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iPhones still Apple’s bread and butter as profits reach $US7.7 billion

7:01AM | Wednesday, 23 July

The iPhone is still Apple’s bread and butter gadget, as the tech titan reports strong quarterly profits led by its iPhone sales.   Apple’s good news comes after its biggest rival in the smartphone market, Samsung, recently reported quarterly guidance far weaker than expected.   Apple reported its fiscal third quarter (April-June) results overnight in the US, posting a profit of $US7.7 billion ($A8.19 billion), up from $6.9 billion for the same quarter last year, and a quarterly revenue of $37.4 billion.   Apple sold 35.2 million iPhones during the quarter, compared to 31.2 million in the same period a year ago.   According to The New York Times, the quarter ending in June is traditionally a slow time of year for smartphone sales industrywide, as many consumers hold out until the holiday shopping season to buy new phones.   The highly anticipated release of the iPhone 6 with a larger screen, slated for later this year, will likely see the product remain the jewel in Apple’s crown.   The tech giant’s Mac computers were its second best performing product, selling 4.4 million units in the quarter, up from 3.8 million the same time last year.   “Our record June quarter revenue was fuelled by strong sales of iPhone and Mac and the continued growth of revenue from the Apple ecosystem, driving our highest EPS growth rate in seven quarters,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.   International sales drove 59% of the quarter’s revenue.   Tablets let the company down, with iPad sales shrinking to 13.3 million from 14.6 million last year.   Apple shareholders will be satisfied with the results, with Cook announcing the company returned over $8 billion in cash to shareholders through dividends and share repurchases during the quarter.   Apple also provided a guidance for its fiscal 2014 fourth quarter, estimating revenue between $37 billion and $40 billion and a gross margin between 37% and 38%.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

Google Android Wear review

7:54AM | Thursday, 10 July

At the Google I/O conference, the tech giant unveiled its new operating system designed for wearable devices, known as Android Wear.   The operating system powers two devices so far: The Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch. A third device, Motorola’s Moto 360, is due out in the coming months.   So is this the operating system that is going to catapult Google into a leadership position in the wearables market, as it has done with smartphones? Will it succeed where other devices have failed?   Key features:   A key feature of the Android Wear platform is that it automatically retrieves notifications from any existing Google app and displays them on your wrist.   It also integrated Google Now, the search giant’s Siri-style voice search and personal assistant feature.   Google also claims a range of apps specifically designed for Android Wear will begin appearing in the Google Play store.   The consensus:   In a very comprehensive review, Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica notes that genuine cross-platform support is something that’s difficult to implement. This means that, at least for the time being, you’ll need an Android smartphone or tablet to use an Android Wear smartwatch:   Like nearly all smartwatches, Wear devices rely on a Bluetooth-tethered phone, which needs to be running Android 4.3 and up. Running iOS or Windows Phone? You're out of luck: no Wear for you. Smartwatches seem to be the ultimate ecosystem lock-in device. Samsung's requires a Samsung phone, Google's requires an Android phone, and we're sure Apple’s will require iOS. There is so much cross-communication that needs to happen between a watch and phone that supporting multiple OSes becomes really hard.   On the upside, Amadeo also explains how Android Wear works with Android’s notification system, meaning it automatically works with most apps out of the box:   Android Wear data mines your phone notification panel and then creates its own interface on the watch. The thumbnail gets used as the background, the text is reflowed for the tiny screen, the app icon is pulled from the phone app, and each of the three actions (two buttons and the notification tap) get broken out into a separate action screens. The system's swipe-to-dismiss gesture gets ported over, too. … This is what makes Android Wear so special. Because Google laid the groundwork for Android Wear one year ago with Android 4.3, the OS has out-of-the-box compatibility with most apps. Where most smartwatches need custom-built notification compatibility, what you see above is the baseline functionality for everything in Android Wear.   Joanna Stern from The Wall Street Journal likes the predictive notifications the watch gives you. However, at this point, there’s no way to customise which notifications appear on your device:   But what sets Android Wear devices apart from previous smartwatches is that they tell you what you need even before you realize you need it. Google Now, which mines Gmail, calendar, Web searches and other Google interactions, is a perfect fit for the wrist. … There's simply not enough customization yet. Either I get buzzed every time someone emails me, or I don't get any email alerts at all. Sure, the watch helps me look at my phone less, but I'd prefer a middle ground, where my wrist vibrates only when my editor or fiancée emails me. Mr. Singleton says Google is working on contact-specific notifications and the next version of Android, due out this fall, will have deeper notification controls.   Aside from notifications off an Android tablet, Android Wear integrates the Google Now voice recognition system. This means you can launch a range of commands by saying “OK Google” to your smartwatch.   This is a feature that impressed Fortune’s Jason Cipriani:   In addition to touch input, Android Wear supports Google’s speech recognition software. I’m happy to report that it takes very little time to fire off instructions like “OK Google, remind me to flip the steaks in 7 minutes.” The same can be done to search, compose an email or text message, set a timer, or even call a Lyft car with a Batman-eqsue, “OK Google, call a car.”   Over at Engadget, Brad Molen describes Android Wear as the most advanced smartphone platform so far. However, there are still some issues to overcome:   Android Wear is the strongest smartwatch platform we've seen so far, and it has enough support from manufacturers and developers to thrive. But it's a first-generation product, and limited battery life, notification anxiety and other issues make it tough to recommend Wear quite just yet.   Meanwhile at Time, Jared Newman sums it up by describing the experience as still being a work in progress:   What we have now is a classic Google work-in-progress. The software needs more ways to surpass the abilities of users’ smartphones, and the hardware needs to get thinner, lighter and less clunky. (Motorola’s Moto 360 watch will bring some much-needed style to the lineup later this summer, but it’s not a panacea for bulky tech.) And while I’m not bothered by the one-day battery life of these watches, they need more convenient ways to recharge overnight, such as a wireless charging mat on your nightstand. Should I get one:   With Apple heavily rumoured to be working on a smartwatch of its own, it might be worth taking a wait-and-see approach to devices powered by Android Wear at this point.   There are also a few rough spots that need to be ironed out, such as battery life, or the ability to prioritise notifications.   That being said, Android Wear appears to be a solid first effort by the tech giant, and it will be interesting to see where they take the technology in the future.   This article originally appeared on SmartCompany.

'Phablets' and wearable tech on-trend for Aussie consumers

7:41PM | Wednesday, 2 July

Tablet-sized phones, or ‘phablets’, and wearable technology such as smartwatches are the big growth areas to watch as Australia’s attraction to smartphones continues to strengthen, according to research released yesterday.   While recent studies have illustrated smartphone trends in the US, the latest research from local analyst firm Telsyte shows there were 16 million smartphone users in Australia at the end of June 2014, an increase of 1.1 million over the previous six months.   Telsyte’s Smartphone Market Study 2014-2018, estimates 5.6 million new smartphones will be sold in Australia during the second half of 2014 and points to strong growth in the area of phablets, smartwatches and fitness bands.   Phablets – or smartphones with a screen size of 5.5 to 6.9 inches – are still a niche market according to Telsyte, despite more manufacturers releasing larger-screen devices that blur the line between a smartphone and tablet.   But Telsyte believes the phablet will be boosted by the entrance of Apple later this year, when the tech giant is expected to launch a 5.5 inch iPhone 6.   “Some 40% of survey respondents that intend to purchase an iPhone 6 indicated they would only consider it if it has a larger screen,” said Telsyte managing director Foad Fadaghi.   The research also found while smartwatch adoption is still embryonic in Australia, the product category might be accelerated with the arrival of an Apple “iWatch” in 2014. Samsung is the current market leader.   Smart fitness bands are currently more popular than smartwatches, according to the study, due to their lower price points and popularity as a gift. Fitbit is the market leader.   Telsyte research also shows that Android smartphones have now overtaken iPhones as the main devices purchased on contract from carriers, following strong carrier promotions and the reduction in iPhone subsidies.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Australian virtual reality startup welcomes Google Cardboard, but warns of its limitations

