Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Trading Tough for the UK Big Boxes

Posted by Andrew at 9:14 AM on November 9, 2011

Best Buy LogoFrom recent news in the UK, the tough economic conditions appear to be hitting the technology and electrical particularly hard with Best Buy and Comet in the front line.

After losing nearly £50 million in the last six months, Best Buy is going to close all 11 stores in the UK after just 18 months in   operation. Best Buy Europe was a joint venture between Best Buy, Inc and Carphone Warehouse, with Best Buy purchasing half of Carphone Warehouse’s retail division for over $1 billion. Over 200 stores were originally planned but now 1,000 jobs are at risk.

Roger Taylor, CEO of Carphone Warehouse said, “The eleven Best Buy UK ‘Big Box’ stores have performed exceptionally at the level of customer satisfaction, but they do not have the national reach to achieve scale and brand economies. Due to the lack of visibility of an acceptable rate of return on historical and future potential investment we have decided against rolling out more ‘Big Box’ stores and we will be closing our existing stores, subject to consultation with our employees. Our immediate focus is our people and we are confident that the large majority will be offered alternative positions elsewhere in our UK business.

Today, Comet has been sold for just £2 to a holding company “Hailey” after revenue in Comet fell 22% over the summer. A further £50 million will be invested by Comet’s parent company in the holding company. 17 stores are already earmarked for closure with a further nine to be reduced in size.

In guarded comments, Bob Darke, Comet managing director said, “We are encouraged by today’s announcement and – with shareholder approval – absolutely committed to a smooth handover. For our customers and our people, it is business as usual and we are 100 per cent focused on delivering a successful Christmas trading period and great business performance into 2012 and beyond.

DSG Retail with its Dixons, Currys and PC World brands is the main player in the UK market but even it saw a fall of 7% earlier in the year. The next set of results isn’t due for a few months and it will be interesting to see what they show.

Overall, it’s not looking good for the big boxes in the UK.

The Master Switch

Posted by tomwiles at 11:01 PM on May 7, 2011

Once in a while, a book comes along that contains ground-breaking insights.  Such is the case with a book I’ve listened to over the past couple of days, the Audible audio book version of ‘The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” by author Tim Wu.

“The Master Switch” is a compelling look into the history of major information industries such as the telegraph, the telephone, commercial broadcast radio, the commercial movie business, and commercial broadcast television. The book points out an identifiable, slowly-repeating cycle obviated by the fact that these industries were able to gain and hold monopoly status. Each in turn became quite adept at retarding disruptive technological innovations that threatened their respective business models.

Today we take an open Internet for granted, but these same and other forces are looking to take over control of the Internet and turn it into a closed, much more tightly-controlled system.

The book is extremely well written and well researched. The Audible audio book narrator Marc Vietor brings the book to life in a wonderful way.

Mr. Wu does a fantastic job of laying out the often-fascinating histories of companies such as Western Union, AT&T, NBC, etc. As consumers, we think we know these companies through their consumer advertising. The real history of these companies is often quite different and very eye opening.

If you enjoy stories about technology and business, you will almost certainly enjoy “The Master Switch” by Tim Wu.

Location, Location, Location

Posted by tomwiles at 1:06 AM on July 22, 2010

A few days ago I posted an article here entitled “Waxing Nostalgic” in which I reminisced about the original three Podcast & New Media Expos held at Ontario, California and how special they were.

Upon further examination, it’s suddenly become obvious to me what set these three conferences apart and what made them such a success from a social standpoint.

The thing that made the three Ontario podcast conferences unique was the fact that perfect strangers felt very comfortable striking up spontaneous conversations with each other. As a result of this comfort level, something rather remarkable happened. People talked a lot (these were podcasters, remember) and in many instances formed lasting friendships.

When the podcast conference was moved to Las Vegas, an entirely different mindset took over. In Las Vegas, strangers simply don’t feel comfortable approaching each other and striking up spontaneous conversations, even if they see that the other person is wearing a conference badge. The open, spontaneous conversation mindset generated at the Ontario Convention Center was perceived as perfectly normal in Ontario. However, being open and starting spontaneous conversations in Las Vegas would be perceived as weird and so therefore isn’t done.

