A weekly round-up of the big news in digital media and technology
Following last weeks big news about Motorola's sale, mobile is again dominating the news as the PC market is in decline, HP make some major changes in direction, and Vodafone start selling Android apps. Meanwhile for website owners, Twitter looks likely to catch the attention of traffic analysers, and the Facebook "Like" button could be getting some site owners into trouble…
Decline of the PC?
Sales of PCs in Q2 this year appear to be in decline. The latest figures on the PC market from Gartner report a 19% decline in Western Europe (compared to the same period last year.)
The main driver seems to be falling interest in the consumer segment, with a 27% decrease in sales (the professional segment dropped by 9%.)
The biggest drop in the market is in the "mobile PC" segment, which saw a 20.4% drop across Europe, and "mini-notebooks" which fell by 53% — presumably hardest hit by the growth of the tablet market. Desktop sales were also down 15.4%
A weak performance by Acer (hit hard by the "mini-notebook" decline) meant that HP became the biggest PC vendor across Western Europe. In the UK, where total PC sales were down 15%, HP also rose to the number one spot, where Acer were also overtaken by Dell, dropping from the top seller (by volume) to third place.
Isabelle Durand (principal analyst at Gartner) commented that;
PCs are not attracting consumers' disposable income, particularly in light of alternative devices. While remaining an important device to consumers, there are few compelling technological reasons to drive PC replacements.
In other words, consumers looking to replace PCs are increasingly looking for something other than a PC for a replacement, while the technological improvements are not offering as strong of a driver to prompt users to upgrade to new models. (A five year old PC can still perform reasonably well for general web surfing, emailling, word processing etc— which is often all that many people really want to do.)
So, HP moved into number 1 positions in both the UK and Western Europe. They are now selling more PCs in the European market than anyone else.
(I just wanted to reiterate that point before you got to the next story.)
HP kills webOS, looks to sell PC division
After announcing their latest financial results (a 2% increase in quarterly turnover), HP dropped a couple of bombshells.
Firstly, that they will be dropping development of the webOS mobile operating system (developed by Palm, who were bought by HP in April last year), and operations for webOS devices. This effectively marks the end of Palm's brands; although HP said they will look to "optimise the value" of webOS, it seems unlikely that a third owner would be able to successfully maintain a competitive position against competition against Microsoft and Google's mobile OS software, as well as Apple and BlackBerry's integrated (software and hardware) mobile products.
The impact on the UK's media landscape will probably be subtle- market share of webOS devices has been minimal in comparison with other smartphone platforms (the latest Pre3 phone was snubbed by UK mobile operators), but the rapid move of TouchPads to the bargain bucket (with sub-£100 clearout prices) could create an interesting blip in the tablet landscape, depending on how many devices are still in the sales channels. (With no software support or upgrades likely and a relatively tiny apps market, their future seems limited as anything other than a web browser.)
But the real shocker was the news that HP is also "exploring strategic alternatives" for its Personal Systems Group (PSG). From the Wall Street Journal's coverage of the earnings call;
"The tablet effect is real, and sales of the TouchPad are not meeting our expectations," Apotheker says, explaining the movement of consumers from PCs to tablets as one of the problems with the PC division. So H-P is exploring options for its unit that "may include separation through spinoff or other transactions."
As John Gruber at DaringFireball.net points out, this is a part of a broader strategic repositioning of HP, away from selling consumer devices and towards a focus on being an enterprise software and consulting company. A massive £7 billion ($10.3bn) investment in Autonomy Corp. is a clear indication of the direction HP is moving towards.
As I mentioned here shortly after HP bought Palm, they seemed to be more interested in Palm's patent portfolio and the potential for using the touch-based operating system in devices like web-connected printers. Clearly, their appetite for developing the software (and hardware) against more dedicated competition was limited. Without devices to sell, how Palm go about "optimising the value" of their patents should be interesting to watch.
But from the perspective of the media industry, its certainly unusual to see a business abandoning a future market in tablets, smartphones and PCs— but holding onto its printers…
One of Apple's strengths in the Apps Store has been a tight integration with iTunes — after developing a simple way to buy music with small payments of less than a pound for a single, they already had the infrastructure in place to sell iPhone and iPad applications quickly, and at low cost.
It looks like Vodafone users will soon be able to have a similarly straightforward experience, as Vodafone have announced "Operator Billing" for the Android Market. Users will be able to make payments on the Android-equivalent of Apple's App Store without having to enter credit card details for payment, billing directly to their phone bills or prepay accounts. Launching in the UK and Germany, the service is expected to follow in other countries — of particular interest will be markets where large numbers of users are either unwilling or unable to use credit cards.
If Android usage mirrors that seen in the US, this will be of particular interest to publishers, as recent figures from Nielsen indicate that twice as much time is being spent with Android applications than on the mobile web, with the top 10 applications accounting for 43% of all time spent with applications; a huge share for a relatively small number, leaving strong competition among the rest of the 250,000+ Android apps available.
Last week, Twitter turned on "link wrappers". What this means is that any links posted on Twitter will be wrapped in a shortened "t.co" link — although users will be able to see the full link, they will go via the shortened link.
Twitter's (stated) reason for this is that Twitter will be able to more accurately track traffic levels to different links, and to block links that are scams, spam or malware. But from a website owners perspective, this means that web analytics will now categorise all traffic from the Twitter.com website and Twitter client applications as coming from Twitter. (Previously, traffic from client applications could have been categorised as direct traffic, or from the specific application.)
While this isn't going to do anything to change consumer behaviour (ie. the number of people visiting a website from Twitter), it is going to make Twitter more visible as a source of online traffic. In turn, this will probably lead to increased attention being paid to Twitter from marketers, looking for ways to maximise value from the network. Advice from TheNextWeb.com;
If you haven’t already, I suggest you check which domain has sent you the most traffic since Wednesday – compare Twitter’s T.co vs. Facebook.com vs. StumbleUpon for example – I think many of you will now find Twitter ranks number ONE.
At the moment, unlike URL shorteners such as bit.ly, Twitter aren't offering any specific analytics for t.co links. However, they are expected to be offering access to data in the future — although whether this will be freely available or part of a paid analytics product for professional Twitter accounts is yet to be seen.
Apparently putting a Facebook "like" button onto your website may be illegal — if you are in the german state of Schleswig-Holstein.
The issue revolves around the allegation that the "Like" button sends back tracking data about website visits back to Facebook — whether or not the user is signed into Facebook, or even a member. Thilo Weichert, speaking from the data protection centre of the german state, demanded that websites in Schleswig-Holstein remove the "Like" button from their pages, facing a fine of up to €50,000 if they fail to comply.
Facebook have said that their social plug-ins are in compliance with European data protection laws, saying that although they can pass on data about users (such as IP addresses), they are deleted after 90 days, as per "industry standard." So far, no other states (either within Germany or elsewhere in the EU) appear to have echoed these claims.