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Struggling ZTE Slashing 3,000 Jobs

January 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Chinese telecom equipment maker ZTE, which is facing U.S. trade sanctions that may upend its supply chain, is cutting nearly 3,000 jobs, including a fifth of positions in its struggling handset business in China, company sources said.

The sources said the Shenzhen-based company, one of the world’s biggest telecoms gear makers, is axing about 5 percent of its 60,000 global workforce.

Its global handset operations will shed 600 jobs, or 10 percent of the total, with the cuts concentrated in China, where it has been losing market share.

 “Cuts in the handset business in China will be beyond 20 percent,” said a senior executive who has been briefed on the lay-offs, which are scheduled to be completed within the first quarter.

A local manager in one of the company’s overseas branches said a 10 percent quota was given to shed staff in his department by the end of January.

“I was also given names that must go because they had tried to apply for jobs at (rival) Huawei and are therefore branded as ‘unstable factors’,” said the manager, who is not in the handset unit and asked not to be identified.

The company declined to comment.

ZTE is the only Chinese smartphone vendor with a meaningful presence in the United States, where its 10 percent market share makes it the fourth-largest vendor.

The U.S. Commerce Department first announced in March that it would impose a ban on exports by U.S. companies to ZTE for allegedly breaking Washington’s sanctions on sales to Iran.

The ban has not yet come into effect following a series of reprieves, the last of which expires on Feb. 27, but if it does go ahead, the company’s supply chain could be severely handicapped. It relies on U.S. companies including Qualcomm, Microsoft and Intel for about a third of its components.

Panasonic Develops Flexible Lithium Ion Battery

January 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Panasonic has previewed a flexible lithium ion battery fit for use in wearable devices that maintains its electrical characteristics even after repeated bending.

The battery means more freedom for designers of wearable devices, who are constrained by the need for inflexible areas to hold the battery and some electronics.

Three prototypes of the battery were on display at this week’s CES electronics show in Las Vegas. The largest is 40mm by 65mm, the medium size is 35mm by 55mm, and the smallest is 28.5mm by 39mm.

All three are just 0.45mm thick, considerably thinner than a credit card, which is 0.76mm thick. They can be bent up to a radius of 25mm or twisted to an angle of 25 degrees.

The batteries weigh just a gram or two and output 3.8 volts.

The batteries are small enough to be embedded inside credit cards or similar sized card systems. Batteries currently used in such cards degrade faster than normal because of the flexing and twisting they experience from being in a wallet.

The new batteries, which are still under development, don’t suffer from the same problems. Flexing up to the 25mm limit results in a loss of just 1 percent of capacity.

Panasonic is one of the world’s largest lithium ion battery makers. It produces cells for numerous applications, from consumer AA cells to the batteries used in electric cars. The company is in a high-profile partnership with Tesla to supply batteries for its cars from the custom built Gigafactory in Nevada.

HMD Global Debuts The New Nokia Smartphone

January 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

HMD Global, the Finnish company that owns the rights to market Nokia’s brand on mobile phones, debuted on Sunday its first smartphone, targeted for Chinese users with a price of 1,699 yuan ($246).

The launch marks the first new smartphone carrying the iconic handset name since 2014 when Nokia Oyj chose to sell its entire handset unit to Microsoft.

The new device, Nokia 6, runs on Google’s Android platform and is manufactured by Foxconn. It will be sold exclusively in China through online retailer JD.com, HMD said.

 “The decision by HMD to launch its first Android smartphone into China is a reflection of the desire to meet the real world needs of consumers in different markets around the world… it is a strategically important market,” HMD said in a statement.

Nokia was once the world’s dominant cellphone maker but missed the shift to smartphones, and then chose Microsoft’s Windows operating system for its “Lumia” range.

After the 2014 deal, Microsoft continued selling cheaper basic phones under Nokia’s name and Lumia smartphones under its own name, but last year, it largely abandoned both businesses.

HMD in December took over the Nokia feature phones business and struck a licensing deal that gave it sole use of the Nokia brand on all phones and tablets for the next decade.

