HP’s Wallet-Busting Win

The insane tug-of-war between Dell and HP for enterprise storage company 3Par has finally drawn to a close. We have a winner, if you want to call it that — the final sale price is more than double the figure Dell initially put forward when it announced its intentions to buy 3Par a couple weeks ago, so who knows how much of that is real value and how much is just financial one-upsmanship.

The battle was at its hottest last Friday, when the series of offers and counteroffers between HP and Dell escalated higher and higher by the hour. But in the end, Dell just could not justify topping HP’s winning US$2.4 billion offer. Back in the beginning, bidding started at $1.15 billion, so nice going 3Par. Dell gets a consolation prize of $72 million.

So now HP has 3Par, but it’ll have to work extra hard to integrate its pricey new property with the rest of the company and avoid a bad case of buyer’s remorse. In terms of HP’s storage portfolio, 3Par pretty much fits in between its super-high-end deal with Hitachi and its LeftHand Networks department. Also, 3Par is strong in the ways of the cloud, which is probably a big reason HP and Dell were fighting so hard over it. Whatever HP does, it’s going to have to wring 3Par hard to squeeze out a gain from the huge pile of money it threw down to get it.

Meanwhile, Dell will have to take its $72 million and slink back to the sidelines. 3Par has competitors Dell might begin sizing up, but none are exact likenesses. Maybe it’ll take that billion dollars burning a hole in its pocket and buy up some other kind of company entirely. And if the buy turns out to be a bust for HP, Dell can sleep easy knowing it avoided being gouged.

Listen to the podcast (12:34 minutes).

Intel Buys Its Way Inside

Does the personal computer have much of a future? Depends on your definition of a personal computer. If you’d call a smartphone or a tablet like the iPad a personal computer, it looks like they’ll be doing just fine. They’re gonna keep cranking these things out until the whole world chokes to death on its own tailpipe.

But your answer might be different if you define personal computer as the kind of thing you see today in a full-bodied laptop or desktop — something with a deep and more open OS that’ll take software from a wide variety of sources, lots of ports to interact with many different peripherals, and a power source that can maybe hold its breath for a few hours but is really designed to be used while plugged into a wall. That kind of computer probably won’t go extinct soon, but its market is being seriously squeezed by a new generation of mobile devices that are just useful enough to make you think twice about toting a laptop around.

From Intel’s point of view, any decline in traditional personal computers … can I just call them PCs? Sorry, Mac people, but it’s personal and it’s a computer, so for the next two minutes, it’s a PC.

For Intel, any decline in PCs would be very bad news, considering how much of its business is in PC chips.

So Intel decided to buy its way into mobile by shelling out $1.4 billion for Infineon’s wireless technology unit, keeping it as a standalone business.

Granted, Intel has tried to push into mobile on its own. It developed the Atom line, but so far, it’s mainly found a home in netbooks, not phones or tablets. To get into really mobile devices, the chips have to be small and very power-efficient. What Infineon has is way closer to the mark.

Analysts generally gave the buy a thumbs-up, noting that the specific technologies and licenses Intel gets with this purchase will probably give it an important foothold in the mobile game. Of course, that won’t happen until many months from now, when the deal actually starts resulting in products. But that’s a much better reaction than they had to Intel’s previous purchase of security firm McAfee, which amounted to a lot of head-scratching, eyebrow-raising and grimacing. That one had to do with mobile too, just not as directly.

Google’s Secret Game

Another enthusiastic participant in the late-summer corporate shopping spree was Google. In the month of August, it snapped up Slide and Angstro, and most recently it’s also acquired a 2-year-old company called SocialDeck.

What ties these three together is the concept of social gaming — some are more social, some are more game, but social gaming is the tie that binds. SocialDeck does games for mobile devices, Slide makes some big titles on the Facebook platform, and Angstro makes an app that sorts information as it comes in from social networking sites.

These moves fit the popular narrative that Google is taking another swipe at social networking. But instead of throwing a ham-fisted punch right at the center of the target and breaking a finger like it did with Google Buzz, this time it’s taking its time assembling something behind the scenes, and it may not present itself as a direct threat to Facebook right off the bat.

Instead, the rumor points to something called “Google Games” — supposedly a social gaming platform where people would go to A) see ads, of course and B) play around with online games, with a little social networking built in. That specialty would differentiate it from Facebook, which is all over the map.

These purchases aren’t the only thing pointing the way toward the possible launch of Google Games. The company also recently shut the doors on Google Wave, a collaboration technology with parts that could be broken down and refitted for a gaming network. And in July, Google reportedly stuffed as much as $200 million into the pockets of Zynga, a company that makes some of Facebook’s most popular games. It wasn’t an all-out purchase, but it sure did sound like a message.

The Return of the Pod

The Apple Pod People are preparing to make their annual harvest sacrifices at the altar of Jobs now that the CEO has once again taken the stage to lay out all the gadgets that’ll appear on Apple store shelves in the next few weeks.

September is iPod season for Apple, and once again the company delivered new features to its media player family. Sanity reared its lovely head and delivered an iPod shuffle with actual face-mounted buttons instead of that funny wire-mounted setup it had going on for a while. The iPod nano shrank down to something like half its previous size and added a touchscreen, though it doesn’t appear to run on iOS at present. Then there’s the iPod touch, which now has a video camera as well as a FaceTime-ready front-facing cam.

But the big show and tell didn’t end with iPods. Apple also primed up some hype for its next iOS updates. Version 4.1 will stomp out some bugs and hopefully make iPhone 3Gs running iOS 4 stop behaving like they’re filled with tree sap. And it’ll make the camera do automatic HDR photography.

iOS 4.1 will also usher in Game Center, a social gaming network, and iTunes 10 will give us the introduction of Ping, a social network for all things musical.

More iTunes news also confirmed rumors reported last week that Apple was working on new ways to distribute TV content. Now instead of buying television shows and paying two or three bucks to keep them — and probably never watch them again — users can rent TV shows for 99 cents. They’ll self-delete after a set period of time, and there are no commercials. Apple got two major networks on its leash with this one: Fox and BFF ABC. Jobs said the other two will come along soon. NBC has rebelled against iTunes in the past, but it eventually heeled after a few months, so who knows how long it’ll take to herd the cats on this one.

iTunes movie rentals are still around, but now users will be able to get those the same day they’re released on DVD.

All this activity in the rental world was coupled with a big update to Apple TV, a device that hasn’t had a major refresh since it debuted in 2007. Basically, they made it smaller, simpler and cheaper. And blacker — now it’s black, just like every other piece of home theater equipment in the universe. The $99 price point will probably manage to attract a lot more consumer attention, but this version of Apple TV works differently than the old one.

There’s no internal hard drive — at least, nothing bigger than what it takes to accommodate a single movie’s worth of smooth streaming. The new Apple TV will stream rented material directly from iTunes. It’ll also draw in any kind of stored content you have on other devices on the home network, like your computer. And it’ll do other services like Netflix and YouTube. But nothing lives in the box.

There was a little disappointment out there that this isn’t the iTV certain rumors had forecast — it’s not an iOS device that runs apps; the interface has been brushed up, but not revolutionized. The TV rental rumor, though, that one came true. But as usual, the TV studios weren’t about to make an exclusive arrangement with Apple. The very same day, Amazon announced similar offerings from the same partners: ABC and Fox.

Galaxy Revealed

In the last few weeks, the Samsung Galaxy Tab has been sort of the Sasquatch of the consumer technology world — rumors, blurred photos, teaser promos, so forth. It managed to work up a reasonable amount of hype, and now Samsung’s gone official with the details. We have our first true Android tablet from a major manufacturer, and it may well prove a worthy adversary for the iPad.

After Dell’s Streak and Aero games, it’s refreshing to see a new Android device launch with a modern version of the OS installed — Galaxy comes with version 2.2, aka Froyo. The 1 GHz processor is there, which is table stakes nowadays. And it’s a bit smaller and lighter than an iPad, with a 7-inch screen and a weight of 13 ounces.

One way it goes above and beyond the current iPad, though, is with cameras — there’s a videocam in the back of the Galaxy and one in front for video conferencing. And you can use the Galaxy as a phone, though you won’t need to look like a rube holding a 7-inch tablet up to your face. You use speakerphone or a Bluetooth set. And of course there’s Flash, which is non grata on iPad.

App selection seems to be the big divider between winners and losers in the mobile space right now, and the Galaxy will benefit from access to the Android Market as well as Samsung’s own little application storefront.

As the first massive gadget-maker to bring an Android tablet to market, Samsung may be able to dictate a few unifying terms to the Android world. For example, if the Galaxy Tab proves popular enough, that 7-inch screen may become the de facto standard to which Android app developers scale up their software when they want to make a tablet version.

Sort by BS Level

Back in the old-timey days of the Internet, spam was a really big problem for email users — you’d have to wade through rivers of it just to get to the stuff you cared about. Laws were passed, filters were improved, and now I can count on one hand the number of true spam messages I’ve received in my inbox this year.

But processed ham is a different matter. That’s different than spam — spamming’s illegal, and a decent filter will keep it out of your life. I’m talking about email from companies you did business with once but just don’t care about anymore, or dumb forwarded crap from people you barely know, or the classic mass Reply to All echo chamber where everyone keeps hitting Reply to All to tell everyone to stop hitting Reply to All.

Whatever the reason for your bloated inbox, this kind of legitimate yet unwelcome email is getting to be almost as tedious to deal with as old-fashioned spam. But Gmail thinks it might have the cure, or at least some kind of promising treatment. If you have a Gmail inbox and you enable the new feature, it automatically sorts your incoming email into three categories, besides the stuff it kicks into the spam pit: You get important and unread messages, starred messages and everything else — everything else being the stuff you presumably don’t need to read right away, or possibly ever.

But how does it know? Well, it figures out your email the same way Google figures out everything else — by using algorithms and tracking your behavior. Messages from contacts you trade email with more often are more likely to get flagged as “important.” Same with email threads you’ve been paying more attention to. It’ll also try to learn from how you flag messages using the star button.

The Gmail filter could end up saving users some time if it works correctly. But algorithms don’t know everything, so I wouldn’t start treating that “everything else” pile like it’s your spam hole.

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