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Amazon Expands Kindle Lineup, Increases Pricing

September 19, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Amazon.com Inc continued its push into hardware with the debut of six new or upgraded devices, including a high-end $199 e-reader called the Kindle Voyage and its cheapest-ever touch-screen tablet.

The No. 1 U.S. online retailer also revamped its basic Kindle e-reader to include a touch screen. It will cost $79, about 15 percent more than the current basic model.

Other new devices unveiled on Wednesday are a $99 Kindle Fire HD tablet, which includes a smaller, six-inch screen as well as a tablet designed for kids that starts at $149. Amazon also upgraded its 7-inch and 8.9 inch Fire tablets.

All the upgraded and new devices start shipping in October.

The expanding Kindle lineup underscores Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’ commitment to developing devices as a way to retain users and bolster its core business of retail and shopping.

This year alone, Amazon has launched a set-top box, a grocery ordering wand and a Fire smart phone, which debuted in July to lackluster reviews.

Amazon, which entered the hardware sector with the 2007 launch of the Kindle, has adopted a strategy of selling the devices at cost, and it profits when users buy content or goods.

It has been investing heavily in content, inking a deal this year to stream some HBO shows including “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” to members of its Prime subscription program.

“The vast majority of people are still using the tablets,” David Limp, vice president of devices for Amazon, said during a briefing with reporters in New York.

Executives touted the Kindle Voyage as the thinnest device Amazon has ever made. The company hopes heavy readers might adopt the device, which more closely mimic a paper book.

 

 

Ohio Wooing Amazon For Billion Dollar Data Center

September 18, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

State and local officials in Ohio are attempting to woo Amazon.com Inc with tax breaks and other perks to convince the No. 1 U.S. online retailer to build a $1.1 billion data center in central Ohio and create 120 jobs, according to public records.

The records offer a rare look at the typically tight-lipped company’s growth plans for its popular cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services, founded in 2006. There are 10 AWS data centers, called regions within the company, around the world, including four in the United States, AWS said.

“We are constantly evaluating a long list of additional target countries and U.S. locations,” AWS said in a statement.

In late August, the Ohio Tax Credit Authority extended an estimated $81 million in tax breaks to an Amazon subsidiary called Vadata Inc, according to state filings.

In exchange for the tax deal, Amazon has committed to invest at least $1.1 billion over the next three years to build a data center. It will also create 120 jobs with an average salary of $80,208 by the end of 2018, according to the filing.

Separately, city officials in Dublin, Ohio, are also looking to transfer 68.7 acres of city-owned land to the company from 2015 until 2024 – worth $6.75 million – among other perks, according to city documents posted online.

The Columbus Dispatch newspaper reported that Dublin city officials are expected to vote on whether to proceed with the Amazon offer on Sept. 22.

 

 

 

Apple iPhone 6 Pre-orders Sets Record With 4M On First Day

September 17, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Apple Inc said many customers will have to wait until October for their new iPhones after a record 4 million first-day pre-orders were logged, double the number for the iPhone 5 two years ago.

The company said demand had outstripped supply of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, which feature larger screens and longer battery life. Deliveries of pre-orders will begin on Friday and will continue through October.

Bumper first-day pre-orders point to first-weekend sales of up to 10 million units, analysts estimated.

“Assuming preorders are similar to the 40 percent of first weekend sales for the iPhone 5, this would imply iPhone 6/6Plus first weekend sales could be around 10 million,” Wells Fargo Securities analysts wrote in a note.

About 2 million pre-orders were received for the iPhone 5 in the first 24 hours after it went on sale in September 2012. Apple sold 5 million of these phones in the first weekend.

Apple sold 9 million iPhone 5Ss and 5Cs, which were launched last year, in the first three days in stores. The company did not reveal pre-order numbers for these phones.

Raymond James analysts said they expect sales of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to top 9 million in the first weekend.

“Apple will be selling every iPhone it can make, at least through October. Because of this, the first weekend sales are typically more indicative of supply than demand,” they said.

The company routinely grapples with iPhone supply constraints, particularly in years that involve a smartphone re-design.

Apple’s website showed last week that the larger 5.5-inch “Plus” models displayed a wait time of up to a month. The 4.7-inch version was available for delivery on Sept. 19.

Janney Capital Markets analysts said the large number of pre-orders was due to “pent-up demand” for bigger iPhone screens.

The brokerage raised its sales estimate for the latest iPhones to 37.4 million units for the current quarter and 60 million for the quarter ended December.

