Tuesday, April 16, 2013

World's Most Expensive Smartphone: $15M iPhone Has a Black Diamond

Expensive, high-end smartphones or smartphone cases are nothing new - Vertu's got a $9,600 Android phone and London Loutus made a $300,000-plus iPhone case with crystals. But Stuart Hughes, a longtime designer of aftermarket electronics, has topped them all with a $15 million iPhone 5, believed to be the most expensive smartphone ever made.

The phone has a solid-gold chassis that Hughes crafted by hand. But the real cost comes from the most expensive home button in the world.

That home button is made of a single, deep-cut, black diamond that weighs 26 carats. The diamond is said to be worth $14.5 million.

And the diamonds don't end there. There are 600 white, flawless diamonds located within the Apple logo on the back and on the edges.

The English designer and jeweler has made gold Apple products before - his Solid Gold iPhone costs $33,678 ( £21,995) and the iPad Supreme Fire Edition costs $168,424 (£109,995) - but with this one, "it's all about the rarity and value of the deep-cut, black diamond," he told ABC News.

The phone isn't available to the general public - not that most of the world's population could afford it. Hughes spent nine weeks creating the phone specifically for a Hong Kong businessman whom Hughes will only refer to as "Joe." Joe had owned the black diamond for awhile and decided he wanted to place it on an iPhone after buying other, "cheaper" items from Hughes in the past.

However, Hughes isn't worried that the world's most expensive smartphone might soon become outdated when Apple puts out a new iPhone (possibly this summer). He is confident other customers will want that next iPhone - whether it be called the iPhone 5S or 6 - to be adorned with diamonds and gold, too.

"I have been commissioned to do all of the iPhones from when the 3G version first came out," said Hughes, who added he gets most of his business through referrals.

And no, you can't purchase any of Hughes' blinged-out iPhones with bitcoins.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Austin next city for ultra-fast Google Fiber

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Google Inc. picked tech-savvy Austin on Tuesday as the next city where the search giant will wire homes with ultra-fast Internet connections, but did not say how much customers will pay or when the fiber-optic experiment might expand elsewhere in the U.S.

Austin and Kansas City are the only places to get Google Fiber — a broadband service 100 times faster than the competition and an alternative to cable or satellite TV providers.

The rollout is an expensive undertaking and gamble for Google, which must first build costly new broadband pipelines that can handle "gigabit" speeds. Google hopes the rollout will drive innovation and pressure phone and cable companies to improve its networks, since Google benefits when people spend more time online.

Google expects Austin homes to begin receiving Google Fiber in mid-2014.

"Equipping them with a gigabit network will allow them to build new kinds of applications and services that will help write the next chapter in the story of the Internet," said Milo Medin, Google's vice president of Access Services who heads up Google Fiber.

What Austin residents will pay is not yet known. Medlin said the prices will likely be "roughly" similar to what Google charges in Kansas City, where customers pay $70 a month for a gigabit connection. For another $50, customers there can also receive a cable TV-like service that offers a channel line-up featuring mainstays such as ESPN, Nickelodeon, FOX News and MTV.

Some popular channels remain unavailable on Google Fiber, including HBO and AMC.

Medin would not say when Google might announce another city to receive its sought-after network. Google says more than 1,100 cities applied starting in 2010, and some used gimmicks or elaborate videos in hopes of outshining the competition. Topeka even informally renamed itself to "Google, Kansas."

Kansas City wound up prevailing, and Google began signing up residents there last year. By the end of 2013, Google expects that 180 neighborhoods that were selected for service based on demand will be completed.

The $70 fee in Kansas City is more than what cable or phone companies charge for basic Internet service, but the service is also much faster. "Gigabit" speeds, or 1,000 megabits per second, are generally unavailable from other companies. One exception is the city-owned electric utility in Chattanooga, Tenn., which has pulled its own fiber and sells gigabit service for $350 per month.

However, it's expensive to pull optical fiber compared with using existing phone and cable lines to provide Internet service. Verizon Communications Inc. is the only major U.S. telecommunications company to have connected homes directly to fiber. Some Wall Street analysts have estimated that project, which has cost $23 billion, is not paying off.

Kansas City residents can sign up with Google for a slower, standard Internet connection at no monthly fee for a one-time cost of $300. Medlin said Austin homeowners will also be offered free standard broadband.

Google made the announcement in a sleek and trendy downtown warehouse building, where a giant video board greeted guests with "Hello, Austin. Goodbye, loading bars."

Gigabit customers are unlikely to notice substantial difference with basic activities, such as Web surfing or email. Higher speeds are most desirable for uploading, creating online backups and playing video that doesn't buffer — what Google calls "instantaneous Internet."

Google has not revealed how much the company is spending to build gigabit networks. A report this week from analysts at Bernstein Research put the cost at $84 million for Google to pass through 149,000 homes in Kansas City.

The authors of that report were skeptical that Google Fiber made financial sense to be expanded to a large portion of the U.S.

"In the end the effort would have limited impact on the global trajectory of the business," the Bernstein report concluded.