Wall Street Beat: Tablets, big data shape IT economics

The iPad, mobile devices and M&A in the 'big data' arena are related trends

News from Apple and Teradata along with various economic forecasts this week show that at seemingly opposite ends of the technology-product spectrum, non-PC mobile devices and IT capable of handling extremely high volumes of data are major forces shaping the economics of the computer industry.

The biggest product debut of the week was the introduction of the iPad 2 Wednesday by Apple CEO Steve Jobs, putting in an appearance on stage in San Francisco even though he's on an indefinite medical leave of absence (he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2004 and has taken time off due to health reasons several times since then).

The new version of the iPad, generally credited with igniting the current fervor for tablet-style devices, sports a new design and features including built-in cameras and a new gyroscope. Though it was generally well-received, some critics were lukewarm.

"The announcement was as expected," said analyst Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates. "I don't see any overwhelmingly compelling capabilities that would make people sitting on the tablet fence go out and have to buy one, despite some attractive apps."

Such quibbles may be beside the point, however. The iPad is leading a trend in Internet-connected mobile devices that is siphoning professional and consumer demand from desktop, mobile and netbook computers -- in short, away from the entire PC category.

For its first fiscal quarter, Apple sold 7.3 million iPads. Along with iPhone and Mac sales, the iPad helped the company reach record first-quarter revenue of US$26.7 billion. Recognizing the key role the iPad plays in mobile computing, investors pushed up Apple shares by $7.44 Thursday to $359.56.

Also on Thursday, Gartner lowered its forecast for worldwide PC shipments in 2011, saying that demand for tablets is dampening interest in PCs and laptops. Gartner expects PC shipments to total 387.8 million units this year, increasing by 10.5 percent year over year. Gartner's prior forecast called for 15.9 percent growth.

"We expect growing consumer enthusiasm for mobile PC alternatives, such as the iPad and other media tablets, to dramatically slow home mobile PC sales, especially in mature markets," said George Shiffler, research director at Gartner, in the report.

Outside of the PC and mobile computing market, Teradata said Thursday it plans to acquire data warehousing and analytics vendor Aster Data Systems. Teradata, which already has an 11 percent stake in Aster Data, will pay $263 million for the rest of the company. The acquisition is widely seen as part of a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the market for information systems that can handle what's called "big data," a reference to high volumes of information of both structured and unstructured data.

Other M&A deals in this category include Hewlett-Packard's acquisition of Vertica in February, IBM's deal to buy Netezza last September and EMC's purchase of Greenplum last July.

Teradata shares declined by $1.26 to $42.29 in midafternoon trading Friday. This may not have been a direct response to the merger news however, as all major indexes were trading lower on news of higher energy prices.

There may not be an obvious, direct link between the news from the mobile computing arena and the big data M&A deals. But mobile, Internet-connected devices play a key role in driving the high volumes of data that enterprises need to analyze in order to stay competitive. Businesses require real-time analytics for the vast amount of queries and transactions coming from Internet users, who are increasingly mobile.

"The web channel will grow steadily through 2015, with an emphasis on customer empowerment particularly as consumers use their mobile devices while shopping," noted Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru in a blog post.

U.S. online retail sales increased 12.6 percent to $176.2 billion in 2010, according to a report this week from Forrester Research. Forrester forecast online sales to increase at a compound annual rate through 2015, reaching $279 billion.

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Tags greenplumVerticaIBMHandhelds / PDAsData managementdata warehousingHewlett-PackardAppleconsumer electronicsTeradatafinancial resultslaptopstablet PCssoftwareForrester ResearchemcNetezzabusiness issuesapplicationsaster data systemshardware systems

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Marc Ferranti

IDG News Service

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