Friday, 30 November 2012

Apple releases iTunes 11 with redesigned interface


Apple has released a new version of iTunes music player that features a brand new interface. Other features include a new App Store interface, iCloud integration, and a preview history that lets you quickly go back to recently previewed content.
iTunes 11 gets rid of the sidebar-based navigation found in earlier iTunes versions and moves to a tab-like interface. You can switch between various types of content like Music, Films, TV Shows/ TV Programmes and Apps via a drop-down on the top left. Once within a category, users get various tabs to move quickly, for example, tabs to switch between Songs, Albums, Artists, Genres, Playlists, Radio and iTunes Match while in the Music category. The Songs view is the old 'List' view you're likely familiar with. The Album view presents all songs from an album in a new format that includes album art on the side.
Similarly, under Films the tabs include Unwatched, Films, Genres, Home Videos, Rented and a List view. The TV Shows/ TV Programmes category includes Unwatched, Programmes, Genres and a List view. Apps view let you see All apps as icons, iPhone/ iPod touch apps only, iPad, iPod Games (for iPod classic) and a List view. 
iTunes 11 finally brings the new App Store interface that debuted on iOS a while back. Other new features include a redesigned MiniPlayer and an improved recommendations engine that suggests iTunes store music based on an album, artist, or genre you select. Frequent iTunes store users will appreciate other new features like preview history and the ability to play songs straight from the cloud. iCloud integration adds ability to resume playback of a podcast, audiobook or video where you left-off across various devices without having to sync them first. The ability to queue whichever song you want to play next adds a feature that has long been requested by many.
iTunes 11 is now available as a free download from Apple's website or via Apple Software Update on your Mac/ PC.

Sony's PS3 outsells Nintendo's Wii U over Black Friday week


Sony Corp sold over 525,000 PlayStation3 consoles in the United States during the week of Black Friday that kicks off the holiday shopping season, surpassing sales of Nintendo's new Wii U.
Sony Computer Entertainment Inc said on Thursday that sales of its six-year-old PlayStation3 jumped 9 percent over the same period last year. The sales compared with over 400,000 units sold of Nintendo's Wii U (Pictures), the new console on which the Japanese company is staking much of its future.
Microsoft Corp sold over 750,000 units of its Xbox 360 console during the week of Black Friday, one of the heaviest U.S. consumer-spending periods of the year.
The results could deal a blow to Nintendo, which is hoping that the Wii U, which comes with a touchscreen "GamePad" controller, will revive growth and pull it out of the red in coming years. Since its November 18 U.S. launch, the Wii U has been marred by technical glitches, including long software download times.
Analysts have said the initial sales numbers may have been curbed by insufficient supply, common during the launch of new products.
On Monday, Nintendo said Wii U consoles were "effectively sold out" in U.S. retail stores.
Sales of consoles and portable handheld game devices like the Nintendo 3DS are crumbling as gamers migrate to offerings on smartphones and tablets. According to research firm NPD Group, video game hardware sales slid 37 percent in October from a year ago.
The battle between the three game makers is expected to intensify when Sony and Microsoft launch their own next-generation PlayStation and Xbox consoles, expected in 2013.
© Thomson Reuters 2012

Facebook and Zynga change terms, agree to more freedom for both parties


Facebook Inc and Zynga Inc severed the cozy ties that once bound the Internet industry's closest couple, revising a years-old partnership between the two companies.
The two companies reported in regulatory filings on Thursday that they had reached an agreement to amend a deal struck in 2010 that was widely seen as giving Zynga privileged status on the world's No.1 social network.
Zynga stock fell 12 percent to $2.30 in after-hours trading. Facebook shares were off 5 cents at $27.27.
"Zynga's favored nation's status is gone but it seems like it's been slipping away for a while now," said PJ McNealy, CEO of Digital World Research.
The new agreement gives Zynga a freer hand to operate a standalone gaming website, but eliminates the San Francisco game publisher's ability to promote its site on Facebook and to draw users from Facebook's thriving social network of roughly 1 billion users.
Visitors to Zynga's gaming website will no longer be able to tap into their network of Facebook friends or post messages about their gaming progress to Facebook.
Zynga games, like "FarmVille" and "Mafia Wars," will still be available on Facebook's social network, but those games will no longer feature cross-promotions directing users to Zynga's standalone website.
The move underscores the widening gap between the two social networking pioneers, which went public within seven months of each other and have been intimately tied.
In recent quarters, fees from Zynga contributed 15 percent of Facebook's total revenues, while Zynga relies on Facebook for roughly 80 percent of its revenue.
The 2010 agreement provided a variety of ways for Zynga to meet its monthly user growth targets, including guaranteed promotions of certain Zynga games on Facebook.
"Effective on March 31, 2013, certain provisions related to Web and mobile growth targets and schedules will no longer be applicable," said a regulatory filing submitted by Zynga on Thursday.
The changes could benefit Zynga's rivals who have long groused about Zynga receiving preferential treatment.
"There was plenty of speculation Zynga was getting referrals within the Facebook community that other gaming companies weren't getting which helped drive web traffic to Zynga games," said Digital World Research's McNealy.
But he noted that recent changes to Facebook's algorithm appeared to be helping drive more traffic to Zynga competitors such as Electronic Arts and KixEye.
In July, Zynga executives told analysts that the company's revenue had plummeted in the second quarter as Facebook tweaked its algorithms, sending fewer gamers to Zynga titles. Zynga CEO Mark Pincus, at the time, assured Wall Street that Zynga was "working closely with Facebook to optimize the game ecosystem."
Both Internet companies have been trying to reduce their inter-dependence, with Zynga starting up its own platform, and Facebook wooing other games developers.
"We have streamlined our terms with Zynga so that's use of Facebook Platform is governed by the same policies as the rest of the ecosystem," a Facebook spokesman said in a statement. "We will continue to work with Zynga, just as we do with developers of all sizes."
Among the myriad terms of their new agreement, Zynga could elect not to collect revenue for games on its own website by solely using Facebook payment system, in which Facebook takes a 30 percent cut.
The game developer could also choose not to display Facebook's ads on its own site,
"Wall Street thinks Facebook is booting them off or something bad, but there's no way this is bad," said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities. "This is at worst neutral and at best good."
The revised agreement also allows Facebook to develop its own games, according to the filing. A person close to Facebook said the company "was not in the business of building games and we have not plans to do so."
© Thomson Reuters 2012