6:37AM | Monday, 30 June

How would you react if Google announced it wants to compete in your sector? That’s the situation confronting virtual reality startup Phenomec, after Google unveiled its Cardboard virtual reality headset during its I/O developer conference.   The announcement of Google’s low-cost headset, which involves mounting a smartphone to a users’ head using a cardboard case, comes as the Australian startup develops its own VR headset, known as VRSmartview.   Watson says told StartupSmart having large companies, such as Google, Facebook or Samsung, getting involved in mobile VR is overall a good thing, as it gets more people interested in the technology. However, there are some significant limitations to Google’s design.   “I call it Occulus Thrift. I like that it’s cheap, made from recycled materials and it’s a smart design… But I’m not seeing much innovation, and it lacks an adjustable mechanism into pupil area distance, which is really important,” Watson says.   Using adjustable lenses so they sit in front of your eyes is essential, Watson explains, because it prevents users getting tunnel vision, which is disorientating.   It’s a key consideration in the design of VRSmartview, which is a head-mounted display case for a smartphone that allows people to use virtual reality in a manner similar to Occulus Rift.   “We’ve been doing a lot of research and development, and one of the most important considerations is creating a lense that can adjust to the individual so we’re developing a lot of innovations to our lense design,” Watson says.   The technology used in VRSmartview recently helped the startup take out the top prize at the recent Start Up Weekend on the Sunshine Coast, coming on top of the 17 teams competing and winning over $15,000 in prizes in the process.   “I’m a student here at USC, and we had an opportunity to pitch at the Startup Weekend on the Sunshine Coast… over the course of a weekend we went from underdogs to winning,” Watson says.   Before recently coming to prominence as a result of Facebook’s $US2 billion purchase of Occulus Rift, virtual reality technology had mostly been used for research and military purposes, aside from a brief period in the early 1990s.   According to Watson, innovations in smartphones mean the technology is now affordable for everyday users, without earlier problems such as pixelations.   “The main research we’ve had is smartphone innovation, in terms of screen display or processing power. Smartphone screens now have ridiculous pixel density so we can use these displays – that are light and portable – without pixilation,” he says.   While the startup is currently focusing on developing optimised head mounted displays, along with applications for their use.   Watson believes the technology is set to emerge as a “very interesting format” for delivering films, with nature film maker David Attenborough currently filming a documentary in Borneo in complete virtual reality.   “I also believe VR news reports would have a powerful impact in imparting a deeper message of the issue being communicated. It’s much more powerful when you can be positioned in the middle of the event,” he says.   “We’re the only guys in Australia working on these VR headsets and apps, so far as we’re aware, and getting others in Australia involved is part of our aim.”

10 massive announcements from Google I/O: A new version of Android is coming for cars, smartwatches and TVs

6:48AM | Thursday, 26 June

Google’s head of Android, Sundar Pichai, delivered a keynote speech overnight to the tech giant’s annual developer conference, Google I/O.   In terms of big announcements, he didn’t disappoint, with key points including a new version of Android – called Android L – that will work with smart cars, wearables and TVs.   For small businesses, a major piece of news is Google Drive for Work, a new cloud computing product set to go head-to-head with Microsoft’s Office 365 and OneDrive.   The new product will cost businesses just $US10 per user per month, and allow them to access unlimited storage. Where Microsoft bumped its storage limits to one terabyte earlier this week, Google will allow individual files of up to five terabytes in size.   Meanwhile, Google Docs, Sheets and Slides are now able to create or save Microsoft Office files in both Android and Chrome Browser, with support coming soon to iOS.   Here are 10 other massive announcements from the Google I/O keynote:   1. Android is absolutely hammering Apple in the marketplace   Sorry Apple fans, but the iPhone has well and truly been left in the dust.   According to figures read out during Pichai’s keynote, the number of users to have actively used an Android smartphone in the past 30 days has grown to over a billion. This is up from 77 million in 2011, 233 million in 2012, and 538 million last year.   But it’s not just in smartphones that Apple is being left behind.   Google revealed that in 2012, 39% of all tablets ran Android, growing to 49% last year. This year, that has grown to 62%.   In even worse news for the iPad, those figures exclude non-Google Android devices such as Amazon’s Kindle.   As if Google needed to stick the boot in to Apple further, Pichai told the conference: “If you look at what other platforms are getting now, many of these things came to Android four, maybe five years ago.”   The quote was a reference to a number of features, such as maps, text prediction, cloud services, widgets and support for custom keyboards, which have long been features of Android since around version 1.5, but have only recently been added to iOS.   2. Android L, with a new app platform and interface   The biggest news out of the conference was, of course, the newest version of Android, codenamed “Android L”.   The latest version is designed to power a range of new devices, including wearables, cars and TVs. The assumption will be that while users will always carry their mobile around with them, they are increasingly likely to be simultaneously using a second device.   Cosmetically, the new version will be built around a new, “flat” design language called “Material”, which bears a slight resemblance to Microsoft’s tile interface. The new interface will be carried through Google’s mobile apps, including its Chrome web browser.   However, the biggest changes are under the hood, with Android L getting upgraded to 64-bit. It also adds BlackBerry-style containerisation separating work and personal apps.   Meanwhile Dalvik, the app runtime environment used in Android, is getting dumped in favour of the new Android Runtime Environment (ART). For most developers, the change will mean better performance with no need to change their code.   ART is also truly-platform, meaning developers will be able to write apps once and deploy them to devices running Intel x86, ARM or MIPS processors.   Android L will be available to developers starting from today.   3. Android Wear   One of the big growth areas for mobile device makers is in wearables. Google has developed a platform for these devices, known as Android Wear, which it demonstrated at the conference.   “Android Wear supports both round and square displays, because we think there will be a wide array of fashionable choices,” said Pichai.   As many have predicted, notification cards and Google Now integration are key features of its wearables platform.   LG has made its first Android Wear device, the LG G Watch, available for pre-order, while Samsung is releasing a version of its Gear smartwatches that runs Android Wear, known as “Samsung Gear Live”.   Meanwhile, Motorola’s smartwatch, with a round clockface, will be available later this year.   For developers, Google has made a software development kit (SDK) available allowing for customer user interfaces, support for voice actions, and transferring data to or from a smartphone or tablet. This article continues on Page 2. Please click below. 4. Android Auto   Google has also released its smart car platform, known as Android Auto. Google says it has now signed up 25 major auto makers to the platform, including Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Volvo, Volkswagen, Kia, Renault, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Skoda, Jeep, Suzuki and Nissan.   Android Auto will be able to be driven by voice commands, and is designed to make app development for cars as simple as developing apps for smartphones and tablets. Again, for developers, Google has released an SDK allowing for car and auto apps.   Key focuses for the platform are navigation (Google Maps), communications (both audio and messaging) and streaming audio services.   Android Auto also contains a screen that displays notification cards in real time.   5. Android TV   Google’s new smart TV platform, announced during the keynote, is known as Android TV. It can be used to power a range of different devices, from smart TVs to set-top-boxes and dedicated streaming sticks.   Android TV allows the user to use their smartphone, tablet or smartwatch as a voice-powered remote control for their TV.   Android TV devices will include all the functionality of ChromeCast, but also add the ability of directly running apps directly.   6. ChromeCast   Speaking of things TV related, Google says its low-cost ChromeCast sticks are currently outselling every other streaming device combined.   New capabilities coming to the sticks include a new section on the Google Play app store for apps designed with added ChromeCast capabilities.   ChromeCast owners will soon be able to mirror the screen of their Android smartphone or tablet wirelessly on their TV screen.   Users will also soon get the capability of sending content to a ChromeCast device by logging in with a PIN, even if they aren’t on the same WiFi network.   Another new feature is that users will be able to set a picture or photo as a wallpaper on their ChromeCast for when they’re not using the device.   7. Android L integration with ChromeBooks   Up until now, Google has maintained two separate operating systems: Android for smartphones and tablets, and Chrome OS for its ChromeBook series of laptops.   A massive update for Android L is that ChromeBooks will now be able to run Android apps.   Meanwhile, apps running on a users’ tablet or smartphone will be mirrored on the screen of their ChromeBook device.   8. Google Fit   At Apple’s WWDC, the introduction of a health framework was one of the largest announcements. Given the sheer volume of announcements at Google I/O, the introduction of Google Fit is almost an afterthought.   Basically, like Apple HealthKit, Google Fit is a single set of APIs that blends data from multiple apps and devices to create a comprehensive picture of a users’ health.   Google is promising a developer preview of Google Fit in the next few weeks.   9. Google Play   Already, I’ve noted one big upgrade to Google Play, namely the addition of a section dedicated to apps with ChromeCast playback. Presumably, there will be similar sections dedicated to Android Wear and Android Auto.   But there are other changes afoot for Google’s Play download store.   First, Google says that it has paid out $US5 billion to app developers over the past year, which is two-and-a-half times higher than a year earlier.   Second, Google also announced the takeover of a startup called Appurify, which will provide automation services for apps being developed either for Google Play and Android or iOS.   And thirdly, for those interested in games, Google Play is adding the ability to save a snapshot of your progress in a game to the cloud, as well as special quests for games.   10. Cloud tools and services   Last, but certainly not least, Google has added a range of new cloud tools and services.   These include Cloud Monitoring, which provides a dashboard with real time metrics for apps running in Google’s cloud services.   A second, called Cloud Dataflow, is a data pipeline service similar to Amazon’s Data Pipeline. And a third, called Cloud Debugger, allows developers to more easily trace slowdowns in cloud-based apps.   This article first appeared on Smart Company.

