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Panasonic On The Hunt For Acquisition Targets

March 27, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Japanese electronics giant Panasonic Corp said it is gearing up to spend 1 trillion yen ($8.4 billion) on acquisitions over the next four years, bolstered by a stronger profit outlook for its automotive and housing technology businesses.

Chief Executive Kazuhiro Tsuga said at a briefing on Thursday that Panasonic doesn’t have specific acquisition targets in mind for now. But he said the firm will spend around 200 billion yen on M&A in the fiscal year that kicks off in April alone, and pledged to improve on Panasonic’s patchy track record on big deals.

“With strategic investments, if there’s an opportunity to accelerate growth, you need funds. That’s the idea behind the 1 trillion yen figure,” he said. Tsuga has spearheaded a radical restructuring at the Osaka-based company that has made it one of the strongest turnaround stories in Japan’s embattled technology sector.

Tsuga previously told Reuters that company was interested in M&A deals in the European white goods market, a sector where Panasonic has comparatively low brand recognition.

The firm said on Thursday it’s targeting operating profit of 430 billion yen in the next fiscal year, up nearly 25 percent from the 350 billion yen it expects for the year ending March 31.

Panasonic’s earnings have been bolstered by moving faster than peers like Sony Corp and Sharp Corp to overhaul business models squeezed by competition from cheaper Asian rivals and caught flat-footed in a smartphone race led by Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics. Out has gone reliance on mass consumer goods like TVs and smartphones, and in has come a focus on areas like automotive technology and energy-efficient home appliances.

Tsuga also sought to ease concerns that an expensive acquisition could set back its finances, which took years to recover from the deal agreed in 2008 to buy cross-town rival Sanyo for a sum equal to about $9 billion at the time.

 

 

Google Said To Be Devolping Bill Payment Service For Gmail

March 26, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Google reportedly is working on a service to allow that will allow users to pay their bills from their Gmail accounts.

The service, dubbed Pony Express, would ask users to provide personal information, including credit card and Social Security numbers, to a third-party company that would verify their identity, according to a Re/code report on Tuesday.

Google also would work with vendors that distribute bills on behalf of service providers like insurance companies, telecom carriers and utilities, according to the article, which was based on a document seen by Re/code that describes the service.

It’s not clear whether Pony Express is the actual name of the service or if Google will change the name once it launches. It’s planned to launch by the end of the year, according to the report.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment.

A handful of vendors such as Intuit, Invoicera and BillGrid already offer e-billing payment and invoicing software. Still, a Google service, especially one within Gmail, could be useful and convenient to consumers if the company is able to simplify the online payment process.

A benefit for Google could be access to valuable data about people’s e-commerce activities, although there would be privacy issues to sort out. Google already indexes people’s Gmail messages for advertising purposes.

Plus, the service could give Google an entry point into other areas of payment services. The company has already launched a car insurance shopping servicefor California residents, which it plans to expand to other states.

It’s unclear who Google’s partners would be for the service, but screen shots published by Re/Code show Cascadia Financial, a financial planning company, and food delivery service GreatFoods.

 

 

Lexmark Scoops Up Kofax For Nearly $1B

March 26, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Lexmark International Inc, known for its printers, said it plans to acquire Kofax Ltd in an about $1 billion deal that would double the size of its enterprise software business.

PC and printer makers have struggled in the recent past as companies reduced printing to cut costs and consumers shifted to mobile devices from PCs.

Hewlett-Packard Co plans to separate its computer and printer businesses from its corporate hardware and services operations this year.

Xerox Corp has also increasingly focused on IT services to make up for the falling sales of its copiers and printers.

Lexmark divested its inkjet printer business in 2013 and has since boosted its enterprise software business.

The Kofax deal will help the company’s Perceptive Software business achieve its revenue target of $500 million in 2016, Lexmark said.

The business makes software to scan everything from spreadsheets to medical images and provides services to banking, healthcare, insurance and retail companies. It contributed about 8 percent to Lexmark’s revenue in 2014 and has grown at more than 30 percent in the past two years.

Kofax provides data services to the financial, insurance and healthcare companies such as Citigroup Inc, Metlife Inc and Humana Inc.

Lexmark said it expects the deal to “significantly” expand operating margins in its enterprise software business, which would now be worth about $700 million. It will also add about 10 cents per share to the company’s adjusted profit in 2015.

