Archive for August, 2011
Auto restoration specialist Casey Putsch built himself the world’s only jet turbine-powered Batmobile, and now it’s for sale on eBay for the low price of just $620,000. The Batmobile design includes a turbine, but the movie prop cars used small-block Chevy V8s instead, so when Putsch decided to make his own, he built in a 365 HP turbine from a Boeing naval drone helicopter. Despite that, the car weighs only 2,800, so it should be fairly quick.
Best of all, this Batmobile is street-registered in the US, so you can drive it to work every day. Inside, you’ll find a pretty barebones cockpit, featuring a center-mounted iPad 3G for GPS navigation and avionics. Oh and you can feed the car Jet A, kerosene, or diesel.
So if your life would be incomplete without rollin like the Dark Knight, pick up your new ride on eBay. For the rest, check out the photos and videos below.
After more than 30 years, Ford has finally retired its Crown Victoria sedan, the last traditional rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered, body-on-frame American sedan. Best known through its Police Interceptor variant, which comprises more than 70% of America’s police fleets today, the Crown Victoria offers old domestic mainstays like a soft suspension, front bench seat, and steering column gear shifter. The Panther platform it’s built on dates back to 1979 and also lies under the Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car, which are being retired as well.
Ford stopped consumer sales of the Crown Vic in 2008, but sales to police department and taxi fleets have remained strong. Ford has new police offerings in the works, based on the Taurus sedan and Explorer SUV, but many police departments believe the Crown Vic is still the best option and have driven up sales by stockpiling cars over the last few months. Yet the same sturdy, easy-to-repair body-on-frame construction that makes the Crown Vic the highway patrol’s car of choice also makes it heavy and inefficient (16 mpg city), which Ford can hardly afford in an era of increasingly tight fuel economy requirements (manufacturers must average 35.5 mpg by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025).
The Crown Vic was introduced for police duty in 1983 and became the dominant patrol car in 1996, when its main competitor, the Chevy Caprice, was discontinued. Today, Chevy has a new Caprice (based on an Australian Holden sedan) for the police, and Dodge offers a police-spec Charger sedan. Both are rear-wheel-drive, unlike Ford’s new police offering, the FWD/AWD Taurus. All offer better performance and fuel efficiency than the Crown Vic, but police fleets remain skeptical.
Despite its dominance in the police and taxi markets, the Crown Vic has seen its share of controversy in the last few years. Its vertically-mounted steel gas tank is located between the rear axle and trunk, making it susceptible to puncture in a rear crash and leading to strong and instantaneous fires. Ford faces dozens of lawsuits in the early 2000s following a number of deaths linked to the tank design. The carmaker eventually settled the cases and in 2003 began to install protecting the gas tank from rear-end puncture.
Major news in Cupertino this evening– Steve Jobs has resigned as CEO of Apple, citing health reasons. He will remain Chairman, while COO Tim Cook will take over CEO duty. The company’s press release states “Steve’s extraordinary vision and leadership saved Apple and guided it to its position as the world’s most innovative and valuable technology company.”
Jobs released the following letter:
I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.
I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.
As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.
I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.
I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.
Press release after the break.
Just a year after it bought Palm for $1.2 billion, HP has given up and is discontinuing all webOS phones and tablets, including the Pre and TouchPad devices. The strategic turnaround is mentioned in the “other announcements” section of a press release saying HP may spin off its whole Personal Systems Group (PCs, mobile devices, and storage)– itself quite a bombshell:
“In addition, HP reported that it plans to announce that it will discontinue operations for webOS devices, specifically the TouchPad and webOS phones. HP will continue to explore options to optimize the value of webOS software going forward.“
It’s unclear what HP plans to do with webOS going forward– license or sell the OS to other phone manufacturers, open source it, or just kill it completely. But by announcing the move this way, HP has pretty much guaranteed that developers and enthusiasts alike will begin to abandon the platform.
These moves are part of CEO Leo Apothekar’s plan to move HP towards an IBM-like model– going from low-margin personal computers and devices into high-margin enterprise software and services. The also confirmed that HP is acquiring Autonomy Corporation plc, another B2B software vendor, for $11.7 billion.
Ultimately, these moves make sense given Apothekar’s past as the head of SAP, a German enterprise software giant– he’s clearly much more comfortable selling software licenses to large companies than competing with the likes of Apple in the consumer space. Yet we can’t help but see the move as severed misguided. HP is the largest seller of PCs in the world and has a deeper supply chain and global distribution network than anyone else in the consumer electronics industry. Further, Apothekar’s inspiration, IBM, has always focused on business first, consumer second, and thus saw the PC business as a diversion from its core, but HP’s history is much more focused on consumers.
HP’s newer PCs, most visibly the Envy line of laptops that resulted from the VoodooPC acquisition, show that the company can successfully compete against Apple in premium computers. The TouchPad tablet has not been an instant success, but the webOS software has received broad acclaim, and who knows– greater investment in hardware and developer engagement, as HP promised a year ago, could have resulted in a viable mobile competitor. HP’s current leadership seems to have a fundamental impatience that is incompatible with success in the consumer space.