It will pay Nokia royalties for the brand and patents, but Nokia has no direct investment in HMD. Nokia Oyj is currently focused on telecom network equipment business and technology patents.

HMD CEO Arto Nummela, who was once responsible for Nokia’s sales and product development, told Reuters last month that HMD aims to be one of the key competitive players in the smartphone business where it faces tough competition from Apple, Samsung and dozens of other players.

Samsung Puts Confidence In Galaxy S8, Sets 10M Production Target

January 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has set an early production target of 10 million Galaxy S8 smartphones, South Korea’s Electronic Times reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

Samsung is counting on the S8 to rejuvenate sales after it scrapped the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones last year in one of the biggest product safety failures in tech history.

The firm has yet to disclose what caused some Note 7 phones to catch fire on their own.

 The newspaper said the world’s top smartphone maker would start production in March and planned to start selling them in April. Galaxy S7 phones went on sale in March last year.

Alibaba Teams With Maersk For Online Booking Of Container Ships

January 5, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping line, has joined forces with Alibaba to enable customers to make reservations for space on its vessels through the Chinese company, illustrating growing cooperation between e-commerce and logistics firms.

Maersk, a unit of Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk, began offering the service to Chinese shippers on Alibaba’s OneTouch booking website on Dec. 22, a spokeswoman for the shipping line said on Wednesday.

Shippers traditionally go through freight forwarders to book space for goods on container vessels, but lines such as Maersk are allowing cargo owners to book directly via the internet.

 For their part, e-commerce companies are increasingly venturing into logistics activities to try to gain better control over their supply chain networks.

Amazon.com has registered a Chinese business as a freight forwarder and has leased aircraft to handle more of its own deliveries in the United States.

Alibaba, owner of China’s largest e-commerce platforms, has been making inroads into logistic services in recent years by taking stakes in couriers and buying warehouses. The company was not immediately available to comment on the Maersk relationship.

Maersk said this was part of the shipping line’s strategy to provide digitized services for customers and that it plans to launch more pilot programs on third party portals.

Acquired by Alibaba in 2010, OneTouch targets small and medium-sized Chinese exporters with online services such as customs clearance and logistics. It also allows them to book air freight and parcel delivery services and supports its parent’s Alibaba.com business-to-business marketplace.

Maersk said that the launch of the service was not about bypassing the industry’s traditional middleman freight forwarders, as the OneTouch platform still used such firms to provide services such as haulage.

“The initial launch …allows existing Alibaba OneTouch (registered) users to lock in the price of required cargo spaces on selected routes by pre-paying a deposit amount,” the Maersk spokeswoman said.

 

Apple’s Postponed AirPod Headphones Finally Go On Sale

December 15, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

airpods-1-150x150Apple finally began selling the delayed AirPods, but the wireless headphones almost immediately predicted  a 2017 ship date.

The Cupertino, Calif. company warned customers that the product would be available in “limited quantities at launch.”

The $159 headphones — which resemble enlarged ear buds sans wires — debuted on Apple’s online store earlier Tuesday. Within minutes, the estimated ship date shifted from Dec. 21 to mid-January 2017.

 Apple introduced the AirPods in September, alongside the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. At the time, executives said that the headphones would be available in October. Late in October, however, Apple confirmed that the AirPods were delayed, saying, “We need a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers.”
Apple’s Tuesday press release did not offer a reason for the two-month delay, but added that the headphones will be available in Apple’s retail stores next week.

Today’s launch came just four days after a report by the Wall Street Journal, which claimed that the AirPods would miss the holiday selling season.

 

Apple Watch Sales Off To A Strong Start During Holiday Season

December 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

apple-watch-2-150x150Sales of the Apple Watch to consumers racked up an impressive record during the first week of holiday shopping, and the current quarter is on track to be the best ever for the product, Apple Inc  Chief Executive Tim Cook told Reuters.

Cook said the gadget’s sell-through – a measure of how many units are sold to consumers, rather than simply stocked on retailers’ shelves – reached a new high.

