If you’re old enough to remember a time when mobile phones weren’t common place you also likely remember the time when Nokia was the brand to have, much like Apple is today. I myself owned quite a few of them with my very first phone ever being the (then) ridiculously small Nokia 8210. I soon gravitated towards other, more shiny devices as my disposable income allowed but I did find myself in possession of an N95 because, at the time, it was probably one of the best handsets around for techno-enthusiasts like myself. However it’s hard to deny that they’ve struggled to compete in today’s smartphone market and, unfortunately, their previous domination in the feature phone market has also slipped away from them.
Their saving grace was meant to come from partnering with Microsoft and indeed I attested to as much at the time. Casting my mind back to when I wrote that post I was actually of the mind that Nokia was going to be the driving force for Microsoft however in retrospect it seems the partnership was done in the hopes that both of their flagging attempts in the smartphone market could be combined into one, potentially viable, product. Whilst I’ve praised the design and quality of Windows Phone based Nokias in the past it’s clear that the amalgamation of 2 small players hasn’t resulted in a viable strategy to accumulate a decent amount of market share.
You can then imagine my surprise when Microsoft up and bought Nokia’s Devices and Services business as it doesn’t appear to be a great move for them.
So Nokia as a company isn’t going anywhere as they still retain control of a couple key businesses (Solutions and Networks, HERE/Navteq and Advanced Technologies which I’ll talk about in a bit) however they’re not going to be making phones anymore as that entire capability has been transferred to Microsoft. That’s got a decent amount of value in itself, mostly in the manufacturing and supply chains, and Microsoft’s numbers will swell by 32,000 when the deal is finished. However whether that’s going to result in any large benefits for Microsoft is debateable as they arguably got most of this in their 2011 strategic partnership just that they can now do all the same without the Nokia branding on the final product.
If this type of deal is sounding familiar then you’re probably remembering the nearly identical acquisition that Google made in Motorola back in 2011. Google’s reasons and subsequent use of the company were quite different however and, strangely enough, they have yet to use them to make one of Nexus phones. Probably the biggest difference, and this is key to why this deal is great for Nokia and terrible for Microsoft, is the fact that Google got all of Motorola’s patents, Microsoft hasn’t got squat.
As part of the merger a new section is being created in Nokia called Advanced Technologies which, as far as I can tell, is going to be the repository for all of Nokia’s technology patents. Microsoft has been granted a 10 year license to all of these, and when that’s expired they’ll get a perpetual one, however Nokia gets to keep ownership of all of them and the license they gave Microsoft is non-exclusive. So since Nokia is really no longer a phone company they’re now free to start litigating against anyone they choose without much fear of counter-suits harming any of their products. Indeed they’ve stated that the patent suits will likely continue post acquisition signalling that Nokia is likely going to look a lot more like a patent troll than a technology company in the near future.
Meanwhile Microsoft has been left with a flagging handset business, one that’s failed to reach the kind of growth that would be required to make it sustainable long term. Now there’s something to be said about Microsoft being able to release Lumia branded handsets (they get the branding in this deal) but honestly their other forays into the consumer electronics space haven’t gone so well so I’m not sure what they’re going to accomplish here. They’ve already got the capability and distribution channels to get products out there (go into any PC store and you’ll find Microsoft branded peripherals there, guaranteed) so whilst it might be nice to get Nokia’s version of that all built and ready I’m sure they could have built one themselves for a similar amount of cash. Of course the Lumia tablet might be able to change consumer’s minds on that one but most of the user complaints around Windows RT weren’t about the hardware (as evidenced in my review).
In all honesty I have no idea why Microsoft would think this would be a good move, let alone a move that would let them do anything more than they’re currently doing. If they had acquired Nokia’s vast portfolio of patents in the process I’d be singing a different tune as Microsoft has shown how good they are in wringing license fees out of people (so much so that the revenue they get from Android licensing exceeds that of their Windows Phone division) . However that hasn’t happened and instead we’ve got Nokia lining up to become a patent troll of epic proportions and Microsoft left $7 billion patent licensing deal that comes with its own failing handset business. I’m not alone in this sentiment either as Microsoft’s shares dropped 5% on this announcement which isn’t great news for this deal.
I really want to know where they’re going with this because I can’t for the life of me figure it out.
There’s little doubt that the past decade has brought upon us rapid change that our current legislature is only just beginning to deal with. One of my long time bugbears, the R18+ rating for games, is a great example of this showing how outdated some of our policies are when it comes to the modern world. Unfortunately such political antiquity isn’t just isolated to the video games industry it extends to all areas that have been heavily affected by the changes the Internet has brought, not least of which is the delivery of content such as TV programs, newspapers and radio. This rift has not gone unnoticed and it seems the government is finally looking to take action on it.
Enter the Convergence Review a report that’s was commissioned in 2011 to review the policy framework surrounding Australia’s media and communications. It’s a hefty tome, weighing in at some 176 pages, detailing nearly every aspect of Australia’s current regulatory framework for delivering content to us Australians. I haven’t managed to get through the whole thing but you don’t need to read far into it to understand that it’s a well researched and carefully thought out document, one that should definitely be taken into consideration in reforming Australia’s regulatory framework for media. There are a couple points that really blew me away in there and I’d like to highlight them here.