Even before this announcement, HP displayed a lack of strategic clarity with webOS, alienating Microsoft by announcing it’d ship webOS on all its Windows PCs and then backpedaling on the decision. While Apothekar thinks the move to abandon webOS will help HP in the enterprise space, credibility is key in that business, and how credible is a company that gave up, after just one year, on a $1.2 billion acquisition whose technology was supposedly critical to the company’s future? Further, the move seems to all but ignore the recent trend of consumerization– even enterprise buying decisions are now being influenced by consumer devices.
Perhaps HP has something magical up its sleeve, but we’re going to join the bandwagon of “#hpfail” posters on Twitter and say that giving up on the entire consumer computing business — PCs, smartphones, tablets, and peripherals (except printers) — would be a sad and serious misstep for one of the world’s strongest consumer electronics brands.
Update 2: This graph from AllThingsD indicates a lot of what’s wrong at HP:
Press release after the break.
Google just announced that it’s purchasing Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion– the search giant’s biggest acquisition to date. Motorola Mobility is Motorola’s consumer division, which was spun off in January 2011 and primarily sells mobile phones and TV set-top boxes.
In a post on the official Google blog, CEO Larry Page wrote that the primary value Google sees in the acquisition is Motorola’s arsenal of 17,000 patents. In recent months, Apple, Microsoft, and others have sued prominent Android phone manufacturers like HTC, LG, and Samsung for patent infringement, with claims largely focusing on the Android OS. With little prior mobile experience, Google has few patents of its own to help defend its licensees. Motorola, on the other hand, has made millions of phones over the last few decades, accumulating a large patent portfolio along the way.
Most media outlets have reported that by licensing Motorola’s patents to Android manufacturers, Google will be able to help them defend against Apple and Microsoft, providing them the basis for counterclaims, resulting in mutually assured destruction and thus settlements freeing Android from patent troubles. The problem with this view is that Apple and Microsoft have already sued Motorola (see battle maps here and here); the cases are pretty far along and aren’t looking too great for Motorola at this point. If Motorola’s patents couldn’t protect it, then how will they shield the rest of Android-dom? And, as Florian Mueller writes, it’d indeed be quite ironic if, by the time the deal is approved, Google were to acquire a phone manufacturer that’s been banned from importing Android handsets into the U.S.
So clearly, patent protection from Apple and Microsoft is not the primary reason for the deal. If it were, Google could’ve just licensed Motorola’s patent portfolio (as Motorola shareholder Carl Icahn proposed just a few weeks ago). The fact that Google chose to purchase the entire company instead, and thus enter the phone hardware business itself, suggests a different modus operandi. So far, Google’s primary interest in the mobile space has been to increase access to its web services– that was the whole purpose of Android. But the company’s business practices on Android, from forcing licensees to use its services (see the Skyhook case– quite damning for a supposedly “open” platform) to giving only preferred partners early access to new versions of OS, suggest that Google wants a bigger slice of the mobile pie for itself.
Android licensees like LG, Samsung, and HTC are justifiably afraid of competing against the very company they get their phones’ operating system from. It’s unrealistic to imagine that Motorola would not gain a significant competitive advantage being under Google’s roof, and Google could easily decide to go vertical, creating Google-branded Android super-phones to match the iPhone’s tight hardware/software integration and leaving other Android licensees in the dust. An ancillary benefit for Google, of course, is that Motorola’s big presence in the TV set-top box market could be an entry point for its failing Google TV product.
One interesting provision of the deal is the reverse termination fee. If Google is unable to complete the deal, it must pay Motorola $2.5 billion– a fifth of the purchase price, four times the median for deals in the last year, and apparently the largest such fee in industry history. By contrast, if Motorola decides not to sell to Google, it must only pay $375 million. This seems to reflect Google’s desperation and Motorola’s concerns about regulatory hiccups– Google’s Android-related search business practices are already under FTC antitrust investigation.
Microsoft stands to benefit in that it can now market Windows Phone 7 as the only operating system OEMs can license without competing against the licensor’s own phones. Some believe Microsoft may follow Google’s move by acquiring Nokia (which is now a key partner on the Windows Phone platform). This is quite unlikely, especially if the Motorola deal motivates HTC, Samsung, and LG to put more effort into Windows Phone 7 (which they all offer but clearly place on the strategic backburner compared to Android). Microsoft wouldn’t gain anything beyond what it already has in Nokia (a high-quality hardware manufacturer exclusively committed to Windows Phone and armed with an immense patent portfolio), and besides, outside of Xbox, Microsoft still believes in the “ubiquity” strategy it used against Apple many years ago, mobilizing a whole industry of Windows-powered PC hardware manufacturers to destroy Apple’s bundled hardware-software offering.
RIM only gains in that the Google-Motorola deal kicks the mobile industry’s patent mess up a few notches, showing that the array of BlackBerry mobile patents is probably quite valuable. The issue is, however, that the only companies still interested in RIM’s IP would be firms that lack strong software portfolios and are looking to create their own phone OS (HTC or Samsung perhaps).
Time to sit back, grab some popcorn, and watch the tech giants duke it out for mobile supremacy.