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Moody's downgrades HP's long-term credit rating


Moody's Investors Service on Wednesday lowered its long-term credit rating on Hewlett-Packard, saying the technology giant will have trouble increasing sales of many of its products.
Moody's lowered HP's senior unsecured credit rating by one notch, to "Baa1" from "A3." The rating remains investment grade but Moody's said its outlook is negative, implying it could be further downgraded.
HP's finances will remain weaker than previously expected "over the immediate term," Moody's senior vice president Richard Lane said in the rating announcement.
About 75 percent of HP's revenue comes from personal computers, enterprise servers, printers and services, Lane noted. He said those offerings "face slow to no growth prospects over the coming years."
It's not certain whether HP can restore growth and profitability, Lane said.
Moody's expects the company's revenue will likely decline 5 percent next year and its profit margin will narrow. It sees free cash flow after dividends next year of about $4 billion, down from an earlier estimate of $6 billion to $7 billion.
The rating downgrade affects about $25 billion of HP bonds. A spokesman for HP, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., said the company had no immediate comment on the Moody's report.
Moody's began its review of HP's rating in October. HP has been falling out of favor on Wall Street as its personal computer and printer businesses face increasing competition from tablet computers and smartphones.
To add to its doldrums, HP announced last week that it took an $8.8 billion charge because it determined a business software maker it acquired for $10 billion last year was worth far less. HP has alleged that the acquired company, Autonomy, lied about its finances.
In August, HP disclosed that its $13 billion acquisition of technology consulting service Electronic Data Systems wasn't working out as well as management had expected.
The trouble in Autonomy and EDS has forced HP to absorb nearly $17 billion in accounting charges in the past two quarters, resulting in the biggest losses in the company's 73-year history.
HP's market value has been cut in half since the beginning of the year.
Moody's warned that HP's travails might cause it to undertake "shareholder friendly actions or portfolio repositioning" that would further weaken its credit standing.
Moody's assigns the "Baa1" rating to debt that it believes is on the lower end of investment grade. Companies with the rating are subject to moderate risk of default, placing them somewhere between safe and speculative investments.
HP's stock closed up 37 cents, or 3 percent, at $12.73.

Google goes on the offensive against online news aggregators


Google's imprint on daily life is hard to ignore in Europe, where it reportedly has 93 percent of the Internet search market, more than in the United States. Yet when it comes to its lobbying of lawmakers, Google prefers a low profile.

That all changed this week when Google fired a rare public broadside against a proposal that would force it and other online aggregators of news content to pay German newspaper and magazine publishers to display snippets of news in Web searches.

The proposed ancillary copyright law, which is to have its first reading Friday in the lower house of Parliament, the Bundestag, has ignited a storm of hyperbole pitting Google and local Web advocates against powerful publishers including Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Bild and Die Welt.

Google took off the gloves Tuesday when it opened a campaign urging German users to e-mail members of the Bundestag with their concerns. Google said the proposal would shrink the free flow of information on the Internet in Germany, perhaps even forcing it to display blank links to German references.

The issue is also being debated in other European capitals. In October, President François Hollande of France asked the Google executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, to have a representative meet with a government mediator to resolve the issue. The company complied. The implicit threat was that if no solution were found, France might pursue a legislative option.

Christoph Keese, the senior vice president of Axel Springer, publisher of Bild and Die Welt, two of the largest-circulation newspapers in Germany, said lawmakers in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal and Spain were considering similar measures. Google said that conversely, new laws passed in Canada, and proposals that could soon be adopted in Britain and the Netherlands, would further loosen copyright restrictions and free up new kinds of Internet sharing.

The German proposal "would make it much more difficult to find the information that you seek in the Internet," Google warned in its campaign, which it titled "Defend Your Internet."

The unusually public salvos from Google caught many German lawmakers by surprise. Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue at a working dinner Tuesday with a group of lawmakers from her party, the Christian Democratic Union, including Peter Beyer, a member of the Bundestag from Ratingen, a town near Düsseldorf.

"She asked us how many e-mails we'd received and we told her," he said Wednesday during an interview, adding that he had received fewer than 10 from Google supporters. "Most of use had only received a few, three or four. She and the rest of the C.D.U. are still behind this law. I have no doubts that it will pass."

That may not be as simple as supporters envision.

Germany's main technology industry association, the Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media, known as BitKom, has come out sharply against the proposal, saying it will curb investment in the German digital economy.

"They are planning a law that would be unique worldwide, which would send a negative signal to investors: Innovative online services are not desired in Germany," said Bernhard Rohleder, chief executive of BitKom.

A letter to Bundestag members signed jointly by 16 copyright law professors, the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property and Competition Law, and Grur, an association representing 5,300 German copyright lawyers, warned that the law could cost Germany jobs. "There is a danger that this law will have unforeseen negative consequences," the letter read.

By midday Wednesday, one day into the campaign, Google said that 25,000 people had signed its petition and that it expected a half-million people to have viewed its Web site.

The showdown being played out in Berlin may not be resolved by lawmakers until early next year. But it stems from a long-running dispute between Google and German newspaper and magazine publishers that dates from 2007, said Anja Pasquay, a spokeswoman for the German Association of Newspaper Publishers.

That was when publishers first decided to pursue a legislative solution after failing to persuade Google to sit down and negotiate a licensing agreement for the industry, Ms. Pasquay said.

"Almost all of our members support this," Ms. Pasquay said during an interview. "Our members are not opposed to the Internet economy. They welcome it. But they don't think they have to give away their work for free on the Web."

Ralf Bremer, a Google spokesman in Berlin, said it was in constant contact with German publishers, who routinely receive 70 to 80 percent of revenue from advertisements displayed on their Web sites through AdSense, Google's online advertising service. Globally, Google distributed $7 billion in ad-sharing revenue to publishers in 2011, some of which went to German news outlets.