This is a simple principle, yet it can have a profound effect on whether or not a given conference will be perceived as successful. I could see how conference planners could get caught up with other ideas surrounding where to hold a conference, but forget that the mindset generated in particular places is going to potentially produce very different behavior from the same people, which may or may not be detrimental. If the wrong behavior is produced by an incompatible mindset, it can spell disaster.

I believe the mindset generated by location also extends to and in part explains the old business axiom, “location, location, location” as being important to the success of a business.

Generate the right mindset in part with geography and surroundings to get people in a buying mood for particular types of products and services, and your business has a chance at being successful. Ignore this all-important mindset generation aspect of specific locations at your business’ peril.

Cost of PC = Cost of Accessories

Posted by Andrew at 3:11 AM on July 9, 2010

That’s a bit harder to answer.

Well, if you’re Jane or Joe Average, you’ll have probably spent pretty much the same again on stuff to enhance your PC, from anti-virus software to graphics card upgrades.  IDC have been looking at the “beyond-the-box” purchases and for every dollar spent on the PC, you spent $1.05 on extra bits’n’bobs in 2009.

This is up from only $0.87 per dollar in 2008, partly due to the fall in price of PCs but overall the market is worth $28.6 billion, which is pretty healthy, regardless.

IDC also said, “PC users have moved en masse toward a Web-centric environment, and cloud-based activities are on the rise. In contrast, productivity-based activities have become a secondary focus among consumers.”  I’m not 100% sure what this means but I think it’s saying that PC use is moving away from writing letters and balancing bank accounts and into entertainment from YouTube, Facebook and Spotify.  No surprises there then.

The Research Director, David Daoud, went on to say, “With the trend of a multi-PC per user environment, the accessories market will play a growing role in insuring seamless integration of all the devices in businesses and households. The need for solutions to enhance user experience, improve productivity, and secure users’ computing environment mean that the accessories market will continue to expand going forward.”

Translating…as people increasingly have more than one computer, e.g. a PC and a netbook, they’re having to spend more money making everything work together.  Absolutely true.  They’ll need a Wi-fi access point for the netbook, a NAS to share files, a printer with a print server and external HDDs for backup (yeah, right).

So, the next time you are budgeting for a PC, think of a number and double it.

Is Content Demand Being Met?

Posted by tomwiles at 8:38 AM on June 24, 2010

Is Content Demand Being Met?New technology always disrupts. This has always been true, whether it was the invention of the wheel, the automobile, or modern electronics. With each new disruption, interactive business and social commerce is disturbed. Established business and social models are suddenly rendered partially or fully dysfunctional. For every new disruptive technology that comes along, an old business model is broken and new opportunities are created.

It has often been noted that people and organizations both don’t like change. There are some basic reasons at play that make this true.

In the workplace our brains go through an initial learning curve and automates much of the work we do so that we don’t have to continually think about it in detail. Introduction of a new disruptive program or process forces people to relearn what they already knew how to do in a different way, and thus they often become frustrated with it until they absorb and automate the changes.

Organizational change can be far more difficult, and often proves to be impossible. There’s this thing called “corporate culture” that is both a blessing and a curse for organizations. When a new employee comes to work into an existing organization, they quickly “learn the ropes” of what is expected of them. Existing employees often establish their own little kingdoms complete with pecking orders. These pecking orders are often enforced via subtle intimidation through systems of rewards and punishments. The person at the top, whoever is running the business, typically establishes corporate culture, whether they are aware of it or not. They tend to surround themselves with like-minded people they can dominate. In this sort of “look to the top” power environment it often becomes impossible for businesses to fully respond to changing market conditions, and the business dies. That’s why corporations have life cycles.

In today’s world, new disruptive technologies are coming along almost on a moment-by-moment basis.