For starters the review recommends that the licensing of broadcasting services be abolished in its entirety. In essence this puts traditional broadcasters on a level playing ground with digital natives who don’t have the same requirements placed upon them and their content. Not too long ago such an idea would seem to be a foolish notion as no licensing means that anyone could just start broadcasting whatever they wanted with no control on how it was presented. However with the advent of sites like YouTube such license free broadcasting is already a reality and attempting regulate it in the same fashion as traditional methods would be troublesome and most likely ineffective. Abolishing licensing removes restrictions that don’t make sense anymore given that the same content can be delivered without it.
Such a maneuver like that brings into question what kind of mechanisms you would have to govern the kind of content that gets broadcasted. The review takes this into consideration and recognizes that there needs to be some regulation in order to keep in line with Australian standards (like protecting children from inappropriate content). However the regulations it would apply are not to every content organisation. Instead the regulations will target content organisations based on the size of the organisation and the scope of their audience. This allows content organisations a lot of flexibility with how they deliver content and will encourage quite a bit of innovation in this area.
The review also recommends that media standards apply to all platforms, making the regulations technology agnostic. Doing this would ensure that we don’t end up in this same situation again when another technological breakthrough forces a rethink of our policy platform which as you can tell from the review is going to be a rather arduous process. Keeping the standards consistent across mediums also means that we won’t end up with another R18+ situation where we have half-baked legislation for one medium and mature frameworks in another.
The whole review feels like a unification that’s been long coming as the media landscape becomes increasingly varied to the point where treating them individually is complicated and inefficient. These points I’ve touched on are also just the most striking of the review’s recommendations with many more solid ideas for reforming Australia’s communications and media policies for a future that’s increasingly technologically driven. Seeing reports like this gives me a lot of hope for Australia’s future and I urge the government to take the review to heart and use it to drive Australia forward.
Ah the flying car, it’s like the milestone that needs to be hit before the general public believes we’re living in the future. I guess it’s because its so elusive, every time someone has made a prediction that we’d have one in X years (much like the jet pack) we’d inevitably reach that goal without a hint of it coming into reality. The reasons behind it are fairly simple, flying isn’t exactly easy and it’s not clear what the potential benefits of a flying car would be even if it could be made for mass use. Realistically it’s a solution in search of a problem and that’s the main reason why there’s been little serious development in the idea.
Of course there is a cross-over niche where some kind of flying car would have a potential market. There are many people who have their own aircraft, typically small 2 to 8 seater types, who do use them to travel distances that we’d usually take a commercial flight for. When they get to their destination though they’re in the same boat as we are, needing to find some kind of last mile transportation. The current solutions to this problem are the same for all travellers (hire cars, public transport, friends, etc.) but there’s been a few companies looking into solving this problem by making the air craft they take there road legal.
These are called, funnily enough, roadable aircraft.
The idea isn’t exactly new with examples of such craft dating all the way back to the 1930’s. Most of these designs weren’t terribly practical however usually requiring heavy amounts of work to transition between car and plane modes. There are several working modern designs that use parachutes to generate lift but they again suffer from practicality problems, usually being limited to joy craft rather than an actual useful means of transportation. There are 2 companies that have caught my eye in this space however and both of them has just recently made their maiden flight.
Terrafugia is a company that would be familiar to a lot of people since they’ve been attempting to make a roadable aircraft for just on 6 years. Their design, called the Transition, is an interesting one as it’s clear from the design that it’s primarily an aircraft that’s been modified to work on the road. To switch between plane and car modes the wings fold up along side it, allowing it to fit into standard size car spaces. Whilst its performance is nothing spectacular it does sport a rather incredible range for a vehicle, able to fly up to 787km or drive up to 1296KM. As they develop it further I’m sure they’ll make improvements to it as I’m sure I can recall those specs being a lot worse in the past.
The one that really caught my (and everyone else’s it seems) attention recently was the PAL-V One which takes yet another intriguing stab at the roadable aircraft idea. Instead of using wings to generate lift it instead relies on a set of helicopter blades that provide lift through autorotation with the thrust provided by a pusher propeller. Aviation nuts will recognise that system as an autogyro a curious combination of helicopter and plane components. The transition between autogyro and enclosed motorcycle takes about 10 minutes but can be done by a single pilot without any additional tools. Whilst I can’t see much of a use for it now (the runway requirement kind of puts out of reach for any domestic use) I really do think the design is quite cool.
Whilst both these craft are amazing in their own right they do highlight the issue with combining driving and flying. They are really 2 completely different methods of travel and neither of them will let a regular person with a driver’s license be a pilot of them. Indeed both of these craft will require a private pilot’s license if you want to fly them. Getting one isn’t exactly out of reach for everyone but still quite a hurdle requiring 50+ hours of flight time (10 solo), several written exams and a final test with an experienced pilot. The reasoning behind this is flying isn’t as easy as driving and that’s the main reason why you’ll probably never see skies full of flying cars, at least not for several decades.