Cook’s comments followed a report on Monday from technology research firm IDC estimating that the tech giant sold 1.1 million units of the Apple Watch during the third quarter of 2016, down 71 percent from the year-ago quarter. The comments offer a glimpse of the gadget’s performance during the holiday quarter, which is typically Apple’s strongest.

 “Our data shows that Apple Watch is doing great and looks to be one of the most popular holiday gifts this year,” Cook wrote.

“Sales growth is off the charts. In fact, during the first week of holiday shopping, our sell-through of Apple Watch was greater than any week in the product’s history. And as we expected, we’re on track for the best quarter ever for Apple Watch,” he said.

Cook did not respond to a request for specific sales figures for the gadget.

Apple has disclosed few details about the performance of the Apple Watch, its first new product released under Cook. The company has not broken out sales of the gadget in its earnings, instead lumping it into an “other products” category that includes devices such as the iPod and Apple TV.

Strong sales of the Apple Watch are to be expected during the holiday quarter as the gadget is a more natural gift than some of the company’s other products such as the iPhone or Mac computer, said analyst Bob O’Donnell of TECHnalysis Research. Apple also lowered the price of the gadget this year, potentially helping the holiday sales comparison, O’Donnell noted.

 

‘Distributed Guessing’ Hacking Turns Focus To Credit Card Numbers

December 5, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

credit-card-theft-150x150Credit card fraud has been added to the list of things that distributed processing can hasten.

An e-commerce site will typically block a credit card number after 10 or 20 failed attempts to enter the corresponding expiry date and CVV (card verification value), making life difficult for fraudsters who don’t have a full set of credentials.

But there are plenty of e-commerce sites out there, and it’s possible to obtain missing account details by submitting slightly different payment requests to hundreds of them in parallel.

It takes less than six seconds to perform the “distributed guessing attack,” according to the researchers at Newcastle University in the U.K. who figured out how to do it.

Guessing the expiry date of a valid card isn’t all that difficult: Cards are typically issued for five years at most, so sending the 60 possible values to different websites will get a confirmation from one of them. The three-digit CVV is a little harder, involving spreading 1,000 requests across multiple websites.

“Practically unlimited guesses can be made by distributing the guesses over many websites, even if individual websites limit the number of attempts,” wrote researchers Mohammed Aamir Ali, Budi Arief, Martin Emms, and Aad van Moorsel.

The title of their paper asked the question: “Does The Online Card Payment Landscape Unwittingly Facilitate Fraud?”

Their answer is emphatically yes — at least for Visa cards, for which they were able to submit sufficient requests to obtain the missing values.

MasterCard’s centralized payment network, on the other hand, detected their attack on a card account after fewer than 10 authorization attempts.

Ali and colleagues studied 389 websites drawn from the 400 most-visited according to Alexa.com. Of those, just 47 used the 3D Secure authorization system, making them immune to the attack.

The weak links in the system were the 26 sites that required only the card number and the expiry date to validate payment. The 20 of them allowing at least six guesses provided ample capacity for guessing such an easy answer.

A further 291 sites would validate a card number with just the expiry date and CVV — but with 238 of them allowing six or more guesses, the CVV could soon be obtained.

Online Holiday Shopping Surged Over Thanksgiving Weekend

November 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

online-holiday-sales-150x150Online spending by U.S. deal seekers exceeded $1 billion by Thanksgiving evening, according to Adobe Digital Index, surging almost 14 percent from a year ago and reflecting a broader trend away from brick-and-mortar shopping.

At the start of the first holiday shopping season since the U.S. Presidential election on November 8, U.S. consumers loosened their purse strings and spent $1.15 billion online between midnight and 5 pm ET on Thursday, according to Adobe.

Traditionally the day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday, has started the holiday shopping season in the United States with retailers offering steep discounts and turning a profit. But its popularity has been on the wane given the emergence of online shopping and cheap deals through the year from retailers including e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc.

U.S. stores are now opening on Thanksgiving to try and boost in-store sales, while retailers have been offering online deals weeks in advance to cope with lower demand and stiff pricing competition.