German publishers, like those elsewhere, also have the ability to send a code to Google that effectively blocks aggregation services from mining and displaying their content. Google also gives publishers another tool that enables them to decide whether content in search rankings is displayed in a short snippet or left blank in a simple link.

Mr. Bremer said Google had gone public with its opposition to the proposed law because German news organizations were not reporting on the issue or were slanting their coverage to emphasize their own stance.

"The German public does not know about this proposal," Mr. Bremer said. "The German print press has been reluctant to report on this in a balanced manner. We therefore came up with our own information."

In a blog post, Google's director of public policy in Europe, Simon Hampton, cited a statement released by the European Journalism Center, a professional training and seminar organization in Maastricht, the Netherlands, which compared the German proposal to asking local newsstands to pay royalties for just displaying newspapers and magazines.

Under the proposal before the Bundestag, aggregators like Google would first have to obtain the permission of publishers to present even one-paragraph summaries of free content in Web search rankings. Publishers are more than willing to sell Google a license for this purpose, Mr. Keese of Axel Springer said. He predicted that Google's public relations offensive might cause a backlash among German lawmakers, who are unaccustomed to targeted, issue-oriented Internet lobbying.

"Google is using its dominant market position and power to get its way," Mr. Keese said. "They are doing what they always do. They don't negotiate. But they are more than willing to use their power to protect their monopoly revenues."

Mr. Beyer, the Bundestag member, said Google was overstating the issues. "Google is a super search engine and a great company, but this does not spell the end of free information on the Internet," he said. "Google should stick to the facts and tell the truth."

Steve Ballmer admits Microsoft should have moved faster into tablet market


Microsoft Corp Chief Executive Steve Ballmer defended his company's record on innovation and financial performance at the annual shareholders' meeting, but conceded that he should have moved faster to get into the booming tablet market dominated by Apple Inc's iPad.
Bill Gates, co-founder and now chairman of the world's largest software company, was one of the first to champion tablet-sized devices more than 10 years ago, but Microsoft failed to come up with a product that worked as well as the iPad. Gates was silent throughout the meeting, attended by about 450 shareholders.
"We're innovating on the seam between software and hardware," said Ballmer, asked why his company had fallen behind rival Apple. "Maybe we should have done that earlier."
A month ago, Microsoft launched the Surface tablet its first own-brand computer but has not revealed sales figures.
In the tablet market, "we see nothing but a sea of upside," Ballmer said, an acknowledgement that until now Microsoft has effectively had zero presence in the tablet market.
"I feel pretty good about our level of innovation," he added.
Ballmer said smartphones running Microsoft's new Windows software were selling four times as much as they did at this time last year. Microsoft has never given sales numbers of Windows phones, primarily made by Nokia, Samsung and HTC.
Windows currently has 2 to 4 percent of the global smartphone market, according to various independent data providers. Its overall market share will not likely grow in proportion to its own sales, given that sales of other smartphones - mostly running Google's Android system - are also growing quickly.
Ballmer, flanked by Gates and Chief Financial Officer Peter Klein, was asked by several shareholders to explain Microsoft's lackluster share price, which has been stuck for a decade, and has been outperformed by Apple and Google Inc stock in recent years.
"I understand your comment," he told one shareholder. He went on to explain that Microsoft had "done a phenomenal job of driving product volumes" and was focusing on profiting from that growth.
He suggested that whether investors recognized that value at any given time was out of his hands.
"The stock market's kind of a funny thing," he said, adding that Microsoft had handed back $10 billion in dividends and share buybacks to investors in the last fiscal year.
Several shareholders at the meeting in Bellevue, an upscale suburb of Seattle, complimented the executives on how they had grown and managed the company.
Microsoft's shares rose almost 18 percent during fiscal 2012, which ended in June of this year, compared with a 3 percent rise in the Standard & Poor's 500.
Despite such fluctuations, Microsoft's shares stand around the same level they did 10 years ago.

Nokia sues RIM for breach of contract over cellular patents


Nokia Corp. said Wednesday that it is suing Research In Motion, the maker of the BlackBerry, for breach of contract in Britain, the United States and Canada over cellular patents the two companies agreed on nine years ago.
The struggling Finnish cellphone maker agreed with RIM in 2003 on a license that covers patents on "standards-essential" technologies for mobile devices. RIM has since claimed the license should also have covered patents for non-essential parts and it filed arbitration proceedings with the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce in March 2011.
Earlier this month, the Arbitration Institute of Stockholm Chamber of Commerce ruled against RIM's claims.
Nokia said it filed a suit earlier this week to enforce the tribunal's ruling, which says that the Canadian company is "not entitled to manufacture or sell products compatible with the WLAN Standard without first agreeing with Nokia on the royalty to be paid."
RIM said it "will respond to Nokia's petitions in due course."
"Research In Motion has worked hard to develop its leading-edge BlackBerry technology and has built an industry-leading intellectual property portfolio of its own," said RIM spokeswoman Crystal Roberts.
Peter Misek, an analyst at Jefferies in New York, said Nokia's filings mean that RIM likely will end up paying royalties of $2 to $5 per phone.
Nokia is among leading patent holders in the wireless industry. Major manufacturers of phones and wireless equipment are increasingly turning to patent litigation as they jockey for an edge to expand their share of the rapidly growing smartphone market.
Last year, Nokia received a $565 million royalty payment from Apple Inc. to settle long-standing patent disputes. It also has filed claims in the United States and Germany alleging that products from HTC Corp. and Viewsonic Corp. infringe a number of its patents.
Nokia shares closed down 1 percent at €2.53 in Helsinki on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Apple sacks executive in maps fiasco: Report


Apple has ousted the executive who oversaw the mobile maps program which was a spectacular flop, a report said Tuesday.
The Dow Jones website AllThingsD, citing a source familiar with the matter, reported that Rich Williamson was fired last week in an extension of a shakeup at the California tech giant begun a month ago.
Apple did not respond to an AFP request for comment.
The news comes a month after Apple announced the departure of its head of the mobile software unit, Scott Forstall, as well as retail chief John Browett.
Apple last month said it was promoting other executives including Jon Ive, Bob Mansfield, Eddy Cue and Craig Federighi to better integrate hardware, software and services.
Apple has in recent months launched the iPhone 5, the mobile operating system iOS 6, iPad mini, and new versions of the iPad, iMac, MacBook Pro, iPod touch and iPod nano.
Apple was forced to make a highly embarrassing apology in September for its glitch-ridden maps application in the new operating system used by the iPhone 5 and urged customers to use rival programs while improvements are made.
Apple developed its own mapping program included in its new mobile iOS 6 operating system, and in doing so booted off Google Maps, which had been the default program for Apple devices.
But the new Apple program immediately drew scorn for omitting key landmarks and cities, failing to identify correct locations and distorting views from its images.