 

 

Are Software Patents Going Bye Bye?

September 16, 2014 by Michael  
Filed under Computing

It looks like attempts to apply patents to software are being killed off by the US court system, after the Supreme Court ruled against certain aspects of the software being patented.

The Supreme Court’s June ruling on the patentability of software raised as many questions as it answered. One specific software patent went down in flames in the case of Alice v. CLS Bank, but the abstract reasoning of the decision didn’t provide much clarity on which other patents might be in danger.

Now the lower courts appear to be bringing the ruling’s practical consequences into focus and it looks like software patents are getting a kicking. There have been 11 court rulings on the patentability of software since the Supreme Court’s decision and each of them has led to the patent being invalidated.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Patent Office handed out a growing number of what might be called “do it on a computer” patents. These patents take some activity that people have been doing for centuries — say, holding funds in escrow until a transaction is complete — and claim the concept of performing that task with a computer or over the internet. The patents are typically vague about how to perform the task in question.

The Supreme Court invalidated a patent which claimed that it’s owners invented the concept of using a computer to hold funds in escrow to reduce the risk that one party would fail to deliver on an agreement. The Supreme Court ruled that the use of a computer did not turn this centuries-old concept into a new invention.

This has lead to lots of other patents being declared llegal. On July 6, a Delaware trial court rejected a Comcast patent that claimed the concept of a computerized telecommunications system checking with a user before deciding whether to establish a new connection. The court said that the patent could easily be performed by human beings making telephone calls.

Basically this means that you can’t take a normal human activity, do it with a computer and call it an patentable invention.

It would kill off the famous one click patent if that were ever challenged.

Courtesy-Fud

Google Launches Android One Program

September 16, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Google Inc rolled out in India on Monday the first smartphones under its Android One project, pricing them at around 6,399 rupees ($105) to capture the low-cost segment of the world’s fastest growing smartphone market.

The Mountain View-Based company tied up with Indian mobile players Micromax, Karbonn and Spice Mobiles to launch the affordable phones, which are powered by its operating system and aimed at emerging markets.

After launching in India, Google said it plans to expand Android One to Indonesia, Philippines and other South Asian countries by the end of 2014 and in more countries in 2015.

Google outlined the pricing and expansion details in a marketing document seen by Reuters. The company is due to host an official media event later on Monday.

India is seen as a lucrative market for low-cost smartphones because many people are buying the devices for the first time. Just 10 percent of the India’s population currently owns a smartphone, brokerage Nomura said in a recent research note, and that figure is likely to double over the next four years.

Google, however, is not the only company jostling for a share of the Indian market.

There are at least 80 smartphone brands in India and analysts say the Android One phones must offer customers more than just affordability if it wants to compete with similarly priced devices made by Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, Motorola and China’s Xiaomi.

“The initial pricing never sticks but it’ll be tough for them to compete if they don’t come down further,” said Neil Shah, research director for devices and ecosystems at Hong Kong-based technology research agency Counterpoint Research.

In June, Google had announced the launch of the Android One project, which aims to boost demand for low-end Android smartphones by vastly improving their quality.

 

Ericsson Acquires Fabrix Systems For $95M

September 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

The distinctions between TV and mobile services continues to merge and in many cases that occurs in the cloud.

That’s the logic behind Ericsson’s planned $95 million acquisition of Fabrix Systems, which sells a cloud-based platform for delivering DVR (digital video recorder), video on demand and other services.

The acquisition is intended to help service providers deliver what Ericsson calls TV Anywhere, for viewing on multiple devices with high-quality and relevant content for each user. Cable operators, telecommunications carriers and other service providers are seeing rapid growth in video streaming and want to reach consumers on multiple screens. That content increasingly is hosted in cloud data centers and delivered via Internet Protocol networks.

Fabrix, which has 103 employees in the U.S. and Israel, sells an integrated platform for media storage, processing and delivery. Ericsson said the acquisition will make new services possible on Ericsson MediaFirst and Mediaroom as well as other TV platforms.

Stockholm-based Ericsson expects the deal to close in the fourth quarter. Fabrix Systems will become part of Ericsson’s Business Unit Support Solutions.

Other players usually associated with data networks are also moving into the once-specialized realm of TV. At last year’s CES, Cisco Systems introduced Videoscape Unity, a system for providing unified video services across multiple screens, and at this year’s show it unveiled Videoscape Cloud, an OpenStack-based video delivery platform that can be run on service providers’ cloud infrastructure instead of on specialized hardware.