Will Apple’s HealthKit and Health app empower or frustrate?

6:00PM | Tuesday, 10 June

If you thought that self-tracking and the collection of personal health and fitness metrics was just a fad then an announcement last week by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference might suggest otherwise.   A Health app and a developer tool named HealthKit, which is designed to serve as a hub to allow various health apps and fitness tracking devices to “talk” to one another, have been included in iOS 8.   But are these “new” developments from Apple really all that new – and do they indicate that matching hardware in the form of wearables is next on Apple’s launch list?   What Apple and partners such as the Mayo Clinic envisage is, for example, an app that monitors heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol. It would then be able to seamlessly share data with a hospital app or directly with healthcare professionals.   Building a technical infrastructure to develop health apps, or to enable the sharing of information between various third party apps, is an ambitious task.   Both Microsoft and Samsung are already entering the field of wearables with announcements of plans to release smart watches.   Apple’s latest offering adds to the speculation of the long awaited iWatch with reports in could be released as soon as October.   Meanwhile the latest advertisement (below) for the iPhone 5S shows people using a variety of wearable products already on the market.   The benefits of aggregating health and fitness data in this way are fairly clear in terms of how medical histories will be taken, how they are shared and the aggregation of personal data. It should provide better experience for those who use personal metrics in various aspect of their daily lives.   What’s in a brand name?   Some of the celebratory hype around HealthKit was overshadowed by an Australian start up which took Apple to task for using the same name of their practice and patient management software.   In a blog post the Melbourne-based company was both flattered and annoyed that Apple had used its established brand name:   They didn’t feel that they had to do a quick domain search – it would have taken 5 seconds to type www.healthkit.com into their browser and discover us. Would it have made any difference to them? Are they so big that they are above doing an ordinary Google search?   We might also wonder what other issues Apple’s health data aggregation system might face beyond this naming fiasco.   When a user opens any of Apple’s HealthKit enabled apps the information they produce will be housed in database and is immutable and read-only. What this means for developers is that apps can be developed which can collect and analyse this data in a variety of pre-determined ways.   Permissions and privacy   This highlights a range of problems that are likely to implicate and frustrate users, health care professionals and administrators. Naturally issues of privacy are likely to be significant factor in how well Apple’s health apps actually work.   Developers will need to seek end-user permissions to collect data on their behalf when they build Apple’s HealthKit into their apps, which means spelling out exactly which permissions they are seeking.   Given the whole logic of HealthKit assumes, to some degree, an interoperability between applications and datasets, it would be fair to suggest that there are likely to be gaps between what the technical capacities and outcomes for end-users.   Take for instance an app that has been designed to use a measurement from one device and ignore data on that same variable from another device. Or a user may grant access to a third party app to their pedometer data but this might not mean that the same app has the permissions to access other variables to produce meaningful data (such as location, heart rate, age, weight or gender).   Not so healthy competition   Vendors operating in this market will compete not only at the level of the brand but also at the level of components, algorithm and databases. An app might use Nike Fuel Band data over Fitbit when it takes calorie data to make some or another secondary calculation based on that data.   Organisations such as Microsoft are also partnering with developers who are designing apps available for medical practitioners to use in telemedicine and the consulting room.   This tethering of devices and data to proprietary platforms (Apple vs Microsoft) means that patients and doctors might need to use a certain product and patients might be restricted in terms of what systems they can use to track their health.   The trade-off of openness to get systems to market quickly is going to make attracting users and developers difficult and makes Apple’s (and others) vision of health data aggregation far less attractive or whole.   Suneel Jethani is a PhD candidate and lecturer in the media and communications program in the school of culture and communication at the University of Melbourne. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Swift: How Apple’s new coding language lives up to its name

6:51AM | Tuesday, 10 June

As Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) winds up in San Francisco today, 1,000 Apple engineers and 5,000 developers will return to their parts of the world armed with Apple’s own programming language.   In his keynote on Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiled – among other new developments – programming language Swift and claimed it to be a significantly faster code for development across iOS and OSX.   Apple is the latest tech firm to produce their own programming language (Google and Microsoft also have their own languages) and Swift can be used by Apple developers as of today with 677 pages of documentation available in the iBooks store.   But why would a company want their own programing language – especially when existing, general purpose codes such as Objective-C and C have been successfully used for 20 years?   So what’s so good about Swift?   It pretty much comes down to speed.   While Apple (and other companies) supply the hardware, developers ultimately bring the most utility value out of technologies. The faster developers can code, the more apps can be created.   So let’s have a look at why Swift is the next big thing (and why developers should take the time to learn a new language, as it were):   Swift is much easier to code with. Swift looks much “cleaner” than traditional code. In addition to getting rid of nested brackets and semicolons (which makes code look very complex and harder to maintain), programmers can now use inferred types, which means that variables and constants can be declared without necessarily specifying the data type.   Developers can reduce debugging time over mundane and trivial errors (if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty, Swift manages unsafe codes by self-managing memory, preventing overflows – in arrays, for example – and properly handling nil objects).   It also means that new developers can be spared the need to learn Objective-C’s complex and verbose syntaxes (but Swift will sit alongside existing Objective-C and C codes).   Swift is fast and powerful. Fast programming is a key ingredient in Apple’s new hardware and software capabilities. Swift codes will be compiled using the same high-performance compiler, and it will be run natively to combine the best features from Objective-C and C.   Based on the presentation in WWDC, we saw statistics showing complex algorithms can be run much faster than Objective-C.   Swift supports “interactive playgrounds”. “Interactive playgrounds” allow developers to immediately see the results of changing codes and keep track of progress timelines. This is particularly useful for debugging complex loops, algorithms and animations.   Speaking of new developments …   As widely expected, Apple joins Google and Microsoft’s moves towards delivering health and home automation applications, as well as supporting stronger integration between native features (such as Siri and Notification View) and third-party apps and sensors.   The Health app joins Samsung’s Gear Fit, Nike and Fitbit to bring health and fitness data, measured by mobile and wearable devices, into our palms.   A new tool for developers called HealthKit adds to the standard activity, heart rate and diet measurements by allowing developers to create third-party apps and sensors to measure factors such as blood pressure and sleep patterns.   Users can also create emergency cards with important health information such as allergies and blood types, accessible from the lock screen and emergency call screen.   Another development tool – HomeKit – will let us control aspects of our homes (such as lights and temperature) using our phones.   To enable natural interactions with our phone for home and health apps, iOS has evolved to allow Siri be hands free, similar to its Android counterpart Google Now.   We could say: “Hey Siri, I’m ready for bed”, then the lights will automatically dim for sleep and the phone will go into “do not disturb” mode – perhaps even playing our favourite relaxing music.   With the introduction of Swift, we can expect to see more apps than ever – truly building upon Apple’s 2007 slogan, “There’s an app for everything”.   Dian Tjondronegoro is an Associate Professor of Mobile Multimedia at Queensland University of Technology. This story was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

THE NEWS WRAP: Samsung joins the race to get real with VR headsets

5:14PM | Thursday, 22 May

Samsung is developing a VR headset for its phones and tablets.   Sources told Engadget a Samsung VR headset is not only under development by the company’s mobile division, but it’s set to be announced this year.   The urgency is said to be in order to beat Facebook’s Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus to market.   More problems for Apple’s iMessage   The problem of having text messages trapped in the cloud when customers move a phone number from an iPhone to an Android has been made worse.   A recent server glitch undermined one of Apple’s key methods of trying to fix the issue.   The company says a fix is coming, although it hasn’t indicated when.   The matter is now the subject of legal action by a Californian woman who is seeking class-action status against Apple.   The suit claims Apple has violated California’s unfair competition law and also interferes with a wireless carrier’s abilities to deliver its promised service to customers.   HP to cut up to 16,000 jobs   The company reported results for its second fiscal quarter with sales figures slightly below expectations. HP says it expects to add to the 34,000 job cuts it announced in 2012.   Between 11,000 and 16,000 more jobs are expected to go.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 10.02 to 16,543.08. The Australian dollar is trading at US92 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Victorian government follows NSW lead with crackdown on Uber drivers

5:30PM | Thursday, 8 May

The Victorian government has been issuing $1700 fines to Uber ride-sharing drivers.   Fairfax reported representatives of Victoria’s Taxi Services Commission have been using the app to identify drivers in order to issue fines.   Samsung replaces its mobile design team head   Chang Dong-hoon, Samsung’s head of mobile design, offered to resign last week after a poor reception to the company’s Galaxy S5 smartphone launch.   Dong-hoon has been moved to the company’s Design Strategy Team and his old role has been filled by Lee Min-hyouk, formerly the company’s vice president for mobile design.   Leading investors say losing net neutrality would kill US startups   A group of leading venture capitalists have written an open letter to the US Federal Communications Commission arguing if large internet service providers were able to charge for an internet ‘fast lane’, it would be much to the detriment of young startups.   “If established companies are able to pay for better access speeds or lower latency, the Internet will no longer be a level playing field,’’ the letter says.   “Start-ups (sic) with applications that are advantaged by speed (such as games, video, or payment systems) will be unlikely to overcome that deficit no matter how innovative their service.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 32.43 to 16,550.97. The Australian dollar is currently trading at US93 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Amazon turns Twitter into a shopping cart

