The debt limit battle currently in progress in Washington has cast a pall over the United States and global economies. Even prior to this fight, pundits were starting to talk about a possible double-dip recession and a technology “bubble” about to burst. So leave it to me, the eternal optimist (irrational cheerleader?), to find reasons to be excited about the news of the week.
It’s a mark of how jaded we’ve become that this past week’s technology stories could “scroll by” as business as usual. Stories involving Apple, Google and IBM could have individually made it an interesting week. The fact that they happened within several days of each other make the stories all the more impressive.
Let’s start with Apple, which again smashed analyst’s expectations with a blowout quarter. They reported adjusted earnings per share of $7.79 billion on sales of $28 billion in sales. They sold over 9 million iPads and over 20 million iPhones. They have a startling $76 billion in cash on hand (more than the GDP of almost two-thirds of the world’s nations).
Financial results aside, Apple also had announcements of further product innovation. They released Lion, their Mac OS that incorporates many popular elements from their heralded iOS mobile operating system. In a slower news era, this alone would have been a dramatic story. Lion is being widely recognized as a paradigm shifting desktop operating system.
They also released a refresh of their MacBook Air ultraportable laptop line. With this refresh, Apple ups the bar with significant improvements in performance, battery life and an innovative backlit keyboard. It is being widely acclaimed in the tech press as a new leader in the ultraportable space.
Missed amongst all the hoopla was Apple’s release of a product called Remote Desktop 3.5. This product is used primarily by administrators in enterprise settings who are responsible for large numbers of computers. This is an area that Apple has traditionally played a niched role compared to Windows based products. Not long ago, Apple was written off as a minor player in the corporate space, with at most a handful of desktops in the marketing or graphics arts departments. But now, with the tremendous mindshare they have built on the home front, they are well poised to make a run on the corporate front. The increased consumerization of IT along with the emergence of BYOC ups there chances of success.
Google continued to have incredible success with their Plus offering. Estimates last week had the user base of this new social media product at 20 million. All of this achieved via an invite only launch just three weeks prior. Google also released iPhone and iPad apps for accessing the Plus platform. In continuing the theme of this post that we are too jaded, I’ll remind everyone that these apps are free and instantly downloadable. It wasn’t too long ago that we expected to pay for new software. The acquisition and installation process was cumbersome and burdonsome. Now, instantly available and free is considered a birthright.
IBM was also in the news with positive and inspiring results. The venerable technology giant, which celebrated its 100th birthday this year, saw 2nd quarter net income rise 8% to $3.4 billion. They also reported strong growth across multiple divisions and raised their guidance for future quarters. IBM has acheived solid and steady growth despite the tenuous economic climate of the last few years. It is a spectacular and rare corporate story: A dominant player that stumbles, reinvents itself, and goes on to be a new force. They are the only technology company from the mainframe era that continues its dominance in the cloud era.
In addition to excellent financial results, IBM announced an impressive accomplishment from their research lab. They created a fast storage system using solid state memory that was able to scan 10 billion files in 43 minutes. Back in 2007, they achieved a result of 1 billion files in 3 hours. This is just one more example of Moore’s Law at work. While this was simply a research demo, the implications for applications are obvious. In a world where Big Data is becoming an increasing challenge and opportunity for enterprises, rapid file system scanning will be an important enabler.