Buying installments is catching on in a big way, according to AT&T’s first-quarter financial results Tuesday. About 2.9 million people signed up for the carrier’s Next plan, in which subscribers pay for a phone in monthly installments and can trade it in for a new model after a year. That was more than 40 percent of AT&T’s postpaid customer additions or upgrades for the quarter.
Paying in installments is an alternative to buying phones at a price subsidized by the carrier, the way most U.S. consumers have done it up to now.
AT&T introduced Next in July 2013 amid a flood of new plan options among U.S. carriers that was led by T-Mobile USA. Only 15 percent of AT&T’s new subscribers and upgraders signed up for Next in the fourth quarter last year, so the plan seems to be gaining momentum. However, some of the uptake in the first quarter came from an offer that let customers upgrade their phones early, the carrier said.
U.S. carriers sell most of their phones at subsidized prices to draw customers in and then lock those subscribers into two-year contracts. With installment plans, subscribers still have to pay off their phones if they change carriers before they’ve made all the payments, but the monthly cost of the phone — about US$15 to $50 on Next — is spelled out on each bill. After 20 payments, the handset’s paid for. AT&T says consumers like having a more “transparent” way to pay for their devices.
“Many customers have been choosing to move off the subsidy model,” Chief Financial Officer John Stephens said on a conference call Tuesday. AT&T thinks this trend will continue but it’s not ready to drop the subsidy model yet.
“I wouldn’t suggest it would be eliminated as long as there’s a significant number of customers who enjoy and prefer it,” Stephens said.
If you’re wondering where those trade-in phones go, Stephens said AT&T can sell them to customers of its prepaid plans, use them to fulfill insurance plans that cover phone replacement, or sell them on the wholesale market, as it began doing last year. The fact that AT&T uses the GSM family of network technologies, which is used around the world, helps it get good prices for the used phones, Stephens said.
AT&T’s Mobile Share plans also are growing more popular. About 45 percent of its postpaid subscribers are on the plans, which let customers pay for one monthly bucket of data and use it on multiple devices. A lot of shared-plan users are buying big buckets, too: 46 percent of them have plans with 10GB or more per month, the carrier said.
ARM Holdings, whose chip technology runs Apple’s iPhone, said demand for smartphones would increase in the second half after a disappointing end to 2013 resulted in first-quarter profit rising less than in previous years.
Sales of top-end smartphones, a market dominated by Apple and Samsung, were lower than predicted during the Christmas holiday season, leading to worries that the market was becoming saturated.
But ARM’s Chief Financial Officer Tim Score said there were signs that demand was picking up for smartphones from the low-end to the top, where Samsung has just launched its Galaxy S5 flagship and Apple is expected to unveil a new iPhone later this year.
The British company posted a 9 percent rise in pretax profit to 97.1 million pounds ($163.36 million), broadly in line with market forecasts, on revenue collected in dollars of $305.2 million, up 16 percent. In comparison, a year ago adjusted pretax profit jumped 44 percent.
Royalty payments, which ARM receives a quarter in arrears on every chip that contains its technology, rose by an underlying 8 percent year on year, about a quarter of the growth it was seeing at the same time last year.
Cambridge-based ARM said royalties were affected by an inventory correction as manufacturers used up components they had stockpiled because of weaker customer demand, particularly in mobile and consumer electronics.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chip producer which drives more than half of ARM’s processor royalties, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, said last week it was targeting record revenue in the second quarter.
“There has been an inventory correction in smartphones, that looks to be unwinding,” Score told reporters on Wednesday. “We saw TSMC showing very strong guidance for their second quarter, which will inform our Q3 royalties.”
In the longer term, growth in companies licensing ARM’s technology for uses ranging from networking equipment to microcontrollers in appliances like dishwashers would also drive royalty growth, he said. Processor licensing revenue rose 38 percent in the quarter to $111.6 million.
Vevo, the online music video hub that is a joint venture of two of the world’s biggest music labels, has enjoyed a nearly 50 percent spike in the number of music videos streamed each month from its platform, according to the company’s top executives.
The company, which is controlled by Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, hit a monthly average of nearly 6 billion views in December, a 46 percent rise from a year earlier, said Rio Caraeff, the chief executive officer.
About 65 percent of the videos are being watched on mobile phones, according to the company.
“On a global stage, it’s really all about mobile,” Caraeff said in Miami, where he was participating in the Billboard Latin Music Conference. “Mobile and tablet and television are where the majority of the views are happening.”
A growing number of people watch music videos from the platform on smartphones, tablets or web-connected TVs using Apple TV, Roku and XBox devices.