5:25PM | Monday, 5 May

Amazon is giving English and American customers the chance to shop without leaving Twitter.   The online shopping giant is rolling out a new feature called #AmazonCart, which allows users to connect their Amazon and Twitter accounts and add products to their Amazon shopping basket by simply replying to any tweet containing an Amazon link, with #AmazonCart   Apple and Samsung damages recalculated   A US federal jury has recalculated the damages awarded in the court case involving the two smartphone competitors.   The jury raised the amount owed for some patent infringements and lowered it for others.   The changes offset each other meaning the total damages awarded in the new verdict stay the same as the original.   The court awarded Apple $US119.6 million for patent infringements and Samsung $US158,400.   Google and Facebook top three in tech by 2020, Apple not?   One of the world’s top tech investors, Fred Wilson of New York’s Union Square Ventures, believes Apple will cease to be important by 2020.   Wilson, speaking at the TC Disrupt conference in New York, said Apple is too rooted to hardware and isn’t invested enough in the cloud, something he says will provide the company significant challenges moving forward.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 17.66 to 16.530.55 and the Australian Dollar is trading at US93 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Amazon looking at launching Kindle smartphone

4:33PM | Sunday, 13 April

Amazon is believed to be gearing up to release a smartphone in the second half of this year, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal.   The tech and online retail giant is believed to have demonstrated prototype handsets to developers in recent weeks, with an official announcement planned by the end of June ahead of a September launch.   A key feature of the new device is said to be a 3D screen that doesn’t require special glasses, a feature the company hopes will differentiate its device from competitors, including Apple and Samsung.   No dotcom crash despite stock falls, say US analysts   Leading analysts in the US say another ‘90s-style tech crash is not likely, despite recent falls on the tech-heavy Nasdaq index.   “What I'm looking for is really more or less a re-alignment in a somewhat orderly fashion,” BMO Private Bank chief investment officer Jack Ablin says.   “A new appreciation for dividends, for cash flow, for earnings and for revenues - things that investors should be looking for all the time.   “Investors are starting to move away from markets that seem expensive and are gravitating toward markets that have a better value so, all and all, I think it’s probably a cathartic cycle that's going on right now.”   Smaller David Jones stores coming after SA Woolworths takeover   South African department store operator Woolworths Holdings says it is looking at introducing smaller format David Jones stores if its takeover of the Australian department store chain is successful.   Last week, the South African Woolworths, which is not affiliated with the Australian retailer of the same name, surprised investors by announcing a $2.15 billion takeover bid for David Jones.   “I think we see three obvious [sites] within the next couple of years. I believe we can get to double digits in time – but it's going to take time,” Woolworths Holdings chief executive Ian Moir said.   “What we will not do as a business is make bad real estate decisions. So you need to make sure you have got the right demographic and the right position within that demographic.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 16026.8. The Aussie dollar is down to US93.97 cents.

Australian game developer picks up $150,000 at Samsung app challenge in the US

3:16AM | Monday, 17 March

Mark White’s Tasty Tadpoles game took two years to build as he crammed in the coding around a full-time job in advertising.   But the long hours were worth it: he’s just picked up $150,000 at Samsung’s Tizen App Challenge this week in the United States.   The family-friendly puzzle game was originally built for the iOS platform and was released in May 2013 as a 99 cent app. White told StartupSmart it’s been downloaded over 800,000 times, 40,000 of which were paid downloads.   “When I heard about the Tizen challenge, I realised it wouldn’t be too hard to port it across to a new system. I entered it and forgot about it until this week,” he says.   Samsung contributed over $4.4 million worth of prizes to the competition to incentivise developers to create apps for a new operating system.   “It’s basically Samsung trying to distance from Android. But if you install it on all the Samsung phones, there would be very few apps so they launched this challenge to overcome that,” White says.   White’s app was awarded $100,000 as runner-up in the action and adventure game category. He was also named in the top 10 HTML5 games and received a further $50,000.   “Game development combines everything I really enjoy: animation, illustration and music,” White says. The prize will enable him to only work three days a week so he can focus on his next game.

Weekly digest: All the week’s stories in one place

2:09AM | Friday, 28 February

It’s been another eventful week for Australia’s start-up sector with a number of acquisitions revealed, events and programs taking off, and plenty of useful advice on offer.   This week saw news that Australian entrepreneur Joshua Reich’s US-based online bank Simple sold to a Spanish banking giant for $US117 million, coffee pre-ordering app Beat the Q bought mobile loyalty app eCoffeeCard, and Australian fitness tracking app Sessions was taken over by US firm MyFitnessPal.   In news of start-ups on the move, Australian app developer Appster revealed its founders are moving to New York to open an office there as part of their plans to grow globally, while Gold Coast incubator Silicon Lakes is taking a group of start-ups to connect with networks in Silicon Valley.   Australian start-ups and tech companies are continuing to grow, with freelancer marketplace Freelancer.com reporting its first annual results as a public company and seeing 77% revenue growth for the 12 months to December 31 compared to the previous year, while Bigcommerce launched a range of new features. The founder of an Australian SEO firm explained how he grew his company from his bedroom to having offices around the world, the founder of a physiotherapy franchise chain revealed why he chose franchising as a business model, and a developer revealed how he created a beta tester management tool.   In other start-up news, Australian bitcoin experts explained the fallout of the recent collapse of bitcoin exchange Mt Gox, Australia was ranked third in the world for tech investment and acquisitions last year, small businesses are feeling positive about their futures according to a new survey index, and start-ups are eagerly awaiting the results of the federal government’s equity crowdfunding review.   Inspirational stories this week included the mum who quit her job and re-mortgaged the house with two kids under three to pursue her start-up and entrepreneurs are quitting the Fear Of Missing Out for the Joy Of Missing Out. We also heard how machines may be smarter than humans by 2029, why it’s important to have a coach in business and life, and posed the question – are you an elaborator?   There was also plenty of advice from people who’ve been there and done that, with Silicon Valley veteran Susan Wu explained what matters most for start-ups, an OzApp pitching finalist revealed the lessons he learnt from the event, we discovered the top two tax mistakes start-ups make and how to avoid them, mentor Amanda Jesnoewski offered the seven key words to use to get the most out of your marketing, and Robert Krigsman gave us three things to remember when choosing a business advisor.   There are lots of events and programs out there for start-ups to get involved with, and this week was no exception. Ernst & Young announced that nominations are open for its annual Entrepreneur of the Year awards, Brisbane City Council has renewed its grant program for young entrepreneurs, the University of NSW’s Startup Games are open for applications, start-ups are being sought to pitch at the upcoming Agile Australia conference, an app that manages crowdfunding supporters won the recent Startup Weekend Perth hackathon, and a thermal imaging sensor development company was hailed as the most promising start-up at an angel investors’ dinner.   And in tech news, Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S5 and a granny flat finder has been launched amidst record demand for bedsits.

