Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sony, Samsung dissolve panel joint venture

Japan's Sony and South Korean rival Samsung are dissolving their joint venture in liquid crystal display panels as Sony tries to stanch years of losses in its TV business.
Samsung Electronics Co. will buy all of Sony's shares in the joint venture for about 1.08 trillion Korean won ($935 million) subject to a final agreement, Sony Corp. said Monday.
The joint venture called S-LCD was set up in 2004. Sony, which fell behind in flat panel TVs, invested in a Samsung panel factory to ensure a steady supply of panels for its LCD TVs.
Sony's TV operation has lost money for seven straight years and the company is straining to return that key business to profit.

The prices of TVs as well as panels have been dropping so it makes more sense to buy panels at the market rate than to invest in production.
Sony, which makes Bravia TV sets, does not make its own LCD panels.
It said it will enter a new partnership with Samsung to buy panels, and will also continue buying panels from other manufacturers.
Sony said it will suffer a loss of 66 billion yen ($846 million) for the third quarter of this fiscal year, which ends later this month, because of the declining value of investment in S-LCD.
Getting out the production venture will produce substantial savings after January 2012, when the deal is completed, according to Sony.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Steve Jobs wins a posthumous Grammy

Tributes to the late Apple executive keep pouring in a couple of months since he passed away. After a Mythbusters style documentary, an 80-minute tribute video, an iPad 2 snowboard, and a 7' tall bronze statue, comes a posthumous Grammy award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).

Jobs was recently named a recipient of the Trustees Award that's given to people who've made "outstanding contributions to the industry in a nonperforming capacity." He's the sole awardee this year who's not directly involved in the creation of music. Steve's influence convinced record labels to start selling on iTunes during the store's early days, which immensely contributed to the current popularity of digital music purchases. Not all musicians are happy with what's done, though — Bon Jovi, for instance, thinks that one day, people will say that Steve Jobs is responsible for killing the music business.

By granting Jobs the Trustees Award, members of NARAS demonstrate that they believe differently. In fact, he's being recognized at the Grammy's for changing the way we consume not just music but also movies, books, and TV. "A creative visionary, Jobs' innovations such as the iPod and its counterpart, the online iTunes store, revolutionized the industry and how music was distributed and purchased," the official announcement says.

A separate ceremony from the main Grammy's event will be held for all special awardees on February 11, 2012 in Los Angeles.

Monday, December 19, 2011

TouchFire iPad keyboard shows power of Kickstarter

There may not be a shortage of iPad keyboards in the world, but Steve Isaac and Bradley Melmon thought they could improve upon the iPad’s onscreen keyboard experience. Most third-party keyboards connect to the iPad via Bluetooth, and while they work just fine they’re bulky to carry around and eat through batteries like they were candy. Steve Isaac through he could augment the iPad’s onscreen keyboard so it felt more like a real keyboard—complete with home keys so dear to touch typists—but didn’t come with the bulk and battery hassles of a Bluetooth device. The result is the TouchFire, a keyboard membrane that sits over the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. And the fact it exists at all is a testament to the growing power of Kickstarter, which hooks people with good ideas up with people willing to put up a bit of money.

The concept behind the TouchFire is simple: it’s a flexible transparent membrane of keys that fits over the iPad’s onscreen landscape keyboard, providing a typing experience with keys users can actually feel, but which isn’t so sensitive it produces letters in response to random motions or resting fingers. The TouchFire holds itself in place on the iPad 2 using the device’s magnetic sides—just like Apple’s own Smart Covers—and has a no-slip surface so it can be used with the original iPad as well. They keys are transparent, so users can always see what characters the iPad has on its onscreen keyboard—it works with a wide variety of the iPad’s onscreen keyboards, although the middle row in the Spanish keyboard doesn’t quite line up right. When users need their entire iPad display, the TouchFire flips neatly down out of the way, and it can even be used with a number of iPad cases.

Part of what is unique about the TouchFire is the way Isaac and Melmon have funded its development: rather than drum up traditional investment—or sell the idea to a firm that specializes in computer or mobile accessories—they put the idea into KickStarter. KickStarter is a Web site that lets everyday people make investments in projects they think are interesting to help them get off the ground. Investments are usually small, with supporters usually getting early access to a products or other incentives when the projects get completed. So far almost $80 million has been pledged to KickStarter projects this year, and almost half of all KickStarter projects meet or exceed their funding goals. The TouchFire didn’t actually muster up the first time it was submitted to KickStarter, although a second application did the trick—and supporters have now pledged over $200,000 to the TouchFire. Isaac and Melmon were originally looking for $10,000.

The first production run of the TouchFire sold out—with units going to folks who pledged money via KickStarter—but pre-orders are available now for a second production run that should have keyboards getting to new customers in February or March 2012. Reservations are $10 per keyboard—and they’re going fast. The TouchFire’s total purchase price will be $44.95.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Indonesia threatens to cut BlackBerry data service

Indonesia has threatened to cut data services used by millions of BlackBerry customers, the industry body said Saturday, in an ongoing spat over infrastructure and government access to information.
The industry regulator said it would block internet services to the smartphones in the biggest market for Research In Motion (RIM) -- which makes the BlackBerry -- outside North America if RIM did not comply with its demands.

Canada-based RIM had agreed in January to fulfil four requests made by the communications and information technology ministry.
"RIM is supposed to have a licence to provide internet services, and the government will only grant them one when they have fulfilled all four requests.
"If they don't, we'll have to cut their data services," the commissioner of the Indonesian Telecommunication Regulatory Body, Heru Sutadi, told AFP.

The requests included setting up an aggregator that would effectively reduce costs for local service providers, but authorities claimed Saturday RIM had rolled back on that commitment.
"We had a meeting with RIM on Thursday to talk about progress since January. They have fulfilled some requests, but we are disappointed they have not agreed to establish an aggregator in Indonesia," Sutadi said.
The government also requested that RIM set up customer care centres, block pornography from its service, and assist the government in accessing encrypted data on users' phones.
RIM said, however, that it has addressed all the requests and that it is looking at new multimillion-dollar investments in Indonesia.

It has set up a router in Singapore to which some Indonesian carriers have connected, and said that this fulfilled the government's aggregator request as it had only asked for a centre in the region.
The firm said it was receiving "mixed messages". "We have never been formally asked to build a centre in Indonesia," RIM's East Asia managing director Gregory Wade told AFP.
Sutadi said the industry body was concerned by the state of play on government access to encrypted data.
"RIM told us they were working with law enforcement agencies to ensure they can access the information, but they could not tell us who exactly they were working with," Sutadi said.

Indonesia is RIM's biggest market outside North America, with shipments of BlackBerry smartphones expected to surpass nine million units by the year end.
The government's threats come just two weeks after a BlackBerry promotional event turned disastrous.
More than 40 people were injured and 20 were knocked unconscious or fainted in a crush when thousands rushed toward a shopping mall hoping to get their hands on one of 1,000 new BlackBerry Bold 9790 model going at half price.
Police named RIM's country president-director Andrew Cobham and consultant Terry Burkey as suspects in the case.