Google Inc is a minority stakeholder in New York-based Vevo, which was founded in 2009. Universal Music is a unit of Vivendi SA, and Sony Entertainment is part of Sony Corp.
The online music video service started out distributing videos to AOL and Google’s YouTube, creating revenue from a portion of the advertising revenue it generated.
Of the approximately 6 billion music videos streamed each month, 5 billion occur outside the United States, Caraeff said. The top countries include the UK and Germany. Vevo offers its own service in more than 13 countries and will soon roll out in Mexico.
The most watched video ever is teen pop star Justin Bieber’s “Baby” with over 1 billion streams, according to the company. Last year, Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason” topped Vevo’s list of the most viewed videos.
Caraeff said the company is holding conversations with potential investors as it seeks to expand. He declined to say who the company has spoken with. The Wall Street Journal has reported Vevo held talks with financial services firm Guggenheim Partners.
“We are continuing to speak to investors as we try to find the right partners to grow the business more rapidly than we’ve been able to do so far,” Caraeff said. “We’re still very active in that process.”
Last week, Vevo, which provides some of the most popular content on YouTube, expanded its content partnership with Yahoo in a deal that brings Vevo’s music videos and other programming to Yahoo’s video channel, Yahoo Screen, in the United States and Canada.
The partnership is expected to soon extend to Britain, Germany, Spain, France and Italy as well as the Yahoo Screen mobile app.
AT&T, which is competing against rivals such as Google Inc as well as cable companies with its fiber-based product, is considering providing broadband Internet speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second and its U-verse television service in cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.
Before the company can enter these markets, it must make agreements with local leaders in each city.
The services are currently available in Austin, Texas and some surrounding communities, and will be rolled out in parts of Dallas this summer, the company said.
AT&T also said it may consider expanding its reach to 100 cities eventually.
Earlier this month, AT&T announced it was in discussions with North Carolina Next Generation Network to bring U-verse with high-speed internet to North Carolina.
U-verse launched in 2006 and currently has 10.7 million combined Internet and TV customers.
Alibaba’s Tmall and Taobao sites already sell everything from clothes and furniture to car tires and medicines. But soon they’ll also be offering 3G data and voice call plans as well, according to the Chinese tech giant.
User registration for mobile phone numbers will begin in May.
Alibaba is among the Chinese companies that received a mobile virtual network operators license back in December. This allows them to resell wireless services from the nation’s state-controlled mobile carriers China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.
It won’t be hard for the Alibaba to find customers. Taobao and Tmall are two of China’s largest online retail sites. In addition, the company is aggressively expanding into mobile services, developing its own operating system for smartphones, along with a mobile chatting app called Laiwang.
As smartphones become the number one way Chinese go online, local tech companies are trying to corner a part of the mobile Internet market. In Alibaba’s case, the company has been on a spending spree, buying a stake in Chinese social networking site, Weibo.com, and moving to acquire the country’s largest online mapping provider.
Offering data and voice services could help Alibaba attract more users to its e-commerce services. As China only has three mobile carriers, there’s plenty of room for MVNOs to grow, according to analysts. But Alibaba won’t be the only e-commerce company offering mobile phone services.
JD.com, another major online retailer in China, has also received a MVNO license. The company plans to offer its telecom services in the second quarter of this year.
JD.com has the second largest business-to-consumer retail site behind Tmall.com, according to research firm Analysys International. The company is set to grow even faster after Chinese Internet giant Tencent bought a 15 percent stake in it.
As part of the deal, JD.com will take over two of Tencent’s online retail businesses. It will also gain access to Tencent’s WeChat app, a mobile messaging app with 300 million users.
Square Inc has been having discussions with several rivals for a possible sale as the mobile payments startup hopes to stem widening losses and dwindling cash, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.
The company spoke to Google Inc earlier this year about a possible sale, the Journal reported, adding that it wasn’t clear whether the talks are continuing.
Square, founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey, co-creator of Twitter Inc, will likely fetch billions of dollars in a sale. Square insiders sold shares earlier this year on the secondary market, valuing the company at roughly $5.2 billion, the Journal said.
The company recorded a loss of about $100 million in 2013, the Journal said, adding that the startup has consumed more than half of the roughly $340 million it raised from at least four rounds of equity financing since 2009.
Square makes credit card readers that slot into smartphones such as Apple Inc’s iPhone.
Square also had informal discussions about a deal with Apple
and eBay Inc’s PayPal in the past, but those conversations never developed into serious talks, the Journal said.
A spokesman for Square told the Journal that the company never had acquisition talks with Google. The report also quoted a PayPal spokesman as saying that the company did not have acquisition talks with Square.