Banks offer to help Sony offload battery unit - sources


Sony Corp has been approached by at least three investment banks offering to sell its battery business as the struggling Japanese group looks to offload non-core assets and focus on reviving its consumer electronics business, banking sources said.
Selling the unit, which employs 2,700 people and had sales last year of $1.74 billion, would help Sony cut costs and generate cash as it restructures its operations, three people involved in the preliminary discussions told Reuters.
The company, a byword for innovative gadgetry in the 1970s and 80s, has been battered by weak demand for its TVs in a fiercely competitive market. The TV business has racked up huge losses; Sony's market value has slumped to below $10 billion and ratings agency Fitch last week downgraded the company's debt to "junk" status a move likely to push up borrowing costs and make asset sales more attractive.
CEO Kazuo Hirai has pledged to rebuild Sony around gaming, digital imaging and mobile devices, while nurturing new businesses such as medical devices. He is axing 10,000 jobs, closing facilities and selling assets. Any disposals would be part of a broader "garage sale" by Japan's leading electronics groups that are hurting in weak markets and tight financing.
Potential buyers for Sony Energy Devices Corp founded in 1975 as Sony-Eveready, a joint venture with Union Carbide Corp could include Taiwan's Hon Hai Precision Industry and BYD Co Ltd, a Chinese carmaker backed by billionaire investor Warren Buffett, said one of the sources. Hon Hai is also in negotiations to become rival TV maker Sharp Corp's biggest shareholder.
Foreign interest
Despite a strong yen, interest is likely to come mainly from potential foreign buyers, said the sources, who did not want to be named as the talks are private.
Selling the business overseas may not go down well with a Japanese government that in the past has kept technology at home by promoting alliances between local producers. Panasonic Corp, NEC Corp and Hitachi Ltd also make lithium-ion batteries, though the firms' fabrication technology differs.
Sony declined to comment on the possible sale of the business, which makes lithium-ion batteries used in smartphones, tablets and PCs. "At our corporate strategy announcement in April, (Hirai) said we would explore possible alliances in E-vehicle batteries and battery storage," said spokesman George Boyd.
As with TVs, Sony has struggled to compete against South Korean rivals in a battery business that is worth $18 billion a year. The small cells that power mobile devices now account for around 60 percent of the market, ahead of those used in cars and electrical tools, according to research company IHS iSuppli.
While lithium-ion battery demand has steadily expanded with the boom in mobile consumer electronics, severe price competition has resulted in razor thin margins that favour large-scale manufacturers with weak local currencies.
"The battery business is a prime example of the company's loss-making and unwanted assets. It doesn't make sense for them to keep it," said one of the banking sources.
Falling market share
As Hirai doubles down on Sony's strength in consumer electronics, the company has sold a chemicals company, with 2,900 workers, and may also let go its U.S. headquarters building in New York go. At the same time, it has spent close to $2 billion on a U.S. game clouding company and a stake in medical equipment maker Olympus Corp.
Sony produced 74 million lithium-ion battery cells in July-September almost 40 percent fewer than in the first quarter of 2008, when its output topped Samsung SDI Co Ltd's 110 million and LG Chem Ltd's 54 million, according to Techno System Research in Tokyo. Sony's market share is now 7 percent, dwarfed by Samsung SDI's 27 percent, Panasonic's 21 percent and LG Chem's 17 percent.
Sony's battery unit, which also makes button batteries for watches and smaller appliances and optical devices, has three factories in Japan and two overseas assembly plants in China and Singapore. It has yet to enter the more lucrative business for automotive batteries.
In its most recent filing, Sony valued the battery unit's fixed assets, including production sites and machinery, at 52 billion yen. Under Sony's accounting rules, asset sales are typically booked as operating profit.
The cost to protect $10 million of Sony debt against default for five years has edged higher this week to almost $400,000. The CDS spreads had tumbled earlier this month from above 480 basis points after Sony said it would raise 150 billion yen through a sale of convertible bonds.
© Thomson Reuters 2012

Intel India launches new Itanium 9500 series


Computer chip maker Intel on Tuesday launched a new series of processors, Itanium 9500, which the company claimed is over two-times faster than its previous generation processors.
The new Intel Itanium processor 9500 series is more than twice as powerful as the previous generation, making it ideal for today's most demanding workloads, including business analytics, database, and large-scale ERP applications, Intel said in a statement.
Systems based on Intel's Itanium processors run in more than three-quarters of the world's global 100 companies across industries such as aerospace, energy, life sciences and telecommunications, the company said.
With the Intel Itanium processor 9500 series, these industries will benefit from a leap in performance and increase in reliability, availability and serviceability capabilities, it said.
"Built on a new microarchitecture and providing breakthrough performance, the Intel Itanium 9500 processor family signals Intel's ongoing commitment to deliver unparallelled reliability to meet the critical application demands across all industries," Srinivasan Ramaprasad, Country Business Manager, MNC Accounts, Intel South Asia, claimed at a press conference here on Tuesday.
According to HP, based on HP enhancements and the Intel Itanium processor 9500 series, transactions are processed up to three times faster than previous generations, while using 21 percent less energy.
"Today's announcement demonstrates HP's continued commitment to transform the server landscape with innovations to the Integrity portfolio offered with a mission-critical converged infrastructure that will endure into the future,"
Santanu Ghose, Director, Business Critical Systems, HP India, said.