“We saw one of our strongest days ever online,” Brian Cornell, chief executive of discount retailer Target, told reporters on Thursday evening. He added that online sales grew by double digits, without giving further details.

The holiday season spanning November and December is crucial for retailers because it can account for as much as 40 percent of annual sales. Retailers try to attract shoppers with deep discounts, sometimes as much as 85 percent.

The National Retail Federation, which has been bullish with projections in the past, expects holiday sales to grow 3.6 percent this year to $655.8 billion.

“Online discounts are earlier and a lot bigger than last year,” said Tamara Gaffney, principal research analyst at Adobe Digital Index.

Walmart To Offer Web Sales Of Cyber Monday Deals Starting Friday

November 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

walmart-ecommerce-150x150Walmart Stores Inc will start offering online deals reserved for Cyber Monday two days earlier this year, joining a growing list of U.S. retailers who offer web promotions over the Thanksgiving weekend.

Walmart’s special web promotions will be available on Black Friday, the retailer said in a statement late on Sunday. Cyber Monday is the biggest day of the year for internet shopping and follows Black Friday, which is the busiest shopping day for brick-and-mortar retailers.

Walmart recently said it will boost its online inventory for Black Friday by more than half this year, as it pulls out all stops to grow online sales this holiday season. The retailer has grown its online inventory to 23 million items from 8 million at the start of the year.

 Walmart’s step to boost online sales comes at a time when Black Friday is losing its importance as early discounts and online shopping keep shoppers away from stores.

The year-end shopping season, which spans November and December, is crucial for many retailers because the two months can account for anywhere from 20 to 40 percent of their annual sales. The National Retail Federation expects industry holiday sales to grow 3.6 percent this year to $655.8 billion.

Walmart said orders that were ordered on the Walmart mobile app and picked up in store, increased more than 75 percent during the first two weeks of November from the same period a year earlier.

Walmart Pay Seeks Expansion, Hold Discussions With Mobile Wallet Companies

November 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

walmart-pay-150x150Wal-Mart Stores Inc is holding discussions with several mobile wallet companies to offer more payment options in its Wal-Mart Pay app, an executive at the world’s largest retailer said, after signing up JPMorgan Chase & Co last week.

Starting next year, Chase Pay will become the first third-party digital wallet on Wal-Mart’s website and app, they said on Thursday.

Customers can pay within the app with any major credit, debit, pre-paid or Walmart gift card.

Daniel Eckert, senior vice-president of services at Wal-Mart U.S., said in an interview late on Friday that the retailer would tweak its marketing for the app after the most frequent users turned out to be Gen X customers, born from 1965 to 1967, and baby boomers born from 1946 to 1964.

“The target demographic during the launch of a technology product tends to be younger, more male, so we have had that target market in mind,” Eckert said.

U.S. mobile payments accounted for an estimated $67 billion in 2015, and are expected to grow this year to $83 billion, or 24 percent of all purchases made via smartphones, according to the latest Forrester Research data.

Apple Inc’s Apple Pay or Alphabet Inc’s  Android Pay are the most popular digital wallets, and U.S. retailers have launched many mobile payment apps in the last two years.

But acceptance has been slow, largely because most systems require new equipment at stores.

Wal-Mart Pay was launched in December 2015 and can be used in all of the retailer’s 4,600 U.S. stores.

Customers at the checkout counter must choose the payment option within the app on their smartphone, and activate the camera to scan the code at the register.

An e-receipt is sent to the app.

Eckert also said more than 90 percent of transactions on the app involve customers are using the service more than three to four times a month.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc  is in talks with several mobile wallet companies to offer more payment options in its Wal-Mart Pay app, an executive at the world’s largest retailer said, after signing up JPMorgan Chase & Co last week.

Starting next year, Chase Pay will become the first third-party digital wallet on Wal-Mart’s website and app, they said on Thursday.

Customers can pay within the app with any major credit, debit, pre-paid or Walmart gift card.