 

 

HP May Be Looking To Unload Snapfish

September 15, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Hewlett-Packard Co is taking a look at putting its web-based photo sharing service Snapfish on the block, and has held discussions with multiple private equity and industry buyers, a person with knowledge of the situation said.

Snapfish, which HP bought for more than $300 million in 2005 and currently sits within its printing and personal systems group, is considered non-core for the company, the person said, asking not to be named because the matter is not public.

A spokesman for HP declined to comment.

Last year, HP replaced the printing and personal business’ long-time head Todd Bradley with former Lenovo executive Dion Weisler. Bradley has since left the technology company, to join Tibco Software Inc as its president.

Some of the parties that have been eyeing Snapfish have also expressed interest in buying another online photo-sharing services provider, Shutterfly Inc, the person said.

Shutterfly hired Frank Quattrone’s Qatalyst Partners over the summer to find a buyer, and is expected wrap up its process in the next several weeks, people familiar with the matter have said previously.

 

 

Is RadioShack Headed For Bankruptcy?

September 12, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Troubled electronics retailer RadioShack Corp says filing for bankruptcy protection is an option if its cash situation worsens, after reporting its tenth straight quarterly loss.

The company said it was also exploring other options, including a sale or an investment, and liquidation as the last resort.

RadioShack, whose sales have been in free-fall since 2010 as it struggles to compete with internet retailers, said in a regulatory filing it was working with its lenders and landlords to restructure its debt and cut costs.

“It would surprise me if we got to Nov. 1 without a bankruptcy,” Wedbush Securities Inc analyst Michael Pachter told Reuters.

RadioShack shares, which are in danger of being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange, were up 2 percent at 95 cents in volatile early trading.

The company said same-store sales declined 20 percent in the latest quarter, while total sales plunged to their lowest in more than 20 years.

The company is being advised by a restructuring attorney at law firm Jones Day as it tries to strike a deal with creditors to close stores, two people close to the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

RadioShack tried to close 1,100 stores this year, but reduced that number to 200 a year when lenders did not agree to the plans.

RadioShack’s landlords, however, may be open to mass store closures if they believe it will allow them to find new tenants more quickly than in a bankruptcy, a source close to the matter told Reuters.

David Tawil, president of hedge fund Maglan Capital that focuses on companies approaching bankruptcy, said he saw “major execution risks” to RadioShack’s recapitalization and turnaround efforts.

“I don’t think that the chances are great that RadioShack survives,” Tawil said, adding that the company’s credit default swaps were trading higher, pointing to market expectations of a near-term debt default.

The company ended the second quarter with $30.5 million in cash and $658.0 million in debt, which matures between 2018 and 2019.

 

Verizon Has A Deal To Offer Free iPhone 6

September 11, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Verizon Communications will give customers who trade in an old iPhone a free iPhone 6 in exchange for a two-year contract, the country’s largest wireless carrier announced hours after Apple Inc introduced the widely anticipated device.

The announcement came as critics speculated that Apple’s newest phone, starting at $199 with a two-year contract, would not be competitive as more carriers eliminate contracts and unbundle service charges from the cost of devices.

Analysts say that by making the cost of devices more transparent, equipment financing plans make expensive handsets like the iPhone less appealing. On the other hand, the plans allow customers to pay for devices in installments, making pricy devices like the iPhone more accessible.

Customers who trade in an iPhone 4, 4s, 5, 5c or 5s in working condition will receive a $200 gift card to pre-order the 16-gigabyte version of the newer model, Verizon said in a statement. The offer does not apply to Apple’s other new phone, the larger iPhone 6 Plus.

Verizon has been more reluctant than competitors to dive into equipment financing, and its promotion indicates its attachment to the older contract model, which binds subscribers to the carrier for a fixed term, said Jan Dawson, analyst at JackDaw Research.

“There is an inherent risk in the shift to installment billing that it creates more loyalty to the device than to the carrier,” said Dawson.

“Verizon sees the value of the two-year contract in that tying a device to a two-year plan can prevent churn,” said Dawson.

He pointed out that new device releases are major factors for subscribers in deciding whether to switch carriers.

As the market for new smartphone customers shrinks, carriers have been competing aggressively for subscribers, slashing prices and engaging in creative promotions to poach each others’ customers.

