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Every day they shufflin’
Consumer electronics shakeups abound

09/01/11
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



Last week was a big one for some giants in the tech industry.

There was, of course, HP’s announcement that it would be shedding much of its consumer hardware business, starting with the immediate liquidation of the TouchPad, its star-crossed tablet developed from the ashes of Palm’s webOS. I detailed my sadness at this news a week ago, and I shan’t repeat it now, for fear of losing composure.

Apple lost something far more iconic in CEO and Guru-in-Chief Steve Jobs, who announced his resignation on Wednesday, Aug. 24. He’ll stay on as chairman of the company’s board, but since he’s been on medical leave since January, it’s mostly a symbolic post. Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cook, has been serving as effective CEO all year and has now officially assumed the role.

How Apple will change is unclear. Surely one man can’t be such a driving force that a huge company would collapse upon his departure, right? Between 1985 and 1997, when Jobs had been ousted and started a different company, NeXT, Apple had some of its best and worst days. 1991’s PowerBook pretty much defined the design of the notebook computer, and their various Macintosh desktops were much easier to use than their PC counterparts. But Microsoft Windows took a huge bite out of Macintosh, and by the mid 1990s, Apple was struggling to keep above water.

Jobs returned when Apple bought NeXT in 1997, and quickly ascended to the CEO position. Microsoft made a fateful $150 million investment in the company, which kept a Windows competitor in the game and helped Microsoft avoid running afoul of antitrust laws but also reinvigorated Apple. The next few years saw the release of the iMac and the iPod. Then, in 2007, the iPhone marked Apple’s transition to a mobile electronics company — one that still made computers, to be sure, but no longer as its main focus.

The man behind the design of the iMac, iPod and iPhone was not Steve Jobs, but Jonathan Ive. That one fact should indicate that there’s room for more than a single person’s vision at the company.

Another big company made an acquisition last week. Google, the biggest gorilla behind the Android mobile operating system, bought Motorola Mobility, a major manufacturer of smartphones. Sounds like something that might upset all the other smartphone makers, right?

Maybe, but at least publicly, they’re all ecstatic. Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony Ericsson and other phone manufacturers have issued statements saying the move is great for Android. Google has always been a hardware competitor, but its Nexus phones haven’t been spectacular. With a flagship company that’s actually good at, you know, making phones, Android can be developed to run well on that reference hardware as well as competing handsets.

Keep in mind that Google isn’t buying all of Motorola, just the part that that makes phones, tablets and other electronics. There’s a whole other division that makes radios, bar code scanners and business products — not so useful for Android integration. Motorola Mobility will continue to be run as a separate company, just owned by Google.

It’s probably a coincidence all this went down within days. Steve Jobs wasn’t waiting for the HP TouchPad to go on sale, and Google (and everyone else) knew that Jobs would be resigning someday soon. Still, it made for an exciting week.

See if you can predict next week’s topic by following me at twitter.com/CitizenjaQ .






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