Amazon is persisting in buying content to round out its service, with designs to take on Netflix Inc and other online digital media services. But that increasing spending has helped keep the company in the red, inviting criticism from investors.
Audible, the audiobooks service it bought in 2008 for $300 million, is picking up the 10-person company for an undisclosed sum. Audible founder and Chief Executive Donald Katz said in a statement on Monday the company had been attracted by Rooftop’s content as well as its pool of comic talent.
Rooftop records comedians at clubs across the country and licenses the digital rights to thousands of hours of comedy, which is broadcast either live or later on demand. The company’s media partners include Apple Inc and Yahoo, and it also works with streaming services such as Sirius XM, Spotify and Pandora.
Its content now becomes part of Audible, itself a fast-growing seller of online audiobooks, and vastly increases Rooftop’s audience, said Rooftop Chief Executive Officer Will Rogers.
Amazon is expected to continue acquiring digital content at a rapid clip. In past years, it began investing heavily to branch out from its online retail roots, delving into Hollywood-style content production as well as developing a line of tablets, smartphones and set-top boxes to accelerate the sale of digital content.
For the three months ending Sept. 30, Microsoft recorded $908 million in revenue for the Surface tablet line, an increase of 127% over the same quarter in 2013. The nearly one billion in revenue was a one-quarter record for the Surface, and beat the combined revenue of the previous two quarters.
Using information in Microsoft’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), as well as data from earlier quarters, Computerworld calculated the quarter’s cost of that revenue at $786 million, leaving a gross margin of $122 million. Cost of revenue is the cost to make and sell a product, but excludes expenses such as advertising and R&D.
Microsoft said that the Surface line posted a positive gross margin — implying that outside estimates of prior losses were correct — but did not disclose a dollar figure.
According to Computerworld‘s estimate, the margin was small, about 13.4%. That’s more than the average for a Windows personal computer, but less than half or a third of the margins on tablets like Apple’s iPad.
It was even smaller by the figuring of Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, who has also used Microsoft’s SEC filings to estimate the Surface’s cost of revenue. He pegged the September quarter’s cost of revenue at $825 million, the gross margin at $83 million, and the margin rate at just 9.1%.
“That’s a gross margin … which is not earth-shattering and in fact about half the gross margin of the phone business at Microsoft. But it’s progress,” Dawson wrote on his blog, where he published his analysis of Surface’s financial performance.
Since its October 2012 introduction, Surface has been a money pit for Microsoft, in the hole to the tune of $1.73 billion through its first seven quarters. With the September quarter in the black, those overall losses have been reduced to about $1.6 billion.
Over the last four quarters, Surface also remained in the red, with losses of $325 million on revenue of $2.7 billion. Put another way, for each dollar Microsoft earned on Surface sales, it lost about 12 cents.
Apple Pay, which debuted in September, is a mobile payment app that allows consumers to buy things by simply holding their iPhone6 and 6 Plus devices up to readers installed by store merchants.
A Rite Aid spokeswoman told the New York Times that the company does not currently accept Apple Pay. The company is “still in the process of evaluating our mobile payment options.”
Rite Aid and CVS are not part of the group of retailers that had teamed up with Apple on its payment system. However, Apple Pay technology was working in Rite Aid and CVS stores over the week, the newspaper said.
The reason for the disabling was not immediately clear, the newspaper said.
According to analysts, disabling the acceptance of Apple Pay is a way to support a rival system that is being developed by Merchants Customer Exchange (MCX), a consortium of merchants that includes Rite Aid and CVS, the NYT reported.
MCX is developing CurrentC, an app that scans the bar code of the product and initiates the payment transfer by connecting to the customer’s debit card, according to MCX’s website. CurrentC will not be available until 2015.
Apple, Rite Aid and CVS could not be immediately reached for comment.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission expects a major auction of low-frequency airwaves to be delayed until early 2016 from mid-2015 because of its complexity and a pending court challenge, an FCC official said in a recent blog post.
The FCC is working on rules for the so-called incentive auction, in which wireless carriers would get the first opportunity since 2008 to purchase airwaves that are considered the “beach-front property” of radio spectrum for their reach and strength.
