Friday, March 29, 2013

Dell: What do Blackstone, Icahn actually see?

Story originally appeared on Market Watch.

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — With Dell Inc. now waiting for official takeover offers from the Blackstone Group and Carl Icahn, most investors seem to be assuming that the higher bidder will simply win out, and that Michael Dell and Silver Lake will have to raise their original offer.

Since billionaire investor Icahn and the private equity firm Blackstone expressed interest in the struggling computer company, its shares have popped. Dell DELL -0.07%   is now trading more than 5% above the $13.65 per share offer that Dell and Silver Lake made in February to take the company private.

But investors need to think about what may happen to Dell, in the event one of these other bids succeeds, and what the motivations of the other suitors might be.

One element to consider is that both Icahn and Blackstone are offering deals that involve retaining some form of public stock commonly known as a “stub.” This flies in the face of Dell’s founder Michael Dell, who has determined that he needs to take the company fully private to truly make it over.

“Remember that Dell wanted to take the company private so he could do some things, and keep it out of the public eye,” said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc., a consulting firm. He believes that Dell wants to turn the company into a serious rival to IBM Corp. IBM +1.14%  , with more focus on technology services and software, but that it will still need its PC business, albeit a much smaller one.

“If it has half the revenue it had before, that would cause a lot of discomfort and likely hammer the stock price,” Kay added. “It’s the IBM template. Cycle out the low-margin businesses, cycle in high-margin ones. But the difference is that IBM sold the PC company to Lenovo before people started losing interest in PCs”

It doesn’t help that Dell has virtually no presence in mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones, which are growing rapidly at the expense of PCs. In recent years, the company has instead focused its acquisitions on storage, software and services.

There are not any likely buyers for the company’s PC business as a stand-alone entity, especially since rivals such as Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard Co. HPQ +1.10%   have not made any official overtures. Private equity firms such as Blackstone typically look for businesses to carve off or sell — fueling the belief among some that the aspiring buyers might want to break Dell apart.

So far, the only thing known about the Blackstone offer, as reported by the Journal, is that the company may want to sell Dell’s financing arm. Michael Dell reportedly does not support such a move.

“I doubt anyone else can execute on Dell’s plan,” said Robert Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group. “He is going to massively restructure the company, and turn it into much more of a cloud services entity, to compete much more sharply against Amazon’s AWS.”

Both Kay and Enderle fear that if Blackstone prevails, and part of Dell is left public, the company won’t be able to do some of the housecleaning necessary to morph itself into a mini IBM.

One thing it probably wants to do behind closed doors is whittle down its PC business while keeping part of it. It’s not clear what Blackstone or Icahn would want to do, or who they would put in place to deal with this struggling business, which still is a cash generator. Icahn’s proposal, which some on the Street appear to be taking less seriously, would involve issuing about $5.2 billion in new debt.

Dell called Blackstone’s offer “management friendly,” even after reports surfaced that Blackstone had approached the former CEO of H-P Mark Hurd and Michael Capellas, who was once CEO of Compaq, among his other jobs, for the possible gig. On Tuesday, though, Hurd said at an Oracle event in Tokyo that he was not interested in the job.

On Wednesdaythat Blackstone is open to keeping Michael Dell as the company’s CEO, although it is not clear whether Dell himself is open to the idea. Blackstone also made the case that with Dell on board its proposal, it could be an ally against Icahn, who has warned that he will instigate a proxy fight.

So what exactly do the billionaires on Wall Street want out of a Dell deal? Icahn likely wants a quick return on his approximately $1 billion investment in the company. Blackstone, which is not really know for tech deals, clearly sees some benefit, whether that is immediate or down the road.

“We believe there is significant upside in the Dell business,” wrote Chinh Chu, president of the Boulder Acquisition Group, the Blackstone entity that wants to pay $14.25 a share, in a letter to Dell earlier this week.

While wanting to make money is understandable, it’s not clear yet that the investors with the latest bids have the right ideas on what to do with Dell. The battle for the company that Michael Dell started in his college dorm room is likely just beginning.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

With Acquisition, Apple Looks Indoors for Future of Maps

Story originally appeared on the New York Times.

