Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sony's smartphone play: Too little, too late

The Japanese consumer electronics giant is ending its 10-year marriage with network-equipment provider Ericsson, spending $1.47 billion to buy out Ericsson's stake in Sony Ericsson, their mobile devices joint venture.
Sony's hope: that it can move faster alone to revive what was once a healthy business through a tighter integration with its other products and media content.
While many analysts agree Sony's takeover of the business is a positive, they are skeptical that it can actually turn the handset business around. Over the past few years, Sony Ericsson has ceded a significant amount of market share to competitors. It was slow to pounce on the smartphone trend, and even now stands as a second-tier Android player. Its relationship with carriers in the major markets (read: the U.S.) remains weak.

"It's not clear to me that Sony has the juice or the positioning to make a comeback now," said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies.

Sony Ericsson's rapid decline in the mobile arena is just the latest example of the pitfalls to which joint ventures are often heir. The joint venture is book-ended with struggles, often due to conflicting interests and the frequently halfhearted commitment of its parents.

Once one of the five largest handset vendors in the world by shipments, Sony Ericsson has largely fallen off the radar. In the smartphone business, its share lags far behind its rivals. In the second quarter, its global share of the smartphone market was 3.6 percent, according to Gartner.
In comparison, Apple's share was 18.2 percent, while top tier Android player Samsung owned 15.8 percent of the market. Early Android adopter HTC held 10.2 percent.


How Steve Jobs Drove Without License Plates

The multitude of mysteries revealed following the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' death now includes one that puzzled car enthusiasts for years: How did Jobs get away with driving without a license plate? It was common knowledge that Jobs would park his Mercedes SL55 AMG in a handicapped spot at Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters, with nothing to identify his vehicle other than the tiny barcode that usually rests behind the rear license plate. According to Walter Isaacson's new biography, Jobs wanted to avoid having a plate for privacy reasons; and yet when having a license-less silver Mercedes became a kind of trademark, Jobs kept motoring without one "because I don't."

For years, rumors swirled that Jobs had either won a special dispensation from California authorities or was just daring police to stop him. While the why remains somewhat cloudy, an interview by ITWire with a former Apple security executive reveals the real reason: a little-known loophole in California vehicle laws that gives owners up to six months to get plates for their vehicles.

According to Jon Callas, now chief technical officer of Entrust, Jobs would arrange with his vehicle leasing company to switch out his silver Mercedes every six months with a new, identical model — just another of the complicated and expensive ways Jobs thought differently.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Samsung attempt to keep iPhone 4S out of Italy rejected

Samsung's campaign to keep Apple's iPhone 4S from being sold in Europe has hit a roadblock, with an Italian judge reportedly denying the injunctive effort.

Italian news outlet Agenzia Giornalistica Italia (AGI) today reports that Milan judges denied a request from Samsung filed earlier this month to keep Apple's iPhone 4S from being sold in the country.

The decision came during a hearing on the complaint, which was filed just a day after Apple's latest iPhone was announced and accuses Apple of infringing on two of its patents related to wireless technology.

"Apple has continued to flagrantly violate our intellectual property rights and free ride on our technology," the company wrote in a blog post announcing the legal effort earlier this month. "We believe it is now necessary to take legal action to protect our innovation."

A Samsung Telecommunications America spokesman declined to comment on today's decision, and Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Samsung's two complaints, which were filed in France and Italy, take aim at Apple's use of Wideband Code Division Multiple Access standards, which Samsung holds patents for. "The infringed technology is essential to the reliable functioning of telecom networks and devices and Samsung believes that Apple's violation (is) too severe and that the iPhone 4S should be barred from sales," the company wrote at the time.

The spat is just a part of a larger battle between the two companies in courts around the world. The dispute was kicked off with a U.S. lawsuit filed by Apple against Samsung in April that said Samsung was violating its intellectual property in the design of its mobile devices, specifically the Galaxy series smartphones and tablets. Samsung later countersued against Apple, saying the company was infringing on multiple patents.


Nokia's new interface is seriously twisted

LONDON--Multitouch revolutionized user interfaces, and if Nokia researchers get their way, a mobile device that's sensitive to how it's being flexed could be the next revolution.

At the Nokia World show here, the Finnish mobile phone maker showed off its "Nokia kinetic device" with a flexible display. Gripped with two hands, it would scroll through music collections or photo albums when twisted. Bowing it inward or outward zoomed photos in and out or paused and played music, while tapping the corners panned through photos.

While it was a real computing device with a real OLED display, it's most definitely not a real product anyone could buy today. More firmly in the prototype category was a related flexible device that looked like a slim remote control; it could be controlled with a single hand.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Making thermostats sexy

It's hard to imagine making thermostats sexy, but if anyone could do it, it would be the "father of the iPod."

In 2008, amid renewed concerns about Steve Jobs' health, Fortune ranked the probable candidates to someday replace the famed Apple CEO. The first choice? Then COO and eventual successor Tim Cook. The second? Tony Fadell, chief of the iPod division and the man credited with the ideas that resulted in the creation of the iPod and its marriage with the iTunes Music Store.

Around that time, Fadell left Apple, his next move unknown, and since then, he's been in stealth mode. But today, he re-emerged, announcing Nest, a 100-person startup that's applying the design and user-experience DNA of Apple and many other top Silicon Valley firms to a humdrum home appliance that just happens to govern the largest share of American households' energy spending: the thermostat.