Monday, December 12, 2011

HP to offer webOS as open-source software

It may be one of the technology world's most expensive efforts to give something away: Hewlett-Packard Co. said Friday that it's making its webOS mobile system available as open-source software that anyone can use and modify freely.
HP snagged the intuitive webOS software when it paid $1.8 billion in 2010 for Palm Inc. in what became a failed effort to revive the flailing smartphone pioneer. HP said it still plans to develop and support webOS.
First released on the Palm Pre smartphone in 2009, webOS ultimately ran on several smartphones. In July, HP also used it on its tablet computer, the TouchPad.

The webOS software was marked by its multitasking capabilities and the ability to view open apps as "cards" that you can slide across the screen, tap to enlarge or flick to dismiss. Initially, it was generally well-reviewed by technology critics.
The mobile devices never caught on with consumers, though, many of whom were more enticed by Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad and smartphones running Google Inc.'s Android software. Developers also weren't that interested in creating apps for such a small audience.
HP hopes that by offering it to the open-source community, more mobile apps will be developed. The move could also mean that other consumer-electronics manufacturers would decide to make devices that use the software.
Forrester Research analyst Frank Gillett called HP's decision creative. He suspects companies would have been interested in buying webOS from HP, but he's not sure how much they would have wanted to pay for it. This way, HP gets to make a limited investment in webOS' future and keep a hand in mobile software.
"If you decide you can't afford to get in the game fully with both feet, absolutely at least keep your options open," he said.
HP's decision is not unlike what AOL did with the Netscape browser years ago. After losing to Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Netscape was released to the open-source community. Its successor, Firefox, is now one of IE's leading rivals.
Google also has seen success letting developers use its open-source Android software.
The future of webOS had been uncertain since August, when HP said it would stop making tablet computers and smartphones — part of a blundered announcement by then-CEO Leo Apotheker, who also said then that HP was looking into putting its PC business up for sale.
In September, Apotheker was fired and replaced by former eBay CEO Meg Whitman. Whitman said in late October that HP wouldn't be selling off its personal computer business after all, but said then that the future of webOS was still unclear.
Todd Bradley, the head of HP's PC unit, said at the time that it was "fair to say Apple got a great jump-start in the tablet space" and HP was trying to figure out its own best approach. He said HP was focused on building a tablet that uses Microsoft Corp.'s upcoming Windows 8 software.
He added that consumers shouldn't be keeping an eye out for a TouchPad 2, but that the company would "clearly look at what's the right path forward for WebOS." With Friday's announcement, it appears HP believes it has found it.
Shares of HP, which is based in Palo Alto, rose 24 cents to finish trading at $27.90. The stock rose 22 cents to $28.12 in after-hours trading.

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Future of Solar Power

Up until now solar panels have fallen a little flat, literally. Whether they're on a house or an industrial solar field in the desert, solar panels have always been one shape: flat. But the world's not and there's no reason why our solar panels should be either.

Inspired by the way trees spread their leaves to capture sunlight, MIT Engineering Professor Jeffery Grossman wondered how efficient a three-dimensional shape covered in solar cells could be. It turns out that it has the potential to be quite efficient, even on an overcast, rainy day in Boston.
That's where we found Professor Grossman and his team, on the roof of their research lab at MIT with a desk covered in miniature 3D solar panels.

You might think doing a solar panel demonstration on an overcast day is pointless, but not so with 3D solar panels. Typically, grey skies are like kryptonite for solar power, but Professor Grossman found that 3D panels can actually pick up almost as much electricity on a cloudy day as it can when it's sunny out.
That efficiency, created by the dynamic shapes inspired by tree leaves, is what's really impressive about Professor Grossman's design. Not only are they less impacted by bad weather, their vertical shape allows them to pick up more direct sunlight and generate more electricity than flat panels using the same amount of ground space.

The team doesn't want their designs hidden away on rooftops either. Rachelle Villalon, the teams architect envisions a day when you'll find 3D solar panels placed around cities like statues, becoming urban icons, instead of simple flat panels hidden on a roof.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tablet booming this holiday season

Despite the gloomy economy, shoppers are expected to shell out for tablet computers this December, making them about as popular as candy canes and twinkling lights.

The glossy-screened gadgets are the most-desired electronic devices this holiday season. And, of all the gifts people are craving, tablets are second only to clothing, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The industry group expects U.S. consumers to spend an average of $246 on electronic gifts, including tablets.
With help from his three siblings, Bob Cardina, 26, plans to purchase an iPad for his parents for Christmas. Cardina and his sister live in Washington. His parents live in Tampa, Florida. So he's excited to be able to video chat with his parents — them on the new iPad, him on his iPhone. He thinks his mother will be especially happy with the gift. One of her friends has an iPad and she's "definitely taken a liking to it," he said.
To be sure, tablets were on some wish lists last year, but they were mostly prized by gadget geeks. In the past year, they have become more mainstream. Consumers have become comfortable using touch screens, especially as smartphones continue to proliferate. Tablets are popping up in unexpected places, too. Apple Inc.'s iPad in particular is being used as a learning tool in schools, a digital cash register in shops and a menu at restaurants.

In 2010, people were "trying to figure out what the whole tablet thing was about," says Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "Now, people know what to do with a tablet."

For some people, the device has become indispensable for playing and working. While you can surf the Web, send emails and watch movies on a laptop or smartphone, consumers are gravitating to tablets because they can be more convenient.

The iPad is still expected to far outsell other tablets this year. According to Gartner Inc., nearly 64 million tablets will be sold worldwide by the end of the year. Some 73 percent of them will be iPads. By Gartner's estimate, Apple will sell 47 million iPads this year — a figure it could certainly achieve, given that it sold 25 million of them by the end of September.

But while many think of the iPad as synonymous with the word "tablet," plenty of shoppers will be looking for a more affordable tablet to give this year.

Two of the most promising competitors come from online retailer Amazon.com Inc. and book seller Barnes & Noble Inc. The companies, major players in the e-reader market, recently released tablets of their own that undercut the iPad's $499 base price: Amazon's Kindle Fire, which costs $199, and Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet, which costs $249. The Fire, which uses a heavily modified version of Google Inc.'s Android tablet software, is expected to be particularly popular with gift givers in part because of its low price.
"When you get below $200, sales go up dramatically," says technology analyst Rob Enderle.

Enderle thinks the Fire will be a popular gift, especially for kids. To him, it seems sturdier than the iPad with a display built from scratch- and crack-resistant Gorilla Glass, and it's cheap enough that parents won't be upset if a child manages to break it.

Tom Mainelli, an analyst at research group IDC, expects the Fire and Nook Tablet to take the second- and third-place spots, respectively, behind the iPad during the last three months of the year.
Rather than hurting Apple, he believes the success of newer tablets will help grow the entire tablet market.
"I don't think Apple loses just because Amazon wins," he says.

One of these Kindle Fire buyers is 24-year-old Ximena Beltran Quan Kiu, who purchased the device for her mother as a Christmas gift. Beltran Quan Kiu says her mom bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab for herself about a month ago, but didn't like it and returned it. She's hoping her mom warms up to the Fire, though, which she can use for reading, surfing the Web and watching movies.