It appears Apple is thinking seriously about what the mobile maps of tomorrow will look like, not just fixing the maps service it has today.

The company has acquired WiFiSlam, a start-up company that helps to improve the accuracy of indoor maps and other services by locating the user’s position inside a building more accurately. Indoor maps look like they could become a new battleground between big companies seeking a cartographical edge on their rivals.

Google is pouring resources into an indoor maps initiative to make it easier to find stores, bathrooms and other landmarks inside shopping malls, airports, large department stores and transit stations. The company says it has indoor maps for 10,000 locations worldwide already, including airports, Ikea stores, hotels, libraries, museums and one of the most bewildering kinds of labyrinths known to man — Las Vegas casinos.

WiFiSlam could give Apple some of the smarts it needs to make iPhones better navigation devices when they are under a roof. WiFiSlam says its technology can pinpoint the location of a mobile device to “2.5m accuracy using only ambient WiFi signals that are already present in buildings.” Locating a mobile user precisely on a map indoors can be tricky because the GPS signals that help with navigation don’t usually penetrate walls and windows.

The Wall Street Journal first reported news of the Apple deal over the weekend, saying the acquisition was worth about $20 million. Steve Dowling, a spokesman for Apple, repeated the statement that Apple typically releases when news surfaces of its acquisitions, most of which are so small that they don’t trigger set off disclosure rules: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”

Apple’s maps service was widely criticized for inaccurate addresses, mangled aerial images of landmarks and other glitches when the company released it in September, leading to a rare public apology by Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive.

Mr. Cook vowed to improve the service over time, and it looks like the company has fixed a number of problems with the service through steady updates to its maps. Marcus Thielking, co-founder of Skobbler, a mobile navigation service that competes with Apple Maps, said the aerial imagery of landmarks like the Statue of Liberty has become much better in his use of the Apple service.

“I do think they have improved,” Mr. Thielking said. ”I think they’ve put a lot of effort into it.”

Although he doesn’t believe the acquisition of WiFiSlam will help Apple much with its continuing effort to improve its outdoor maps, Mr. Thielking said it shows that the future of maps is on Apple’s mind. “This is about them taking the next step,” he said.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Deal to Sell Dell May Be About to Face Competition