Fast-forward to modern computers, wireless broadband and smart phone devices. Consumers of media demand the ability to consume the media of their choice wherever and whenever they want on the device of their choice. A tremendous amount of this demand has yet to be met. Old school content creators are reluctant to release their grip on breaking and broken appointment-based content delivery models. The reality is some of them will probably perish as they cling to those dead and dying delivery models. New ones will inevitably come in to fill the real-world demand.

Where Did You Shop This Christmas?

Posted by Andrew at 9:59 AM on January 5, 2010

In GNC #539, Todd related the problems that brick’n’mortar stores were having competing against the online retailers and I agree entirely with Todd’s sentiments. While I’m happy to use Amazon et al for specialised purchases or gifts to faraway relatives, I now regularly buy from local stores to try and keep them in business.

And do you know what?  Although it started out as a point of principle, I’m actually discovering that I can sometimes get things cheaper or else I get some freebies thrown in.

To illustrate, while shopping this Christmas, I would price goods on Amazon and then go into town to see what I could get in the real world.

1) In a local toy shop, K’Nex was being sold 2-for-1 at a price only 10% more expensive than Amazon.  Gift just went twice as far.

2) In a sports shop, a “brand name” golfing jumper was being sold with a free box of six golf balls, again at a price very similar to online golfing retailers.  The recipient is always in the water with his shots anyway….

3) The main bookstore was offering best-sellers on three for the price of two, basically a third off, pretty much matching Amazon.  Great for stocking fillers.

So I encourage you to get off your backside and at least see if your local stores can come close to matching the online retailers.  Sure, if they’re wildly uncompetitive, walk away, but at least try to keep some of your money in local circulation.  Local businesses support other local business and we need them to keep our communities thriving.

British Broadband Tax

Posted by Andrew at 10:19 AM on December 11, 2009

In his pre-Budget report, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer has confirmed that there will be a 6 GBP tax on all households with fixed-line phones in order to setup a fund that will be used to ensure that even the uneconomical parts of the UK will get fast fibre connections.

Note for readers - the incumbent UK Government is Labour, who come from a socialist or left-wing background.  The Opposition is the Conservatives (aka Tories), who come from capitalist or right-wing background.  For a good few years, it was hard to tell which policies came from which party but now the economy is down, they’re reverting to type.

While the aims of the Chancellor may be laudable, I think he’s completely wrong to setup a broadband fund.  All it will do is line the telecommunication companies’ pockets and it’s not as if they’re short of a penny.  In each of 2007 and 2008, one of the major British telecoms companies, BT made 2.5bn GBP (before tax) on 20bn GBP.  Ok, things are bit tighter in 2009 so far but they’re still making millions.

If the past 30 years of technological advancement has taught us anything, the pressure on technology to make things smaller, faster or cheaper has come from competitive pressures, not by throwing subsidies or government money at companies.  These companies ought to be trying to figure out how to make the uneconomic parts of the country into economic parts, by delivering more efficiently or delivering differently.

Around 30% of households are believed to be in this uneconomic category but that’s only for fibre connections - the figures (and Government) totally ignore the possibilities of wireless technologies.  Rather than let the best technology win out – and it’s for the market to choose what “best” means – the fund will be used to connect up with fibre whether it’s appropriate or not.

And even if the property is miles from anywhere why not simply charge the customer the true price of bringing fibre to their home.  That’s what happens for electricity – if you choose to build your house two miles from the nearest electricity line, the utility company will bill you the cost to install the cable to your house.  For a non-essential service to be given this kind of subsidy seems bizarre.

And I’m sure an extra side effect will be increasing numbers of people dropping their landlines in favour of mobiles and VoIP.  I’m definitely thinking harder about it – if I didn’t have ADSL broadband I would have done it years ago.

Old Media and the New Frontier

Posted by GNC at 9:51 PM on May 4, 2009

Recently Disney bought an estimated 30 percent stake in Hulu.com, bringing the streaming giant even closer to world domination, and adding to the credibility of its online-based television distribution force.

It is clear that Hulu.com and its partners have invested large sums of money into developing and funding this new media distribution center, yet anytime someone tries to bring this content to the general public and make it easy to use, they seem to go out of their way to hurt their own investment.