The auction is regarded as the FCC’s most complex undertaking to date, balancing numerous economic, engineering and political considerations, including the need to woo broadcasters to give up the airwaves in the first place.
The delay gives the FCC more time to sway TV station owners to participate and T-Mobile US Inc to argue for bidding restrictions on larger rivals AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc.
The National Association of Broadcasters, concerned about the potential impact on TV stations, has petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review elements of the FCC’s planned auction process.
The court has pushed back the deadline on final briefs in the case until late January 2015.
“We are confident we will prevail in court, but given the reality of that schedule, the complexity of designing and implementing the auction, and the need for all auction participants to have certainty well in advance of the auction, we now anticipate accepting applications for the auction in the fall of 2015 and starting the auction in early 2016,” Gary Epstein, who chairs the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, wrote in the blog post.
The NAB rejected the notion that its lawsuit was the cause of the delay.
“We look forward to a speedy resolution of our legal challenge and a successful auction that preserves access to free and local TV for every American,” NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton said in a statement.
The company released Rooms on Thursday, its answer to the craze around posting and sharing anonymously. People can use any name they want and don’t need a Facebook account. The app contains rooms geared around various topics, all of which require an invite link to enter. Providing an email address is optional, for the purposes of having accessed rooms restored if the user deletes the app.
The app is only available on iOS. Plans for other platforms like Android or Windows Phone were not disclosed.
The app is not just about anonymity. With it, Facebook hopes to provide a discussion board-type platform where users can chat about shared interests outside of their usual social circles. It’s a concept that has been super popular since, oh, the web’s been around.
“One of the magical things about the early days of the web was connecting to people who you would never encounter otherwise in your daily life,” Facebook said in a statement Thursday.
“From unique obsessions and unconventional hobbies, to personal finance and health-related issues — you can celebrate the sides of yourself that you don’t always show to your friends,” the company said.
But the app’s ability to succeed likely depends on the number and diversity of rooms created by its users, and whether the app’s focus on visuals and photos appeals to them. There’s also no desktop version.
The app was developed as part of Facebook’s Creative Labs project, which has also released stand-alone apps like Slingshot and Paper.
Facebook stresses that Rooms will let users create a unique identity separate from their Facebook account. Your name can be “Wonder Woman” in the app, Facebook said.
I tried out the app, and was even able to use “Mark Zuckerberg” as my name. (A short “hello” post of mine then immediately generated several “high fives.”)
Facebook, however, may share information about Room users within the companies and services operated by Facebook, which would include Facebook itself and other apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, according to the Rooms terms of service.
Pandora Media Inc, owners of the leading Internet radio service, reported a lower-than-expected increase in listeners in the third quarter, sending the company’s shares down 6 percent in extended trading on Thursday.
Pandora said it had 76.5 million active listeners as of Sept. 30, an increase of 5.2 percent from a year earlier.
Analysts, on average, had expected 76.7 million, according to market research firm StreetAccount.
Total listener hours rose to 4.99 billion from 3.99 billion, but again fell short of the average estimate of 5.02 billion.
Pandora’s profit and revenue both beat market expectations, however, as more people listened to streamed music on their mobile phones.
Mobile revenue increased 52 percent to $188 million, while local advertising revenue rose 118 percent to $41.8 million.
Despite its huge user base, Pandora faces stiff competition from Spotify, Apple Inc’s Beats online streaming service, Google Inc, and Amazon.com Inc in the fast-growing music streaming business.
Market research firm Gartner surveyed 4,300 U.S. consumers in June who work at large companies (with more than 1,000 employees) and found 40% used personally owned smartphones, tablets, laptops or desktops as a primary or supplemental business device.
That 40% might not be unusual, but more surprisingly, Gartner found that 45% of workers not required to use a personal device for work were doing so without their employer’s knowledge.
“Almost half [are using their device] without their employer’s awareness,” said Gartner analyst Amanda Sabia in an interview.
“Are those without employer’s awareness violating a rule? That would depend on the employer,” Sabia added. “The point is that some CIOs are underestimating [the number of] employees using their devices and should be prepared for this.”