 

 

Facebook To Open Messenger App To Third-Party Developers

March 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Facebook’s Messenger app mostly been used for keeping in touch with friends. Now people can also use it to send each other money. In the future, it could become a platform which other apps could use, if recent rumors prove true.

This Wednesday and Thursday at its F8 conference in San Francisco, Facebook will show off new tools to help third-party developers build apps, deploy them on Facebook and monetize them through Facebook advertising.

Among those tools might be a new service for developers to publish content or features of their own inside Messenger, according to a TechCrunch article. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

Such a service could make Messenger more useful, if the right developers sign on. Search features, photo tools or travel functions could be incorporated into Messenger and improve users’ chats around events or activities.

However, Messenger already lets users exchange money, and it also handles voice calls. Layer on more services and Messenger could become bloated and inconvenient to use.

In other words, making Messenger a platform would be a gamble.

A more versatile Messenger could generate new user data Facebook could leverage for advertising, helping it counter a user growth slowdown in recent quarters. It could also boost Facebook’s perennial efforts to increase participants in its developer platform and the number of users of its third-party apps.

Even if Facebook doesn’t turn Messenger into a platform at F8, it will likely do so in the future, said John Jackson, an IDC analyst focused on mobile business strategies. For the same reasons Facebook might turn Messenger into a platform, it could do the same for other apps like WhatsApp or Instagram, he said.

“The objective is to enrich and multiply the nature of interactions on the platform,” providing valuable data along the way, he said.

 

Vessel Launches Early Access, Paid Subcription Video Service

March 25, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Online video platform Vessel officially debuted its paid subscription service on Tuesday, offering programming at least three days before other websites in a bid to reshape an industry dominated by free content on Google Inc’s YouTube.

Vessel, which costs viewers $3 a month, was founded by former Hulu Chief Executive Jason Kilar and Chief Technology Officer Richard Tom. They aim to create an early window for a selection of web video, similar to the way movies are released in theaters before they arrive on cable TV or the Internet.

“Early access is very valuable,” Kilar said in an interview. “There are a lot of consumers who would love to see something early.”

More than 130 creators will provide early access to content on Vessel. After the exclusive period ends, videos can go to YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo or other free, ad-supported sites, and are free on Vessel.

YouTube stars such as Ingrid Nilsen, Rhett & Link and Shane Dawson are among creators whose videos will make their debut on Vessel. Other programming comes from online networks such as food-oriented Tastemade and celebrities such as Alec Baldwin.

Video creators on Vessel keep 70 percent of ad revenue, compared with 55 percent that is typical on YouTube, plus 60 percent of Vessel subscription revenue.

With those incentives, the new service will be an easier sell to creators than offering viewers who are used to watching videos for free, said Brett Sappington, director of research at Parks Associates.

“Vessel must rely on content creators’ popularity and self-marketing to entice their loyal viewers into paying a monthly fee,” he said.

The service is free for one year for viewers who sign up within the first three days.

It is unlikely YouTube will lose significant revenue from a migration to Vessel, Sappington said. YouTube made its debut a decade ago and has more than 1 billion users.

 

 

Medical Data Becoming More Valuable To Hackers

March 23, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

The personal information stored in health care records fetches increasingly impressive sums on underground markets, making any company that stores such data a very attractive target for attackers.

“Hackers will go after anyone with health care information,” said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at the SANS Institute, adding that in recent years hackers have increasingly set their sights on EHRs (electronic health records).

With medical data, “there’s a bunch of ways you can turn that into cash,” he said. For example, Social Security numbers and mailing addresses can be used to apply for credit cards or get around corporate antifraud measures.

This could explain why attackers have recently targeted U.S. health insurance providers. Last Tuesday, Premera Blue Cross disclosed that the personal details of 11 million customers had been exposed in a hack that was discovered in January. Last month, Anthem, another health insurance provider, said that 78.8 million customer and employee records were accessed in an attack.

Both attacks exposed similar data, including names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, telephone numbers, member identification numbers, email addresses and mailing addresses. In the Premera breach, medical claims information was also accessed.

If the attackers try to monetize this information, the payout could prove lucrative.

Credentials that include Social Security numbers can sell for a couple of hundred dollars since the data’s lifetime is much longer compared to pilfered credit card numbers, said Matt Little, vice president of product development at PKWARE, an encryption software company with clients that include health care providers. Credit card numbers, which go for a few dollars, tend to work only for a handful of days after being reported stolen.

