A Week’s A Long Time #11

Microsoft sign outside building 99

A relatively quiet week in tech, but nonetheless one with a few interesting stories pointing  at the direction that the industry, and the world, is going in.

Google’s New Reader

Not that long ago Google announced its plans to close (or sunset, to use the horrible Valley term for shutting things down) its RSS product, Reader, causing much gnashing of teeth in the tech-blog bubble. One of the reasons given was declining usage but now, in a sign of how the world has changed since the halcyon web 2.0 days of Reader’s creation, Google has bought a different kind of reader.

Wavii, which Google has bought for something in the region of $30 million, is one of a new breed of services, which aims to aggregate and concentrate the content that people are consuming.  It follows hot on the heels of Yahoo’s purchase of British start-up Summly, which really highlighted the interest that Silicon Valley is taking in such products.

Whilst these moves show that tech and media companies are now trying to adapt to a world where 140 characters is often the limit of people’s attention spans, they also highlight the increasingly short attention spans of the companies doing the buying: Wavii was shut down on the day of its acquisition whilst this week also saw Google shutting down Meebo, a company it bought less than a year ago.

Whose Results Are They Anyway?

Google has often pitched itself as the anti-Microsoft, right down to its unofficial motto of “do no evil”; former Google CEO, and current Chairman Eric Schmidt said in 2009 that the company hoped that:

we won’t repeat the mistakes that Microsoft made, you know, ten years ago that ultimately led to all these things that happened with them

Which is ironic, seeing as how Google is now being taken to task by the EU, largely because of complaints led by Microsoft. They allege that Google unfairly favours its own products in its search results and have chased the US & EU to act to stop Google’s (alleged) anti-competitive behaviour.

The US threw the case out when the FTC found that the law protects competition and not competitors. The EU, which is often tougher on this sort of thing (and also never suffers politically from taking a pop at large US corporations), has not followed the same course. And whilst Google has now offered to label its own products when they appear in its search results, its competitors have said that this doesn’t go far enough, meaning the case won’t end here.

What this will mean in terms of a final result is hard to say (the nuclear option is for the EU to impose fines of up to 10% of Google’s global revenues), but what is certain is that Google is likely to face this sort of government oversight a lot more frequently going forward.

Rotten Apple?

In another case of a company which once prided itself on being exactly the opposite of Microsoft now being compared to them, Apple is suffering the same fate. Having briefly become the most valuable company in the world, its stock has now been in free-fall for quite some time. This week saw the company’s profits drop for the first time in a decade and now the wolves are really coming out.

The company’s move to keep investors happy by releasing a huge chunk of its cash hoard as dividends has caused some to wonder whether Apple is experiencing what Microsoft experienced back at the start of the millennium – a change in the shape and momentum of its business. What is for certain is that Samsung is now soundly beating Apple in almost all areas of the smarpthone business, though its latest phone is still far from perfect.

It’s more than possible that Apple will still turn things around with another industry changing device but even if it doesn’t, Samsung still has a long way to go till it can lay claim to a service product as strong as iTunes (10 years old this week). Amazon on the other hand

Microsoft image by Robert Scoble on flickr

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