The Gartner survey found the most popular personally owned device used for work was a desktop computer, at 42%, closely followed by a smartphone, at 40%, a laptop, at 36%, and a tablet, at 26%.
“The lines between work and play are becoming more and more blurred as employees choose to use their own device for work purposes whether sanctioned by an employer or not,” Sabia said. “Devices once bought for personal use are increasingly used for work.”
After several years of accelerated growth, the U.S. market is feeling the effects of market saturation and smartphone ownership that’s lasting longer than once expected, Ramon Llamas, an analyst IDC, said in an updated forecast.
IDC’s five-year forecast issued for October significantly undercuts its April forecast, dropping expectations for U.S. smartphone and feature phone shipments by manufacturers to retailers. IDC now expects 1.7 million fewer phones shipped in 2104 than it had expected in April; it predicts 174 million phones will ship this year, with that figure declining gradually to 169 million in 2018.
Smartphone shipments alone will grow just slightly through 2018 in the U.S., but about 5% less than earlier expected, rising from 150 million in 2014 to 160.5 million in 2018. Feature phones shipments have dropped off faster than earlier expected.
Llamas said the signs of decline started in late 2011, prompting carriers in the past year to try to get customers to replace phones more often with easy trade-in plans and relaxed contracts.
It’s too soon to say what effect the early trade-in plans will have on the market, Llamas said. The life of an average smartphone still lasts about two years, but that could be changing.
Paying on installment plans “could really change the market,” Llamas said in an interview. “But if people pay off their devices and then realize they don’t have to pay the carrier as much [at the end of the payoff period] and only pay for wireless service, they might just hold onto their phones. I think people will hold onto their phones as long as they can after they are paid off. If this plays out and they hold on and don’t update, we’ll see flattening of sales volumes year after year, or even declines, all in the name of saving money.”
Realizing what’s happening in the U.S. and among other major economies, both Apple and Samsung have concentrated heavily on selling their new smartphones in China and other areas where smartphone sales are still strong.
The company is expected to make more job cuts this month, including from other locations in the U.S., further lowering the ranks of its 33,000-person work force. Since January, the company has cut its ranks by about 5,000, from 38,000.
The latest headquarters cuts were in IT and portfolio management and Sprint’s network, technology and product areas, according to a statement by spokesperson Roni Singleton. Some employees will work their last day on Nov. 7 and others will finish Nov. 14.
“Sprint is focused on competing aggressively in the marketplace,” Singleton said. “We want our customers to pay less for a better value on a new networks. As part of this plan, we have to more closely align our cost structure with that of our competitors.”
CEO Marcelo Claure signaled there would be job cuts in August shortly after taking on his new role. Claure also inaugurated a round of pricing reductions.
Even so, analysts expect the company to lose more subscribers and fall into fourth place among the nation’s top carriers, behind T-Mobile.
An earnings call is expected in late October, although the date hasn’t been scheduled, Singleton said.
Sprint’s more than 5,000 job cuts in 2014 put it behind Cisco, with 6,000 job cuts (8%) announced for the year and Microsoft, with 18,000 job cuts (14%) planned for the year.
Amazon, which had been in discussions with Simon & Schuster since July over pricing, confirmed the deal first reported by the Business Insider news blog that the two had reached an agreement.
Amazon had been locked in a months-long standoff with publisher Hachette Book Group, the fourth-largest U.S. book publisher owned by France’s Lagardere, over digital book pricing. That has led to numerous issues for authors.
Industry experts had expected other publishers eventually to be drawn into negotiations as well, as the Internet retailer tries to set new benchmarks for the e-book market.
Negotiations with Simon & Schuster took about three weeks and closed two months before Amazon’s contract expired, according to Business Insider.
Simon & Schuster made its original offer and an agreement was reached after a few changes by Amazon, the source told Business Insider.
Google didn’t elaborate on the price increase after announcing the Nexus 6, but several analysts said Google may be intending to push the Nexus as a premium brand that can compete with the iPhone 6 and other high-end phones.