 

 

Angry Birds Maker Seeks New Profits In Movie Venture

March 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Finnish mobile games developer Rovio is pinning its hopes on a costly 3D movie project helping it return to growth after a 73 percent profit drop,the latest sign its mainstay Angry Birds brand is waning.

A decline in its business licensing the Angry Birds brand on toys, clothing and sweets is adding to the problems of Rovio, which has yet to repeat the success of its original slingshot-based game which became the No.1 paid mobile app of all time after its launch in 2009.

Rovio said total sales fell 9 percent last year to 158.3 million euros ($169 million), although revenue from mobile games grew 16 percent to 110.7 million, as new offerings such as Jolly Jam and Angry Birds Stella Pop! helped total annual downloads reach 600 million.

Operating profit slumped to 10 million euros from 36.5 million.

“It is clear that a growth company like us can’t be satisfied with a falling revenue,” Chief Executive Pekka Rantala told Reuters.

Rovio, whose long-term aim is to become an entertainment brand on a par with Walt Disney, has expanded the Angry Birds brand into a spin-off TV series and is backing an animated movie set to premiere in May 2016.

Rantala said the total production cost of the Angry Birds movie will be about $80 million, and marketing costs, which will be partly paid by Sony Entertainment’s Columbia Pictures, would total more than the production budget.

“The movie will help us get the licensing business back to growth. We are already seeing signs of pick-up in licensing business, and pretty soon we will be able to publish new major partnership deals,” he said.

Having cut the number of licensing partners to around 400, including toy maker Hasbro, the company is also striving to build new brands alongside Angry Birds to be expanded into new games, consumer products and animations, Rantala said.

Analysts have said Rovio has been slow to respond to a shift to freely available mobile games, where revenue comes from purchases inside the game, as well as advertising.

 

T-Mobile Pivots Towards Businesses With New Pricing Plans

March 20, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

T-Mobile US Inc announced new cellular and data plans for business customers, setting its focus on a lucrative market segment long dominated by larger rivals AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc.

Companies with more than 1,000 lines will pay $10 per month for each line. Other firms with multiple lines will be charged $15 a line. In both cases, every line comes with 1 gigabyte of high-speed data and allows unlimited calls and text messages.

Verizon and AT&T account for 87 percent of the $83 billion in wireless revenue from businesses, T-Mobile Chief Executive John Legere said at the company’s “Uncarrier 9.0″ event in New York.

T-Mobile’s bid to lure rivals’ business customers reflects an increasingly competitive U.S. cellular market in which new customer growth is hard to come by, forcing the dominant players to seek growth by targeting each other’s existing subscribers.

T-Mobile, controlled by Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, hopes to encourage business owners to switch to its network by offering their family members plans with discounts, Legere said.

As added sweeteners for prospective clients, T-Mobile will offer each business client a free GoDaddy.com domain, a website and email addresses from Microsoft Office 365.

Turning to the consumer market, T-Mobile said it would make permanent various promotional offers from recent months that had been labeled temporary. It also broadened a previous offer to lure other companies’ customers by paying up to $650 in early termination fees to also cover those potential customers’ equipment costs.

Over the last two years, T-Mobile has focused on the consumer market, aggressively cutting prices and shaking up the market with moves to simplify signing up for and keeping cellular and data plans.

 

eBay Teams Up With Sotheby’s, Launches New Online Auction Service

March 18, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

eBay has created a new platform that will stream Sotheby’s New York auctions live beginning next month.

The new live auctions platform – ebay.com/sothebys – that launched on Tuesday pairs Sotheby’s 270 years of experience selling art and antiques with eBay’s digital expertise and 155 million active users worldwide to meet the demand for online bidding.

The first auctions on the platform will begin on April 1 with photographs and a themed New York sale that will include the 13 letters of the 1970s Yankee Stadium sign that could fetch up to $600,000 from the collection of baseball great Reggie Jackson.

Online art sales are not new. Sotheby’s and its rival Christie’s conduct them. But the platform will bring Sotheby’s vast inventory to a new audience in the hopes of boosting sales and prices.

“What this partnership is about is leveraging eBay’s audience and ability to target that audience and find clients that have the means to participate in a Sotheby’s auction,” Josh Pullan, senior vice president, director of e-commerce at Sotheby’s, said.

