Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sony develops film-thin, bending display

TOKYO - In the race for ever-thinner displays for TVs, cell phones and other gadgets, Sony may have developed one to beat them all — a razor-thin display that bends like paper while showing full-color video.

Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news). released video of the new 2.5-inch display Friday. In it, a hand squeezes a display that is 0.3 millimeters, or 0.01 inch, thick. The display shows color images of a bicyclist stuntman and a picturesque lake.

Although flat-panel TVs are getting slimmer, a display that's so thin it bends in a human hand marks a breakthrough.

Sony said it has yet to decide on commercial products using the technology.

"In the future, it could get wrapped around a lamppost or a person's wrist, even worn as clothing," said Sony spokesman Chisato Kitsukawa. "Perhaps it can be put up like wallpaper."

Tatsuo Mori, an engineering and computer science professor at Nagoya University, said some hurdles remained, including making the display bigger, ensuring durability and cutting costs.

But he said the display's pliancy is extremely difficult to imitate with liquid crystal displays and plasma display panels — the two main display technologies now on the market.

"To come up with a flexible screen at that image quality is groundbreaking," Mori said. "You can drop it, and it won't break because it's as thin as paper."

The new display combines two technologies: Sony's organic thin film transistor, which is required to make flexible displays, and organic electroluminescent display.

Other companies, including LG. Philips LCD Co. and Seiko Epson Corp., are also working on a different kind of "electronic paper" technology, but Sony said the organic electroluminescent display delivers better color images and is more suited for video.

Sony President Ryoji Chubachi has said a film-like display is a major technology his company is working on to boost its status as a technological powerhouse.

In a meeting with reporters more than a year ago, Chubachi boasted Sony was working on a technology for displays so thin it could be rolled up like paper. He had predicted that the world would stand up and take notice.

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Some analysts have said Sony, which makes Walkman portable players and PlayStation 3 video game machines, had fallen behind rivals in flat-panel technology, including Samsung Electronics Co. of
South Korea and Sharp Corp. of Japan.

But Sony has been marking a turnaround under Chubachi and Chief Executive Howard Stringer, the first foreigner to head Sony, by reducing jobs, shuttering unprofitable businesses and strengthening its flat TV offerings.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Analysts cynical of Microsoft-Yahoo deal

NEW YORK - Speculation about a possible Microsoft-Yahoo tie-up met with skepticism Friday from analysts as reports that the deal was already dead began to surface. The reported takeover talks that sent shares of Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO - news) up by 10 percent Friday were no longer taking place, the Wall Street Journal said in an online article citing sources familiar with the negotiations.

Yahoo Inc. shares surged following published reports Friday that Microsoft Corp. had resumed its pursuit of Yahoo to better compete with Web search and advertising leader Google Inc.

Both companies declined comment on the reports.

David Hallerman, a senior analyst at the research group eMarketer, said he saw many cultural problems and few strategic benefits with a Microsoft-Yahoo combination.

"There's too much overlap between Microsoft and Yahoo, and to try to merge the company cultures of two large companies like that in general is hard," Hallerman said.

Hallerman said Microsoft would be better off buying an ad network to beef up its own operations, the same way Time Warner Inc.'s AOL has seen its advertising revenue grow following the acquisition of's technology and sales force.

Yahoo, meanwhile, would have lost the flexibility it needs to compete if it became one division within a larger company like Microsoft, he said.

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Industry analyst Matt Rosoff with Directions on Microsoft in Kirkland, Wash., said the huge takeover was unlikely, noting that Yahoo would duplicate services Microsoft's MSN already provides, such as instant messaging and e-mail.

It is possible, Rosoff added, that Microsoft and Yahoo might pursue a deal involving only online search advertising. Hallerman said he could see at most a spinoff of Microsoft's MSN online division to be run by Yahoo.

Microsoft clearly needs to make some kind of bold move because it remains a distant third in the lucrative online search market despite investing heavily in an attempt to gain ground on Google and Yahoo, said Ryan Jacob, who runs an Internet fund specializing in Internet stocks.

To make matters worse for Microsoft, the personal computer software empire that accounts for most of its profits is being increasingly threatened by so-called "open source" alternatives as well as free online programs being offered by Google and others.

"Microsoft is at a crossroads," Jacob said.

Yahoo also has reached a critical juncture after sputtering through much of 2006 while Google's search engine continued to fire on all cylinders. The troubles weighed on its stock, price which plunged 35 percent last year to wipe out about $20 billion in shareholder wealth.

An improved advertising format, dubbed "Panama," raised hopes for a quick turnaround earlier this year, but those evaporated last month when Yahoo reported an 11 percent decline in its first-quarter profit. Analysts say Yahoo's earnings better pick up in the second half of this year or Chairman Terry Semel might lose his job as chief executive.

A combined Microsoft-Yahoo still wouldn't be as large as Google. In March, Google commanded a 48 percent share of the U.S. search market, trailed by Yahoo at 27.5 percent and Microsoft at 11 percent, according to the latest data from comScore Media Metrix.

Microsoft is feeling increasing pressure to compete with Google, which plans to beef up its portfolio with a $3.1 billion purchase of online advertising company DoubleClick Inc. Both Microsoft and Yahoo also expressed interest in buying DoubleClick before being trumped by Google.

Microsoft currently trails both Yahoo and Google in the lucrative and growing business of Web search, even as Google increases its development of Web-based software that directly competes with Microsoft's lucrative Office suite.

Microsoft and Yahoo each considered buying a stake in AOL in late 2005, but Google ultimately won a search advertising deal and agreed to pay $1 billion for a 5 percent stake in AOL.

Earlier this week, Yahoo said it would buy 80 percent of advertising exchange Right Media for $680 million, increasing its stake in that company to full control.

Yahoo shares surged $2.80, or 9.9 percent, to $30.98 on Friday, while shares of Microsoft fell 41 cents to $30.56.