Google originally developed Android to be inclusive and global, and indeed, it is the world’s largest OS by far. The company developed the Nexus line in 2010 to show Android phone manufacturers, and the public, how a pure Android phone could look and feel without the added features and bloatware installed by phone makers.
Meanwhile, the four national carriers are expected to sell the Nexus 6 with a subsidized price of as low as $200 with a two-year contract, and separate pricing for installment plans. AT&T will be a Nexus provider for the first time, and Verizon Wireless will carry the phone despite a spotty history with the Nexus line.
Such a carrier push to sell Nexus 6 phones with a subsidy seems to indicate that Google is intent on spreading wider adoption of its pure Nexus line that it so far hasn’t achieved. Google has long described Android as an operating system for all, but Google also wants to promote a more refined Android device, which it is trying to do with its Nexus line.
The $649 Nexus 6, which will run Android 5.0 Lollipop with support for 64-bit architecture, is a better phone than the $349 Nexus 5 that runs Android 4.4 KitKat. Nexus 6 also starts with 32 GB storage, double the capacity of its predecessor the Nexus 5. (A 64 GB Nexus 6 will run $699 unlocked on Google Play.)
But all the enhancements in the new Nexus 6, including its 5.96-in. Quad HD display and Snapdragon 805 quad-core processor, still don’t fully account for the 86% increase in starting price for the unlocked model, analysts said.
Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android at Google, noted in a blog post that wireless carriers will offer the Nexus 6 on monthly contracts or installment plans. A number of industry sources predicted the two-year contract price will start at $200, a common industry price for high-end smartphones, including the new iPhone 6.
The four major carriers, Google and Motorola, which is the Nexus 6 manufacturer, all refused to discuss the prices that carriers will charge. They also would not disclose the November release date.
The firm claims that its IBM Internet of Things Foundation service “makes it possible for a developer to quickly and easily extend an internet-connected device such as a sensor or controller into the [IBM Bluemix] cloud”, and then “build an application [for] the device to collect the data and send real-time insights back to the developer’s business”.
IBM promotes its Bluemix cloud services as an open standards cloud platform for building, managing and running all types of applications for the web, mobile, big data and smart devices.
Big Blue says its Internet of Things Foundation service “delivers rapid access to, and provides valuable insights from, IoT device data coming from billions of internet-connected sensors and controllers”.
The firm cited IDC estimates that there are already nine billion IoT devices in the world, and that there will be as many as 28 billion IoT devices by 2020.
IBM foresees that by providing IoT devices connectivity in cloud services, “equipment and asset manufacturers can use IoT to provide remote service and monitoring to residential and commercial customers, oil and gas companies can remotely monitor and provide predictive maintenance to critical equipment, and logistics companies can track and monitor the condition of goods in transit”, as just some of the industrial, consumer services and financial applications of IoT-enabled systems.
“Think of the IoT Foundation as an extremely fast on-ramp to the cloud for the millions of intelligent IoT devices that are now being shipped, and the billions already internet connected,” said IBM Internet of Things VP John R. Thompson.
IBM said it plans to enlist partners for its IoT efforts, which it expects will include ARM, B&B Electronics, Elecsys, Intel, Multi-Tech Systems and Texas Instruments. Along with these partners, it plans to develop a set of certified instructions, or “recipes” for connecting IoT devices, sensors and gateways.
IBM Bluemix cloud services are already available for developers worldwide, and the IBM Internet of Things Foundation will be available from 21 October. You will need an IBM account to participate, of course.
TSMC has announced that it will begin volume production of 16nm FinFET products in the second half of 2015, in late Q2 or early Q3.
For consumers, this means products based on TSMC 16nm FinFET silicon should appear in late 2015 and early 2016. The first TSMC 16nm FinFET product was announced a few weeks ago.
TSMC executive CC Wei said sales of 16nm FinFET products should account for 7-9% of the foundry’s total revenue in Q4 2015. The company already has more than 60 clients lined up for the new process and it expects 16nm FinFET to be its fastest growing process ever.
Although TSMC is not talking about the actual clients, we already know the roster looks like the who’s who of tech, with Qualcomm, AMD, Nvidia and Apple on board.