The eight biggest announcements from the 2014 Mobile World Congress

2:47AM | Friday, 28 February

This week in Barcelona, the GSMA – the peak global standards body for the mobile phone industry – is hosting its annual industry trade event, the Mobile World Congress.   The MWC is arguably the largest annual event in the telecommunications industry. It brings together carriers with mobile phone makers, equipment makers and app developers.   It’s where handset manufacturers make the big pitch to mobile carriers for the year ahead. A strong presentation can bring your products to the attention of mobile carriers the world over.   Perhaps more than the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the MWC is the big event where mobile phone makers unveil their new smartphones and other products for the year ahead.   This year’s event certainly hasn’t underwhelmed, with major announcements from some of the industry’s biggest players.   It’s time to take a look at eight of the biggest announcements from this year’s show:   1. Samsung Galaxy S5   Samsung is now easily the biggest handset maker in the industry. According to IDC, for the full year of 2013, it shipped a massive 313.9 million smartphones worldwide – that’s three out of every 10 smartphones shipped anywhere in the world.   Forget about Apple versus Samsung, it’s not even a race anymore at this point. Apple shipped 153.4 million units in 2013, meaning that for every handset Apple shipped, Samsung shipped more than two.   In fact, with the exception of the US and Japan, Apple is not even really competitive with Samsung anymore. That race was lost two years ago.   In addition to manufacturing smartphones, it also supplies itself with almost every component, from batteries and processors to cameras, memory chips and displays.   It is both the world’s second biggest chip builder, and the world’s second biggest ship builder.   So when Samsung unveils its main, flagship smartphone for the year, you better believe that everyone in the industry – from carriers to competitors – is watching very closely.   This year’s flagship, the Galaxy S5, was largely an incremental improvement on its predecessor, with the South Korean tech giant confirming speculation the new device is both dust-proof and waterproof.   Needless to say, both Telstra and Optus have already announced they’re carrying the new smartphone.   Aside from the Galaxy S5, Samsung shocked the industry when it snubbed Google for the latest version of its Galaxy Gear smartwatches. Instead of Android, the new devices will be powered by its own operating system, known as Tizen.   2. Microsoft’s Nokia X smartphones – powered by Android   For nearly two decades, Microsoft’s Windows operating system had battled an open source rival, known as Linux. While Linux has struggled to make inroads in the desktop PC market, it has emerged as the dominant operating system for servers.   Linux also forms the basis of Google Android, which competes head-to-head with Microsoft Windows Phone.   Meanwhile, in September last year, Microsoft bought the mobile assets of Nokia, along with a licence to use its patents, for $US7.2 billion.   In light of this, there was some scepticism when rumours first surfaced that Nokia was gearing up to release a series of smartphones powered by Android.   At MWC, Nokia confirmed the rumours by unveiling a new smartphone product line powered by Android called the Nokia X series. The new devices will come with Microsoft’s cloud-based apps and services pre-installed and won’t come with the Google Play app store.   Nonetheless, when Microsoft takes control of Nokia in April, it will be selling a consumer product based on Linux. Who would have thought it? 3. Facebook buys WhatsApp for $US16 billion   A week before the MWC, Facebook announced it is taking over mobile messaging service WhatsApp for an incredible sum – $US16 billion.   With both WhatsApp co-founder and chief executive Jan Koum and Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg delivering keynote speeches at MWC, the tech world was certainly going to pay attention.   During the keynote, Koum did not disappoint, announcing WhatsApp was launching free voice calls through its app during the second quarter, once the takeover by Facebook has been completed.   No doubt some of the mobile carriers were a little edgy about the prospect of Facebook launching an all-out assault on their lucrative voice call and text message businesses.   4. Mozilla unveils a $25 smartphone   This year’s Mobile World Congress marked the one year anniversary of the debut of Mozilla’s smartphone platform, Firefox OS.   For those unfamiliar with the platform, Mozilla is best known for its Firefox web browser. Last year, it announced it was creating a mobile operating system based on Firefox that would compete head-to-head with Google Android, Apple iOS, Windows Phone 8 and BlackBerry 10.   In Firefox OS, all apps basically work like interactive websites and are coded in web standards, including HTML5 and CSS. Since this is less demanding than running a “full” operating system with apps, the theory went that Firefox OS would perform well on low-end devices aimed for emerging markets.   In practice, some of the first Firefox OS smartphones, including the ZTE Open, have left a lot to be desired.   As I explained in Control Shift last week, Mozilla’s expansion drive has left it in a precarious position in the marketplace:   As if the situation weren’t already urgent enough already, Mozilla’s lucrative deal with Google expires in November of this year. In a sense, it’s fitting that [Mozilla founder Mitchell] Baker has taken up trapeze as a hobby, because Mozilla’s in the middle of a high-wire act. It might be that, over the coming months, one of Mozilla’s growing number of Firefox OS-driven side-projects gains traction in the market place. However, it could also backfire spectacularly, endangering its main source of revenue in the process.   Aside from the seven new smartphones on display, Mozilla also announced that a smartphone costing just $25 would hit the market this year.   Given that, up until the fourth quarter of last year, more than half of all mobile phones sold worldwide were still featurephones, mostly in emerging markets, the $25 phone might just be the big hit Mozilla’s looking for.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Major updates for BlackBerry enterprise customers   BlackBerry chief executive John Chen’s bid to turn around the fortunes of the smartphone pioneer were filled out in a series of major product announcements at MWC.   Up until now, enterprises using BlackBerry Secure Work Spaces on BYOD (bring your own device) smartphones needed to use different versions of BlackBerry Enterprise Service (BES) depending on whether staff used newer BlackBerry 10/Android/iOS devices, or older BlackBerrys.   That has been cleared away with the release of BES 12, in the process clearing away many headaches for IT administrators. As an added bonus, it supports Windows Phone devices too.   The company also unveiled a new flagship phone with a full keyboard called the Q20 and an enterprise version of its BlackBerry Messenger service called eBBM Suite.   6. At least Sony’s new products are water-tight   Earlier this month, Sony announced it is selling its VAIO PC business to investment firm Japan Industrial Partners, spinning off its Bravia TV business into a separate subsidiary and slashing its global headcount by 5000 as part of a major restructure.   At the time, the Japanese tech giant announced it’s setting its sights on the smartphone, tablet and wearables markets for its future growth. Suffice to say, the company is hoping it delivered a hit with the products it unveiled at MWC.   The company unveiled a new flagship smartphone called the Xperia Z2, a 4G Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone powered by a 2.3 GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor. The company is proclaiming its 20.7-megapixel camera capable is the most ever used in a waterproof smartphone.   Which I’m sure is fantastic news for scuba-diving photographers.   The company also unveiled a 10.1-inch tablet called, imaginatively enough, the Z2 Tablet. The tablet is being marketed as the lightest ever used in a waterproof tablet.   Finally, the company unveiled a smart wristband called the SmartBand.   7. Opportunity knocks for LG?   The highlight for LG was an update of the KnockON security system called “Knock Code”, which uses a series of knocks rather than a password to secure a device. The new feature will appear on the LG G Pro 2 phablet, a new six-inch phablet set to go head-to-head with Samsung’s popular Galaxy Note devices.   The company also unveiled its “L Series 3” range of low- to mid-range smartphones at the show.   That said, most of LG’s big announcements came at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, including its LG Lifeband Touch activity tracking bracelet, LG Heart Rate headphones, and webOS-powered smart TVs.   8. Tickets please!   With the rapid growth of mobile ticketing, it’s no surprise the world’s largest telecommunications show would embrace NFC tickets.   Telstra was one of a range of carriers to trial NFC badge technology for tickets to this year’s event.   The badges use information stored by a mobile carrier, including name and telephone number, to help verify an attendee’s identity. The validation process also includes a photo ID check.   This year’s show also features an NFC Experience demonstrating NFC-based mobile commerce systems for payment, retail, transport, mobile identity and ticketing/access.   In addition, there are 61 NFC-enabled Tap-n-Go Points providing event news, schedules, documents, presentations, videos and other information.   According to figures published by ABI research, in the next five years, 34 billion tickets to be sent to mobile devices,. In terms of technology used to authenticate tickets, the figures show 48% will rely on QR codes, near-field communications (NFC) will be used on 30%, while SMS or other technologies will be used on 22%.   If the forecast is accurate, it suggests using our smartphones to touch on for events, public transport or entry into secure areas could soon be a part of everyday life.

A decade of Facebook: 10 interesting things you don’t know about the social network