Square, Google, Apple and eBay were not immediately available for comment.
Growth in the tablet market is driven by low-end devices and Android, but AMD’s tablet strategy is driven by Windows and high-performance machines. So AMD’s avoidance of the low end of the market narrows options for people looking for name-brand chips in low-price machines.
AMD chips are in just a handful tablet models. Those AMD chips that are available for tablets are essentially watered-down PC chips with strong graphics capabilities. But the company plans to introduce new chips, code-named Beema and Mullins, for tablets These new chips are based on a new core and designed to provide more performance and battery life.
“If we miss out on some units in the low end, so be it,” said Lisa Su, general manager of AMD’s global business units, during the first-quarter earnings call on Thursday.
AMD executives said they didn’t want to buy their way into the tablet market like Intel, which has been subsidizing tablet makers to use its x86 chips through its “contra revenue” program. Instead, AMD wants to be selective in its product mix, and focus on high-margin and high-value products.
“This idea of contra revenue is foreign to us,” said Rory Read, CEO of AMD, during the call.
AMD could go after tablets priced at $300, but won’t go under that, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.
“They are not chasing bad business,” Brookwood said.
AMD doesn’t have the financial resources to provide subsidies to tablet makers to use its chips, Brookwood said.
Though the tablet market is important, AMD is more concerned about generating revenue from custom chips and other areas, Brookwood said.
AMD makes custom chips for game consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4, which helped drive up revenue by 28 percent in the first fiscal quarter of 2014. AMD’s revenue in the PC, server and tablet chip business declined.
Addressing the wide tablet market isn’t a good idea for AMD and its bottom line, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research. AMD is directing more resources out of tablets and into consoles, where there is more financial reward, McCarron said.
But it does need one or two big customers to help their tablet business, he said.
“They are being very judicious in what part of the product stack they are playing in,” McCarron said. “They are working on home-run customers.”
Researchers are looking at the possibility of making low-power, flexible and inexpensive computers out of plastic materials. Plastic is not normally a good conductive material. However, researchers said this week that they have solved a problem related to reading data.
The research, which involved converting electricity from magnetic film to optics so data could be read through plastic material, was conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa and New York University. A paper on the research was published in this week’s Nature Communications journal.
More research is needed before plastic computers become practical, acknowledged Michael Flatte, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Iowa. Problems related to writing and processing data need to be solved before plastic computers can be commercially viable.
Plastic computers, however, could conceivably be used in smartphones, sensors, wearable products, small electronics or solar cells, Flatte said.
The computers would have basic processing, data gathering and transmission capabilities but won’t replace silicon used in the fastest computers today. However, the plastic material could be cheaper to produce as it wouldn’t require silicon fab plants, and possibly could supplement faster silicon components in mobile devices or sensors.
“The initial types of inexpensive computers envisioned are things like RFID, but with much more computing power and information storage, or distributed sensors,” Flatte said. One such implementation might be a large agricultural field with independent temperature sensors made from these devices, distributed at hundreds of places around the field, he said.
The research breakthrough this week is an important step in giving plastic computers the sensor-like ability to store data, locally process the information and report data back to a central computer.
Mobile phones, which demand more computing power than sensors, will require more advances because communication requires microwave emissions usually produced by higher-speed transistors than have been made with plastic.
It’s difficult for plastic to compete in the electronics area because silicon is such an effective technology, Flatte acknowledged. But there are applications where the flexibility of plastic could be advantageous, he said, raising the possibility of plastic computers being information processors in refrigerators or other common home electronics.
“This won’t be faster or smaller, but it will be cheaper and lower power, we hope,” Flatte said.
“I think you’ll see wide-area, high-bandwidth [smart]watches this year at some point,” said Glenn Lurie, president of emerging devices at AT&T, in an interview.
The company has a group working in Austin, Texas, on thousands of wearable-device prototypes, and is also looking at certifying third-party devices for use on its network, Lurie said.
“A majority of stuff you’re going to see today that’s truly wearable is going to be in a watch form factor to start,” Lurie said. If smartwatch use takes off — “and we believe it can,” Lurie said — then those devices could become hubs for wearable computing.
Right now smartwatches lack LTE capabilities, so they are largely reliant on smartphones for apps and notifications. With a mobile broadband connection, a smartwatch becomes an “independent device,” Lurie said.
“We’ve been very, very clear in our opinion that a wearable needs to be a stand-alone device,” Lurie said.