Windows 8 sales hit 40 million in a month: Microsoft


Microsoft Corp has sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses in the month since the launch, according to one of the new co-heads of the Windows unit, setting a faster pace than Windows 7 three years ago.
The sales number represents a solid but unspectacular start for the touch-friendly operating system designed to combat Apple Inc's and Google Inc's domination of mobile computing, which has shunted aside PCs in favor of iPads and smartphones.
Tami Reller, finance and marketing head of the Windows business, did not give a precise comparison, but sales of 40 million licenses for Windows 8, launched on October 26, appear to be ahead of Windows 7, which sold just over 60 million units in the first 10 weeks on sale at the end of 2009.
Reller did not break down the Windows 8 license sales between relatively cheap upgrades and purchases of new machines running the new software, but suggested much of the growth was coming from upgrades.
"Windows 8 upgrade momentum is outpacing that of Windows 7," said Reller, speaking at an investor conference held by Credit Suisse. Upgrading to Windows 8 costs $40, compared to $70 for the full software package or hundreds of dollars for a new PC.
The latest figure does not mean that 40 million users have adopted Windows 8. Many of the sales are to PC manufacturers, who in turn sell a large number of machines to companies, very few of which are using Windows 8 yet.
According to tech research firm StatCounter, about 1 percent of the world's 1.5 billion or so personal computers making a total of around 15 million are actually running Windows 8.
Reller did not disclose sales of Microsoft's new Surface tablet, its first-ever own-brand PC, designed to challenge the iPad head on.
The first Surface, based on a chip designed by ARM Holdings Plc, does not run old versions of Microsoft programs. A slightly bigger version based on an Intel Corp chip that will run the full Windows 8 Pro operating system and be fully compatible with the Office suite of applications will be available in January, Reller said.
The investor conference was the first public appearance for Reller since she was named as one of two executives to run the Windows unit after president Steven Sinofsky unexpectedly left two weeks ago. Julie Larson-Green heads the engineering side of Windows.
Reller said the Windows unit had survived Sinofsky's surprise departure.
"The team holistically is in great, great shape. And the product is in great shape," she said, responding to a question from a Credit Suisse analyst. "I think transitions are always somewhat of a challenge, but I think that timing-wise it is a reasonable time, and the team is busy."
Earlier in the day, Microsoft said it had sold more than 750,000 Xbox game consoles in the United States last week, including the day after Thanksgiving, one of the country's biggest shopping days.
That is down from 960,000 sales in the same week a year ago, in line with reduced computer game spending across the board this year, as gamers hold off on purchases in the tight economy and move toward free online games.

Apple to start selling new iMacs on Friday


Apple says the smaller version of its new, slimmed-down iMac desktop computers will go on sale Friday. It will also start taking orders for the larger model, but the units won't ship until next month.
The model with the 21.5-inch screen will cost $1,299 and up, depending on the configuration. The model with a 27-inch screen will start at $1,799.
The iMac tacks the computer components to the back of a large LCD screen. The new models have no disk drive, helping make the edges one-fifth the thickness of the old model. They bulge considerably toward the middle of the back, however.
Apple revealed the new models a month ago.
Apple shares fell $2.04 to $587.49 in afternoon trading.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

eBay shines as online sales jump on Cyber Monday


Online sales jumped on Cyber Monday, sending e-commerce retailers' shares higher and suggesting strong growth from earlier in the holiday shopping season is continuing for now.
Sales on eBay Inc's online marketplace were particularly strong and Inc continued its rapid holiday shopping season growth, according to early Cyber Monday data released by e-commerce firm ChannelAdvisor.
eBay's shares climbed 4.9 percent to close at $51.40. The stock hit an intra-day high of $51.78, the highest level since early 2005. Amazon's shares gained 1.6 percent to $243.62.
Cyber Monday has been the biggest online shopping day in recent years, as workers return to offices and use computers to make holiday purchases. ComScore expects online sales to hit a record of about $1.5 billion by day's end.
Online sales were up 25.6 percent as of 3:00 pm EST on Monday, compared with the same period a year ago, according to International Business Machines Corp which tracks transaction data from 500 U.S. retail websites. In 2011, Cyber Monday year-over-year growth was 15 percent by 3:00 pm, IBM said.
Strong online sales growth on Thanksgiving Day and "Black Friday" sparked concern that shoppers were just buying earlier, threatening revenue later in the season.
"So far, that is not the case," said Jay Henderson, the strategy director for IBM Smarter Commerce. "Extending the shopping season has really just fueled additional online spending rather than cannibalizing days later in the season."
ChannelAdvisor said client sales or sales generated by third-party merchants using the company's software - soared 57 percent on early on Monday, compared with the same period in 2011.
The growth rate was five times higher than during the same period last year, said ChannelAdvisor, which helps merchants sell more online.
"The early eBay numbers are impressive," said R.J. Hottovy, an equity analyst at Morningstar. "They put together an effective marketing plan across several channels this holiday season - online, television and print."
eBay has been trying to move away from its online auction roots, emphasizing new items selling at fixed prices to better compete with Amazon.
"The numbers suggest they're having success reintroducing consumers to the 'new eBay,'" Hottovy said.
PayPal, the payments division of eBay, said the volume of mobile transactions it processed by 2:00 pm EST on Cyber Monday almost tripled versus the same period last year.
Client sales on were up 52 percent during the first part of Cyber Monday, ChannelAdvisor also reported.
"Amazon continues to look impressive to us since it is building on top of large numbers," said Scott Tilghman, an analyst at Caris & Company.
Online retailers held back some of their best promotions and biggest discounts until Cyber Monday, which helped spur sales, IBM's Henderson and ChannelAdvisor's Wingo said.
Amazon offered $30 off its 7 inch Kindle Fire tablet, which usually sells for $159. The deal was only available on Cyber Monday and was still available at 5:00 pm EST.
eBay promoted Cyber Monday deals on iPads, made by Apple Inc, and Nook devices from Barnes & Noble.
These types of discounts attract shoppers to Amazon and eBay's websites, where they may purchase other items too, Wingo explained.
'Wii U' sells out
eBay has also benefited as some hot holiday items sold out this year at some retailers. When that happens, shoppers often turn to eBay, where third-party sellers are usually still offering the items at higher prices.
Nintendo Co Ltd said on Monday its new "Wii U" video game consoles sold out at retailers in the United States.
The devices were still available on on Monday at 10 to 20 percent above the suggested retail price, according to Jesse Divnich, an analyst at video game research firm EEDAR.
Margin question
Despite strong sales data, analysts are concerned that heavy discounting may pressure retailers' profit margins, online and offline.
The average online order size on Cyber Monday was $130.30 as of 3:00 pm EST. That was down from almost $200 during the whole of Cyber Monday last year, according to IBM.
Online order sizes are shrinking as consumers buy more digital goods, such as e-books, music and video, which generally cost less. However, discounting is also pressuring order size and that could feed through to lower margins, Morningstar's Hottovy said.
eBay margins should be relatively well protected because the company charges a commission on sales by third-party merchants and retailers.
Amazon operates like this, but, unlike eBay, the company also has its own product inventory so it may be exposed to margin pressure, according to Colin Sebastian, analyst at R.W. Baird.
© Thomson Reuters 2012

