Monday, May 14, 2012 at 12:32 pm.

10 Stories I Missed While I Was In Asia

Dan Frommer

Making friends at Seoul's Gimpo airport.

I’m back after a couple of great weeks in South Korea and Japan. More about those trips over the coming weeks. But in the meantime, here’s a stab at some of the biggest stories I missed while I was gone.

  1. Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson fired — busted with fake computer science degree in bio. This is both funny and sad, but the reality is that even if Thompson actually didn’t know he had a fake degree in his bio, he shouldn’t be CEO anyway. If you can’t pay attention to detail in your own bio, what does that say about the business you’ll run or the products you’ll ship? Many writers — myself included — saw Thompson’s supposed computer science background as his main selling point; a chance to rebuild Yahoo’s status as a Silicon Valley technology company. Now that it’s clear that was bullshit all along, he’s no longer welcome. (In a twist, Thompson also disclosed he has just been diagnosed with cancer. All the best in treatment and recovery, of course.) New Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn — also not an engineer — seems popular, and should help Yahoo regain some face after the latest embarrassments. But there’s still a lot to fix there. Meanwhile, as I had tweeted, Jerry Yang has got to be loving this.
  2. Microsoft invests in the Nook. Fascinating, and a lot of ways to look at this: Microsoft building out its content ecosystem to compete with Apple and Amazon. Microsoft buying a cheap hedge on its Nokia bet. (Hey, the Nook isn’t too shabby a device. Why couldn’t they eventually make phones?) Microsoft buying market share for Windows 8, giving developers another potential reason to build apps for it. Microsoft buying into B&N without the messy job of winding down a retail operation. Reminder: The most impressive thing about the Nook Tablet is that it exists.
  3. Why might Apple do a 7-inch iPad? China. More reports that Apple is preparing a smaller iPad. I have no doubt that Apple has tested many iPad sizes, and that eventually it could sell a larger or smaller iPad. (I recently had a dream where Steve Jobs scolded me for a question I asked him about a new, 20-inch iPad.) One thing that comes to mind is that China is now Apple’s second-biggest market, is growing like crazy, and that a smaller tablet might be more important there. Hand size for one — actually only slightly smaller, according to this random website — but also gadget fashion. I haven’t been to China recently, but the Samsung Galaxy Note seems to be doing well in Asia, and maybe there’s more interest in mid-sized devices there. Would love your thoughts on this.
  4. Apple preparing new Maps app for iOS 6. This is an obvious change — it always made sense for Apple to eventually control the back-end for one of its most important apps, and not rely on Google — and I’m excited about it. I hope it doesn’t mean losing some Google-driven features, such as public transit directions — those are incredibly helpful, and saved me a lot of time and stress in Asia this month. Anyway, I’ve long wondered about the future of another Apple/Google app mashup: YouTube, which has been built into iOS devices since the first iPhone, and is another instance of Apple building and controlling the app but Google owning the back-end. At some point, you’d think that Google might want to own the entire thing. But being a rare built-in app probably drives usage that Google wouldn’t get otherwise. So it’s an interesting set of tradeoffs. (Also, from John Gruber: iOS Low-Hanging Fruit.)
  5. Guy in suit poops on Mark Zuckerberg for wearing a hoodie to IPO roadshow. I don’t know Michael Pachter, the Wall Street analyst who apparently said Zuckerberg’s outfit was a “mark of immaturity”. Maybe he was just talking on TV and said something he didn’t mean; that’s easy to do. Maybe he’s an ageist jerk who really thinks Zuck’s outfit matters. Or maybe he has a point. Back in my rowdy blog days of 2008, I wore a hoodie on TV and Valleywag made fun of me for it. That was awesome! Then I wore the same hoodie to a fancy Akamai party at the IAC building and felt pretty dumb talking to people who were nicely dressed. Anyway, I don’t know what Mark Zuckerberg was thinking that morning: The one time I met with him at Facebook HQ, I’m pretty sure he was wearing a tie and was dressed nicer than I was. Clearly the guy sometimes suffers from (or has previously suffered from) acute anxiety; maybe the hoodie comforts him. (I’ve been there. It’s no fun.) What I’d love to be the case is if he had bet Sheryl Sandberg $100 that morning that some stiff in a suit would make fun of his outfit on TV that day. Either way, Zuckerberg’s amazing history building Facebook speaks for itself, and people shouldn’t worry about his wardrobe. And if the question is whether he sees his new shareholders as chumps who are just lucky to be along for the ride… why shouldn’t he feel that way?