Online sales of art and antiques are estimated to have reached 3.3 billion euros ($3.5 billion) or about 6 percent of global sales in 2014, according to a report commissioned by the Netherlands-based European Fine Art Foundation.

The majority of online sales, it added, was in the $1,000 to $50,000 range.

Most of Sotheby’s New York auctions will be streamed on the platform except for high-priced evening sales of contemporary, modern and Impressionist art and other specialist categories.

Sotheby’s has seen a nearly 25 percent rise in online bidding in 2014 over the previous year. In an auction of Picasso Ceramics, 75 percent of the lots offered attracted online bids.

The is designed to emulate the auction catalog in a digital format and to replicate the experience of seeing art in a museum before taking bidders to the live auction where they can bid in real time.

Megan Ford, director, emerging verticals and live auctions at eBay, said technology is changing and people have become more comfortable purchasing high-ticket items online in the past few years.

 

 

 

Alibaba Testing Facial Recognition Feature For Online Payments

March 17, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group and affiliated online payment service Alipay are testing the use of facial recognition technology in hopes of one day replacing passwords one day.

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma showed the new feature while speaking at the Cebit trade fair in Hanover, Germany.

Using Alipay, Ma bought a souvenir stamp from Alibaba’s e-commerce site in China. But to confirm the purchase, Ma scanned his face using the front camera on his smartphone.

“Online payment to buy things is always a big headache,” he said. “You forget your password, you worry about your security. Today we show you a new technology.”

Alibaba, which reigns as China’s largest e-commerce player, said Monday that the facial recognition feature was still under development.

Other online payment services have also started using biometrics to confirm user purchases. Apple Pay, for instance, relies on an iPhone’s fingerprint scanner.

It’s unclear how secure Alibaba’s technology is. But the company’s affiliated Alipay service is already hugely popular in China, where it has more than 300 million registered users.

Just over a half of the transactions Alipay processes came from mobile devices last year. And although most of Alibaba’s business remains in China, the company has ambitions to expand globally.

Alipay, which was spun off from Alibaba in 2011, is also seeking to increase its international user base. Last October, Apple CEO Tim Cook also said he was exploring a possible partnership with Alibaba Group to bring Apple Pay to China.

The facial recognition feature, while still in a beta state, is called “Smile to Pay,” according to a social media post by Ant Financial Services Group, an Alibaba affiliated company which runs Alipay. The feature was developed in partnership with a Beijing company Megvii, which provides a cloud-based facial recognition service.

 

 

 

LG, Huawei Soon To Offer High-end Smartphones

March 13, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

HTC and Samsung Electronics impressed Mobile World Congress attendees with new high-end smartphones, but they won’t be the only game in town for long: LG Electronics and Huawei Technologies are gearing up to announce new devices next month.

The shortage of new flagship smartphones at the show was a bit of a disappointment. But for those who weren’t entirely convinced by the HTC One M9, Samsung’s Galaxy S6 or the Galaxy S6 edge, more devices are on the way for buyers who aren’t afraid of pricier products.

The most highly anticipated is the successor to the LG G3, which unsurprisingly is expected to be called the G4. LG has so far kept quiet on when the smartphone will be unveiled, but an event is expected to take place in April. To steal some of Samsung’s thunder, the company would do well to at least start posting teasers before April 10, which is when the Galaxy S6 and S6 edge go on sale.

In light of the growing focus on design at Mobile World Congress, it wouldn’t be surprising if LG uses better materials for the G4 than it did for the G3. But don’t necessarily bet on a nice high-end, all-metal design or a metal frame combined with a glass back (which the Galaxy S6 has).

The G3 might be made of plastic but it looked much better than the Galaxy S5. So, LG isn’t under as much pressure as Samsung was to update the looks of its flagship. Also, sticking with plastic allows the company to keep the price down.

The specifications for LG’s new smartphone are the subject of multiple rumors, and include a screen with a 1620 x 2880 pixel resolution. But I am keeping my fingers crossed for a 5.3-inch screen that keeps the G3′s 1440 by 2560 pixel resolution.

That would mean shrinking the screen size from 5.5 to 5.3 inches, which might seem like a strange move, but to me the G3 feels a bit too wide. Also, LG has shown it isn’t averse to the concept: the G Flex2 has a 5.5-inch screen instead of the 6-inch screen on the G Flex.

While LG is quiet on its plans for the G4 launch, Huawei has started to post teasers for an event on April 8. The date likely isn’t a random pick, since the company is expected to present the P8. It also comes before the Samsung ship date.