Reports of Google's $400 million acquisition of ICOA a hoax

A bogus news release prompted several websites to run incorrect articles about Google making a $400 million acquisition of a wireless company on Monday, the target company ICOA said.
"This was a hoax. We are investigating the source," said an emailed statement from George Strouthopoulos, chairman and chief executive of ICOA, the wireless firm Google purportedly was acquiring.
The reports began after the fake release was posted on the PRWeb site which is owned by the cloud software firm Vocus.
"This is NOT TRUE!!" Strouthopoulos said in an email. "Never had any discussions with any potential acquirers!! This is absolutely false!"
The executive added that "someone, I guess a stock promoter with a dubious interest, is disseminating wrong, false and misleading info in the PR circles."
He said the fake release appeared to come from Aruba, and added that ICOA "will report this to the proper authorities."
For several hours, reports were circulating that Google had made the purchase as part of an effort to moving into wireless communications. Google officials refused to confirm the news about an acquisition.
The Rhode Island-based ICOA saw a spike in price and volume in morning trade in over-the-counter "pink sheets" trades in stocks which are not listed on major exchanges.
The incident suggested a so-called "pump and dump" scheme in which false information is leaked, allowing a speculator to profit from rapid buying and selling. These schemes are illegal under US securities laws.
Because ICOA shares trade at just fractions of a cent, a small movement could allow a short-term trader to make, or lose millions, on these rumors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission declined to comment on the matter.
Google shares were little changed on the news, closing down one percent at $661.15.
Frank Strong at PRWeb acknowledged said the service learned after transmitting the release that it was "fraudulent."
"Even with reasonable safeguards identity theft occurs, on occasion, across all of the major wire services," he said. "We have removed the fraudulent release and turned the matter over to the proper authorities for further investigation."

New version of IP address 'IPv6' available in India


Indian Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN) has started issuing next version of Internet addresses 'IPv6', which would make it easy for security agencies to identify each Internet user.
The Internet addresses under the present version IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4), are limited and service providers often assign single IP address to many users, making it difficult to identify the end user.
"The number of IPv6 addresses available is enormous. ISPs (Internet Service Providers) can allocate an IP address to their users. People can be easily identified if they are using IPv6," APNIC Director (Services and Operations) Sanjaya said at the roadshow for new version IPv6 here on Monday .
APNIC, which is one of the five authorised bodies for issuing Internet addresses, has recognised Indian Registry for Internet Names and Numbers (IRINN) for issuing IP addresses in India.
"We are issuing IPv6 addresses at up to 60 percent less than prevailing rates in the ongoing soft launch period. This is to test compatibility of hardware and softwares that has to be in place. In next couple of months we will launch industrial grade of IPv6," National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) Chief Executive Govind said.
IRINN has been set-up under the state-run NIXI. On new version IPv6, Internet Service Providers Association of India President Rajesh Charia said that the new addresses will be multiple times cheaper for companies than IPv4 addresses.
IRINN is issuing initial set-of IPv6 addresses in price range starting at Rs. 21,999 compared to prevalent rate of around Rs. 66,000 in Asia Pacific region.
On addressing security issues with the help of IPv6, Charia said, "Government will have to ensure that the new equipment and devices that are produced or imported in the country are at least IPv6 enabled."
At present, there is no import restriction on devices and equipment that do not comply with IPv6 standards.

Nokia introduces 'Slam': A new way to share content over Bluetooth


Nokia Monday announced Slam, a new way to share content over Bluetooth. The Nokia Asha 205 andNokia 206also announced on Monday, are the first Mobile Phones devices to include Nokia's exclusive Slam feature.

Slam allows consumers to share multimedia content like photos and videos with nearby friends almost instantly. Nokia says Slam works with "most" Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones without the need to pair devices, and without the recipient needing to also have Slam. Where by most Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones Nokia means Android-devices are Slam-compatible, since Nokia's website notes Slam is "currently not compatible" with iOS and Windows Phone devices.

"The latest Nokia devices give super-social consumers new ways to express their personalities through design, color and innovative new features like Slam," explains Timo Toikkanen, Executive Vice President, Mobile Phones, Nokia. "Both devices are built with the trust and quality people have come to expect from Nokia, and offer smarter Internet experiences that help save money today and tomorrow."

There are not many details of the technology available as of now other than the brief mention in Nokia's press release announcing the launch of the Asha 205 and Nokia 206 mobile phones. We'll share more information as and when it becomes available.