  6. iOS 5.1.1 update released… and ruins my phone. I had previously been one of the lucky few to have a flawless experience with iMessage, Apple’s brilliant-in-theory messaging service. Now it is a disaster. Messages I send say they’re not delivered, even when they are. Messages people send me say they’re not delivered, even when they are. Duplicates are then sent. Money is wasted on text messages. And there doesn’t seem to be a reliable solution. (It seems to be worst on wi-fi.) I feel lost, and for the first time in a long time, am angry at my iPhone. Not good, Apple.
  7. For American Airlines passengers, the division of wealth widens. American — my airline of choice — recently made some announcements about the future layout of its widebody planes, used mostly for long-haul, international flights: That its business-class cabins would be more luxurious, including lie-flat seats and direct aisle access for everyone. And that in the 777 coach cabin, it would stuff an extra seat in each row: 10 seats across, up from today’s 9. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. (Except for devoted, elite-status fliers, like me, who can select premium-economy seats — 9-across with more legroom — for free.) Why is this happening? Economics. As Brian “The Points Guy” Kelly tweeted from American’s press event, its premium fliers — though a small percent of its passengers — represent a staggering percent of its business: “24% of @AmericanAir customers generate 70% of revenue and even more profit.” The same way smartphones are crucial to Nokia’s recovery, premium fliers are crucial to American’s recovery after bankruptcy. So expect things to get nicer “up front” and worse for the cattle in the back.
  8. The real reason why websites publish slideshows: To make money. At the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal pokes the slideshow bear, reminding the media world that breaking an article into 25 “slides” is a crappy user experience, and that, in theory, it’s crappier for advertisers, too. But he seems to miss the point of why web publishers do this. It isn’t even to juke their traffic stats or to create more ad inventory. It’s because pageviews are money, and slideshows are an easy and reliable way to dramatically multiply a reader’s pageviews and ad impressions per visit. Therefore, slideshows are revenue multipliers. (Assuming a high sell-through of ad inventory, which any good publisher with a competent sales team or ad network should be able to accomplish.) Don’t the advertisers complain or revolt? Everyone I’ve ever asked about this says that no, they don’t: Either they don’t know what’s going on or they don’t care. Relative to their overall marketing budget, one site’s little ad buy doesn’t mean much. Shouldn’t media companies be moving beyond per-impression banner ads, anyway? Perhaps. But it’s still the way that most big “brand” advertisers — the types of companies whose logos you want on your site — buy ads. So why not exploit it? What about the user experience? Yeah, what about it? That’s some high-minded thinking there, and you should be applauded for it. But the reality is that people are simple creatures and when something attracts them, they click. And click. And click. And even if you lose a few readers to frustration, there are billions more new ones out there.
  9. “Nobody seems to understand what Jeff Bezos is doing. Does he?” Another fun essay from Farhad Manjoo, this time for PandoDaily. It’s easy to gaze lovingly at the way Apple makes an absurd profit every quarter with a very simple business model while Amazon runs closer to break-even with an often-confusing business model. Some people, especially in the Apple sphere, even seem to turn their nose at Amazon’s model. To me, that’s stupid. Speaking as a frequent customer, Amazon is one of the greatest services in the world. If it were profit-obsessed, it probably wouldn’t be nearly as great. I’m very happy to have Jeff Bezos running around, trying all sorts of different stuff, giving away the razors one day and the razorblades the next. As long as it’s making enough money to keep funding Amazon’s growth and experimentation, that’s all I’d ever ask for. This is hardly a mature industry — e-commerce is still less than 5% of overall retail sales. I’d hate to see Amazon slow down.
  10. “Draw Something” has been losing users after getting acquired by Zynga. Uh, yeah. I don’t think anyone should be surprised by this. OMGPOP timed its sale perfectly, as activity peaked. But it’s still a wildly popular game and the no. 12 highest grossing app in the App Store. It’s obviously not “Angry Birds”, but did anyone think it was?
  11. Bonus! The Chicago Bulls crash and burn in the NBA playoffs. This is sad, and as we say every year in Chicago, “wait til next year”. But remind me to write a post complaining in detail about the NBA’s terrible game-TV streaming service. For something that MLB makes so easy, so magical, and seem like such a great value, the NBA does so poorly that I’ll never be tricked into that ripoff again.