2:37AM | Tuesday, 4 February

Facebook is 10 years old today. It’s time for birthday celebrations for the social network with 12,800,000 Australian users and 1.19 billion users worldwide. But it’s also time to reflect on 10 interesting things you don’t know about the social network.   1. The social network makes more money now from mobiles than PCs   Facebook is worth around $US135 billion and has successfully made the shift to focusing on mobiles. In Facebook’s fourth quarter earning report filed on January 29 this year the social network disclosed that for the first time sales from ads on mobile phones and tablets exceeded revenue from traditional PCs.   In an interview marking Facebook’s 10th birthday, founder Mark Zuckerberg told Bloomberg the shift to mobile was “not as quick as it should have been”, but “one of the things that characterizes our company is that we are pretty strong-willed”.   2. Facebook tried to buy Snapchat   In 2012 Facebook bought Instagram for $US1 billion even though the photo sharing app had no revenue source. Zuckerberg described the deal as a milestone, saying "we don't plan on doing many more of these, if any at all"; but last year, Facebook reportedly offered $3 billion to buy Snapchat. On two occasions. Snapchat refused the offer.   3. Paper has just launched   Facebook’s latest creation is a newspaper-style app called Paper. Paper includes photos, friend updates, and shared articles in an image-heavy, uncluttered way. The stories are picked and ordered based largely on how much they are shared and “liked” on Facebook, with a team of human editors ensuring that the content comes from the right sources.   “Paper makes storytelling more beautiful with an immersive design and full-screen, distraction-free layouts,” Facebook states.   4. Zuckerberg and Facebook are all about goals   Zuckerberg told Bloomberg he has lots of goals for Facebook and for himself personally. Facebook’s founder has in previous years vowed to learn Mandarin (2010), to eat only animals he slaughtered himself (2011), and to meet someone new each day (2013). For 2014 he intends to write at least one well-considered thank-you note every day, via email or handwritten letter.   “It’s important for me, because I’m a really critical person,” he says. “I always kind of see how I want things to be better, and I’m generally not happy with how things are, or the level of service that we’re providing for people, or the quality of the teams that we built. But if you look at this objectively, we’re doing so well on so many of these things. I think it’s important to have gratitude for that.”   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 5. Voting is the most talked about topic on Facebook   The 10 most talked about topics on Facebook in 2013 by Australian users were ‘vote’, Kate Middleton, cricket, Kevin Rudd, Grand Final, Election, GST, Lions, Tony Abbott and Big Brother.   6. It’s set to compete with Google   Over the next five years, Zuckerberg wants Facebook to become more intuitive and to solve problems that in some cases users don’t even know they have.   He wants to target the 5% and 10% of posts on Facebook where users pose questions to their friends, such as requests for the names for a good local dentist, or the best Indian restaurant.   Zuckerberg told Bloomberg the social network should do better at harvesting all that data to provide answers. A domain which is traditionally the preserve of search giant Google.   7. Users are a devoted bunch   Facebook users generally log in to the social network regularly and stay for long periods of time. The percentage of Facebook users that log in once a day is now 76% while the average time spent on Facebook per user per month is 8.3 hours.   8. Facebook is targeting developing countries   Facebook is targeting developing countries through the formation of a group called Internet.org with six other technology companies, including Samsung, Qualcomm and Ericsson.   The group is looking at simplifying their services so they can be delivered more economically over primitive wireless networks and tapped into using cheaper phones.   Zuckerberg says more users in undeveloped countries will subscribe to mobile services for the opportunity to use Facebook, which in turn makes it more economical for mobile operators to improve their wireless networks to support higher-bandwidth services such as online education and banking.   He has described early tests as “promising”.   9. Doomsayers warn Facebook could go into rapid decline   Researchers from Princeton University published a paper earlier this year suggesting Facebook might lose 80% of its users by 2017 entering a period of “rapid decline”.   “The application of disease-like dynamics to [online social network] adoption follows intuitively, since users typically join OSNs because their friends have already joined,” says the study, which is awaiting peer review.   Facebook has hit back at the work as “incredibly speculative” and used its own data engineers to use the same methods of "scholarly scholarliness" to prove that Princeton itself was on the brink of extinction.   10. It’s king of social referred traffic   Facebook is still the king for social referred traffic, according to Adobe’s most recent social intelligence report.   But Facebook is slowly losing ground to other social media, in particular Twitter and Pinterest.

The dark side of vertical integration

1:26AM | Tuesday, 21 January

Recently, your humble correspondent looked at vertically integrated companies.   But if you’re just starting a business, the chances are you will – at least initially – be focused on a single stage of production, dealing with companies that are far more vertically integrated than you are.   Well, as Old Taskmaster says, business is war. The dark side of vertical integration comes when someone else tries to take your businesses out of the supply chain.   It happens. Just think about all the small businesses that supplied specialty foods to Coles and Woolies, only to find their lines deleted and a generic product taking their shelf space at $1 per litre.   Or, for that matter, the local servo owners who used their local supermarket as a supplier of their convenience store, only to find a shiny new Coles Express or Woolworths Plus Petrol opening down the road.   In theory, the ACCC should do something about it when it happens. In practice, Australia’s competition watchdog is more of a chihuahua.   On the other hand, Apple seems to be doing just fine, despite the fact its vertically integrated arch-rival (Samsung) also supplies a number of key iPhone components, including the processor and display.   And it’s not the first time Apple has found itself in such a predicament. Way back when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were in their parent’s garage, guess who the supplier was for the main processor in the original Apple I and Apple II computers?   It wasn’t Intel. Nor was it Motorola. And ARM didn’t exist yet.   No, Apple’s first computers from the late 1970s were built around an MOS 6502 chip. From Commodore. As in, Jack Tramiel’s Commodore.   A number of their competitors did likewise, including Atari (including the 2600), the original Nintendo NES and Acorn (who built the BBC Micro B). All used a variation of the processor in the Commodore 64.   When Tramiel started a price war by dropping the retail price of the Commodore 64, all of those companies were left buying processors at retail price while Commodore was effectively buying them at cost price.   Jobs actually referenced the industry shakeout that resulted while unveiling the Macintosh: “Nineteen eighty three… The shakeout is in full swing. The first major firm goes bankrupt, with others teetering on the brink. Total industry losses for ’83 outshadow the combined profits for Apple and IBM, for personal computers.”   So what can you do when a key supplier or customer decides to compete against you?   Apple survived by marketing premium, value-added products. Premium products command premium prices, and are less susceptible to a price war. After all, you might build your own computer, but it won’t be an Apple.   In the long run, Jobs also built his own vertical integration. That’s why you can buy Apple’s Final Cut Pro for your Apple Mac from an Apple store.   Perhaps the best response is to avoid getting locked into a single supplier in the first place. Look for products where you can get a second source – that is, a second company that can competitively supply you a similar product.   Likewise, avoid getting yourself in a position where your entire business is locked into supplying a single customer or outlet. After all, there’s no use crying over spilled, non-generic milk.   Finally, the next time you revise your long-term strategy, evaluate what would happen if your largest supplier, business partner or customer decided to compete with you. Is there a risk? If so, what would you do?   Old Taskmaster says it’s time to evaluate the risks facing your business from potential rivals – and reduce them!   Get it done – today!