Facebook asked by privacy groups to stop proposed policy changes

Two privacy advocacy groups urged Facebook Inc on Monday to withdraw proposed changes to its terms of service that would allow the company to share user data with recently acquired photo-application Instagram, eliminate a user voting system and loosen email restrictions within the social network.
The changes, which Facebook unveiled on Wednesday, raise privacy risks for users and violate the company's previous commitments to its roughly 1 billion members, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy.
"Facebook's proposed changes implicate the user privacy and terms of a recent settlement with the Federal Trade Commission," the groups said in a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg that was published on their websites on Monday.
By sharing information with Instagram, the letter said, Facebook could combine user profiles, ending its practice of keeping user information on the two services separate.
Facebook declined to comment on the letter.
In April, Facebook settled privacy charges with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission that it had deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. Under the settlement, Facebook is required to get user consent for certain changes to its privacy settings and is subject to 20 years of independent audits.
Facebook, Google and other online companies have faced increasing scrutiny and enforcement from privacy regulators as consumers entrust ever-increasing amounts of information about their personal lives to Web services.
Facebook unveiled a variety of proposed changes to its terms of service and data use polices on Wednesday, including a move to scrap a 4-year old process that can allow the social network's roughly 1 billion users to vote on changes to its policies.
If proposed changes generate more than 7,000 public comments during a seven-day period, Facebook's current terms of service automatically trigger a vote by users to approve the changes. But the vote is only binding if at least 30 percent of users take part, and two prior votes never reached that threshold.
The latest proposed changes had garnered more than 17,000 comments by late Monday.
Facebook also said last week that it wanted to eliminate a setting for users to control who can contact them on the social network's email system. The company said it planned to replace the "Who can send you Facebook messages" setting with new filters for managing incoming messages.
That change is likely to increase the amount of unwanted "spam" messages that users receive, the privacy groups warned on Monday.
Facebook's potential information sharing with Instagram, a photo-sharing service for smartphone users that it bought in October, flows from proposed changes that would allow the company to share information between its own service and other businesses or affiliates it owns.
The change could open the door for Facebook to build unified profiles of its users that include people's personal data from its social network and from Instagram, similar to recent moves by Google Inc.
In January, Google said it would combine users' personal information from its various Web services such as search, email and the Google+ social network to provide a more customized experience. The unified data policy raised concerns among some privacy advocates and regulators, who said it was an invasion of people's privacy.
"As our company grows, we acquire businesses that become a legal part of our organization," Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said in an emailed statement on Monday.
"Those companies sometimes operate as affiliates. We wanted to clarify that we will share information with our affiliates and vice versa, both to help improve our services and theirs, and to take advantage of storage efficiencies," Noyes said.
© Thomson Reuters 2012

Monday, 26 November 2012

As reported earlier, Google has continued wrapping up the Motorola Mobility business in India and various other countries. People visiting Motorola Mobility's India website are greeted by the following message: We are streamlining our business and support systems, and unfortunately, we'll no longer have a dedicated website for India. Your local support site will remain open well into the future, and we'll continue to provide support for our existing products. If you are interested in viewing our current products, you can still do so here.* Important Message to our customers in India *Products on these sites are not guaranteed to be available in your country Visitors in countries across Asia, Africa, Europe and Middle East are seeing similar message when they visit their local website. The move is no surprise as Google has been shrinking Motorola Mobility operations across these regions. While Google states it will support these devices (read honour warranties where applicable), customers shouldn't expect any software updates for their Android phones, especially when Google is struggling to do the same in the one country Motorola is still active (United States). This move also makes it difficult to recommend Motorola phones to prospective buyer's (not that there are many quality ones going around). Expect the next version of our smartphone buyer's guide to reflect the same.


Tucked in the woods here, west of State Route 520, is a little piece of the Mario Kingdom.
Behind the unassuming doors is the business built by Mario, the pudgy plumber, and Luigi, his lanky brother, as well as characters like Link, wielder of the mystical Master Sword, and Princess Zelda, of the royal family of Hyrule. All of them, and more, are the pixelated children of Shigeru Miyamoto, the Walt Disney of video games and creative genius of the Nintendo Company of Japan.
But while Mr. Miyamoto is dreaming his dreams across the Pacific, an army of marketing types is at work here in Redmond, inside the shiny new headquarters of Nintendo of America. This palace of play is quiet, but there's trouble brewing in the world around it: three decades after the mustachioed Mario burst into arcades via Donkey Kong, plucking countless quarters from people's pockets, the kingdom is under siege.
Nintendo's enemies have arrived by battalions. Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and other inexpensive, downloadable games, particularly for cellphones and tablets, have invaded its turf. Changing tastes and technology have called into question the economics of traditional game consoles, whether from Nintendo or Microsoft, maker of the Xbox. Nintendo recently posted the first loss in its era as a video games company, a prospect that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. And while game consoles aren't going away, analysts are skeptical that the business will regain its former stature soon.
All of which makes Nintendo's next move, and what is happening here, so crucial. Nintendo counterattacked on Nov. 18, when a new version of its Wii game console arrived in stores nationwide.
The original Wii, the first wireless, motion-capturing console, was nothing less than revolutionary. The simplicity of its controller, which Mr. Miyamoto helped design, attracted new audiences like women and older people. Customers lined up in stores for it - and then it simply faded. Now, the new console, the Wii U, may be Nintendo's last, best hope for regaining its former glory. Executives are hoping for a holiday hit, and perhaps even another runaway success.Initial demand appears high. GameStop, the video game retailer, opened 3,000 stores at midnight on Thursday for Black Friday sales, and before long almost all its Wii Us were sold out, according to Tony Bartel, GameStop's president. "I think people are starving for innovation, and Wii U is giving them that innovation," Mr. Bartel says. 