Is Michael Dell's attempt to gain more control over his company about to turn into a financial tug-of-war?
The answer could come Friday. That's the end of a 45-day period that Dell Inc.'s board of directors set to allow for offers that might top a February 5 deal to sell the personal computer maker to CEO Michael Dell and a group of investors for $24.4 billion.
With the deadline looming, buyout specialist Blackstone Group is emerging as the most likely candidate to trump the current bid of $13.65 per share.
Blackstone is so intrigued with the prospect of owning Dell that the firm has been courting former Hewlett-Packard Co. CEO Mark Hurd to run Dell if it decides to mount a hostile takeover attempt, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person asked not to be identified because the discussions between Blackstone and Hurd are considered confidential.
Several other buyout scenarios tying Blackstone to Dell have been leaked to the media this week, another indication that the New York firm is mulling a bid that could scuttle the debt-laden deal that the company reached with Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners.
Dell Inc. says Friday's deadline for competing offers could be extended if its board believes other suitors would benefit from more time to examine Dell's books and hash out other details. The company, which is based in Round Rock, Texas, has promised to provide extensive details about the sales process in regulatory documents that are supposed to be filed next week.
Many investors are convinced a higher bid is in the works. That's why Dell's stock price has remained above $14 for the past two weeks. The shares fell 19 cents Thursday to close at $14.14. Some analysts have even predicted Dell ultimately will be sold for $15 to $16 per share.
Southeastern Asset Management, Dell's second largest shareholder after Michael Dell, has asserted the company is worth closer to $24 per share.
For its part, the four-member board committee that negotiated the current deal maintains it's selling Dell at a fair price, one that reflects the dimming prospects for the PC industry as more technology spending shifts to smartphones and tablet computers.
The upheaval is siphoning revenue away from both Dell, the world's third largest PC maker, and HP, the top PC maker. Both companies are trying to adapt by making more tablets and diversifying into more profitable areas of technology, such as business software, data analytics and storage.
The rivalry between Dell and HP makes Blackstone's flirtation with Hurd a tantalizing twist.
HP widened its lead over Dell during Hurd's five-year reign, but the company parted with its former CEO under acrimonious terms in August 2010. Hurd resigned after facing allegations of sexual harassment against an HP contractor. HP found no evidence of harassment, but concluded that Hurd had filed inaccurate expense reports. Since Hurd's departure, HP has struggled and its stock price has been cut in half in a slide that has erased about $45 billion in shareholder wealth.
Hurd, 56, began working as president of business software maker Oracle Corp. shortly after leaving HP. He is given every indication that he is happy with his current job, which could lead to a promotion to succeed his close friend, Larry Ellison, as Oracle's CEO. Ellison, 68, hasn't set a timetable for stepping down. Analysts nevertheless see Hurd and Safra Catz, Oracle's chief financial officer, as the leading candidates to replace Ellison.
Oracle declined to comment Thursday. Blackstone didn't return phone calls.
Blackstone is only interested in bringing Hurd to Dell if it can't negotiate a deal on friendly terms, should it decide to pursue a bid, said the person familiar with the situation. The easier path would require Blackstone to win the cooperation and financial participation of Michael Dell, who is contributing about $4.5 billion in cash and stock to the deal that he worked out with Silver Lake. Under that agreement, Michael Dell would remain CEO of a company that would become privately held for the first time in 25 years.
Blackstone also has discussed the possibility of Southeastern Asset contributing its 8.4 percent stake in Dell to a competing bid, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous people familiar with the matter.
Other Blackstone maneuvers under consideration would focus on buying just a part of Dell. Blackstone might try to buy Dells' financial services division in a partnership with TPG, another buyout firm, or General Electric Co.'s lending arm, according to the people who talked to the Journal. Dell's financial services division lends money to customers who buy its products.
Another Dell shareholder, billionaire investor Carl Icahn, is pressing the board to forget about selling the company and pay a one-time dividend instead. In a letter to Dell's board earlier this month, Icahn proposed a dividend of $9 per share that would require Dell to take on billions of dollars in additional debt. Shareholders would profit further if Dell is able to engineer a turnaround that drives up the stock price.
Michael Dell believes he will be in a better position to overhaul the company if he no longer has to worry about Wall Street's focus on profit fluctuations from one quarter to the next.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Blackberry 10 says goodbye to 'Home' Icon

Story first appeared on -

As Research in Motion is geared up to bring its all new Blackberry 10 out of the closet with the next-generation Operating System, the question crops up whether users will relish the avant-garde experience that the smart phone company has been claiming. The sleek, trendy phone which is about to get launched on the 30th of March has let go of one of the most significant aspects which reigned the cellular cosmos till now- the Home Icon.

The first look at the Blackberry 10 software gives a peek into its transformed countenance in a plethora of ways, while delving deeper into the technology unveils a distinguished element which had remained an enigma to its users.

Donny Halliwell of RIM at a recent discussion on the Blackberry blog quipped about its cutting-edge User Interface which, contrary to the Android and iOS does not embrace any Home button. According to Halliwell, why go back when you are always encouraged to move forward in life? This forms the very quintessence of the new technology of purging out the Home Button’s essential function of taking you back to the central Home screen which entails all functions brought under one roof from any other location of the Operating System.

So what substitutes the Home function? It is the “Flow” interface, a maverick creation which enables users to get to all important applications directly with all the icons readily available in a minimized state. Hence, just like the Web Operating System, you will enjoy the convenience of having all the opened tabs that you visit frequently in a minimized windows manner, thereby doing away with the need of going back to the Home Screen to go to some other destination. As Halliwell puts it, the Flow interface is similar to the flow of life which moves systematically forward and does not allow you to return to the days or bygone times. Therefore, with the “Flow”, you can get a peek into other opened applications seamlessly without returning to the Home Page or leaving the application you are browsing.