 

 

Samsung Optimistic, Raises Production Target For New Galaxy Phone

March 12, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has raised its production target for the new flagship Galaxy smartphones after receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews from the mobile markets, the Electronic Times newspaper is reporting.

The South Korean paper, citing an unnamed source, said Samsung increased its total production target for the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge devices to 8 million units for April from 7 million previously. The company’s production target for March remained unchanged at 5 million units, according to the paper.

A Samsung spokeswoman said the company did not comment on rumors or speculation.

Designed from scratch in an operation dubbed “Project Zero”, the Galaxy S6 and its curved-edges variant are critical for Samsung’s plans to reverse plunging smartphone revenues that led to its first annual earnings fall in three years in 2014.

The new phones have been well-received for the revamped design and various technological improvements, prompting some brokerages to increase shipments forecasts for Samsung smartphones this year. They will start selling in 20 countries on April 10.

 

 

HBO Streaming Service To Launch On Apple Devices In April

March 11, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

HBO’s standalone streaming service will launch on Apple Inc devices in April, ahead of the season premiere of hit series “Game of Thrones,” the network said, a move to reach millions of viewers who do not subscribe to pay television packages.

The new HBO Now service will cost $14.99 a month. It will include the network’s past, present and future series plus its lineup of Hollywood movies, HBO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Plepler said at an Apple event in San Francisco.

It is the first time the premium network will be available to people with Internet access who shun traditional TV bundles with dozens of channels. Other media companies including CBS Corp and Dish Network Corp also are taking steps to reach those audiences.

“This is a transformative moment for HBO,” Plepler said after an introduction by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

The move by Time Warner Inc’s HBO could threaten the video businesses of cable and satellite companies, which are fighting to keep customers from dropping their TV packages. It also amps up competition with streaming services such as Netflix Inc. HBO’s library of hits includes “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City.”

Starting in early April, HBO Now will be available through the Apple TV box and on iPhones, iPads and the iPod touch. The fifth season of “Game of Thrones” premieres April 12.

Apple will be the exclusive digital provider of HBO Now for three months. The network also is aiming to convince traditional TV distributors to offer the service as early as April.

 

 

 

SAP Still Giving Workers The Boot

March 11, 2015 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

SAP, which makes expensive business software which is so esoteric no one really knows what it does, is cutting some of its expensive staff members.

SAP will cut about 2,250 posts, or around 3 percent of its global workforce, while creating a similar number in expanding parts of the company, as it accelerates a push to sell its products via the Internet.

Last year SAP, Europe’s largest software maker, which employs about 75,000 workers worldwide, cut a similar percentage of posts.

SAP said that it was responding to changes in market circumstances and the the cuts were not part of a cost reduction plan but a refocusing of the company.

SAP expects to create about 2,200 jobs this year in growth areas such at its cloud business, its in-memory database Hana and Concur, the expenses software maker it bought last year for $7.3 billion.
Last year SAP created a similar number of new jobs, a spokesman said.

SAP has launched a high-stakes overhaul of its core software line, aiming to convince major corporate customers that its software can run their most critical applications to predict business conditions.

Established software makers such as SAP are battling to boost internet software sales and fend off pure cloud-based rivals such as Salesforce.com (CRM.N) and Workday (WDAY.N).

SAP workers in Europe can make use of voluntary leave arrangements. In Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, SAP will in addition be offering early retirement.

SAP said it excludes forced redundancies in Europe.

Courtesy-Fud

Amazon Opens Online Store On Alibaba’s Tmall

March 10, 2015 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Amazon.com Inc has set up shop at an online store on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s fast-growing online marketplace, Tmall.com as it seeks to expand in China, an Alibaba spokesman said.

Alibaba’s Tmall offers virtual storefronts and payment portals to merchants. Several western retailers, including Zara owner Inditex, Britain’s Burberry and ASOS, have joined TMall this year as they look to boost their presence in China.

Imported food, shoes, toys and kitchenware are listed on Amazon’s store, one of the many on Tmall that sell brand-name goods to Chinese shoppers, Bloomberg, which first reported the news, last week.

Amazon also operates its own e-commerce site in China.

U.S. retailer Costco Wholesale Corp last year opened an online store in China using Tmall, entering the country’s booming e-commerce market to combat slowing sales at home.

Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside usual business hours.