Daniel Eckert, senior vice-president of services at Wal-Mart U.S., said in an interview late on Friday that the retailer would tweak its marketing for the app after the most frequent users turned out to be Gen X customers, born from 1965 to 1967, and baby boomers born from 1946 to 1964.

“The target demographic during the launch of a technology product tends to be younger, more male, so we have had that target market in mind,” Eckert said.

U.S. mobile payments accounted for an estimated $67 billion in 2015, and are expected to grow this year to $83 billion, or 24 percent of all purchases made via smartphones, according to the latest Forrester Research data.

Apple Inc’s  Apple Pay or Alphabet Inc’s Android Pay are the most popular digital wallets, and U.S. retailers have launched many mobile payment apps in the last two years.

But acceptance has been slow, largely because most systems require new equipment at stores.

Wal-Mart Pay was launched in December 2015 and can be used in all of the retailer’s 4,600 U.S. stores.

Customers at the checkout counter must choose the payment option within the app on their smartphone, and activate the camera to scan the code at the register.

An e-receipt is sent to the app.

Eckert also said more than 90 percent of transactions on the app involve customers are using the service more than three to four times a month.

Apple’s Mac Sales Slide Enters Fourth Straight Quarter

October 28, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

apple-bldg-150x150Apple announced that it sold 4.9 million Macs in the September quarter, a 14% year-over-year decline that extended the sales slump to four consecutive quarters.

The total was under most estimates made before Apple unloaded its numbers on Wall Street after the close of the market. Last week, research firms IDC and Gartner had pegged global Mac shipments at 5 and 4.95 million, respectively. This week, 28 financial analysts delivered forecasts that ranged from 4.65 million to 5.8 million; their average bet was a too-high 5.1 million.

Apple executives had little to say about the Mac’s contraction. CFO Luca Maestri contended that the quarter was a “difficult year-over-year compare,” referring to the record-setting 5.7 million Macs sold in the same period in 2015, but CEO Tim Cook mentioned the personal computer line only in passing.

Maestri also teased the previously-announced event Thursday that Apple will host at its California headquarters. “We’ll have some exciting news to share with current and future Mac owners very soon,” Maestri said.

The September quarter recorded the fourth straight Mac sales decline, equaling the stretch from late 2012 through most of 2013, when the Mac posted year-over-year reductions. Even so, the Mac of 2016 is in a stronger position than the line was in the 2013: Sales over the past four quarters reached 18.5 million. During the earlier slump, Apple sold 16.3 million personal computers.

 

Staples Develops Competitor To Amazon’s Echo, Google Home

October 27, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

staples-easy-button-150x150While the Amazon Echo and Google Home introduced the digital assistant to the home, Staples aims to do the same for the office.

To do so, the office supply chain store is bringing its iconic Easy Button to life.

Massachusetts-based Staples is testing a smart assistant device that looks like its Easy Button, which was launched as a marketing campaign and gained a bit of a cult following, but that customers can use to order products, track shipments and help with returns.

One day, according to Staples’ chief digital officer Faisal Masud, the device, backed by artificial intelligence-based IBM Watson, will also be able to call up janitorial services, make restaurant reservations, check traffic and weather, set reminders, act as an alarm clock and play the radio.

“We want to be the assistant’s assistant,” Masud told Computerworld in an interview at the IBM World of Watson conference here this week. “Offices are going to evolve, and these services and products shouldn’t be more than a click away. I need the carpets cleaned, the windows cleaned. I need reservations for the boss at a restaurant… It will be for more than ordering pens and pencils.”

Staples’s smart office assistant will go into alpha testing with five to 10 customers by the end of the year. It’s scheduled to go into a larger beta test with about 100 large customers in the first quarter of next year.

Depending on the results of those two tests, the Easy Button device could be released in the second or third quarter of 2017, Masud said.

Initially, the device will be focused on ordering products, returns and tracking orders, but Staples has a bigger roadmap planned for it.

As new versions of the product are released, the Easy Button is expected to gain more abilities. Users will be able to ask it for the weather forecast or traffic advisories, to make dinner reservations for the CEO, or call a repair service to fix the coffee machine in the break room or to have the office carpets cleaned.