To help make sure her mom likes it, Beltran Quan Kiu is also giving a year's membership to Amazon's express shipping program, Amazon Prime, which includes free streaming of more than 10,000 movies and TV shows and the ability to borrow certain books from Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Robot ostrich spy outpaces world’s fastest sprinters

Researchers are building a prototype design that would enable a two-legged robot modeled on an ostrich to run at around 50mph. In simulations, it can already outpace human sprinters.

Dubbed FastRunner – presumably to counter any “neep, neep” Road Runner jokes – the robot is being developed by teams at the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC) and MIT. The task, set by DARPA, is to build a bipedal robot capable of operating independently of human control, which can run at 20 mph on a flat, unobstructed surface or 10mph on broken or sloping ground.

The IHMC team, under the leadership of research scientist and bipedal-robot specialist Jerry Pratt, looked at naturally occurring examples of running and settled on the ostrich as the most likely candidate – although it was clear that replicating all the function of its legs would be impossible. The idea’s originator and official ostrich investigator Jonhny Godowski examined footage of the flightless bird’s motion and devised a more efficient mechanical system.

“One of the innovations comes from using one actuator per leg, not one per joint as has been seen in previous examples of robotics,” Sebastien Cotton, who leads the modeling, simulation, and control efforts, told The Register. “There’s very little mechanical below the knee.

As the robot moves its upper leg forward, the lower leg articulates at the knee and swings far forward, before planting its foot on the ground and beginning the next step. It can also stand vertically using no power at all. The team has around 70 per cent of the prototype's first leg completed, and computer simulations show no reason why is should not exceed expectations.

“Having just two legs, the robot is lighter and simpler,” Cotton explained. “There’s also more flexibility – a two-legged robot can get through narrower spaces than a four-legged machine. That said, the same leg design could work for robots with four legs or more.”

The biggest problem with a bipedal design is stability. The team has now cracked this problem with software that shifts the legs frequently to ensure the body stays upright at all times, while using the minimum power.

The goal is to build the FastRunners to be about 1.4 meters high and weighing no more than 30kg, including the central processing unit. These can be used for reconnaissance, but also for search and rescue missions, where risking a human under fire could be dangerous, although the lifting capacity of the device would have to be improved

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Scientists launch international competition to create the heaviest element ever

While much of the world spends its evenings watching dancers, singers, and trivia junkies battle it out in front of live studio audiences, teams of scientists from all corners of the earth are engaged in a much more heated competition. Their goal? To be the first to create the heaviest elements in the universe — and gain all the scientific fame and fortune that such a discovery brings.

The two weighty elements in question are numbers 119 and 120 on the periodic table, with those numeric values equalling the number of protons their atoms contain. It may sound like a complicated task, and while the science behind creating new elements is complex, the basic concept is rather straightforward. In order to create element 119, researchers are slamming a titanium metal plate with atoms of the element berkelium, hoping that titanium's 22 protons and berkelium's 97 protons will combine to create an atom with 119 protons.
The two frontrunners in the competition are a team comprised of scientists from the United States, Japan, Norway, and several Western European countries and a team of American and Russian researchers working out of a lab in Russia. Unfortunately, even if a single atom of a new super-heavy element is created, the procedure must be verified by an independent laboratory before a winner is declare — a process that could take decades. But for the bright minds working day and night to get their names in the history books, the wait is probably worth it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Government closes mortgage scams tied to Google

The federal government has shut down dozens of Internet scam artists who had been paying Google to run ads making bogus promises to help desperate homeowners scrambling to avoid foreclosures.
The crackdown announced Wednesday renews questions about the role that Google's massive advertising network plays in enabling online misconduct. It may also increase the pressure on the company to be more vigilant about screening the marketing pitches that appear alongside its Internet search results and other Web content.

The criminal investigation into alleged mortgage swindlers comes three months after Google agreed to pay $500 million to avoid prosecution in Rhode Island for profiting from online ads from Canadian pharmacies that illegally sold drugs in the U.S.
A spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department division overseeing the probe into online mortgage scams declined to comment on its scope other to say it's still ongoing.
Google Inc. also declined to comment Wednesday.
No company wants to be tainted by a criminal investigation, but the prospect is even more nettlesome for Google because it has embraced "don't be evil" as its corporate motto.
That commitment may make it difficult for Google to fend off a call by Consumer Watchdog to donate the revenue from fraudulent mortgage ads to legitimate organizations that help people ease their credit problems. Consumer Watchdog is an activist group that released a report in February asserting that Google was profiting from ads bought by mortgage swindlers.
"Google should never have published these ads, but its executives turned a blind eye to these fraudsters for far too long because of the substantial revenue such advertising generates," said Consumer Watchdog's John M. Simpson, a frequent critic of the company.
To fight future abuse, Google has suspended its business ties with more than 500 advertiser and agencies connected to the alleged scams, according to the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
The evidence collected in the current investigation led to the government's closure of 85 alleged mortgage scams. The identities of the businesses and people involved in the scams weren't disclosed Wednesday.
The con artists are accused of duping people into believing they could help lower their home loan payments under a government-backed mortgage modification program created to reduce the foreclosures that have made it more difficult for the slumping real estate market to recover. The alleged rip-offs typically relied on collecting upfront fees or getting victims to transfer their monthly mortgage payments to the scam artists, according to the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
In some cases, the swindlers passed themselves off as being affiliated with the government.
Google's name popped up because the scam artists relied on the company's vast advertising network to bait their victims. About two out of every three Internet search requests are made through Google, making its ad network a prime outlet for finding people hoping to save their homes, according to Christy Romero, deputy special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
"The first place many homeowners turn for help in lowering their mortgage is the Internet through online search engines, and that's precisely where they are being taken advantage of and targeted," she said.
In its February report on the problem, Consumer Watchdog found that Google processed more than 74,000 monthly searches using the term, "stop foreclosure." An ad running alongside the results for that query cost an average of $8.29 per click at the time of the Consumer Watchdog study. The report couldn't determine how much money Google was making from the ads offering bogus mortgage modifications.
Even after surrendering $500 million to settle the investigation into ads for illegal online pharmacies, Google is still expected to sell more than $35 billion in advertising this year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

YouTube Upgrades Its Android App

YouTube has just updated its Android app to version 2.3.4, and while the changes aren't exactly groundbreaking, they do add-in some pretty useful new functionality.
Regardless of if you're a big video watcher, or someone who's more into uploading your own clips, there should be something in this release to catch your interest.

The introduction of a "watch later" queue brings that feature from the web-based YouTube to its mobile app. As you discover videos you're interested in viewing, you can easily add them to your queue, and then watch them later at your leisure.
Uploaders should pay attention to the change in clip info editing features, letting you revise the metadata associated with a video while you're still in the middle of uploading it.
[More from Mashable: Google Leaves Trail of Clues to Mystery Musical Event]
Finally, the app gets a Google +1 button, giving you another tool to show your support for your favorite YouTube vids. The updated YouTube 2.3.4 is available in the Android Market now.

Friday, November 11, 2011

BMW new Hybrid car

In this image provided by BMW, form left, BMW i3 Concept and BMW i8 Concept are shown. BMW is showing off a pair of new hybrid and electric concept cars expected to reach dealer showrooms in the next few years. 

