The Week in Daily Updates (Week 3)

The main page content on Stratechery is free for all readers, but I also offer the Daily Update via email and RSS for $10 per month/$100 per year.1 This is a selection of items that were sent out in this week’s Daily Updates. To sign up, visit the Membership page

Apple Loses Patent Suit

Posted on Monday, May 5

The latest round of the Apple-Samsung patent battle is (mostly) over. From Recode:

The panel ruled that various Samsung products infringed on two patents that Apple had sued over in its latest patent case and found damages on a third patent, awarding more than $119.6 million in damages. However, it found Apple did not infringe on two other patents and also awarded Samsung $158,400, saying Apple infringed on a Samsung patent.

The jury found all accused Samsung phones infringed on the first patent at issue, the ’647 “quick-links” patent, but the devices did not infringe on two others related to universal search and background synchronization. For the ’721 “slide-to-unlock” patent, it ruled some Samsung products infringed, while others did not.

For a fifth patent, the judge had ruled that Samsung’s products infringed on the Apple patent, and the jury determined that infringement was willful.

Meanwhile, the panel ruled that Apple violated one of two Samsung patents that the company had countersued over, but ruled the infringement was not willful and awarded only the $158,400.

There is a lot of spin that “this was never about the money” or that Apple has deterred other infringers by demonstrating that they will irrationally pursue patent cases, but I don’t buy it. I think this is close to a total loss for Apple:

  • It’s very possible that Apple has paid more in legal fees than they have collected
  • If pursuing these patent cases was to somehow make Apple’s employees feel better, then how does this verdict help? Apple may still feel morally wronged, but can barely claim they’ve been legally wronged
  • The (relatively speaking) tiny amount of money that Samsung is forced to pay is likely to encourage future infringers, not deter them. Before these cases Apple competitors feared a patent suit (recall how Android initially lacked pinch-to-zoom). After this, what is there to fear?

I know that most of you reading this likely feel some measure of outrage about Samsung’s design and business practices; however, Samsung clearly does not care, the market does not care, and, ultimately, the courts don’t care. And that’s absolutely a loss for Apple.

The silly thing is that the entire debate sells short what it is that actually differentiates Apple’s products: the entire experience, not just individual features. Maybe it’s just all a distraction for Apple’s competitors to keep them focused on the individual widget, but in all likelihood it’s primarily distracting Apple itself. Time to move on.

Yahoo and Tumblr

Posted on Tuesday, May 6

It’s been a year since Yahoo acquired Tumblr, and the New York Times has an interview with David Karp:

When Yahoo bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion a year ago, it sent a ripple of excitement — and anxiety — through the tech industry. Would Yahoo and its recently arrived chief executive, Marissa Mayer, breathe new life into Tumblr? Or would Yahoo smother the start-up, as it did after acquiring popular young services like GeoCities and Flickr?

So far, the worst fears have begun to dissipate. Tumblr, a microblogging platform, has more than doubled its staff to 220, and its audience continues to grow, up 22 percent in the last year, according to the metrics company comScore.

“The most terrifying thing to me was that this would change the company in any way,” David Karp, Tumblr’s founder and chief executive, said in a recent interview. “But almost a year in, they have lived up to everything they promised.”

Interesting, because my worst fears have come to pass. A year in it looks like Tumblr is a lot like Yahoo: too much undifferentiated and unattractive ad inventory, and not nearly enough customer data.

When the deal happened, I thought it might work out:

Tumblr helps Yahoo catch up. Every Tumblr user has registered with an email address; that email address will be the linchpin for Yahoo’s targeting, especially since they gave up on their own identity system a few years back (YAMM – Yet Another Massive Mistake).

Tumblr is also a great indicator of interests – you follow certain tumbleblogs for a reason, and the fact every blog will be hosted by Yahoo gives them full access to user analytics. More importantly, Tumblr is mobile, and mobile is an information goldmine (interestingly, the Tumblr app does not currently use location services; look for a new “feature” update soon).

It turns out I was wildly optimistic about Yahoo’s ability to leverage that email address into a larger understanding of their user base. The Times article quote Mark Coatney, Tumblr’s former media and business partnerships manager:

He also said Tumblr could be a hard sell to marketers, who like knowing whom they are directing their ads at. This is tricky on Tumblr, because the service does not require people to give more than an email when they sign up for an account. “Real-world identities are valuable to advertisers,” Mr. Coatney said. “Tumblr doesn’t have that.”

Comparing Yahoo’s complete inability to understand its customer’s identity to Google’s success in rolling out the Google+ identity system is as good a contrast as any of just how far apart these once competitors are. Tumblr hinted at a light in the tunnel for Yahoo, but from a strictly business perspective it’s difficult to see the acquisition as anything but a failure.

The full list of topics covered this week in the Daily Update include:

  • Apple Loses Patent Suit
  • Venture Capital and Marketing
  • Unwatched Video Ads
  • Yahoo and Tumblr
  • Alibaba’s IPO Incoming
  • #AmazonCart
  • Level3 and Internet Congestion
  • Dropbox Data Leak
  • Microsoft Surface
  • LINE Results
  • Nintendo Hurting
  • Katie Cotton Retiring
  • Apple Buying Beats?
  • Box Adds GE
  • Comcast to Sell Online Ads

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  1. There is also an access option for $30 per month/$300 per year which gives you access to me personally to ask about the topic of your choosing, a private message board, and virtual and in-person meetups