On Monday, T-Mobile announced it would beat any other major carriers’ trade-in rates and give customers a $50 credit as well.

 

 

Twitter Wading Into Online Shopping Market With ‘Buy’ Button

September 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Twitter is trying out a new way for its users to purchase digital music and other products through the social networking application, with the goal of making mobile shopping easier, the company said in a blog post.

A “small percentage” of U.S. Twitter users will soon begin to see tweets that will include a “buy” button from some of the company’s partners, group product manager Tarun Jain wrote in the blog post published Monday. The percentage of Twitter users seeing the marketing tweets will grow over time, Jain wrote.

“This is an early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile phones convenient and easy, hopefully even fun,” Jain wrote.

Twitter’s partners in the e-commerce effort include digital marketing companies Musictoday, Gumroad, Fancy and Stripe, Jain said.

The e-commerce test will include products from several musicians, including Brad Paisley, Eminem, Keith Urban, Megadeth, Pharrell Williams and Soundgarden. Other organizations featured will including Burberry, the Home Depot, the Nature Conservancy and DonorsChoose.

 

 

Amazon Slashes Fire Phone Price To Less Than $1

September 10, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Mobile

Amazon drastically reduced the price of its three-month-old Fire Phone to 99 cents, an obvious attempt to boost slow sales.

The Fire Phone, which originally sold for $649 minus a contract commitment and for $199 with a two-year deal with AT&T, was marked down to $449 without a contract and 99 cents with one.

Amazon spun the dramatic price cut in the best possible light. “Fire is another example of the value Amazon delivers to customers,” said Ian Freed, vice president of Amazon Devices, in a statement Monday.

In fact, by all accounts, the Fire has done poorly. According to data mining done a month ago by ad network Chitika, Fire Phone usage grew only “incrementally” in the device’s first two months. By Aug. 14, Amazon’s phone accounted for just 0.02% of all smartphone-based ad impressions.

Chitika’s number was not a measurement of the number of devices in use, but of the online activity of Fire Phone users: The calculation was best described as “usage share.”

StatCounter, another metrics vendor that also tracks usage share, did not even list Fire Phone in its operating system data for the month of August.

In June, when Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos introduced the Fire Phone, most analysts slammed the pricing, saying that the online retailer needed to do more than simply mimic the competition.

“If the $199 on 2yr contract is all there is to Fire Phone pricing it will be a tough sell,” Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, said on Twitter that day.

“Does the 99-cent price matter? Sure it does. But in the scheme of things, does it help? No, because you still have to have a contract,” Milanesi said in an interview today.

She pointed out that Apple, for example, gives away the iPhone 4S to customers who sign up for a two-year contract with a mobile carrier. The Fire Phone’s “unlocked” price of $449 is also identical to that of an off-contract iPhone 4S.

Amazon missed its chance to make a splash months ago, Milanesi argued. “This price then would have sent a different message,” she said. “It would have made a difference because at the time [mid-June] there was not a lot going on. But to do this the day before Apple announces its new iPhones, and right after Samsung showed off its Galaxy Note 4 and Note Edge?”

 

 

LivePerson Chat Maker Predicts ‘Digital Tsunami’

September 9, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Chat software provider LivePerson is anticipating major growth after the launch of its new platform that allows businesses to engage online customers more effectively.

With transactions increasingly taking place on computers and mobile devices, retailers and banks are pouring resources into finding ways to make that experience as simple and easy as possible.

“It’s a digital tsunami,” said Eran Vanounou, chief executive of LivePerson Israel. “The big brands understand this big time. They understand they have to create a meaningful connection with consumers, not just a transaction.”

LivePerson, whose 8,000 plus clients include Bank of America and Home Depot, is headquartered in New York, though most operations are handled in Israel.

Its product, among other things, allows businesses to chat with customers and put together online campaigns. It also helps businesses “learn the behavior of online surfers”, Vanounou said, allowing them to better cater to their needs.

The company just finished four years of consecutive quarterly growth, he said. It posted second quarter revenue of $51.1 million, up from $43.2 million a year earlier. It also increased its 2014 outlook to $204-$207 million, from a previous $199-$204 million.

It had a $1.2 million quarterly net loss, compared to $1.8 million in 2013, which Vanounou said stemmed from a $50 million investment in an upgraded, browser-based platform the company is now launching.

“What you saw over the past year and a half, when our stock was up, down and again up now, although the company grew, it took and invested the money in building this platform. A huge investment,” he said.