The German automaker gave journalists in New York a sneak peak of its i3 city car and i8 sports car Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011. The cars will officially debut at the Los Angeles auto show next week. Both feature carbon fiber construction, which reduces the weight of the vehicle and the size of its frame. It also allows BMW to construct much of the exteriors out of tinted glass instead of metal, giving them a see-through quality.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Honda shows smarter robot, helps in nuclear crisis

Honda's human-shaped robot can now run faster, balance itself on uneven surfaces, hop on one foot, pour a drink and even almost "think" on its own.
Honda's demonstration of the revamped "Asimo" on Tuesday at its Tokyo suburban research facility was not only to prove that the bubble-headed childlike machine was more limber and a bit smarter.

It was a way to try to answer some critics that Asimo, first shown in 2000, had been of little practical use so far, proving to be nothing more than a glorified toy and cute showcase for the Honda Motor Co. brand.
Honda President Takanobu Ito told reporters some of Asimo's technology was used to develop a robotic arm in just six months with the intention of helping with the nuclear crisis in northeastern Japan.

The mechanical arm can open and close valves at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which went into meltdown after the March tsunami, according to Honda. The automaker is working with the utility behind the problem plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co., to try to meet demands to bring the plant under control.
Ito acknowledged that the first idea was to send in Asimo to help out, but that was not possible because the robot cannot maneuver in rubble, and its delicate computer parts would malfunction in radiation.
But in Tuesday's demonstration, Asimo was able to walk without falling over 2 centimeter (0.8 inch) padded bumps on the floor.

It can also now jog faster than it did in 2005, at 9 kilometers per hour (5.6 mph), instead of the earlier 6 kph (3.7 mph), pushing better with its toes so its run was smoother and not as jerky.
Asimo was also able to distinguish the voices of three people spoken at once, using face recognition and analyzing sound, to figure out that one woman wanted hot coffee, another orange juice, and still another milk tea.

The new Asimo got improved hands as well, allowing individual movement of each finger, so it could do sign language.
"My name is Asimo," it said, making the signs of its words with stubby fingers.
It also opened a thermos bottle and gracefully poured juice into a paper cup.
Ito said Asimo had developed autonomous artificial intelligence so that it could potentially maneuver itself through crowds of people, without remote control or stopping each time to check on its programming.
But he acknowledged that making robotics into a practical business will take more time, meaning Asimo wasn't about to show up in any home soon.

"Maybe at the start this was a dream of engineers to make a machine that was close to a human being, like Astro Boy," he said. "We think Asimo is good."

Friday, November 04, 2011

Death of the Keyboard: Laser-Guided Typing

Here's a quick and easy way to decide if you're cut out to be a forensic scientist; flip over your keyboard and shake. If not immediately disgusted by the detritus and DNA that comes sprinkling down, congrats! CSI Milwaukee can use you!

And the rest of you? Take heart. Because revolting, bulky and breakable keyboards could soon be a quaint memory when the last vestige of the typewriter is replaced by lasers and sensors. The Celluon Magic Cube is among the first wave of virtual keyboards to hit the market, a device that projects keys of light on to any flat surface, interprets your finger-tapping and sends each p and q to any Bluetooth device.

Aatma studios in San Francisco took this new reality to an obvious fantasy with a video mock-up of a mythical iPhone 5, using laser projection to make keyboards AND thumb typing obsolete, so get right on that, Apple.

We also take a look at Panasonic's new shampoo robot and a revolutionary way for the weak and waterlogged to actually paddle out and catch a wave.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Jobs questioned authority all his life, book says

A new biography portrays Steve Jobs as a skeptic all his life — giving up religion because he was troubled by starving children, calling executives who took over Apple "corrupt" and delaying cancer surgery in favor of cleansings and herbal medicine.

"Steve Jobs" by Walter Isaacson, to be published Monday, also says Jobs came up with the company's name while he was on a diet of fruits and vegetables, and as a teenager perfected staring at people without blinking.
The Associated Press purchased a copy of the book Thursday.

The book delves into Jobs' decision to delay surgery for nine months after learning in October 2003 that he had a neuroendocrine tumor — a relatively rare type of pancreatic cancer that normally grows more slowly and is therefore more treatable.

Instead, he tried a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments he found online, and even consulted a psychic. He also was influenced by a doctor who ran a clinic that advised juice fasts, bowel cleansings and other unproven approaches, the book says, before finally having surgery in July 2004.
Isaacson, quoting Jobs, writes in the book: "'I really didn't want them to open up my body, so I tried to see if a few other things would work,' he told me years later with a hint of regret."
Jobs died Oct. 5, at age 56, after a battle with cancer.

The book also provides insight into the unraveling of Jobs' relationship with Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google and an Apple board member from 2006 to 2009. Schmidt had quit Apple's board as Google and Apple went head-to-head in smartphones, Apple with its iPhone and Google with its Android software.
Isaacson wrote that Jobs was livid in January 2010 when HTC introduced an Android phone that boasted many of the popular features of the iPhone. Apple sued, and Jobs told Isaacson in an expletive-laced rant that Google's actions amounted to "grand theft."

"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong," Jobs said. "I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

Jobs used an expletive to describe Android and Google Docs, Google's Internet-based word processing program. In a subsequent meeting with Schmidt at a Palo Alto, California, cafe, Jobs told Schmidt that he wasn't interested in settling the lawsuit, the book says.

"I don't want your money. If you offer me $5 billion, I won't want it. I've got plenty of money. I want you to stop using our ideas in Android, that's all I want." The meeting, Isaacson wrote, resolved nothing.

The book is clearly designed to evoke the Apple style. Its cover features the title and author's name starkly printed in black and gray type against a white background, along with a black-and-white photo of Jobs, thumb and forefinger to his chin.
The biography, for which Jobs granted more than three dozen interviews, is also a look into the thoughts of a man who was famously secretive, guarding details of his life as he did Apple's products, and generating plenty of psychoanalysis from a distance.
Jobs resigned as Apple's CEO on Aug. 24, six weeks before he died.
Doctors said Thursday that it was not clear whether the delayed treatment made a difference in Jobs' chances for survival.

"People live with these cancers for far longer than nine months before they're even diagnosed," so it's not known how quickly one can prove fatal, said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Michael Pishvaian, a pancreatic cancer expert at Georgetown University's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, said people often are in denial after a cancer diagnosis, and some take a long time to accept recommended treatments.
"We've had many patients who have had bad outcomes when they have delayed treatment. Nine months is certainly a significant period of time to delay," he said.

Fortune magazine reported in 2008 that Jobs tried alternative treatments because he was suspicious of mainstream medicine.
The book says Jobs gave up Christianity at age 13 when he saw starving children on the cover of Life magazine. He asked his Sunday school pastor whether God knew what would happen to them.
Jobs never went back to church, though he did study Zen Buddhism later.

Jobs calls the crop of executives brought in to run Apple after his ouster in 1985 "corrupt people" with "corrupt values" who cared only about making money. Jobs himself is described as caring far more about product than profit.
He told Isaacson they cared only about making money "for themselves mainly, and also for Apple — rather than making great products."
Jobs returned to the company in 1997. After that, he introduced the candy-colored iMac computer, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, and turned Apple into the most valuable company in America by market value for a time.