Eventually, Masud expects it to be 4G-enabled so it won’t need to connect to Wi-Fi.

It’s about getting ahead of, or at least keeping up with, the growing trend toward conversational commerce, which refers to interacting with companies in new ways, like messaging, voice commands and chat apps.

“Conversational commerce is here already, and we need to play a role in it,” Masud said. “I think it’s less about [gaining] advantage over competitors. It’s about where the market is going. Conversational commerce is the future. You won’t be tied to the screen. We believe we need to give customers choices. It could make us more competitive, but that’s not the reason we’re doing it.”

China’s Alipay Teams Up With Payment Terminal Maker Verifone On Mobile App

October 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Mobile

alipay-150x150China’s Alipay has teamed up with U.S.-based Verifone to integrate its mobile app on Verifone payment terminals at merchants in Europe and North America, the latest such deal to reach Chinese consumers traveling abroad.

Alipay, which counts 450 million active users in China, is the top mobile payments player there. It is a unit of privately held ANT Financial, which is in turn an affiliate of publicly traded Chinese Internet giant Alibaba.com.

It has begun actively expanding outside Asia this year via partnerships with Western payment providers. Verifone terminals are used by most of the top 200 retailers in the United States, a spokesman said.

Instead of seeking to go head to head with major payments players outside its home market, Alipay targets the fast growing Chinese tourism market, which numbered 117 million travelers in 2014, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, and is forecast to double by 2020.

Through the Verifone deal announced on Monday, Alipay is targeting top-tier merchants across retail, luxury goods, health supplement and department stores.

Alipay and rival WeChat, a unit of Tencent,together make up 90 percent of the Chinese mobile payments market, with gross merchandise value estimated at more than $1 trillion last year, dwarfing other mobile payment systems around the world, according to iResearch China estimates.

Sabrina Peng, the president of Alipay International, said in a recent interview that her company’s ambition is to become a global payments provider over the next decade, with 60 percent of its transaction volume coming from outside China. “We are targeting 2 billion users in the next 10 years,” she said.

French payment terminal supplier Ingenico announced in August an expanded deal with Alipay to allow merchants across Europe to use Ingenico’s payment gateway to accept payments from Alipay users visiting the region.

The Alipay service is also being integrated into terminals from Concardis, a payments provider for merchants in German-speaking Europe.

Alipay has a similar deal with mobile payments start-up Zapper in Britain to allow Chinese tourists to use QR codes in more than 1,000 restaurants there.

Target Becomes Top Solar Energy Customer

October 24, 2016 by  
Filed under Around The Net

target-stores-150x150Target moved past perennial champion Walmart as the U.S.’s top corporate user of solar power, according to a new report.

Target has installed 147 megawatts (million watts or MW) of solar capacity on 300 stores, according to the 2016 Solar Means Business Report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

“We’re incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made in improving building efficiencies and reducing environmental impact. Our commitment to installing solar panels on 500 stores and distribution centers by 2020 is evidence of that progress,” John Leisen, vice president of property management at Target, said in the SEIA statement.

Walmart had held the top spot for the previous four years and still claims second place with 145MW of solar power installed on 364 buildings, according to the SEIA, which has been tracking corporate solar deployments for the past five years.

This year, real estate developer Prologis came in third with 107.8MW of solar. Apple, which is in fourth place with 93.9MW of installed solar power, is a likely contender for first place sometime next year.

Last year, Apple announced it was investing $850 million in a solar power plant through a partnership with First Solar, one of the nation’s largest photovoltaic (PV) manufacturers and provider of utility-scale PV plants.

Through a 25-year purchasing agreement, Apple will get 130MW from the new California Flats Solar Project. The project is currently under construction and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Other Top 10 companies recognized in the SEIA’s report include Costco (50.7 MW), Kohl’s (50.2 MW), IKEA (44 MW), Macy’s (38.9 MW), General Growth Properties (30.2 MW) and Hartz Mountain Industries (22.7 MW).

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