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.