The book says that, while some Apple board members were happy that Hewlett-Packard gave up trying to compete with Apple's iPad, Jobs did not think it was cause for celebration.
"Hewlett and Packard built a great company, and they thought they had left it in good hands," Jobs told Isaacson. "But now it's being dismembered and destroyed."

"I hope I've left a stronger legacy so that will never happen at Apple," he added.
Advance sales of the book have topped best-seller lists. Much of the biography adds to what was already known, or speculated, about Jobs. While Isaacson is not the first to tell Jobs' story, he had unprecedented access. Their last interview was weeks before Jobs died.

Jobs reveals in the book that he didn't want to go to college, and the only school he applied to was Reed, a costly private college in Portland, Oregon. Once accepted, his parents tried to talk him out of attending Reed, but he told them he wouldn't go to college if they didn't let him go there. Jobs wound up attending but dropped out after less than a year and never went back.

Jobs told Isaacson that he tried various diets, including one of fruits and vegetables. On the naming of Apple, he said he was "on one of my fruitarian diets." He said he had just come back from an apple farm, and thought the name sounded "fun, spirited and not intimidating."
Jobs' eye for simple, clean design was evident early. The case of the Apple II computer had originally included a Plexiglas cover, metal straps and a roll-top door. Jobs, though, wanted something elegant that would make Apple stand out.
He told Isaacson he was struck by Cuisinart food processors while browsing at a department store and decided he wanted a case made of molded plastic.

He called Jonathan Ive, Apple's design chief, his "spiritual partner" at Apple. He told Isaacson that Ive had "more operation power" at Apple than anyone besides Jobs himself — that there's no one at the company who can tell Ive what to do. That, says Jobs, is "the way I set it up."

Jobs was never a typical CEO. Apple's first president, Mike Scott, was hired mainly to manage Jobs, then 22. One of his first projects, according to the book, was getting Jobs to bathe more often. It didn't work.
Jobs' dabbling in LSD and other aspects of 1960s counterculture has been well documented. In the book, Jobs says LSD "reinforced my sense of what was important — creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could."
He also revealed that the Beatles were one of his favorite bands, and one of his wishes was to get the band on iTunes, Apple's revolutionary online music store, before he died. The Beatles' music went on sale on iTunes in late 2010.

The book was originally called "iSteve" and scheduled to come out in March. The release date was moved up to November, then, after Jobs' death, to Monday. It is published by Simon & Schuster and will sell for $35.

Isaacson will appear Sunday on "60 Minutes." CBS News, which airs the program, released excerpts of the book Thursday.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Apple loses round in Wall St.'s expectations game

Apple did just about everything right in its latest quarter. The company increased its profit by more than 50 percent and boosted revenue by nearly 40 percent over the same quarter last year.

It was the second best three-month period ever posted by the revered maker of the iPhone, iPad and iPod. Even more impressively, Apple pulled it off against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and fears of another recession. But by the sometimes absurd logic of Wall Street, it was a disaster.

Apple Inc.'s shareholders awoke on Wednesday morning to headlines like "Apple Loses Some of Its Shine", and then proceeded to lose about $22 billion on paper, as their stock dropped by more than 5 percent —all because Apple failed to manage the analyst expectations that can make or break a stock.
Apple's numbers didn't surpass the high bar set by roughly 50 securities analysts who follow the company's stock. It's another reminder of how difficult it can be for even the most prosperous companies to please Wall Street quarter after quarter.

"It's a rough game," said BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis. "Apple has been so well for so long that it has gotten itself into a position where it has to set a new (earnings) record every quarter. Now, some of the momentum has been broken."
The backlash to Apple's fiscal fourth-quarter report, released late Tuesday, could very well turn out to be a gross overreaction. If so, this is a prime buying opportunity for investors willing to go against grain.
Apple suggested as much as by issuing a jolly outlook for the current quarter, which includes the holiday shopping season. The projections call for earnings and revenue above analyst estimates, an anomaly for a company that makes a habit of lowballing its quarterly predictions. Analysts have caught on to Apple's tactics, so they deliberately set their estimates above the company's forecast. Gillis' rule of thumb, for instance, is to expect Apple's quarterly revenue to be about 20 percent above the company's publicly-stated target and for earnings to be about 40 percent higher.

The Oct. 5 death of Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs throws a new twist into the equation.
Now that Tim Cook is chief executive, analysts must now figure out whether the rules of Apple's expectations game have changed. ISI analyst Brian Marshall thinks that's unlikely because Peter Oppenheimer, Apple's chief financial officer for the past seven years, remains in charge of the numbers. What's more, Cook has promised not to mess with the "magic" that has increased Apple's market value by nearly $300 billion during the past decade and established it as technology's most valuable company.

Trying to figure out how much money a company is going to make every three months is a little like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Most major companies provide some guidance to help analysts because it helps keep their stock prices relatively stable. Big drops, in particular, are unwelcome because they can raise anxiety among customers and business partners. For technology companies that offer employees stock in lieu of lavish salaries, those dips can affect morale.

Some companies, though, refuse to dance to Wall Street's tune. Internet search leader Google Inc., for instance, has never provided guidance during any of its 29 quarters as a publicly-held company because founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin don't want business decisions to be influenced by a short-sighted number determined by a group of outsiders.

This refusal has been a bit of a double-edged sword for Google. The company has exceeded analyst estimates in most quarters, helping to boost its stock price after the quarterly numbers, but there have been a handful of letdowns that might have been avoided if management had been more transparent.

Apple's big mistake in its latest quarter centered on the impact the Phone 4S — already a hit in the current quarter— would have on its revenue in the just-completed quarter. As word got out that the next generation of the iPhone would be hitting the market in the fall, more shoppers decided to hold off on buying the version already in the stores during the summer.

The result: Apple sold 17.1 million iPhones from July through September, below the 20 million units that analysts had factored into their projections. That left the company, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., with earnings per share of $7.07 on revenue of $28.3 billion instead of the earnings per share of $7.28 per share on revenue of $29.4 billion projected by analysts.

Missing the mark inevitably led to some second guessing, particularly now that Jobs is no longer around. Cook had been running Apple since Jobs went on medical leave in January, but he didn't take the CEO job until Aug. 24 with about five weeks left in the company's fiscal fourth quarter.

Apple could have avoided the problem that caused the quarterly earnings miss by releasing the iPhone 4 in the middle of the reporting period, Gillis said. That's a strategy that Jobs had sometimes adopted when Apple was preparing to release a hotly anticipated device that threatened to cannibalize sale of an earlier product.
If the iPhone 4S had been in stores just during the final week of September, the sales would have been enough for Apple to meet analyst expectations. That's based on Apple's sales of 4 million units of the iPhone 4S since its Oct. 14 release.

"The lesson to be learned here is to be careful when you have a new product coming out," Marshall said. "Even in a tough economy, people still want the latest and greatest device and they are willing to keep some money in their back pocket to buy it."