A number of features embrace the new “Flow User Interface” which has been designed in a way to encourage multi-tasking. The unique features include a combined Inbox for general as well as social media messaging, a tab “Peek” which gives you a peek into your personal information and “Cascades” which denotes a premier User Interface aspect. The last feature comes quite close to its web Operating System counterpart.

So the world waits with bated breath for the launch of the two next-generation smartphones designed by RIM’s creative clout in the form of Blackberry X10 and Blackberry Z10, along with their all new counterpart Blackberry OS 10, this January 30th. It is true that all the above features appears quite promising and enticing as well, but it remains to be seen whether mobile buffs will actually find the Flow user-friendly and convenient to make the much coveted Blackberry 10 a matter of pride for RIM and encourage developers and designers to don their creative hat and write new applications for the new mobile platform.

$450M Cut from Samsung's Debt to Apple for Patent Infringement

Story first appeared on ABC News -

The two biggest — and bitterest — rivals in the smartphone market will have to endure another bruising trial after a federal judge ruled that jurors miscalculated nearly half the $1 billion in damages it found Samsung Electronics owed Apple Inc. for patent infringement.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh wiped out $450 million from the verdict and ordered a new trial to reconsider damages related to 14 Samsung products including some products in its hot-selling Galaxy lineup jurors in August found were using Apple's technology without permission. Koh said jurors in the three-week trial had not properly followed her instruction in calculating some of the damages.

She also concluded that mistakes had been made in determining when Apple had first notified Samsung about the alleged violations of patents for its trend-setting iPhone and IPad.

"We are pleased that the court decided to strike $450,514,650 from the jury's award," Samsung spokeswoman Lauren Restuccia said.

Koh didn't toss out the jurors underlying finding that two dozen Samsung products infringed patents Apple used to develop its iPad and iPhone products. The new jury will be tasked with only determining what Samsung owes Apple.

Apple declined to comment on the Koh's ruling, which still did leave Samsung with a bill to just under $599 million. The judge said the tab will probably increase after the appeals of both companies are resolved.

Apple is seeking more damages and Samsung a complete dismissal of the case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the Washington, D.C.-based court that handles all patent appeals. The new trial to recalculate the damages could also increase the award.

Still, the ruling was the second significant setback in Koh's courtroom since the headline grabbing verdict was announced.

In December, Koh refused to order a sales ban on the products the jury found infringed Apple's patents. She said Apple failed to prove the purloined technology is what drove consumers to buy a Samsung product instead of an Apple iPhone or iPad. Samsung says that it is continues to sell only three of the two dozen products found to have infringed Apple's patents.

After a three-week trial closely followed in Silicon Valley, the jury decided that Samsung ripped off the trailblazing technology and sleek designs used by Apple to create its revolutionary iPhone and iPad. Jurors ordered Samsung to pay Apple $1.05 billion.

Apple filed another lawsuit last year accusing Samsung's newer line of products of continuing to use technology controlled by Apple. Koh has scheduled trial in that case for early next year. She has implored both companies on several occasions to settle their difference with little success.

Apple filed its patent infringement lawsuit in April 2011 and engaged legions of the country's highest-paid patent lawyers to demand $2.5 billion from its top smartphone competitor. Samsung Electronics Co. fired back with its own lawsuit seeking $399 million.

The jury found that several Samsung products illegally used such Apple creations as the "bounce-back" feature when a user scrolls to an end image, and the ability to zoom text with a tap of a finger.

Samsung has mounted an aggressive post-trial attack on the verdict, raising a number of legal issues that allege the South Korean company was treated unfairly in a federal courtroom a dozen miles from Apple's Cupertino headquarters. Samsung alleges that some of Apple's patents shouldn't have been awarded in the first place and that the jury made mistakes in calculating the damage award.

Samsung has emerged as one of Apple's biggest rivals and has overtaken it as the leading smartphone maker. Samsung's Galaxy line of phones run on Android, a mobile operating system that Google Inc. has given out for free to Samsung and other phone makers.

Apple and Samsung have filed similar lawsuits in eight other countries, including South Korea, Germany, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, France and Australia.