May 26, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Facebook's big debut on Wall Street turned out to be a milestone the company probably wants to forget as soon as it can, though that won't be possible for a pretty long time.
By most accounts, Facebook's IPO was a disaster. Not a total disaster, of course -- several new millionaires and billionaires were minted last week. CEO Mark Zuckerberg became one of the 30 wealthiest people on Earth before living that many years.
But market glitches, bad decisions and allegations of shady dealings marred the social network's first day out, and problems continued through the following week.
For starters, even though trading volume was extremely high, Facebook's value failed to pop. There was no spontaneous combustion up from its $38 starting price. After its first day of trading was finished, it had gained about a quarter. Not a quarter of its starting value. One quarter of a dollar. Per share.
Why the lack of excitement? Maybe doubts had been raised about its potential. An IPO three or four years ago would have left optimists plenty of room to dream, but given Facebook's size today, it's much harder to see exactly how it's going to tap into new members and new revenue streams.
Private investors were able to get in on the fun back when Facebook would frequently boast about how fast it was growing. They're mostly the ones who struck it rich on Friday -- or richer, as the case may be. But Zuckerberg and company insisted on remaining private for years, and as pressure mounted to go public, the event seemed to take on the air of a bittersweet inevitability rather than a celebration of new money and new opportunities.
A stagnant IPO day alone doesn't necessarily mean the whole thing was a bust, but over the following days, the price sank, and a week later it was wallowing about six bucks below starting value. Also, various details surrounding the IPO came to light, and they painted a darker picture than that of a company that simply failed to excite investors on its first day on Wall Street.
For one thing, the Nasdaq admitted that it blew it. Its systems suffered a series of glitches that delayed the stock's kickoff and then failed to properly carry out transactions once trading started. They were crushed under the volume of trades going on, and buyers and sellers reportedly had to wait hours for their transactions to go through.
On top of that, The Wall Street Journal reported that just days before the IPO, Facebook CFO David Ebersman made a last-minute decision to put 25 percent more shares on the block than originally planned. His advisors at Morgan Stanley told him there was enough demand to support that boost, but the Journal reported that some investors are blaming the company's limp debut and subsequent sinkage on a bloated supply of shares.
At the same time it was putting more shares up for grabs, though, Facebook was also reportedly selling itself short. Just before the IPO, underwriters Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs each reduced their forecasts for the company. It was an unusual decision given the timing with which it allegedly happened -- during Facebook's IPO roadshow.
Worse, if it's true, is the allegation that news of the estimate cut didn't make it outside of those massive financial houses. They reportedly kept the information to themselves, allowing smaller investors to buy shares without access to what was arguably material information.
Later, Business Insider reported why those underwriters cut their forecasts in the first place: because an unnamed Facebook executive told them to.
Listen to the podcast (12:34 minutes).
Google Goes Skating
The second phase in Oracle's triple-feature lawsuit against Google has drawn to a close, with the jury returning a verdict on whether Google infringed Oracle patents in the creation of its Android mobile OS.
As you'll recall, last time, jury members got hung up on a critical question regarding whether Google was guilty of copyright violation. This time, though, they were much more decisive: In the matter of patents, Google wins, hands down. No Java patents were infringed in the creation of Android.
The verdict no doubt comes as a tremendous relief for the Mountain View crew. Oracle had alleged that Google created core elements of Android by ripping off Java, a technology that belongs to Oracle, thanks to its purchase of Sun Microsystems. Oracle claimed it was cheated out of billions of dollars, considering how popular and successful Android has become.
The first phase of the trial, in which copyrights were considered, didn't offer a very clear indication regarding whether the jury generally sympathized with Google or Oracle. But once the patent verdict was revealed, the foreman reportedly said the group thought Oracle didn't even come close to nailing its claims, at least as far as patents were concerned.
The battle isn't quite over yet, though. There's still a question lingering from the copyright phase. In that case, the jury found that Google did copy Java APIs -- application programming interfaces -- but it couldn't decide whether that constituted fair use.
The presiding judge, William Alsup, is expected to come down with a ruling on that issue, and he's been mulling whether APIs are copyrightable at all. If they aren't, Google's off the hook completely, at least as far as this lawsuit is concerned. If APIs are copyrightable, though, Google may end up liable for infringement.
Even that isn't a very fearsome prospect for the Android maker, though. It's likely damages -- which would be decided by a new jury in phase three -- would fall in the neighborhood of about $150,000. Google's team of lawyers will probably bill almost that much for the time it takes them to pack their briefcases and leave the courthouse.
Together at Last
After many months no doubt spent pining away for each other, Google and Motorola Mobility have finally made their marriage official.
The search giant had agreed to buy the recently spun-off mobile division of Motorola for $12.5 billion last August, but before the deal could be finalized, it had to pass through a gauntlet of regulators both at home and abroad.