Take Boxee for example, they have developed an easy to use interface that collects all of the online media sources into one place for users of a broad range of operating systems. Instead of embracing and thanking them for this improved user interface and social media integration, Hulu’s partners demanded that Hulu take steps to ensure that their content wasn’t available on Boxee’s system.

Their chief concern according to many tech analysts is that the major media companies make more money from standard broadcast commercials than they do from online advertising. This sounds to me like the classic question of “What came first the chicken or the egg?”

It would seem logical to me that the best way to improve the value of your product for advertisers would be to reach as mainy people as possible. In a time of economically hardships such as these I would expect that advertisers, like any other business, would be looking for the most bang for their buck. I would state that online distribution is a much better advertising proposition for today’s market, for one simple reason. if I’m watching something I’ve recorded on my DVR equipped cable box, there is zero chance of me watching an ad. If I’m watching Hulu or one of the other major media online outlets that have built-in mandatory ads, I’m almost guaranteed to watch it unless I need to get up and refill my drink or perform another mundane tasks typically reserved for commercial breaks.

As it stands now, television has went from the world of ad supported shows of the 1960′s to the DVRed shows with no commercial breaks of the 21st Century.

Feel free to comment or rate this with the links below or I can be contacted at jparie@gmail.com.

Are You Dumping Your Extras?

Posted by Matthew Greensmith at 8:34 AM on March 20, 2009

Cell service providers are beginning to notice a somewhat alarming trend among users. As plans graduate out of their contracts, more users are giving up extras like mobile web, texting, and SMS messaging. These “extras” can cost an extra $20-100 a month on most plans, and even more for family-type multiple-user plans like our family has.

As the economy worsens and people look for ways to cut costs, dumping a $40 data plan and a $30 texting plan can really impact a squeezed budget. Most users have alternatives for data, like laptops, netbooks, home computers, etc. The cost of the extras can outweigh their conveniences, in some cases.

Not that we techies don’t like our conveniences and our gadgets, of course. But when the choice is to pay your mortgage or pay for your extras on your cell phone, I think most of us know what the choice should be. In fact, when I hear of anyone buying a smart-phone these days, especially ones with expensive data plans like the iPhone, I have to wonder what they are thinking. I actually have a friend who works for the mortgage business and just bought an iPhone and locked herself into a 2-year contract that is twice as expensive as her cell phone plan had been before. What happens when her mortgage job goes south?

Scary stuff. I know we’ve cut back on things we don’t need that we can live without, including paring down our cell phone plans. And I have to wonder, if enough of us do that, will the cell phone companies, in order to maintain their business, start offering those extras at a lot lower price, as I know they can afford to do?

Economic analysis based on actual data!

Posted by todd at 5:05 AM on February 1, 2009

We have seen a lot of news reports that talk about large macro economic indicators in dire terms. What’s happening in terms of black friday sales figures, how property prices are falling, and consumer confidence figures for example. While all of these make good news stories, they are lacking in direct information. Most of this is indicator information, and while it could mean that things are bad it can also mean that people think things are bad.

Aaron Patzer has provided a little bit of the missin detail in a guest post on Techcrunch. Aaron is the CEO of a company called Mint. While I am not personally familiar with the company, they do have the details of the spending and financial position of around 900,000 US households. In aggregate form, this data shows us a very good picture of what is going on in the real world bank accounts of a statistically significant subset of America.

It shows that while people are indeed spending less, their bank accounts are lower, and their loans are higher. This shows a picture of what is happening on the street. I reccommend you have a look at the article if you have any interest in this subject. There is some things lacking in the information though. We do not see in the article any detail on the high level demographics of the sample set compared to general US demographics. This stops us knowing how representative this set may be. Also given that Mint appears to be a fairly new company, and the data set compares August to December, it would also help to know whether there was any change in that demographics. I would also like to see a comparison of only users who where customers of Mint at both time periods.

Despite these minor questions on the data, this is one of the best looks into what is actually going on in the economy that I have seen.