The Wii U is a recognition that the living room is no longer the province of a single screen. More people, particularly the young, now watch TV with a smartphone or tablet in hand, the better to tweet a touchdown or update their Facebook status during a commercial. The Wii U looks like a mash-up of an iPad and a traditional console, with a touch screen embedded in the middle. It's no mere festival of joysticks, buttons and triggers.
But will it be the blowout that Nintendo needs? Many industry veterans and game reviewers are skeptical. They question whether the Wii U can be as successful as the original, now that many gamers have moved on to more abundant, cheaper and more convenient mobile games.
"I actually am baffled by it," Nolan K. Bushnell, the founder of Atari and the godfather of the games business, says of the Wii U. "I don't think it's going to be a big success."
The bigger question is what the future holds for any of the major game systems, including new ones that Sony and Microsoft are expected to release next year. Echoing other industry veterans, Mr. Bushnell says that consoles are already delivering remarkable graphics and that few but the most hard-core players will be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a new game box.
"These things will continue to sputter along, but I really don't think they'll be of major import ever again," he says. "It feels like the end of an era to me."
Nintendo is unbowed. Mr. Miyamoto was involved in developing the original Wii, and had a role in the Wii U as well. He rarely gives interviews, and was unavailable for comment for this article.
But one recent evening in Redmond, Corey Olcsvary, a Nintendo product marketing specialist, was slashing his fingers across the touch screen on the GamePad, as the Wii U controller is called, casting "throwing stars" at a ninja gang that sprang from the corners of a giant TV screen. In another game, a group of players chased Mario - one of the most popular video game characters ever - around a maze shown on a TV while Mr. Olcsvary stared at a bird's-eye view of the maze on his GamePad and tried to help Mario dodge his pursuers. The players shouted when they caught sight of Mario's red overalls and cheered when they tackled him.
Starting in December, people will also be able to use the GamePad as a remote control to set recordings and change channels on their cable and satellite TV services.
Reggie Fils-Aime, president and chief operating officer of Nintendo's United States unit, acknowledges that mobile games have changed the market. But he says wide recognition of the Nintendo and Wii brands, and of Mario, Zelda and other favorites available exclusively on Nintendo systems, will offer a strong tail wind for the Wii U.
"It comes down to providing consumers new, unique experiences they can't get anywhere else, experiences that really make them say, 'Wow, this is fantastic,' " Mr. Fils-Aime says.
Nintendo has been in the business of fun since 1889. Its founder, Fusajiro Yamauchi, made playing cards. His great-grandson Hiroshi Yamauchi landed a licensing agreement with the Walt Disney Company and turned out Mickey Mouse playing cards. By the 1960s, Nintendo was pushing into other toys and games. Then, in 1975, Atari introduced a home version of Pong, the first hit video arcade game. Soon, Nintendo was chasing video games as the hot new thing, too.
But the history of games hardware is littered with spectacular flameouts, including Sega, 3DO and Mr. Bushnell's own Atari. Nintendo has endured through a combination of ingenuity and obsessive focus on both hardware and software, a path that makes it something like the Apple of video games.
Its gutsiest bet on the hardware side was the Wii, which came out at a time when it looked as if Nintendo was drifting to the margins. Nintendo couldn't afford to join in the arms race, led by its much bigger rivals Sony and Microsoft, to create systems with the most graphics horsepower. (Years after its rivals, Nintendo has finally embraced high-definition graphics with the Wii U.)
The Wii strategy led to a big comeback. Nintendo has shipped close to 100 million Wiis, while Sony and Microsoft have each shipped about 70 million of their latest consoles.
Through it all, Mr. Miyamoto, now 60, was the creative force. But in the last year, he has let some lieutenants take on more responsibility, the better to prepare Nintendo for his eventual retirement. Mr. Fils-Aime, who would not predict when that day would be, says Mr. Miyamoto's engagement at the company "continues to be at the highest level."
Just as Apple has insisted on making both hardware and software, rather than licensing the Mac and iPhone operating systems to others, Nintendo does not create games for devices made by other companies, including the hundreds of millions of iPod Touches, smartphones and tablets out there. Industry executives say this represents a missed opportunity, allowing a new generation of game brands, like Angry Birds, to emerge unchallenged on mobile devices, much as Disney did in another realm years ago by allowing Pixar to own computer animation. (Disney later bought Pixar.)
"It's the hardest strategic decision Nintendo has had to face in a long time," says Robbie Bach, the former head of Microsoft's Xbox business. "Would Mario on an iPhone be an interesting property? I think yes, it would."
Mr. Fils-Aime says that won't happen, arguing that Nintendo's approach is the best way for it to create unique games. "That's the business decision we've made," he says, though he adds that the company may allow people to buy its games through mobile phones and have them delivered to their Nintendo devices.
While it's not unusual for sales of a particular game console to sag over time, the decline for Nintendo products in recent years has been especially brutal. The company lost 43.2 billion yen, or about $530 million, in the fiscal year ended March 31, after sharply reducing the price of a new portable game console, the Nintendo 3DS, in an effort to bolster sales. (Results were also hurt by a strong yen.) Its revenue was about a third of what it was three years earlier, when sales of the Wii and a portable device, the Nintendo DS, were booming.
"That was a magical moment," says John Taylor, an analyst at Arcadia Investment, referring to Nintendo's high point a few years ago. "The market has now moved on from that. I don't think people view an integrated tablet within the Nintendo ecosystem as nearly as impactful."
Another worrisome trend for Nintendo is that the old way of pricing and selling games seems broken. In a rocky economy, it's harder to persuade people to spend $50 to $60 - what titles typically cost for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft systems - to buy a game. The Wii U itself starts at $300, versus $250 for the original Wii.
Cellphones and tablets have given people a nearly bottomless supply of games that typically cost a few dollars at most. Web and Facebook games are usually free, with the option to buy, say, a faster car or another virtual item that enhances the game. Industry veterans argue that you get what you pay for: mobile and Facebook games that are shallow entertainment experiences, compared with those of console games.
Mobile games are also instantly accessible online - and while it takes seconds to start a game on a smartphone or tablet, it can take minutes to get a console up and running after turning on all of the relevant equipment.
Mobile games have hurt sales of dedicated portable game devices from Nintendo and Sony, but analysts and game executives say they don't think the threat stops there.Mitch Lasky, a veteran industry executive and now a venture capitalist at Benchmark Capital, says he has walked into his living room, which is brimming with all the major game consoles, a library of new titles and a 60-inch plasma TV, only to find his children crowded around an iPhone playing Temple Run, an app-powered game available free.
"They were very much more interested in the immediacy of the mobile experience," says Mr. Lasky, who has funded several online games companies. "I'm looking at the $60 game the way I am a big-budget Hollywood movie. Yeah, I'm buying three or four a year - Call of Duty, Uncharted - but for the equivalent of television, I'm going to mobile platforms and free-to-play."
Mr. Fils-Aime says game developers can offer free games for the Wii U that generate revenue through the sale of virtual items. Sony, too, is allowing that approach with games for the PlayStation 3, and it is expected that Microsoft will more seriously embrace it as well.
It's likely that Nintendo will eventually face a more direct challenge in the living room from the same technology companies that have reshaped the mobile games business. Amazon, Apple and Google are all strong contenders to be in that camp, given their innovation track records. None have yet developed direct console competitors that have serious game-playing capabilities.
Still, Nintendo has overcome the odds before. Mr. Bach, the Microsoft ex-executive, says he doesn't underestimate the company. "I've learned not to count the Nintendo guys out," he says.