With its Learning Thermostat, Nest is going all in and telling the world that a ubiquitous but hard-to-master device that hasn't had a major redesign in decades is due for a shot of iPod and iPhone design magic. Fadell and his team think they've come up with an alternative that's easy to use and that learns from what we do. Along the way, the company thinks it could cut 20 percent to 30 percent off the average household's $1,000 or so in annual energy bills.

The new device is small and round and has a bright and simple digital screen and you jog the outer case left or right or push-click the front to make selections. Sound familiar? Plus it works hand in hand with an iOS--and soon an Android--app that lets users control the system from afar.


Apple wins 'slide to unlock' patent

Many of the patent applications and grants we come across involving Apple relate to theoretical products that may never see the light of day. Today, Apple has been granted a patent that covers one of the most basic (and copied) processes in iOS, slide to unlock.

Though Apple holds many patents pertaining to gestures, the slide-to-unlock gesture is both symbolically and practically the one that gets everything started. Here is the official wording from the United States Patent & Trademark Office, describing what other companies are now restricted from including in their touch-sensitive operating systems:

"The device is unlocked if contact with the display corresponds to a predefined gesture for unlocking the device. The device displays one or more unlock images with respect to which the predefined gesture is to be performed in order to unlock the device."

That's one way to say it. The easier way came from Jobs himself as he introduced the original iPhone in 2007, saying, "We wanted something you couldn't do by accident in your pocket. Just slide it across--BOOM."

Given the ongoing legal battles that Apple is facing with companies like Samsung over design stealing, another major patent win can only serve to strengthen Apple's position.

Should Apple go on the offensive with its new patent for slide-to-unlock or sit back and use it for legal-defense purposes? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


Monday, October 24, 2011

iPhone, Android users worry about security

iOS and Android users don't seem to share the same views on much when it comes to the mobile space, but they both appear to have concerns about security threats to their devices. According to recent data from the NPD Group, users of both platforms are worried about having their credit card info stolen, device theft, hackers accessing personal information, harmful apps, and unwanted location tracking. Very few have chosen to do anything besides worry, however.

The breakdowns between iOS and Android users are similar for each security point, but overall, a lower percentage of iPhone owners expressed concern for most items than Android users. For example, 46 percent of Android owners and 38 percent of iPhone owners were worried about their credit card information being stolen. Similarly, 46 percent of Android owners and 37 percent of iPhone owners worried about hackers accessing personal information, and 43 percent of Android owners versus 37 percent of iPhone owners were worried about acquiring viruses or spyware.

Despite these slight differences, when averaged together, most of the numbers floated around the 40 percent mark (give or take) for most items in the list. NPD expressed concern, however, in the low number of users who had taken any kind of security measures—the firm said that more than 25 percent of all smartphone owners (35 percent of iPhone owners) had no idea how to acquire any kind of security software for their devices. And among those who did know but still had no security products installed, one quarter said they were too expensive.


Apple’s lower prices are all part of the plan

Something unexpected has happened at Apple, once known as the tech industry’s high-price leader,” Nick Wingfield reports for The New York Times. “Over the last several years it began beating rivals on price.”

“Apple’s new pricing strategy is a big change from the 1990s, when consumers regarded Apple as a producer of overpriced tech baubles, unable to compete effectively with its Macintosh family of computers against the far cheaper Windows PCs,” Wingfield reports. “But more recently, it began using its growing manufacturing scale and logistics prowess to deliver Apple products at far more aggressive prices, which in turn gave it more power to influence pricing industrywide.”

Wingfield reports, “Analysts and industry executives say Apple’s pricing is an overlooked part of its ability to find a large audience for those products beyond hard-core Apple fans.”


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Microsoft signs Compal to Android-Chrome licensing deal

Microsoft announced today it had signed another hardware maker to a patent-protection deal, marking the milestone of having half the world's original design manufacturers on board with its Android-Chrome licensing effort.

China-based Compal Electronics will pay undisclosed royalties to the software giant for use of Google's Android and Chrome operating systems used in smartphones, tablet, and other consumer electronics, the company said.

Rather than going after Google for patent violations, Microsoft has targeted device makers, pressing them to license Microsoft's patents that it alleges Android and Chrome infringe upon. Earlier this month, Microsoft signed Quanta Computer to an Android licensing deal for both operating systems. In July, Microsoft reached a deal with another Taiwanese contract manufacturer, Wistron, over Chrome.

Microsoft has sued Barnes & Noble for violating patents that cover its Nook electronic reader, which runs on Android, and Motorola, alleging that several of the handset maker's Android devices infringe on Microsoft patents.


Steve Jobs’ bio on ‘60 minutes’

The official Steve Jobs biography is due out Monday. An interview with the author appeared Sunday on "60 Minutes," taking a look at the life of the Apple co-founder.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was already gravely ill with cancer when he asked author Walter Isaacson to write his biography. Jobs told Isaacson to write an honest book--about his failings and his strengths. In addition to more than 40 interviews with Jobs, the book is based on more than 100 interviews with friends, family, colleagues, and competitors. "He's not warm and fuzzy," Isaacson says.

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company had just 5 percent of the computer market. When Jobs died of cancer 14 years later, Apple was the second most valuable company in the world. In his new biography of Jobs, Walter Isaacson writes that he revolutionized or re-imagined seven industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, telephones, tablet computing, digital publishing, and retail stores.