10 events and trends that shaped the tech industry in 2013

12:02AM | Friday, 6 December

The tech sector has always been hyper-competitive, and never has this been truer than in 2013.   For the likes of Twitter, Samsung and Google, the harvest of 2013 was bountiful.   However, from the perspective of Nokia, Microsoft, BlackBerry or the PC industry, it was a year to forget.   Here’s a look back at 10 of the big events and trends that shaped the tech sector in 2013.   1. One billion smartphones sold this year – and counting   The most important tech story of 2013 didn’t take place with a major product announcement or a Steve Jobs-style keynote speech.   Instead, it took place without fanfare at an ordinary mobile phone retailer somewhere deep in suburbia.   It was there that a consumer decided to purchase the one billionth smartphone to be sold during 2013.   To put that number in perspective, it is projected that 227.3 million tablets shipped worldwide during 2013, 158 million television sets, 180.9 million portable PCs and 134.4 million desktop PCs.   Meanwhile, figures from market analysts IDC show smartphones also outsold featurephones worldwide for the first time in history during the first quarter of 2013.   What this means is that while smartphones now account for more than half of the 418.6 million mobile phones shipped worldwide each quarter, there are still millions of old-fashioned featurephones being sold each year.   Especially in the low-end of the market and in emerging economies, that means there’s plenty of extra room for growth in the future – especially at the low-end of the market.   Make no mistake about it. The smartphone industry is big – far bigger than the PC or TV business. And it’s only going to get bigger in 2014.   2. Google Android and Samsung: The juggernaut rolls on The biggest winners from the spectacular, ongoing growth of the smartphone market have been Samsung and Google.   Last year, smartphones running Google Android outsold Apple. In 2013, that trend morphed into total industry domination.   For example, of the 261.1 million smartphones shipped worldwide during the third quarter of 2013, 211.6 million or over 80% ran Google’s Android operating system.   That compares to just 33.8 million iPhones, representing around 12.9% of the market, and a measly 3.6% for Windows Phone.   Samsung managed to ship 72.4 million smartphones during the second quarter of 2013 alone, representing around 30.4% of the market – more than double Apple’s sales during the same period.   Those device sales also mean increased component orders flowing through the various divisions of the South Korean tech conglomerate, which manufactures everything from semiconductors to batteries and smartphone displays.   The growing strength of the South Korean electronics behemoth is demonstrated by its advertising and marketing budget, which has been estimated at around $US14 billion worldwide.   To put that figure into perspective, as of 2011, North Korea’s entire national economy was estimated to stand at $US12.385 billion.   3. The PC industry bloodbath   While Google and Samsung have had a stellar year in 2013, the same certainly can’t be said for the PC industry.   The September quarter was the sixth consecutive quarter of falls, according to Gartner, with shipments falling to 80.2 million units for the quarter from 87.8 million a year earlier.   Figures released by IDC forecast PC shipments for the full year to fall 9.7% in 2013.   More alarmingly, it appears the emerging middle class in China, India and Brazil aren’t keen on buying computers, with total PC shipments in emerging markets expected to drop from 205.2 million to 185 million this year.   Australia and New Zealand led the trend, with a massive 21% year-on-year fall in shipments for first quarter in Australia, along with a more astounding 27% fall in New Zealand.   The implosion of the PC market was disastrous for a number of PC makers, including Dell, HP and Acer.   In August, HP announced a major shake-up of its senior management team after announcing a large 15% year-on-year drop in net earnings and a 22% drop in revenue from consumer devices during its quarterly results.   That same month, Dell reported a massive 72% year-on-year collapse in quarterly earnings, while a consortium including founder Michael Dell, Silver Lake Capital and Microsoft successfully fought off high-profile investor Carl Icahn’s bid for control of the company.   And at Acer, founder Stan Shih made a surprise return as interim chairman and president, following the resignation of former chief executive JT Wang and president Jim Wong after the company recorded a record third-quarter loss.   The resignations came after Acer announced its consolidated revenues for the third-quarter of 2013 fell 11.8% year-on-year to $US3.11 billion, resulting in an operating loss of $US86.6 million.   4. Surface falls flat   On top of falling PC sales and 3.6% Windows Phone market share, the news was dire for Microsoft on another front in 2013.   Late last year, Microsoft launched its Surface series of tablets as a first step towards making devices, with the company believed to have manufactured around six million units.   The release of the Surface instantly made Microsoft a direct competitor to many of its already struggling PC partners, straining relations in the process.   Fast forward to July of this year when Microsoft announced a massive $US900 million writedown on its inventory of unsold tablets. The writedown came less than a week after Microsoft announced a large price cut of $US150 for the struggling product line.   Adding insult to injury, Microsoft also revealed it has spent $US898 million advertising the tablets, while only generating $US853 million in sales.   According to many leading analysts, the company was believed to have sold just 1.7 million of the six million tablets it had built.   To put those numbers in perspective, Apple sells around 14.6 million iPads each quarter, while Samsung sells around 8.8 million.   5. Steve Ballmer resigns   During the 1990s, Microsoft was undeniably the 800-pound gorilla of the tech industry.   Then, in January 2000, founder Bill Gates stood aside as chief executive, in favour of Steve Ballmer, in order to focus on his philanthropic efforts.   Since then, the company has lost much of its former dynamism, and has failed to become the dominant player in a range of new technologies that have emerged since then, including search, tablets, smartphones or social media.   In August last year, Vanity Fair magazine journalist Kurt Eichenwald ran a feature exploring why Microsoft fell behind its rivals. A management technique called stack ranking was almost universally blamed.   “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, two people were going to get a great review, seven were going to get mediocre reviews, and one was going to get a terrible review,” a former software developer told Eichenwald. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”   Add the low market share for Windows Phone, poor sales of the Surface and the PC industry bloodbath, and it became clear something had to give at Microsoft.   In July, the company announced a major management restructure, with the company’s strategy shifting to focus on “devices and services”.   Then, just one month later, Ballmer resigned as chief executive, with stack ranking dumped as a management technique soon after.   The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant is currently searching for his replacement.   Story continues on page 2. Please click below. 6. Nokia sold for a song   Soon after Ballmer’s resignation, the news was overshadowed by an even bigger story.   In September, Microsoft announced it was buying Nokia’s smartphone and devices businesses for $US7.2 billion, with the Finnish telecommunications company retaining its Nokia-Siemens services network equipment business and the Nokia brand name.   The deal came after Nokia announced its smartphone sales had slumped 27% year-on-year during the second quarter of 2013, with an overall loss of €115 million ($A190 million) for the quarter.   The sales plunge was led by the company’s Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphone unit, where shipments fell 27% from 10.2 million units during the second quarter of 2012 to just 7.4 million for the same quarter in 2013.   To put that number into perspective, it was a little over one-tenth the number of smartphones sold by Samsung during the same quarter.   It was an inglorious end to a company that absolutely dominated the mobile industry through the 1990s and 2000s. As recently as 2010, when Apple sold 47 million smartphones, Nokia managed to sell 104 million.   According to prominent industry analysts, such as former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen, the fateful moment came in February 2011, when then chief executive Stephen Elop made the decision to switch its smartphones to the Windows Phone operating system.   Soon after, a leaked internal letter from Elop known as the “burning platform” memo likened the company’s situation in the mobile phone market to a person standing on a burning oil platform.   After the takeover was announced, Elop was named as one of the top contenders for the position of Microsoft chief executive.   7. BlackBerry’s failed comeback and takeover attempt   It wasn’t just Nokia that had a tough time in the smartphone market at the hands of Samsung and Google.   In January, BlackBerry launched its new, all-touch BlackBerry 10 smartphone operating system. The platform, originally scheduled for late 2011, had been delayed by a year, preventing the company launching a flagship phone in 2012.   The Australian launch for the first smartphone to run the new platform, the Z10, came in March at a gala event in Sydney hosted by Adam Spencer. A second device using a traditional BlackBerry keyboard, called the Q10, came soon after.   While the reviews were generally positive, the new devices failed to be the big comeback success the company’s then-chief executive, Thorsten Heins, had hoped for.   By August, the company formed a special five-member panel to examine takeover options after director and Canadian investment guru Prem Watsa quit the board.   In its September quarter results, the full carnage was laid bare. The Canadian smartphone maker reported just $US1.6 billion in revenues for the quarter, down 45% year-on-year and 49% quarter-on-quarter.   The company also revealed it sold just 3.7 million smartphones for the quarter – and less than half of those ran BlackBerry 10.   Total losses came in at $US965 million, including a massive $US934 million inventory writedown against unsold stock of the company’s Z10 smartphone.   The company announced more than 4500 staff layoffs, representing nearly 40% of its global workforce, while Heins bought a new private jet.   Meanwhile, the company’s rollout of its Messenger app for Android and iOS was frozen due to technical issues with its release.   In early November, with banks uncertain of the company’s long-term future, Watsa failed to raise the requisite $4.7 billion for a buyout, instead lending the company $US1 billion.   As part of the deal, Heins stood aside as chief executive, replaced by former Sybase chief executive John Chen, with Watsa rejoining the board.   Heins received a $US22 million golden parachute for his efforts, significantly less than the $US55.6 million he would have received had the sale gone through.   8. The Twitter IPO   Last year, Facebook’s disastrous IPO ended in tears – followed by lawsuits.   Thankfully, the outcome was not repeated when its social media rival, Twitter, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in November.   After opening at $US26 per share, the company’s share price surged 72.69% in its first trading session.   It closed at $US44.90 per share, before dropping slightly to $US44.44 in after-hours trading.   Making the result even more amazing was the state of its balance sheet.   While the tech giant has revenues of $US534.46 million and around 230 million users worldwide, it has never posted a profit.   Despite this, the company now has a market capitalisation north of $US20 billion, with chief executive Dick Costolo claiming the company’s long-term investment strategy has prevented it from chasing profits in the short term.   9. iOS7, iPhones and iPads   For Apple, 2013 was a solid if somewhat unspectacular year.   In June, the company released a redesigned version of its smartphone and mobile operating system, iOS7, alongside a new version of its Mac OS X desktop operating system, known as Mavericks.   It was the year that Apple finally unveiled a low-cost version of its iPhone, known as the iPhone 5c, alongside a new 64-bit flagship smartphone called the iPhone 5s, complete with a 64-bit processor and a fingerprint sensor.   Then, in October, the company unveiled a lighter version of its iPad, known as the iPad Air.   None of the products had the industry-shaking impact of the unveiling of the Macintosh, iPod, iPhone or iPad.   That said, with billions in profits each quarter, a solid second place in the smartphone market and the world’s biggest selling tablet, solid and unspectacular for Apple is better than most companies could dream of.   10. Xbox One and PlayStation 4 launch   Last, but certainly not least for gamers, 2013 marked the introduction of next generation games consoles from both Sony and Microsoft.   Coming a year after Nintendo launched its Wii U system, Sony announced one million first-day sales of its PlayStation 4 system, but the launch was marred by a number of angry consumers taking to social media to complain about non-functional systems.   Sony’s first-day sales were soon matched by the first-day sales of Microsoft’s new Xbox One system.   So how will the two new devices perform over the long term? We’ll have to wait until next year to find out!   This story first appeared on SmartCompany.