This also means the 20nm node will have a limited shelf life. The first 20nm products are rolling out as we speak, but the transition is slow and if TSMC sticks to its schedule, 20nm will be its top node for roughly a year, giving it much less time on top than earlier 28nm and 40nm nodes.
The road to 10nm
TSMC’s 16nm FinFET, or 16FinFET, is just part of the story. The company hopes to tape out the first 10nm products in 2015, but there is no clear timeframe yet.
Volume production of 10nm products is slated for 2016, most likely late 2016. As transitions speed up, TSMC capex will go up. The company expects to invest more than $10bn in 2015, up from $9.6bn this year.
TSMC expects global smartphone shipments to reach 1.5bn units next year, up 19 percent year-on-year. Needless to say, TSMC silicon will power the majority of them.
U.S. Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, on Friday, stated that U.S. regulators will look “to infinity and beyond” to harness new technology that can help build a new generation of mobile wireless connections.
The FCC on Friday voted unanimously to open a so-called “notice of inquiry” into what it and the industry can do to turn a new swath of very high-frequency airwaves, previously deemed unusable for mobile networks, into mobile-friendly frequencies.
The FCC’s examination would serve as a regulatory backdrop for research into the next generation of wireless technology, sometimes referred to as 5G and which may allow wireless connections to carry a thousand times more traffic.
“Today we’re stepping in front of the power curve,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Friday at the meeting.
In question are frequencies above 24 gigahertz (GHz), sometimes called millimeter waves, that have previously been deemed technically unweildy for mobile connections, though have the potential to carry large amounts of data and give the promise of lightning-fast speeds.
Millimeter waves work best over short distances and have required a direct line-of-sight connection to a receiver. They are now largely used for point-to-point microwave connections.
The FCC said it will study what technologies could help get around the technological and practical obstacles and what kind of regulatory regime could help a variety of technologies to flourish on those airwaves, including the potential for services other than mobile.
The U.S. wireless industry continues to work on deploying the 4G connections, though some equipment manufacturers, such as Samsung are already testing data transmission on the higher frequencies.
Gartner and IDC both recently dramatically lowered their tablet shipment and sales estimates for 2014 and coming years, citing primarily the longer-than-expected time customers keep their existing tablets. (That phenomenon is called the “refresh rate.”)
Gartner said it had originally expected 13% tablet sales growth for the year globally; it has now lowered that growth rate to 11%. IDC’s forecast change was even more dire: In June, it predicted shipment growth this year would be 12.1%, but in September it cut that number to 6.5%.
In the U.S., things are worse, because more than half of households have a tablet and may hold onto it for more than three years, well beyond analysts’ earlier expectations.
IDC said in its latest update that tablet growth in the U.S. this year will be just 1.5%, and will slow to 0.4% in 2015. After that, it expects negative growth through 2018. Adding in 2-in-1 devices, such as a Surface Pro with a keyboard, the situation in the U.S. improves, although overall growth for both tablets and 2-in-1′s will still only reach 3.8% in 2014, and just 0.4% by 2018, IDC said.
“Tablet penetration is high in the U.S. — over half of all households have at least one — which leads to slow growth…,” Mikako Kitagawa, an analyst at Gartner, said in an interview. “A smartphone is a must-have item, but a tablet is not. You can do the same things on a laptop as you do with a tablet, and these are all inter-related.”
Tablets are a “nice-to-have and not a must-have, because phones and PCs are enough to get by,” added Carolina Milanesi, chief of research at Kantar Worldpanel.
In a recent Kantar survey of 20,000 potential tablet buyers, only 13% said they definitely or probably would buy a tablet in the next year, while 54% said they would not, Milanesi said. Of those planning not to buy a tablet, 72% said they were happy with their current PC.
At IDC, analyst Tom Mainelli reported that the first half of 2014 saw tablet growth slow to 5.8% (from a growth rate of 88% in the first half of 2013). Mainelli said the meteoric pace of past years has slowed dramatically due to long device refresh cycles and pressure from sales of large phones, including the new iPhone 6 Plus. That phone has a 5.5-in. display, which is close to some smaller tablets with 7-in. displays.