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Rory Cellan-Jones

Is the bubble back?

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 31 Dec 07, 17:00 GMT

With share prices of two of the world’s best known technology brands spiraling ever higher – and a stock market analyst predicting that one of them could triple from its current level – it feels like 1999 all over again. And we all remember what happened to technology shares in 2000, don’t we?

iphone.jpg
Shares in Apple, which traded at around $30 just a couple of years back, ended 2007 flirting with the $200 level. But that is just for starters, according to one investment fund, which is predicting a price of $600 within 18 months, as sales of the iPhone accelerate.

As for Google, its shares are now above or around $700, having been flogged to a grateful public three and a half years ago at $85 apiece. Here is how a Washington Post columnist put it: “This price is insane. And anyone buying Google as a long-term investment…. will lose money.”

Only he was writing in 2004 about a price of $109.40.

These are just two outstanding companies, but the general excitement about technology investment is creating a climate where, for instance, Facebook can have a paper value of $15 billion before it has shown it can turn poking into a profitable activity.

So is history repeating itself? Will the bubble burst, leaving investors who believed the only way was up to paper their bathrooms with worthless share certificates?

There is one big difference to the last time irrational exuberance took over, This time, it is (mostly) profitable businesses which are attracting investors. Both Google and Apple have shown that they can generate substantial and growing piles of good old-fashioned cash – unlike the dot-com dreamers of the late 90s who were convinced that “eyeballs” were just as good a measure of a business as profits.

Google is already a huge advertising business – in Britain alone, it promises to overtake the commercial television firm ITV as a revenue earner in 2008. Apple has transformed itself from a niche computer maker with a dwindling market share to a digital media empire, already powerful in music and threatening to disrupt the video and mobile communications industries. So, while investors are making heroic assumptions about continuing growth in both businesses, at least they are dealing with management that has delivered on its promises.

And something else is different. Back in 1999, the price of anything with dot com attached was swollen by a new army of small shareholders. I remember visiting a kind of investors’ cyber café run by one of the new online share dealing services that sprang up in the late 90s. It was packed with eager young men - many apparently working in IT themselves – who told me they lived and breathed the stock market and were making more money from tech shares than from their day jobs. This time around, the legions of small investors rushing to buy a stake in fillyaboots.com seem to be absent which is probably a good thing.

What is also missing – in Europe at least – is a clutch of start-ups making the journey from the back of an envelope to a stock market debut within a couple of years. Europe’s two most interesting technology start-ups of recent years, Skype and Last.fm, have both fallen gratefully into the hands of American parents (Ebay and CBS respectively) rather than hang on in the hope of an IPO.

So, perhaps this time around the bubble will just gently deflate, rather than burst. Mind you, as that Washington Post columnist found out, forecasting share prices is a mug’s game. It is quite possible that Google’s shares will end 2008 above $1000 and Apple’s will have climbed through $300. You just have to assume that everyone you know will buy an iPhone and that Google will wipe out the rest of the online advertising industry without a peep from the regulators.

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Darren Waters

Fon - a wi-fi revolution?

  • Darren Waters
  • 30 Dec 07, 09:21 GMT

Back in October BT partnered with wi-fi community company Fon.

The deal meant BT Broadband customers could share their home wi-fi connection with other Fon community members, to create a sort of "social wi-fi".

The news got quite a bit of coverage at the time. But I'll admit I had pretty much forgotten about the deal until I opened up my laptop at the house of a family member and up popped a wi-fi network called BT Openzone.

fon.jpgIt turns out the Openzone connection was a neighbour who had opted in to the Fon deal. I have free Openzone minutes with my BT Broadband account and so was able to log in and share the connection.

Instant wi-fi - great news.

But just how many Fon hotspots are there out there? There are more than 200,000 worldwide, according to Fon - and Japan has the most Fon-enabled routers - with 24,000.

A search on the BT Fon website - on which you can locate nearby Fon hotspots - certainly revealed a fair sprinkling in the Cardiff area, where I'm currently based. But not enough to be classed as blanket wi-fi.

The option to log in to a free w-fi hotspot - if you're a Fon user - certainly trumps having to pay about £10 for an hour's wi-fi access from a commercial provider.

With city-wide wi-fi zones struggling to take off, could Fon be a solution?
In October the founder of Fon, Martin Varsavsky, met with Apple's Steve Jobs, who had expressed an interest in the firm's work.

Free wi-fi for Apple iPhone and iPod Touch users? Well, nothing seems as yet to have come from the meeting.

It's clear that Fon will only make a difference if enough people sign up.

And that's the first thing I'm going to do when I get home. Share and share alike.

Darren Waters

My tech highlights - 2007

  • Darren Waters
  • 29 Dec 07, 15:28 GMT

Looking back on a year in technology and choosing the most interesting/impactful/surprising announcements or moments is always a tough challenge – it’s like picking a favourite child when you have an entire brood.
But I wanted to share the 10 moments that stood out for me personally in the last 12 months as a way of kickstarting the blog.