Chinese regulators represented the final hurdle. They made Google promise to keep Android free and open for at least five years as a condition of approval. Google agreed, dashing any worries or hopes that it would slowly swing the door shut on Android in order to favor its new subsidiary over other Android phone makers, at least any time soon.
That promise may not have been a difficult one for Google to make, though. It seems that the most important factor in this acquisition is Motorola Mobility's fat stack of patents, which is about 17,000 strong. That portfolio can serve as a powerful defense during present and future patent fights. With so much carnage going on in patent litigation lately, especially in mobile, buying a $12.5 billion suit of armor doesn't sound like a bad idea.
Aside from the IP aspect, though, Google says it's going to take a very laid-back approach to managing its new subsidiary. Rather than try a messy integration of two huge companies, it's going to allow Motorola a lot of independence.
So what does Motorola get out of this? More financial stability, for one. Instead of losing money on its own, it's now part of the Google profit machine.
Living in Google's house could mean Motorola will more often leave the software decisions to its parent. Lots of Android phone makers try to differentiate by mixing up their own unique flavors of Android, with varying results. Now, maybe Motorola will have the finances, flexibility and focus to concentrate on hardware that wins it the kind of attention it was able to grab back in the days of the original Razr.
I Know I Just Put You on a Diet, but Would You Care for Some Cake?
Verizon's been clear about its desire to boost its standing as a purveyor of video. It has a joint venture cooking with Redbox that could send streaming video to millions of TVs. The company also just announced an idea to target smaller devices with something it calls "Viewdini."
Viewdini appears to be a sort of TV Guide for mobile online video. There's lots of content out there, but when you have something specific in mind that you want to watch, you may not know exactly which of the many dedicated apps on your phone will play it for you. Rather than poke around, you can use the Viewdini app to find out just where it's located. Launch partners include Comast, Hulu, mSpot and Netflix.
Restrictions apply. For one, it's starting out on Android only. Versions for other platforms are in the works. Also, you'll only be able to use it if you're a Verizon 4G LTE subscriber. Users of older phones on slower networks need not apply.
Viewdini picked a funny time to show up. Just last week, Verizon revealed that its unlimited data plans are riding off into the sunset. If you're an old customer who's managed to keep an all-you-can-eat data deal, you won't be able to renew it when you eventually upgrade to a new 4G phone -- unless you want to pay full price for the phone, which can be awfully expensive without a subsidy.
It's a trend toward less data for users, which is not a good thing, but at least it's an honest offer. It's better than throttling heavy users, or offering customers an unlimited deal and then telling them "Screw you, you're the worst customer ever" when they take you up on it.
But with Viewdini, here's Verizon actually promoting the use of streaming online video, an activity that burns through a hell of a lot of data. And Verizon's even using it to plug the 4G network. Don't bother with WiFi, which doesn't count against your data limit -- 4G was born for mobile video. It's like if 24 Hour Fitness put an ice cream cart right next to the elliptical machines.
Verizon maintains that users will get ample warning messages if they do come close to their data limits. That's good, but say you just bought a nice, new 4G phone and the sales guy showed you Viewdini. Pretty sweet -- time for a mobile video binge! Couple hours later, the warnings start popping up. "Wait, I don't to have want to pay overages. Quick, shut off mobile data. There. Now ... when can I turn this back on? Is it safe to check my email? What about Facebook? When does this billing cycle reset, anyway?"
It's not a great way to get to know your new phone. True, anyone can overindulge in mobile video with or without Viewdini's help, but it's funny that Verizon's encouraging data-chugging video while at the same time moving to limit customers. Maybe Viewdini's greatest trick will be racking up overage revenue.
A company called "Leap Motion" may have just shown the world the way we'll all be using computers in a couple of years -- if its technology really works the way they say it does.
Leap Motion's new Leap control system is one that actually deserves comparisons to "Minority Report." That movie featured a futuristic computer interface in which users zipped through a huge screen full of information by waving around their arms and fingers. And that's exactly what you can do with Leap, only you don't have to wear any special gloves.
The Leap is about the size of a pack of gum. It'll cost about $70 and connect to a computer via USB. Set it under your display, perhaps just in back of your keyboard, and it begins to monitor a four-cubic-foot zone right above it. Stick your hands in that zone, and you're controlling the interface with pure gestures. Or you can control the action by holding an object like a pen. The leap can sense the motion of your hands and individual fingers, apparently with a great degree of sensitivity.
With a properly designed application, users can play games, design, write, navigate interfaces, and do pretty much anything else through gesture control. Leap Motion offers development kits, so relevant software could be on the horizon soon. The company also has plans to set up its own app store to make sure the device has plenty of real-world uses.
If it all comes together, especially for a sub-$100 price, a Leap sensor could eventually become almost as common a peripheral as a mouse or keyboard.
Whether this particular design will entirely replace other input methods is less certain. Leap seems like a no-brainer for certain types of work, but for people who sit at a computer literally all day, I don't know how comfortable it would be to have your arms raised up in front of you like that for eight hours at a time.