Make your tech attack ads interesting

11:35AM | Tuesday, 5 November

Earlier today, old Taskmaster read about an ad by Microsoft that has been criticised for attacking Apple. Apparently the folks up in Seattle think putting the latest iPhone in a range of different coloured plastics isn’t particularly innovative.   And they’d be right – Apple first offered a selection of different coloured plastics for the original iMac, back in 1998.   However, what some of you young’uns might not realise is that there’s nothing new about one tech company directly naming, attacking and mocking its rivals. In fact, attack ads have been a feature of the tech sector for almost as long as they have been used in politics.   Back in the 1980s, Commodore founder Jack Tramiel made it a regular feature of his advertising. From William Shatner having a dig at Atari while selling the VIC-20 to a Commodore 64 advert literally chewing out Apple, competitors were regularly named and shamed:     During the late 1980s, then videogame giant Sega took Commodore’s attack ads and added ‘blast processing’. Now, whether or not blast processing exists outside a counter-terror squad investigation remains dubious. Nonetheless, Sega claimed to have it and Nintendo didn’t (or should that be Nintendon’t?).     Apple is certainly no stranger to this form of advertising either. The first and best known example was the company’s now infamous 1984 ad. That said, even during their weak late 80s and early 90s period, the attacks continued:     And then there’s the company’s Mac and PC ads:     Like most things, Samsung has taken this concept off Apple and then begun churning out variations like sausages. Here’s one recent example:     So, like many things in the computer industry, the attack ad was first developed by a company like Commodore, was quickly followed by Apple, was mass-produced by Samsung, and then Microsoft eventually had a go.   And the big problem with their ad? Compared to the other examples, it’s a bit boring:     The moral of the story is simple. If you want to make an ad (or YouTube clip) attacking your rivals, go for it. Just make it interesting. Even if you have to make up a phrase like ‘blast processing’ to do it!   Get it done – today!

Why the tech revolution could soon be televised: If you develop mobile apps, you must tune in to this

10:49AM | Friday, 25 October

Earlier today, your humble correspondent read a really rather interesting news piece. If you’re in the mobile app business or even a software developer in general, this is one article you must read.   But first, a little background.   If you’re a loyal reader, you might recall back in July your dear Uncle Taskmaster wrote a little article looking at the growing tensions simmering between Google and Samsung. (If you’re a new reader, click here to read it.)   To refresh you memory, the two companies have made a small fortune selling Samsung Galaxy smartphones running Google’s Android operating system and apps. However, now Google (through its wholly owned Motorola Mobility subsidiary) builds its own smartphones. Meanwhile, Samsung has started working on its own smartphone platform in competition to Android, known as Tizen.   At the time, you’ll recall Old Taskmaster wrote the following:   “If you’re already coding mobile apps, and you find yourself with some spare time on your hands, it could be worth playing around with the Tizen development kit. If it flops, you’ll be the coder with the best chess app in a sparsely filled app store.   “Meanwhile, if these two giants of the smartphone world file for divorce, you’ll be well positioned to cash in.”   Then, at the start of August, Old Taskmaster wrote a column about why YouTube video clips matter for small business. Again, click here if you missed it.   Now, dear reader and start-up entrepreneur, here’s where it all starts to get interesting.   According to an article your humble correspondent read earlier today, it appears that smart television will be one of the key focuses of the next version of Google’s Android smartphone platform (Android 4.4 KitKat).   If this proves to be true, it could make “how my app looks on TV” as big a consideration as “how well it works on a smartphone” or “how well it works on a tablet”.   But, loyal reader, here’s something even more interesting:   “Google is set to collide with Samsung over the future of smart TV, with the Korean electronics giant set to use its own operating system – Tizen – to power its future smart TV products from next year.”   That’s right, the likes of Sony and LG will ship TVs next year running Android, while Samsung will ship them with its own Tizen platform installed instead.   Now, my dear app developer, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a golden opportunity right there.   If I were in your shoes right now, here’s what I would do.   First, download the Tizen development kit and have a play with it if you haven’t already.   Secondly, keep an ear to the ground about any more news that comes out about Android 4.4 KitKat.   Someone could potentially make a lot of money selling apps for smart TVs. As a start-up, you need to be nimble and ready enough to grab that first mover advantage.   Get it done – on TV!

All the smartphone questions you’ve pondered but never bothered to ask

9:28PM | Wednesday, 25 September

When it comes to smartphones, there’s a whole heap of jargon. Quad-core processors? AMOLED displays? Android or iOS?   If you’re not a techie, it can be tough to make sense of it all. So here’s a layman’s guide to some of the mobile mumbo jumbo you’ve always wondered about, but been too afraid to ask.   (Before we get started a note to the techie uber-geeks reading this. Old Taskmaster is completely aware some of these points are gross oversimplifications, that your early-90s BeBox had more than one processor or that I didn’t bother to mention MeeGo. No need for snarky comments. This is intended as a layman’s guide, so sue me!)   What exactly do iOS, Android and Windows Phone do?   A good, simple way of thinking about your mobile phone is as a pocket-sized computer that can also make calls.   On most computers, there’s a piece of system software, called an operating system that basically manages the relationship between a computer’s hardware and the programs that run on it. In the computer world, most PCs use Windows or Linux, while Apple Macs use Mac OSX.   Operating systems like iOS, Android and Windows Phone basically do the same thing, except they’re designed to work on a smartphone.   If you run an iPhone, you run Apple’s iOS. If you run a recent Nokia, it almost certainly uses Windows Phone. Pretty much everything else – most notably Samsung Galaxy smartphones – use Android.   So why do Androids come in Cupcake, Ice Cream Sandwich or JellyBean?   Each major version of Android is code-named after a dessert. The first letter of each dessert goes up in alphabetical order. So you’ve had Android Cupcake, Donut, Éclair, Froyo, Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and Jellybean.   Why? Basically, because Google thinks ‘Android Gingerbread’ sounds cuter than ‘Android Build G’.   What are the most recent versions of the major smartphone operating systems?   The current version of Android is 4.2/4.3 Jellybean, although Google has announced Android 4.4 KitKat is coming soon.   As fairly well publicised by their recent announcement, the latest version of Apple’s iOS is iOS 7.   Windows is up to Windows Phone 8, although 8.1 is just around the corner.   Finally, BlackBerry is up to BlackBerry 10.2. Given their current business status, Old Taskmaster wouldn’t bet on 10.3.   LCD or AMOLED?   LCD (of various descriptions) and AMOLED are the two common technologies you’ll find powering smartphone screens.   An LCD (liquid crystal display) display is made up of thousands of tiny liquid crystals that modulate light to achieve a desired colour. The light itself is either provided through backlights or through a reflective back panel on the display.   AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) displays are made of a thin film of organic material that lights up when charged by an electric current. The charge that makes different parts of the screen light up is provided by a thin-film transistor that sits behind the organic material.   Which is better?   LCD is the more mature technology of the two. Generally speaking, LCD will be clearer at different viewing angles and produce more realistic colours, but is less good at contrast.   AMOLED colours are brighter, have better contrast and (because they don’t need to be backlit) generally use less power. Traditionally, they are less viewable in direct sunlight.   What’s this resolution business?   Whether your display is LCD or AMOLED, the number of pixels or dots of colour per square inch of screen size determine how clear your image is. In the past, Windows PCs used 96 points per inch, while Apple Macs used 72. The usual standard for the printing industry is 300 dots per inch. By comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 displays 441 pixels per inch.   Dual-core? Quad-core? Octo-core? What-the-core?   Historically, most computers were built around a single processor – called the CPU (central processing unit) – that computer programs ran on. One processor core, one chip, one computer.   These days, most smartphones have more than one of these processor cores on a single physical computer chip, and these are known as multi-core processors. In effect, it’s like having two or four computer CPUs on your phone, except they’ve been shrunk down to fit on a single piece of silicon.   Most current smartphones use a quad-core processor, although some older ones use a dual-core processor, while octo-core processors are beginning to be offered on some newer models.   How is the processor in my smartphone different to the one in my computer?   If you open up your PC or Mac, you’ll probably find it’s built around an Intel processor. The ancestor of this chip was the 8088 and 8086 chips in the very first IBM PCs.   Over the past couple of decades, the design of these chips has been optimised for maximise performance, often at the expense of using more power.   In contrast, the processor in your smartphone is most likely an ARM chip. Its great ancestor first appeared in a 1985 accelerator card add-on for the BBC Micro B. (Yes, the BBC Micro B is a distant relative of your smartphone!) Acorn’s Archimedes and Apple’s Newtons used this series of chips, too.   Because they’ve spent most of the past 20 years being used in mobile devices, they’ve been optimised for battery life as well as performance.   But my smartphone processor is built by Qualcomm/Nvidia/Samsung?   ARM comes up with the basic designs for its processors. It then licenses them to a range of other chip companies, including Qualcomm, Nvidia, Samsung and Apple.   In turn, these companies don’t usually make chips, they just market them. The chips themselves are manufactured by companies with chip manufacturing plants (foundries), including TSMC and Samsung.   SNS integration?   It stands for Social Network Service. It’s a fancy, jargony way of saying this phone has an app or hub that pulls your social media messages into one place.   Over to you   Are there any other bits of smartphone jargon you’ve heard but have been too afraid to ask about? If so, leave your question in the comments below!   Mobile and mobile commerce is an increasingly critical part of every business. If there’s some piece of mobile mumbo jumbo you don’t understand, make sure you get it cleared up!   Get it done – today!

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