokia shares at a certain price, usually a market price on around the day of the grant. This is the least controversial equity grant, since if you underperform and company stock goes down, your options become worthless. There’s no point of having a right to buy stock for a certain price, when that stock trades freely in the market, below it. Restricted shares. These are part of executive compensation package, and are awarded to company’s top officers instead of cash, as part of their salary. They are mostly meant to keep important company employees financially motivated to work for Nokia. The shares are granted, but usually not delivered to the exec for 3 years after the award, and are forfeited if he or she leaves the company, or is fired in the meantime. But if the exec stays put for those 3 years, no matter how company performed or where the stock price is, restricted shares will still be worth something. Looking at how restricted shares were awarded, it seems that the amount of the compensation Elop received in them, was part of his contract. This amount was approximately 1.2 million Euros a year, and the number of actual shares he received depended on Nokia price when they were awarded. Performance shares. Like the name implies – these shares are awarded to company employees and execs, based on a company performance. There are some strict criteria/goals, based on combination of Nokia annual sales numbers or growth, and earnings per share. Limited amount of shares is awarded for the performance over the certain number of years....

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Enough with the witch-hunt already. There was no incompetence or conspiracy in Nokia board’s $25M Elop deal
Sep26

Enough with the witch-hunt already. There was no incompetence or conspiracy in Nokia board’s $25M Elop deal

Last week Nokia filed their proxy materials for the Shareholder Meeting to approve the sale of its mobile division to Microsoft. Buried in the documentation were a few paragraphs regarding the compensation Nokia CEO Stephen Elop will receive when the sale goes through. A whopping $25 million! Or 18.8 million Euro ($25.3M), to be exact. Internet erupted in righteous indignation. What, after he destroyed Nokia, this $%^%&% Trojan horse Elop gets a quarter of a hundred million dollars?! What a travesty! Over the weekend things got worse. Enterprising Finnish journalists dug up a mention of  “change of control “  clause in Elop’s contract. It said that if Nokia, or significant part of Nokia gets sold, all of the options and restricted/conditional shares that Stephen Elop has been granted during his tenure as CEO vest early, and will be bought from him for a price of 4.2 Euro per. Which was the biggest part – $19.6 million – of his $25M windfall. And all the hell broke loose. “Elop was a trojan horse” conspiracy theorists suddenly felt vindicated: “You see – even before hiring Elop, they’ve already wrote the  contract so that his main goal will be to destroy Nokia, and sell it cheaply to Microsoft! It explains everything!!!” Even respectable Forbes joined in: “This effectively means that the board hired a man who was given a giant carrot to drive down Nokia’s overall valuation and phone volumes while preparing a sale to Microsoft. What could possibly be a reason to structure Elop’s original contract in this manner? Did the board in fact end up promising Elop more compensation in case he sells the phone division than if he runs it with modest success?” And Tomi Ahonen concocted a 9000 word fairy tail about how Big Bad Elop swindled the clueless Board and killed Nokia. The problem is –it is all nonsense. Yes, the $25 million compensation for Stephen Elop, for what is an ultimately failed tenure as CEO, looks and is excessive. But in these days of hugely compensated rock-star CEOs, is that news? Did you hear about Thorsten Heins payday after Blackberry gets sold? Do you know how much Hewlett-Packard CEO Leo Apotheker took home after only 11 months of running HP PC and Palm divisions into the ground? Yes, Nokia board made a lot of mistakes over the years.  Before and after Feb. 11th. Most grievous of which was to bet the company 100% on Windows Phone. But to accuse them of gross incompetence, or even ill intent/conspiracy to destroy Nokia over Elop’s contract incentives? A simple look at the publicly available Nokia annual reports and proxy...

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Microsoft Surface Mini delayed until next year
Sep26

Microsoft Surface Mini delayed until next year

Microsoft announced its second generation Surface tablets a few days ago, yet both of those devices are basically just 10-inch successors to the first wave which became official last year. Throughout the past few months though we’ve heard several times that Microsoft is also working on a smaller Surface tablet – let’s call it the Surface Mini. This, the rumors went, would have a 7-inch or 7.5″ touchscreen, and because of its size would compete in the fastest growing segment of tablet sales. So what happened? Were the rumors all false? Are the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2 really all we should expect for the next year? According to a new report, the Surface Mini is still coming, but it will only arrive on the market in spring 2014. The Surface Mini will sport an ARM processor and as such will run Windows 8.1 RT. However, it looks like it will launch with a “Spring 2014 GDR” update to the OS. What this may contain is a mystery for now, but you shouldn’t expect big things so soon after 8.1 ships (the RT version will first be seen on the Surface 2 that’s due out late next month). This Surface Mini event could be timed to coincide with the release of Windows Phone 8.1, though for what possible reason is unclear (since RT and Phone are still quite different from each other, not to mention from Windows ‘proper’). Now if you’re wondering why the Surface Mini isn’t already announced, apparently that has to do with Microsoft pulling people away from that project in order to help with the development of the Xbox One, its next gaming console. This all comes from supposedly reputable sources, but as always take everything with a grain of salt. You should also realize that even if all of these things are true and planned at the moment, things may change at any point, further delays could happen, and so on (especially with Microsoft undergoing a CEO transition, then the possible integration of Nokia). So yes, the Surface Mini may become a reality, yet that won’t happen in 2013. Regardless of these new mumblings, that seems pretty much to be the case anyway, since otherwise it would have been made official alongside the other two new Surface devices. Sure, a smaller Surface should be cheaper and thus drive at least some sales, but the question of who exactly Windows RT is for remains (and who would be willing to use it and for what possible purpose). There are many good (and cheap) 7-inch Android tablets out there right now, and they all get...

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