Marshall, by the way, expects Apple to more than make up for its shortfall in the latest quarter: he foresees nearly 27 million iPhones being sold in the current quarter and expects the company's stock price to hit $500 within the next year. Apple shares fell $23.62 Wednesday to close at $398.62.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

12 ways iOS 5 will change the way you use your iPad

Apple is launching its latest mobile operating system, iOS 5, today. While most of the focus has been on the new features it will introduce on iPhone, the latest iOS will actually change the way many iPad owners use their devices. Here's a look a some of the new features and changes that stand out.

1. New multitouch gestures By swiping four or five fingers upwards, you'll bring up the multitasking bar. Swiping four or five fingers to the left and right while in any app lets you flip between apps without needing the multitasking bar. The app to the right will be the one you last used.

The notification center is here
2. Split keyboard By holding down the "hide keyboard" icon and dragging up, you'll be able to split the on-screen keyboard in half, making it much easier to type with your thumbs while holding the iPad with two hands. Holding the "hide keyboard" icon and letting go opens a popup dialog where you can also choose to undock the keyboard to the middle of the screen.
3. Synched notifications Much has been made of the completely redesigned notifications in iOS 5 for iPhone, including the unobtrusive new Notification Center. This feature is present on the iPad as well, but another nice function is the ability for notifications to pop up on your iPad and iPhone lock screens simultaneously. Dismissing the notification on one device also dismisses it on the other.
4. Tabbed browsing The iPad's Safari web browser is already great, but iOS 5 makes it better with the addition of tabs. These work just like on your desktop computer's browser, allowing for quick switching between sites.
5. Browser reading list and reader view Blog posts and other stories you want to save for later can now be added to Safari's reading list for easy access. When you're reading a story, you can switch to the reader view, which pops up a new window containing a nice, clean text version of the story with pictures.

6. Texting with iMessage iPad finally gets in on texting with iMessage. This new app allows you to text with other iOS device users free of charge. Taking things a step beyond basic texting, it also features group messaging, read receipts, photo/video sharing, and the ability to see when other users are typing.
7. Photostream picture syncing The iPad photo app ties into Apple's iCloud service in a great way. If you've got photo syncing enabled in iCloud, any images you take with your iPhone's camera or save to another iOS device will automatically appear in real time on your iPad for instant viewing.
8. Email and Calendar enhancements The email app now supports rich text editing for writing emails, including bold, italics, and underlining. Apple has also updated the calendar app to finally support swiping between months with a nice page-turning animation.

The Newstand interface
9. Newsstand This new permanent fixture of the iPad's screen is where the device gathers together all of your news reading apps and digital magazines/newspapers in one place. Tapping the Newsstand icon expands rows of bookshelves on screen containing these apps.

10. Typing shortcuts The iPad is a lot easier to type on than the iPhone, for sure, but iOS 5 makes it even easier to say what you want using shortcuts. With this feature, you can assign frequently used text, such as "see you soon," to shorter trigger words, like "sys." Typing these in any app will expand the corresponding text automatically.
11. Twitter integration Twitter is everywhere in iOS 5 for iPad. From within Safari, mail, maps, YouTube, and other apps, you can easily tweet the content you're looking at — maps, videos, photos, and more.

12. Global dictionary Finally, tapping and holding your finger on any word on web pages and in most apps will open a popup menu containing the option to display the definition of the word. This feature actually originated in iBooks.
Power up your iPad
In addition to these major features, iOS 5 for iPad introduces a number of smaller tweaks and extra functionality to Apple's popular tablet. Overall, the new OS is a huge update, with features that will make using your iPad easier, faster, and more powerful.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Jobs death caused by respiratory arrest, cancer

A copy of Steve Jobs' death certificate made public Monday indicates that the Apple Inc. co-founder died of respiratory arrest resulting from pancreatic cancer that had spread to other organs.
Jobs died last Wednesday at age 56. Apple did not disclose his cause of death, but Jobs had been in poor health for a number of years.

He battled pancreatic cancer in 2004 and underwent a liver transplant in 2009 after taking a leave of absence for unspecified health problems. He took another leave of absence in January — his third since his health problems began — and resigned in August, handing the CEO job over to his hand-picked successor, Tim Cook.

The death certificate, released by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and obtained by The Associated Press, said Jobs had a metastatic pancreas neuroendocrine tumor for the past five years. It listed his immediate cause of death as respiratory arrest.
He died at his home in Palo Alto. No autopsy was performed, and he was buried on Friday. Details of the certificate were reported earlier by Bloomberg News.

The certificate listed Jobs' occupation as a high-tech entrepreneur. Jobs started Apple Inc. in his parents' Silicon Valley garage with friend Steve Wozniak in 1976. Both men left Apple in 1985 — Jobs following a clash with then-CEO John Sculley.
Jobs returned in 1997 as interim CEO after Apple, then in dire financial dire straits, bought Next, a computer company he started. That was the start of Apple's remarkable turnaround, which continues today with the popularity of products such as the iPhone, iPod and iPad.

Jobs died the day after Apple announced its latest iPhone, the 4S, which will go on sale Friday. Some fans and investors were initially disappointed that Apple didn't come out with a smartphone that is radically different from the existing iPhone 4. But Apple said first-day pre-orders of the device on Friday topped 1 million — higher than the record set by the iPhone 4 when it was released last year.

Apple employees will hold a memorial service to celebrate Jobs' life on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. at the company's Cupertino, Calif., campus, according to an email sent out by Cook. An Apple spokesman said that the company will not be holding any public services.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Apple gets no love from Wall Street for new iPhone

The new iPhone is faster, has a better camera and allows you to sync content without needing a computer. It includes a futuristic, voice-activated service that responds to spoken commands and questions such as "Do I need an umbrella today?" It will now be available to Sprint customers as well as those from AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

But there's a catch. Apple named it 4S when most people were expecting the iPhone 5. Immediately, tech bloggers and Apple fans alike began to wonder if this new iPhone was not as cool as they had hoped. Investors were disappointed, too. Apple's stock fell more than 5 percent before getting a late bump.

If Tuesday's unveiling seemed like a letdown, it was because Apple didn't do a good job of managing expectations. That's a familiar problem for Apple, whose penchant for secrecy invites hyperbolic speculation between its product announcements. Given that it had been 16 months since the previous iPhone hit the market, imaginations had even more time to run wild this time.

"This is the typical Apple scenario: People keep wanting it to do the impossible," said Tim Bajarin, a Creative Strategies analyst who has been following the company for decades.

Apple's approach to the event didn't do any favors for Tim Cook in his first major public appearance since he succeeded Steve Jobs as CEO six weeks ago. Jobs, the Apple visionary and co-founder, relinquished the reins to focus on his health problems.

Cook handled his presentation in a pedestrian fashion that lacked Jobs' flair. The format and stage setting were similar to the presentations that Jobs had orchestrated so masterfully, giving Cook little opportunity to make his own mark, said Adam Hanft, a marketing consultant who runs his own firm in New York.
"It wasn't fair to Tim in his inaugural because there he didn't have any product to show off that was a real barnburner," Hanft said.