AT&T and Filip Technologies in January released the Filip child tracker wristwatch, which also allows a parent to call a child over AT&T’s network. Filip could be improved, but those are the kind of wearable products that AT&T wants to bring to market.
Wearables for home health care are also candidates for LTE connections, Lurie said, but fitness trackers may be too small for LTE connectivity, at least for now.
Lurie couldn’t say when smartglasses would be certified to work on AT&T’s network. Google last year said adding cellular capabilities to its Glass eyewear wasn’t in the plans because of battery use. But AT&T is willing to experiment with devices to see where LTE would fit.
“It’s one thing if I’m buying it to go out for a job, it’s another thing if I’m going to wear it everyday. Those are the things people are debating right now — how that’s all going to come out,” Lurie said. “There’s technology and there’s innovation happening, and those things will get solved.”
Lurie said battery issues are being resolved, but there are no network capacity issues. Wearable devices don’t use too much bandwidth as they relay short bursts of information, unless someone is, for instance, listening to Pandora radio on a smartwatch, Lurie said.
But AT&T is building out network capacity, adding Wi-Fi networks, and virtualizing networks to accommodate more devices.
“We don’t have network issues, we don’t have any capacity issues,” Lurie said. “The key element to adding these devices is a majority of [them] aren’t high-bandwidth devices.”
AT&T wants to make wearables work with its home offerings like the Digital Life home automation and security system. AT&T is also working with car makers for LTE integration, with wearables interacting with vehicles to open doors and start ignitions.
Security experts from from Germany’s Security Research Labs have broken into Samsung’s fingerprint technology by taking a fingerprint smudge from the smartphone and creating a “wood glue dummy” finger with it. Apparently the S5 falls for the fault every time.
The problem is because the scanner has such a high trust rating within the phone, it will also mean that any thief will have access to the owners PayPal account. Neither of these actions require an additional password to be entered. PayPal has said that while it was taking the findings from Security Research Labs seriously, it was confident that fingerprint authentication offers and easier and more secure way to pay on mobile devices than passwords or credit cards.
The scan unlocks a secure cryptographic key that serves as a password replacement for the phone and this can be deactivated from a lost or stolen device, and you can create a new one. Paypal also uses sophisticated fraud and risk management tools to try to prevent fraud before it happens.
However you would think someone would have learnt by now a similar method was used to break the iPhone 5S’ fingerprint scanner last year. A better method was to cut the iPhone owner’s finger off. It was more messy but a lot more satisfying. There is a video of German researchers figuring out ways of making your phone talk after the break.
“All spots in the Explorer Program have been claimed for now, but if you missed it this time, don’t worry,” the Google Glass team wrote on its blog on Wednesday.
“We’ll be trying new ways to expand the Explorer program in the future.”
Google did not respond to a request for more information, but an earlier post about the one-day sale spoke of brisk sales of the $1,500 Internet-enabled headset.
“We’ve sold out of Cotton (white), so things are moving really fast,” the team wrote.
Aside from the white version, Glass was being offered in shades marketed as Charcoal, Tangerine, Shale (grey) and Sky (blue). Buyers had the choice of their favorite shade or frame. Google announced the one-day sale available to all U.S. residents over 18 last week, adding it wasn’t ready to bring the gizmo to other countries. Shoppers who missed it have to sign up for updates at the Glass website.
Only a few thousand early adopters and developers had Glass before the one-day sale, which coincided with a major software update for the heads-up display that put video calling on hold.
An official launch of Google Glass may happen later this year.
MediaTek has shown off one of its most interesting SoC designs to date at the China Electronic Information Expo. The MT6595 was announced a while ago, but this is apparently the first time MediaTek showcased it in action.
It is a big.LITTLE octa-core with integrated LTE support. It has four Cortex A17 cores backed by four Cortex A7 cores and it can hit 2.2GHz. The GPU of choice is the PowerVR G6200. It supports 2K4K video playback and recording, as well as H.265. It can deal with a 20-megapixel camera, too.
The really interesting bit is the modem. It can handle TD-LTE/FDD-LTE/WCDMA/TD-SCDMA/GSM networks, hence the company claims it is the first octa-core with on board LTE. Qualcomm has already announced an LTE-enabled octa-core, but it won’t be ready anytime soon. The MT6595 will – it is expected to show up in actual devices very soon.
Of course, MediaTek is going after a different market. Qualcomm is building the meanest possible chip with four 64-bit Cortex A57 cores and four A53 cores, while MediaTek is keeping the MT6595 somewhat simpler, with smaller 32-bit cores.
The revisions more explicitly spell out the manner in which Google software scans users’ emails, both when messages are stored on Google’s servers and when they are in transit, a controversial practice that has been at the heart of litigation.