 

 

Verizon Fined $7.4M Over Consumer Privacy Protection Failure

September 5, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Around The Net

Verizon Communications Inc will shell out $7.4 million to settle a U.S. investigation that found the telecom giant failed to properly notify some customers of their privacy rights before using their information for marketing, U.S. regulators said.

The Federal Communications Commission said its investigation found that starting in 2006, some 2 million new Verizon phone customers did not receive proper privacy notices in their first bill. The notices would have told consumers how to opt out of having their personal information used to tailor marketing offers, which the company later sent to some of them.

Phone companies are generally prohibited from using personal data they collect from their customers, though such data can be used for marketing if the consumer gives permission.

“It is plainly unacceptable for any phone company to use its customers’ personal information for thousands of marketing campaigns without even giving them the choice to opt out,” Travis LeBlanc, acting chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, said in a statement.

Verizon, which said only landline customers were affected, reported the discrepancy to the FCC on Jan. 18, 2013, though the FCC said it was aware of the problem in September 2012.

Verizon has now agreed to send opt-out notices on every bill and pay the largest fine in FCC’s history of settlements over investigations into telephone customers’ personal data privacy, the agency said.

“The issue here was that a notice required by FCC rules inadvertently was not provided to certain of Verizon’s wireline customers before they received marketing materials from Verizon for other Verizon services that might be of interest to them,” said company’s spokesman Ed McFadden.

“It did not involve a data breach or an unauthorized disclosure of customer information to third parties. Verizon takes seriously its obligation to comply with all FCC rules, and once we discovered the issue with the notices we informed the FCC, fixed the problem and implemented a number of measures to ensure it does not recur.”

 

Tablet Sales Still Up, But Growth Slowing

September 2, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Tablet sales worldwide will continue to grow this year, but not at the pace previously expected, according to a recently released forecast.

After four years of double- and triple-digit growth, worldwide tablet shipments this year will grow by just 6.5% over last year, according to IDC. The research firm had previously forecast 12.1% growth.

The tablet market is maturing and long-term trends are becoming clearer, said Jean Philippe Bouchard, research director for tablets.

More money is being spent on cheap laptops, smartphones or wearables, and people are keeping tablets longer than expected, Bouchard said.

“We originally thought the [ownership cycle] was two years. We realized it was closer to three years,” he said.

In addition, users aren’t discarding older tablets and are instead handing them down to their kids.

Meanwhile, laptop prices are also coming down fast, and putting pricing pressure on tablets, especially in Europe, Bouchard said.

In the last month a plethora of sub-$250 tablets running Microsoft Windows 8.1 with Bing started shipping. Microsoft is helping PC makers build cheap laptops to battle threats from Chromebooks, Android and iOS and is offering the OS royalty free.

Interest is swaying in the direction of smaller-screen tablets, and those looking for larger screens are moving to laptops, Bouchard said.

“As you move up in screen size, you move towards productivity. The keyboard is becoming more important,” Bouchard said.

Tablet shipments will continue to grow in emerging markets, at a 12% rate, driven by small screen, low-cost tablets from Chinese companies. Shipments in mature markets, where buyers are moving to larger-screen devices, remain flat.

Buyers are increasingly considering wearables and smartphones versus tablets, but more data generated by small-screen devices could ultimately help tablet shipments, Bouchard said.

“Long to medium term, it’s a positive thing, it creates a halo effect, it will generate more data, and you’ll need more screen to visualize the data,” Bouchard said.

IDC’s tablet forecast also accounts for 2-in-1 devices, which can be used as laptops or tablets.

 

 

 

 

HP Recalls 6M Laptop Power Cords Over Fire Concerns

August 28, 2014 by mphillips  
Filed under Computing

Hewlett-Packard has recalled more than 6 million laptop power cords that could potentially cause fire and/or burning hazards.

HP is recalling LS-15 AC power cords used with HP and Compaq branded laptops. The company is recalling about 5.6 million power cords in the U.S. and 446,000 units in Canada.

The cord pulls out of one end of the AC adapter. It came with laptops and accessories sold between September 2010 through June 2012, HP said on its power cord recall website.

There have been 29 reports of power cords overheating and melting, which led to claims for minor burns and property damage, HP and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said in a statement.

Customers are eligible for a replacement at no cost. The power cords are black and can be identified by the tag LS-15, which is on the AC adapter.

Customers can call 1-877- 219-6676, or visit HP’s website for the replacement.