"This allowed him to get his sea legs, but he still needs to find his voice and style. They need to come up with a new setting that is equally Apple-like aesthetically, but not the same that they had while Steve was there."
Even though the iPhone 4S is an improvement over its predecessor, it isn't being perceived as a breakthrough partly because it's not being branded as an iPhone 5, as most people had been expecting, said Prashant Malaviya, a marketing professor at Georgetown University.

Not all investors were disappointed.
Stephen Coleman, chief investment officer for Daedalus Capital and an Apple investor since 2004, calls his Apple stock "the safest investment that I own." He said Tuesday's upgrades were "incremental" — and praised Apple for not messing too much with a model that's working.

"To those who say they're underwhelmed, I'd say they've been fast asleep," Coleman said. "Anyone who's been paying attention at all would have to be dazzled by the product, and earnings."
The stock has risen more than 15 percent this year, at one point hitting an all-time high of $422.86. It has nearly quadrupled since the first iPhone was announced in 2007. The device has been the cornerstone of one of the most remarkable runs in technology history. Apple is now one of the world's most richly valued companies, holding its own against oil companies and international conglomerates.

"What is there to lament?" Coleman said. "For people like me, it's peace on earth. This is one of the great economic stories of our time."
The new iPhone has an improved camera with a higher-resolution sensor. The processor is faster — the same A5 chip found in the iPad 2 — so the phone will be able to run smoother, more realistic action games. It's also a "world phone," which means that Verizon iPhones will be useable overseas, just as AT&T iPhones already are.

The fact that a more radical revision of the phone was a no-show leaves room for speculation that Apple will reveal a new model in less than a year, perhaps one equipped to take advantage of Verizon's and AT&T's new high-speed data networks.

There had also been speculation that Apple would include a chip that could talk to payment terminals at retail stores, turning the iPhone into a mobile wallet. Competitors are starting to include this capability in their phones, though the payment systems are still immature. The iPhone 4S doesn't have this.
The iPhone 4S will come with new mobile software that includes such features as the ability to sync content wirelessly, without having to plug the device to a Mac or Windows machine. The phone includes Siri, which lets people speak questions and commands and represents an advanced version of speech-recognition software found on other phones.

Apple also unveiled software that can send greeting cards through the postal system for $2.99 each.
Cook said the most recent iPhone, which came out in June 2010, sold more quickly than previous models, but the iPhone still has just 5 percent of the worldwide handset market. Among smartphones, devices running Google Inc.'s Android software make up 43 percent of the market in the second quarter, while the iPhone captures 18 percent, according to Gartner Inc.
Apple is hoping to grow that share with the iPhone 4S — something it can do by luring new customers from Sprint and elsewhere, even if existing owners don't see a need to upgrade.
Bajarin, the longtime Apple watcher, is confident that Apple will quickly overcome the perception problem once technology reviewers get a better handle on all the new bells and whistles. He believes that the improved camera and speech-recognition technology are compelling enough additions to make the iPhone 4S another hit for Apple.

"People are going to get over their initial disappointment and want this phone," he said.
Apple's new mobile software, iOS 5, will also be available on Oct. 12 for existing devices — the iPhone 4 and 3GS, both iPad models and later versions of the iPod Touch.

Apple said Oct. 12 will also mark the launch of its new iCloud service, which will store content such as music, documents and photos on Apple's servers and let people access them wirelessly on numerous devices. One component is a $25-per-year service, called iTunes Match, that will allow people to play their personal jukeboxes on any device with iTunes software instead of keeping them tethered to a personal computer that must be synced with other devices.

The new phone will come in black or white. It will cost $199 for a 16 gigabyte-version, $299 for 32 GB and $399 for 64 GB — all with a two-year service contract requirement. Pre-orders will begin Friday with availability on Oct. 14.
The previous version, iPhone 4, will now cost $99 for 8 GB. The 2009 model, the iPhone 3GS, will be given away for free with 8 GB. Both also require a two-year service contract.

Don't expect to see an iPhone available with prepaid, contract-free service plans any time soon — at least not with AT&T. Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's head of wireless and consumer services, said in an interview that the carrier has no plans to offer iPhones with prepaid plans, because even phones that are free with two-year contracts — namely the iPhone 3GS — would cost customers a significant amount up front. Wireless companies typically subsidize the cost of phones and make that back from monthly service fees over the life of the contract.

Apple also unveiled a new line of iPods, including a Nano model with a multi-touch display that promises to be easier to navigate.
Apple's stock fell $2.10, or 0.6 percent, to close Tuesday at $372.50 after dropping earlier to $354.24.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Facebook stepping up security with outbound link scan

Love them or hate them, the new changes to Facebook will probably bring another wave of users to the immensely popular social network. And with those new users will probably come new threats and viruses and other malicious attacks from those who target the unwary. To combat those threats, Facebook announced today that it has partnered with online security firm Websense to help keep Facebook users safe from unsavory links.

Beginning immediately, every time you click on a link in Facebook, the new system will check the link against Websense's known threat database. If the link is determined to be safe, you won't notice a thing, but if it's not, you'll see a message warning you about a potential threat, explaining why the link was flagged as such, and suggesting you return to the previous page. You will also have the option of ignoring the warning and continuing on to the link's destination.

This is the latest round in Facebook's fight against viruses and malware being spread via its website, but it's not the only protection in place. Facebook also has its own proprietary database of malicious URLs and other threats, and it has also been partnered with Web of Trust since May. Websense also offers a Facebook app called Defensio, which can be configured to limit the types of links that can be posted to a user's wall.

Monday, October 03, 2011

With Kindle Fire, Amazon's digital ambitions burn

Amazon's unveiling of the Kindle Fire tablet computer sends a bright-hot message: The online retailer is ready to rival iPad maker Apple in an effort to be the world's top digital content provider.

It may sound odd coming from a company that pioneered online sales of physical products, selling its first book, Douglas Hofstadter's "Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought," in 1995. But since it first entered the digital market in 2006 with its video download store, Amazon has bet consumers will pay for high-quality digital content.

In addition to the millions of actual items it sells, which range from toys to toothbrushes, Amazon's trove of digital content now includes more than 1 million e-books, 100,000 movies and TV shows and 17 million songs. This is about 1 million fewer songs than iPad maker Apple Inc. sells, but more than twice as many e-books and many thousands more TV shows and movies.

Amazon.com Inc. CEO Jeff Bezos is confident that its content is what will help the Kindle Fire do better than others who have trotted out tablets.
"The reason they haven't been successful is because they made tablets. They didn't make services," Bezos said in an interview after his company unveiled the tablet at a New York media event Wednesday.

Bezos, a 47-year-old former Wall Street money manager, built Amazon on exactly this sort of confidence. He started the company on the theory that a Web-based book store would resonate with consumers, since it seemed like the easiest way to browse millions of titles at once.

He was right. The company grew rapidly and Amazon began trading publicly in May 1997, despite never having turned a profit. It took five more years — and the addition of product categories like CDs, DVDs and consumer electronics — before the online retailer reported any net income. These days, Amazon consistently reports strong growth: In the most recent quarter, it earned $191 million on $9.91 billion in revenue.