Last month, a U.S. judge decided not to combine several lawsuits that accused Google of violating the privacy rights of hundreds of millions of email users into a single class action.
Users of Google’s Gmail email service have accused the company of violating federal and state privacy and wiretapping laws by scanning their messages so it could compile secret profiles and target advertising. Google has argued that users implicitly consented to its activity, recognizing it as part of the email delivery process.
Google spokesman Matt Kallman said in a statement that the changes “will give people even greater clarity and are based on feedback we’ve received over the last few months.”
Google’s updated terms of service added a paragraph stating that “our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.
Researchers last week warned they uncovered Heartbleed, a bug that targets the OpenSSL software commonly used to keep data secure, potentially allowing hackers to steal massive troves of information without leaving a trace.
Security experts initially told companies to focus on securing vulnerable websites, but have since warned about threats to technology used in data centers and on mobile devices running Google Inc’s Android software and Apple Inc’s iOS software.
Scott Totzke, BlackBerry senior vice president, told Reuters on Sunday that while the bulk of BlackBerry products do not use the vulnerable software, the company does need to update two widely used products: Secure Work Space corporate email and BBM messaging program for Android and iOS.
He said they are vulnerable to attacks by hackers if they gain access to those apps through either WiFi connections or carrier networks.
Still, he said, “The level of risk here is extremely small,” because BlackBerry’s security technology would make it difficult for a hacker to succeed in gaining data through an attack.
“It’s a very complex attack that has to be timed in a very small window,” he said, adding that it was safe to continue using those apps before an update is issued.
Google spokesman Christopher Katsaros declined comment. Officials with Apple could not be reached.
Security experts say that other mobile apps are also likely vulnerable because they use OpenSSL code.
Michael Shaulov, chief executive of Lacoon Mobile Security, said he suspects that apps that compete with BlackBerry in an area known as mobile device management are also susceptible to attack because they, too, typically use OpenSSL code.
He said mobile app developers have time to figure out which products are vulnerable and fix them.
“It will take the hackers a couple of weeks or even a month to move from ‘proof of concept’ to being able to exploit devices,” said Shaulov.
Technology firms and the U.S. government are taking the threat extremely seriously. Federal officials warned banks and other businesses on Friday to be on alert for hackers seeking to steal data exposed by the Heartbleed bug.
Companies including Cisco Systems Inc, Hewlett-Packard Co, International Business Machines Corp, Intel Corp, Juniper Networks Inc, Oracle Corp Red Hat Inc have warned customers they may be at risk. Some updates are out, while others, like BlackBerry, are rushing to get them ready.
For a trial that centers on smartphones and the technology they use, it’s more than a little ironic. The entire case might not even be taking place if the market wasn’t so big and important, but the constant need for connectivity of everyone is causing problems in the court, hence the new sign.
The problems have centered on the system that displays the court reporter’s real-time transcription onto monitors on the desks of Judge Lucy Koh, the presiding judge in the case, and the lawyers of Apple and Samsung. The system, it seems, is connected via Wi-Fi and that connection keeps failing.
“We have a problem,” Judge Koh told the courtroom on April 4, soon after the problem first appeared. Without the system, Koh said she couldn’t do her job, so if people didn’t shut off electronics, she might have to ban them from the courtroom.
In many other courts, electronic devices are routinely banned, but the Northern District of California and Judge Koh have embraced technology more than most. While reporters and spectators are limited to a pen and paper in courts across the country, the court here permits live coverage through laptops and even provides a free Wi-Fi network.
On Monday, the problems continued and Judge Koh again asked for all cellphones to be switched off.
But not everyone listened. A scan of the courtroom revealed at least one hotspot hadn’t been switched off: It was an SK Telecom roaming device from South Korea, likely used by a member of Samsung’s team.
The hotspot was switched off by the end of the day, but on Tuesday there were more problems.
“You. Ma’am. You in the front row,” Judge Koh said sternly during a break. She’d spotted an Apple staffer using her phone and made the culprit stand, give her name and verbally agree not to use the handset again in court.
As a result of all the problems, lawyers for Apple and Samsung jointly suggested using a scheduled two-day break in the case to hardwire the transcription computers to the court’s network.
The cable wasn’t installed.
“I believe there were some issues, We’re attempting to install it,” one of the attorneys told IDG News Service during the court lunch break.
So for now, the problems continue.
The clerk opened the day with an appeal to switch phones off, “not even airplane mode.”
That still didn’t help.
The transcription screens failed at 9:09 a.m., just minutes into the first session of the morning.