And so, in no particular order…

1. Remote play – PlayStation 3

Sony’s “unloved” console has taken a battering in the media and the number of exclusive titles that are also high quality can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
But the steady flow of software updates for the machine are beginning to bear fruit. The ability to access your connected PS3 anywhere in the world via a PlayStation Portable could one day be a killer application. Right now in ranks in the “very cool” territory.
It may not be that practical to play original PlayStation titles via your PS3 over an internet connection and on to your PSP, but it points to a very exciting future for Sony fans.
The ability to stream media – especially video – coupled with the release of a digital terrestrial TV tuner for the PS3 in the new year, could make the device a Slingbox killer.

2. Twitter

Twitter is one of a number of micro-blogging tools, which are pioneering a new form of online conversation. You can send messages, links – and thanks to tools like Twittergram and Qik, even audio and video.
It still feels like conversation at a pretty exclusive dinner party of geeks, but Twitter’s ease of use and ability to inform people and converse from almost any connected platform makes it a highly functional tool.
For sharp opinion and the latest news I tend to use my Twitter feed as my first point of call.

3. Call of Duty 4

Halo 3’s multiplayer elements may have been the best use of online in gaming in 2007 but Call of Duty’s single player campaign was the most intense and brilliantly realised piece of action.
The gulf between Hollywood immersion and gaming interactivity has always seemed unbridgeable, but anyone who has dropped into the long grass on Call of Duty 4 and tensed up as the enemy soldiers and armoured vehicles rolled pass knows that the distance is narrowing.
From skulking through the deserted remains of apartment buildings in a post-disaster Chernobyl to the impact of a nuclear explosion, Call of Duty 4 was the game to take your breath away in 2007.

4. Visiting Industrial Light and Magic

From the moment that giant starship elegantly passed overhead in the opening sequence of Star Wars I have dreamed of one day visiting Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects geniuses.
I had the chance this year – and it was a delight to wander the corridors, filled with movie memorabilia such as the disc section of the Starship Enterprise to the model of Harrison Ford in carbonite, from The Empire Strikes Back.
I also had the opportunity to visit the nerve centre of ILM, the data center.
But most exciting of all was the chance to meet the people of ILM, including Oscar winners, who were gracious indeed to spare me their time.

5. My hybrid PC-Mac life

I use Macs at home and on the road, but a PC at work, so I often run into problems sharing data and information across two operating systems – from my e-mail to calendar and contacts information.
There are enterprise solutions – none of which are embraced by the BBC – so I’ve had to find my own systems.
This year I stumbled across two programmes which have made my life so much easier – Plaxo for sharing contact information across devices, and Spanning Sync, which syncs my Google Calendar information with iCal, on the Mac.
It’s still not a perfect solution, so if you have a better suggestion, let me know.

6. Breaking the terabyte limit

My first-ever hard drive was for a Commodore Amiga and it had 20MB of storage - and I never believed for a moment that I would fill it.
But a recent purchase of a 500GB external hard drive for my desktop – in order to back up photos and music – prompted me to add up all the storage at my disposal at home.
Including games consoles – PS3 and Xbox 360 Elite – plus various pocket drives, I realised I had more than a terabyte in personal storage in the house.
At the moment they exists as islands of storage- for example I can’t move content from my Mac to my Xbox, or from the Xbox to the PS3, but in the coming years I imagine that networked storage across devices will become more and more common.
Combined with the rise in online storage, soon there will come a time when any file you have ever downloaded, created, or altered will be available to you at any time, anywhere in the world, and on any device.

7. DivX support for Xbox 360/PS3

Games consoles like the Xbox and PS3 want to be at the heart of your digital world – and both machines took a step forward in that regard when they belatedly embraced the DivX video codec.
DivX is a highly popular codec – an efficient format for compressing and playing back digital video – used by many people who swap TV programmes and other video content over the net.
You could argue this move actually facilitates copyright infringement because now it becomes easier to watch pirated content back on your shiny HDTV, rather than on a monitor. But I see it as a step towards embracing video content without DRM restrictions.
We’ll see….

8. The connected world

A truly connected world is still some way off but I got an incredible thrill when two colleagues sent me a link via text message to a video clip of their visit to a Nigerian school trialling the XO laptop, better known as a the $100 laptop.
The video was shot on a mobile phone, edited with free tools on an Apple Mac and then uploaded to YouTube.
I got my first glimpse of the impact these laptops were having on children’s lives thanks to a mobile phone, an internet connection and simple distribution tools, ie YouTube.
I also realised the true story-telling potential of simple consumer technologies for the first time.

9. Joining the PVR revolution, belatedly

This hardly counts as new technology, but the BT Vision box I was given by BT – after I threatened to move to a different ISP – has transformed TV viewing in our household.
The box is intriguing because it is part Freeview Personal Video Recorder and part IPTV device; I’ve yet to use the internet television facility because you have to pay to download programmes and I think they should offer at least some for free.
Yet given that the box is connected to my router, BT should be working on letting people move their content to laptops, PCs and other connected devices as soon as possible.
Come on BT – embrace the connected revolution.

10. Social gaming

Friends of mine will know that I am a long-standing admirer of the Halo series. I’ve always loved the SF schlock plot, the high production values and intense action.
I’ll admit, I was disappointed by the single player campaign in Halo 3 – the storyline was underwhelming, and took no risks - but the online elements were brilliantly realised.
The multiplayer aspects remain the gold standard for consoles – and probably for PCs too – while the ability to share saved films, screenshots, and modded maps, put Halo 3 at the forefront of the user generated content explosion.

That’s my top 10 – and I could easily have picked another 100.
I’d love to hear yours.

Rory Cellan-Jones

About Rory Cellan-Jones

  • Rory Cellan-Jones
  • 29 Dec 07, 15:24 GMT

First, a confession. I never owned a Sinclair Spectrum; nor did I build my own PC out of spare lawnmower parts in my bedroom. I'm so old that the only computer at my school filled a room and only boys in white coats, who were prepared to feed it with ticker tape, were allowed near it.

I came late to technology, but that makes me all the more keen to communicate just what is exciting and important about it to as many people as possible.

Rory in 1991
16/01/1991

I am a BBC lifer, having started out at as a researcher on Look North in Leeds in 1981, and spending most of my career as a television reporter covering business and industry. You know the kind of thing - standing in the rain outside collieries and car factories threatened by strikes or closure, trying to interview people who didn't want to talk to you. Then in the mid-'90s, I discovered the internet. Okay, it had been around for 20 years by then - but for me, it was a life-changing experience.

As a business correspondent, it was the source of a whole new kind of story, as new companies were born, flourished and crashed within months. I covered it all for the BBC - they even called me Internet Correspondent for a few months in 2000 before deciding that the internet was over after the dot com bubble burst.

I went back to my old job, but at home and at work, kept banging on about the profound changes the internet was bringing to our economy and the rest of our lives. Finally, the BBC relented and made me Technology Correspondent at the beginning of 2007.

I live in West London with my wife and two sons who play a big part in my technology journalism. Adam, who is 17, is my consultant on the games industry - despite no evidence of musical talent he took only hours to become a Guitar Hero on the Wii, while I am still being booed off stage. Nine year old Rufus has strong opinions on all kinds of technology (Dad, why are there no good games on your phone?) and his review of the $100 laptop has won wide praise.

So while I lack geeky credentials - as I keep telling my colleagues, I'm not the man to defrag your hard drive - I am excited by all the big technology questions. Who has built a really smart smartphone? Will Steve Jobs ever crack the video market? Who will win the battle to bring cheap computing to the developing world?

And I'm also convinced there is a huge BBC audience eager to discuss these issues and more. Speak to you soon.

Darren Waters

About Darren Waters

  • Darren Waters
  • 28 Dec 07, 09:00 GMT

I’ve been the BBC News website’s technology editor since June 2006, and before that worked in entertainment, arts, and media journalism across online, TV and newspapers in the UK.

My passion for technology was sparked by a Dragon 32 home computer bought when I was about 10 years old. It was not the most glamorous of computers but it introduced me to the world of programming – Basic and machine language; the world of games – Cashman and Chuckie Egg; and the world of jargon – such as, Poke and I/O Error.

I graduated from a Dragon, and messing around with Eproms (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory – in case you didn’t know) to a Commodore 64 and the delights of Compunet, one of the first online services for home computers.

It was sort of an early internet – where you could chat with friends in text, swap programmes and play games. I’ll admit that I never considered that the limited possibilities of Compunet would give rise to the near limitless potential of the internet.

I can remember clearly the day I first used the internet – playing around with Yahoo in 1995 and beginning to get excited about the potential for ordinary people to share ideas and creativity.

The BBC News website launched in 1997 and I had the feeling that newspapers in the form they had back then were doomed, unless they embraced change –many of them now have – and joined the BBC in 2000 to work on the news website.

The pace of change remains dizzying – and it’s why I am always excited to get up in the morning to go into work. I always feel that at any given moment a Larry Page or Sergey Brin, a Mark Zuckerberg or Nicholas Negroponte, can turn the world on its head through technology.

I see my job as trying to understand and communicate that change to BBC News users – and I hope the blog will be a way that the users can help me to comprehend change also.

I live in London with my wife and son – and whenever I can I am scanning RSS feeds, reading blogs, Tweets, Facebook status updates, using iChat to talk to friends and pwning mates online in Halo 3.

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