It was Apple that moved into digital content first, however. With the arrival of Apple's iPod digital music player, which first came out in 2001, Apple figured consumers would be willing to pay for legal, high-quality digital music they could download to the devices. Apple became a major player early on, making deals with major record labels to sell digital tunes through its iTunes Store in 2003. Soon the iPod became more multimedia-savvy: Apple added TV shows in 2005 and movie downloads a year later.

Amazon soon entered the market itself, rolling out its own digital video downloading service in 2006 and music downloading service a year later.
It was in 2007, though, that things really heated up. That's when Amazon rolled out its first Kindle e-reader, upending the book market once again by turning the focus from costly paper books to electronic ones that could be delivered quickly and cheaply to customers on a reading device.

The Kindle rapidly grew the company's e-book business, and Amazon said in May that it was selling more e-books than physical copies of books. But the Kindle Fire's ability to show e-books, surf the Web, stream movies and TV shows and support apps positions it as an even better catalyst for Amazon's digital goods sales.

The price will probably help, too: When it goes on sale Nov. 15, it will cost $199, which is less than half of the $499 you'll pay for Apple Inc.'s cheapest iPad and $50 less than book seller Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Nook Color e-reader. This leaves buyers with plenty of money left over to spend on content.

"It's important to remember at the end of the day that Amazon's core business is retailing and this is a way to sell more digital media on a sort of 7-inch vending machine," NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin said.

The Kindle Fire, which runs Google Inc.'s Android software, is clearly meant for gobbling up Amazon's digital media in particular. While most Android tablets include access to Google's Android Market for downloading games and apps, the Fire will eschew that in favor of Amazon's own app store. And while the tablet doesn't have much storage space — 8 gigabytes, compared with 16 GB on the cheapest iPad — Amazon is offering users free Web-based storage for any digital content they buy from Amazon.

Another weapon in Amazon's arsenal: In hopes of keeping Kindle Fire users purchasing both digital and actual items, the tablet includes a free month of Amazon's premium shipping service, Amazon Prime. Prime, which costs $79 per year, gives users unlimited two-day shipping on any items they buy from Amazon, as well as free access to a library of 11,000 streaming movies and TV shows. This is about half of what Netflix Inc.'s streaming library has.
Amazon has never said precisely how many Kindle e-readers it has sold, but its higher sales of e-books than print books indicates it's a strong performer. Given this, and the general popularity of tablets, expectations are high for the Fire.

Rubin thinks consumers will become fans of the tablet, saying it offers a more complete media consumption experience than what Barnes & Noble has provided with the Nook Color, which came out last year.

Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps thinks Amazon could sell as many as 5 million Fires by the end of the year, but thinks it will probably be closer to 3 million since it's coming out so late. Apple, by comparison, has sold nearly 29 million iPads since it released the first one in April 2010, and over 9 million in the June quarter alone.

Of course, in addition to being the new tablet on the block, the Kindle Fire faces other challenges. On the content side, the Amazon Appstore currently includes more than 16,000 apps, but this is just a small fraction of the 425,000 apps in Apple's App Store, over 100,000 of which are tailored specifically for the iPad. On the tablet side, the device's screen is on the small side, which means less space for watching movies and more panning around when surfing the Web. And it will only be able to access the Internet over Wi-Fi, not over wireless carriers' high-speed data networks.

Still, Epps believes Amazon's decision to lead with content and services, rather than hardware, will help it prosper with the Kindle Fire.
"Apple will still be the clear market leader, but Amazon will still be a clear number two because of that strategy," she said.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Apple to unveil iPhone 5 on October 4

Apple plans to unveil its next generation iPhone next month, technology blog AllThingsD said Wednesday.
AllThingsD cautioned that Apple could "change its plans anytime," but said the present plan calls for Apple's new chief executive Tim Cook to preside over the launch of the iPhone 5 on October 4.

Cook, 50, replaced Apple's ailing co-founder Steve Jobs as chief executive of the Cupertino, California-based gadget-maker last month.
Citing "sources close to the situation," the Dow Jones-owned AllThingsD said the iPhone 5 would go on sale within a few weeks after the announcement.
Jobs, 56, the Silicon Valley visionary behind the Macintosh computer, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, stepped down as Apple's CEO on August 24.

Jobs has presided over Apple's splashy product launches in the past and AllThingsD said "the pressure will be on Cook to turn in a good performance."
"What will be interesting to see, of course, is if Jobs himself will also make an appearance, which is something that is likely to be determined by his health, in a decision that will be made very close to the event," it said.
Jobs underwent an operation for pancreatic cancer in 2004 and a liver transplant in 2009.

Apple released the iPhone 4 in June 2010 and sold 20.34 million of the devices last quarter.
Apple shares have been trading at record highs this week and the stock was up 1.37 percent at $419.13 on Wall Street on

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Japan robot to attempt Hawaii triathlon

After scaling the cliff walls of the Grand Canyon and driving the Le Mans racetrack for 24 hours, a tiny Japanese robot is set for a new challenge -- Hawaii's grueling Ironman Triathlon course

Panasonic's "Evolta" run robot, powered by the company's Evolta rechargable batteries, is demonstrated during a news conference in Tokyo September 15, 2011. The company said three types of Evolta robots, developed to swim, bike and run, will challenge to complete an Ironman triathlon course in Hawaii, a total of about 230 km, within one week or 168 hours from October 24, 2011, powered by three AA-size rechargeable Evolta batteries, the company said.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Google adds Visa, Amex, Discover cards to Wallet

Google's Wallet is getting thicker. The company is adding Visa, American Express and Discover to its payment system, which aims to make cellphones the credit cards of tomorrow.
Google Inc. on Monday said it has licensed the right to add virtual "cards" from the three payment networks to its Wallet application.

MasterCard Inc., the other major payment processor, is already part of the project. The Wallet application Google released on Monday, so far, only works on one Sprint smartphone. The Wallet can be loaded with a Citibank MasterCard or a prepaid debit card from Google.

With a card in the Wallet, owners can pay in stores by tapping their phones on wireless-capable payment terminals, instead of swiping credit cards. There are more than 135,000 such terminals in stores and other retail locations, but that's a small fraction of the total number of terminals.

Google's vice president of payments, Osama Bedier, couldn't say when cards from Visa Inc., American Express Co. and Discover Financial Services would work with the wallet. In the case of Visa, not only does Google need to work out the technical details of making its wallet compatible, it also needs to get the banks that issue the cards to sign on to the project, like Citigroup Inc. did for its MasterCard.

Google also needs more phones that work with the wallet. Bedier said Google is working with all major manufacturers of smartphones that run on Google's Android software to incorporate chips that communicate with payment terminals. Samsung Electronics Co. makes the Nexus S phone that works with the wallet today.
Visa plans to bring out its own, competing mobile wallet application. The competition isn't about getting a cut of the money that flows through the credit card accounts — Google isn't directly tapping into that stream — but about who gets to reach people when and where they shop. The applications are conduits for advertising in the form of coupons and loyalty cards. These opportunities are the real reason companies like Google and Visa are pushing to have cellphones replace credit cards.

Sprint Nextel Corp. is collaborating with Google, but the other three national wireless carriers — Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA — have formed a joint venture to create their own digital wallet. They, too, are working with Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover.