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One year down, many to go- 5 things Apple has done since Tim Cook took over

Posted on 12/10/2012 at 08:40

One year down, many to go- 5 things Apple has done since Tim Cook took over

Tim Cook wasted no time in making some changes at Apple.

by Jacqui Cheng

One year ago, I was sitting on the floor in my living room with my laptop after work when the news came in: Steve Jobs had resigned as CEO of Apple. Apple's then-Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook was named by the board of directors as Jobs' successor as CEO, "effective immediately." It had already been an unexpectedly high-paced August in the tech world, but the news was still enough to surprise even the most cynical of Apple watchers.

Apple kept on trucking as Cook confidently took control of the company that Jobs had cofounded and helped steer it through another successful-sometimes wildly successful-four quarters. But Cook didn't run the company like a Steve Jobs clone; after all, Cook said that Jobs taught him to "never ask what he would do." Instead, Cook ran it the way he would like to run Apple, for better or for worse. Below are five of the biggest things we think Apple has done since Tim Cook took over one year ago.

Charity contribution matching

Jobs wasn't big on public philanthropy. Rumor has it that he was happy to give to charity in private, and even Apple itself donated to charity under his reign-remember PRODUCT(RED)?-but the company wasn't known for its donations. One of the first things Cook did after being named CEO was launch a charitable matching program for Apple's employees. In mid-September 2011, Apple began matching employee contributions to nonprofit organizations up to $10,000 per employee annually, dollar-for-dollar.

"Thank you all for working so hard to make a difference, both here at Apple and in the lives of others," Cook wrote in an e-mail to employees. "I am incredibly proud to be part of this team."

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Remember when the idea that Apple might pay dividends to investors was an old, overused joke? That was the case until March of 2012 when Apple made a surprise announcement that it would indeed begin paying dividends on its stock-starting at $2.65 per share "sometime in the fourth quarter of its fiscal 2012." The company also announced that it would begin a stock repurchase program by spending $10 billion in fiscal 2013 and continuing for three years in order to neutralize the "impact of dilution from future employee equity grants and employee stock purchase programs."

Before the announcement, many expected Apple to announce a stock split instead of dividends, but Cook argued that there's little evidence that splits help a stock.

"We have used some of our cash to make great investments in our business through increased research and development, acquisitions, new retail store openings, strategic prepayments and capital expenditures in our supply chain, and building out our infrastructure. You'll see more of all of these in the future," Cook said in an issued statement. "Even with these investments, we can maintain a war chest for strategic opportunities and have plenty of cash to run our business. So we are going to initiate a dividend and share repurchase program."

Indeed, many jaded Apple watchers never thought we'd see the day when a modern Apple, Inc. would pay dividends to investors, but as Anders Bylund wrote in March, there are certainly upsides from an investor's perspective. Some were hoping for an even more exciting announcement-"Apple acquires NASA!"-but the move was a smart one. After all, what use is a $100 billion cash pile if it's just sitting in the bank?

Left (and rejoined) EPEAT

When Apple first announced that it would be pulling its entire product lineup from the green electronics registry EPEAT, it probably didn't expect such a backlash in the press and with some local governments. The company didn't make much of a hubbub about leaving EPEAT at the start, but later found itself defending the decision by stating publicly that it believes its own approach to the environment went above and beyond what's included in EPEAT's ratings.

That didn't stop the city of San Francisco, as well as a handful of other municipalities, to begin reexamining their Apple product purchasing plans-many local governments and educational institutions have guidelines that require them to only purchase computers and electronics that are on EPEAT's list. But the list of cities turning their back on Apple didn't have a chance to grow much longer, because Apple decided to back out on the decision just one week later.

"We've recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system. I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT," Senior VP of Product Engineering Bob Mansfield said in a statement in July.

Apple pointed out that Apple's entire product line meets or exceeds the current EnergyStar 5.2 standards set by the US government, and said it wants to work with EPEAT to incorporate EnergyStar 5.2 into its current guidelines. But one of the main reasons observers thought Apple had left EPEAT was due to the physical design of the Retina MacBook Pro, which has received criticism for being unfriendly to end user repairs. Apple tried to quash that theory by giving itself an EPEAT "gold rating" for the notebook, which includes "easy disassembly of external enclosure"-a sticking point in iFixit's own teardown of the device.

Because of this discrepancy, we're sure to see more on EPEAT and Apple. But what Apple-and undoubtedly Tim Cook-learned during this ordeal is that many customers do care about the environment to some degree. Or at least they want to be able to claim that they use green devices, and Apple leaving EPEAT was a step in the wrong direction when it comes to public perception.

Fighting the DoJ on e-books

It could be argued that the US Department of Justice's case against Apple and a number of publishers over e-book pricing has been in the works since 2010, when the iPad was first released and Apple began its assault on Amazon. But regardless of when the DoJ began looking into Apple, things came to a head early this year when the DoJ formally filed its antitrust complaint. And Apple, unlike some of its publishing industry partners, decided not to settle-instead, it fought back.

Apple not only stood its ground when it came to its use of the so-called "agency model," the company talked back. In the months since the suit was first filed, Apple argued that the DoJ "sides with monopoly, rather than competition," and that Apple itself broke "Amazon's monopolistic grip" on the e-book industry.

In fact, although several publishers immediately agreed to settle with the DoJ, Apple now argues that the settlement itself is illegal because it requires those companies to sever their contracts with Apple without a fair trial. One could argue that Apple's actions in this case are some of the most "Jobs-like" since the CEO transition, but the ferocity in which the company is defending itself against the government shows Cook's interest in avoiding looking like a pushover. And it's working-it's pretty clear that Apple has zero plans to back down, so we may end up seeing a trial on this one that puts the recent Apple v. Samsung trial to shame when it comes to inter-company drama.

New ad campaigns

The latest round of Apple ads were truly cringe-worthy, even to many of the most "loyal" of Apple fans. The Mac Genius character just seems to grate on people, but what's worse is that the ads themselves are dry and don't seem to appeal to many users. Those who disagree argue that Apple is targeting a different set of users than usual: older, less experienced users who aren't on the up-and-up with what's cool with the kids these days. But these ads aren't the only ones that have left observers groaning: the celebrity Siri ads weren't exactly huge hits either, and left many Apple-watchers wondering what's up with the company's ad vision lately.

As I wrote recently in a staff blog post, Apple has always run ads that were controversial among certain segments of its demographic. In that sense, the latest few rounds of ads aren't anything to be truly alarmed about. But there's something different about some of the commercials that have run over the last year or so-they're not controversial because they're provocative or debate-inducing, they're controversial because they're a bit flat.

In the end, there's no way of knowing how much of a hand Cook had in the decision-making on these commercials, and there's also no way of knowing whether Jobs would have chosen differently. As Ken Segall, former creative director who worked with Jobs and Apple, wrote on the topic, "None of us can possibly know what Steve would do. Steve was a master marketer, but he was also perfectly capable of a lapse in judgment. Every one of us, Steve Jobs included, has experienced failure. It may sound trite, but it's how one responds to failure and what one learns from the experience that defines character, whether you're an individual or a corporation."

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DOJ compares Apple and publishers to big oil in ebooks case

BY Laura Hazard Owen

In its response to recent filings from Apple, publishers and booksellers on its proposed ebook settlement with three publishers, the Department of Justice addresses few specific complaints (PDF; full filing embedded below). Rather, citing the "unmistakable consumer harm that has resulted from the conspiracy in this case," the DOJ calls on Judge Denise Cote to approve the settlement without a hearing.

Last week, attorney Bob Kohn and the Authors Guild sought permission to act as "friends of the court" in the proposed settlement and filed amicus briefs. We have not yet seen a filing from Judge Cote granting their requests, but both parties are listed as "amicus" on the docket report, along with Barnes & Noble and the American Booksellers Association. However, the DOJ does not respond to Kohn or the Authors Guild in its response.

The DOJ shoots down the argument that ebooks are different from print books but doesn't elaborate on why they are the same (and doesn't respond to the criticism that it has failed to take interrelated markets, like those for e-readers, into account). Rather, it says, "Railroads, publishers, lawyers, construction engineers, health care providers, and oil companies are just some of the voices that have raised cries against 'ruinous competition' over the decades," and publishers should not be granted special treatment.

Response to Apple

Last week, Apple argued that the DOJ's proposed settlement, which it has not joined, affects its interests by forcing it to tear up existing contracts. As such, Apple says it's entitled to a trial before the settlement is approved. The DOJ says Apple "is not entitled to preclude the United States and Apple's co-defendants from obtaining the immediate benefits of their settlements, as it is well established that the United States 'need not prove its underlying allegations in a Tunney Act proceeding.'" (The Tunney Act relates to anti-trust proceedings).

The DOJ claims that "in reality, what troubles Apple is that the decree returns pricing discretion not just to Apple, but also to its retail competitors."

Response to Penguin

Last week, Penguin argued that the DOJ has not proven that ebook prices across the board rose under agency pricing. Penguin, which along with Macmillan is holding out against the settlement, also provided evidence showing that even prior to agency, Amazon priced many of its new titles above $9.99.

The DOJ does not respond to this specific point, but rather presents charts (chart 1-PDF, chart 2-PDF) showing that "Penguin did indeed raise its prices as soon as it gained power to do so. "In four weeks spanning the time when Penguin took retail pricing power from Amazon, the average price for a Penguin e-book sold through Amazon increased 17 percent, and the average price for a Penguin 'new release' e-book sold through Amazon increased 21 percent." Here are the DOJ's charts (1, 2) and accompanying methodology.

Penguin had argued that the DOJ should turn over all of its research on ebook pricing, since that research is apparently the basis for its conclusion that ebook prices rose across the board under agency pricing. The DOJ refuses, citing case law: "There is simply no basis for Penguin's assertion that the United States must produce internal economic analyses to support its settlement."

Response to Macmillan

Macmillan echoed Penguin's demand for the DOJ's research on ebook pricing and also asked the DOJ to show, as required by antitrust law, that the settlement would not result in Amazon gaining a monopoly. The DOJ responds by saying that there is no evidence that the settlement would result in Amazon gaining a monopoly because of "competition from established companies such as B&N, Google, Apple, and Sony."

The DOJ says "the recently announced investment by Microsoft in B&N's e-book business, and Sony's release of a new e-reader, do not reflect any reluctance on the part of sophisticated companies to expand their sales of e-books."

Response to the ABA and Barnes & Noble

In their amicus brief, the booksellers argued that the number of public comments against the proposed settlement vastly outweighed the number of comments in favor of the settlement. The DOJ responds that "it is not unprecedented for parties to oppose a settlement because they have a stake in an anticompetitive status quo," and claims "the majority of the comments received opposing the decree did not come from those seeking to represent the public interest, but rather from those that benefited from the conspiracy and that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo."

Who Inherits Your iTunes Library?

By Quentin Fottrell

Many of us will accumulate vast libraries of digital books and music over the course of our lifetimes, but when we die, our collections of words and music may expire with us.

Someone who owned 10,000 hardcover books and the same number of vinyl records could bequeath them to descendants, but legal experts say passing on iTunes and Kindle libraries would be much more complicated. And one's heirs stand to lose huge sums of money. "I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be okay with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs," says Evan Carroll, co-author of "Your Digital Afterlife." "Legally dividing one account among several heirs would also be extremely difficult."

Part of the problem is that with digital content, one doesn't have the same rights as with print books and CDs. Customers own a license to use the digital files – but they don't actually own them. Apple and Amazon grant "nontransferable" rights to use content, so if you buy the complete works of the Beatles on iTunes, you cannot give the White Album to your son and Abbey Road to your daughter. Amazon's states: "You do not acquire any ownership rights in the software or music content." Apple limits the use of digital files to Apple devices used by the account holder. "That account is an asset and something of value," says Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, an estate planning attorney at Fein, Such, Kahn & Shepard in Parsippany, N.J. But can it be passed on to one's heirs?

Most digital content exists in a legal black hole. "The law is light years away from catching up with the types of assets we have in the 21st Century," says Wheatley-Liss. In recent years, Rhode Island, Indiana, Oklahoma and Idaho passed laws to allow executors and relatives access to email and social networking accounts of those who've passed away - but they don't cover digital files purchased. (Apple and Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.)

There are still few legal and practical ways to inherit e-books and digital music, experts say. And at least one lawyer has a plan to capitalize on what may become be a burgeoning market. David Goldman, a lawyer in Jacksonville, says he will next month launch software, DapTrust, to help estate planners create a legal trust for their clients' online accounts that hold music, e-books and movies. "With traditional estate planning and wills, there's no way to give the right to someone to access this kind of information after you're gone," he says.

Here's how it works: Goldman will sell his software for $150 directly to estate planners to store and manage digital accounts and passwords. And, while there are other online safe-deposit boxes like AssetLock and ExecutorSource that already do that, Goldman says his software contains instructions to create a legal trust for accounts. "Having access to digital content and having the legal right to use it are two totally different things," he says.

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The simpler alternative is to just use your loved one's devices and accounts after they're gone - as long as you have the right passwords. Chester Jankowski, a New York-based technology consultant, says he'd look for a way to get around the licensing code written into his 15,000 digital files. "Anyone who was tech-savvy could probably find a way to transfer those files onto their computer – without ending up in Guantanamo," he says. But experts say there should be an easier solution, and a way such content can be transferred to another's account or divided between several people."We need to reform and update intellectual-property law," says Dazza Greenwood, lecturer and researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab.

Technology pros say the need for such reform is only going to become more pressing. U.S. consumers spend nearly $30 on e-books and MP3 files every month, or $360 a year, according to e-commerce company Bango. And experts expect this to surge. "A significant portion of our assets is now digital," Carroll says. Apple alone has sold 300 million iPods and 84 million iPads since their launches. Amazon doesn't release sales figures for the Kindle Fire, but analysts estimate it has nearly a quarter of the U.S. tablet market.

The coming wireless spectrum apocalypse and how it hits you

Posted on 12/10/2012 at 08:35

The coming wireless spectrum apocalypse and how it hits you

by Marguerite Reardon

Small carriers are worried about getting snuffed by the deep pockets of AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and they want help. What judges and regulators decide to do could impact your wallet for years to come.

C Spire Wireless, a small, southern wireless provider formerly known as Cellular South, has an ambitious plan to build a fast, 4G LTE network to reach its 900,000 customers. To do it, C Spire bought $192 million worth of 700 MHz wireless spectrum, which is considered some of the most valuable wireless spectrum that's still available because it can travel long distances and penetrate obstacles.

But there's a problem. C Spire claims it hasn't been able to use this spectrum and hasn't been able to deploy its 4G network. It says the bigger carriers, especially AT&T, have used their market power to ensure chip designers and device makers make equipment compatible with their flavor of the technology, leaving smaller carriers in the cold. And without devices and network gear, C Spire says it's been sitting on a costly resource it can't use -- and thus can't deliver to you, the consumer.

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"We will deploy our 4G LTE network," said Eric Graham, C Spire Wireless' senior vice president for strategic relations. "But the fact that AT&T is using a different band plan [that is, a set of technical standards for equipment] in the 700 MHz spectrum has slowed things down. At least initially we'll be using other spectrum other than the 700 MHz spectrum we bought for 4G. But eventually, we are going to need that spectrum to add more capacity to our network."

In the wireless industry, it seems, you can never have too much spectrum. Even AT&T and Verizon Wireless, which together control about 70 percent of the wireless market, say they need more of it. But even if you have enough spectrum, as C Spire argues, the big guys can use their leverage with suppliers to make it darn difficult for you to use it.

"As we transition to 4G LTE, spectrum is a key part of the strategy and survival of every carrier. And it's the duty of the regulators to ensure that we don't end up with a market of spectrum haves and have-nots."

--Kathleen Ham, VP of federal regulatory affairs, T-Mobile

Can you imagine what would happen if the industry giants further solidified their hold on the market by hoarding even more spectrum? Bad things, those underdogs would assure you, starting with higher costs for consumers and fewer innovations. And that, they say, is why regulators and judges need to intercede.

"We are at a critical time in the evolution of the wireless industry," said Kathleen Ham, vice president of federal regulatory affairs for T-Mobile, in an interview with CNET. "And as we transition to 4G LTE, spectrum is a key part of the strategy and survival of every carrier. And it's the duty of the regulators to ensure that we don't end up with a market of spectrum haves and have-nots."

* See also: Wireless spectrum: What it is, and why you should care

But how many competitors are needed in a market? Are two enough, or perhaps three? It's this question that the Federal Communications Commission is trying to answer as it looks at some of the biggest in front of it today. T-Mobile, whose proposed $39 billion deal to merge with AT&T last year was rejected by the the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, says the FCC has already spoken to this point. And if it wants to preserve more competition, it had better establish policies that back that up.

"If the government turned down our deal [to merge with AT&T] because it wants us to continue to compete in the market," T-Mobile's Ham said, "then we need access to spectrum."

This fight over spectrum is the battle through which nearly every major move by the wireless carriers must be viewed. It's the reason that AT&T was willing to pay $39 billion to buy T-Mobile last year. It's also what's driving AT&T and Verizon Wireless to change their pricing models, eliminating unlimited data and creating share plans for data usage. It's why the failure of Philip Falcone's LightSquared is devastating not just to investors but to smaller wireless providers.

It's why the largest wireless operators are spending millions of dollars each year in lobbying to make sure rules for new spectrum auctions are written in a way that favors their interests, and it's why there has been so much wheeling and dealing around Verizon's move to buy wireless spectrum from a consortium of cable operators.

The companies that come out ahead with valuable spectrum today will be able to dictate what happens in the market as carriers move to 4G LTE services that will provide broadband-like data speeds to wireless consumers. And that scares the daylights out of smaller competitors.

Big carriers with muscle

Getting your hands on spectrum doesn't mean you're on easy street. Even carriers that have spectrum they want to use can still be muscled out of the market when AT&T and Verizon throw their weight around.

Because those two companies collectively control the majority of wireless subscribers in the country, smaller carriers say AT&T and Verizon are able to manipulate standards groups and control suppliers to the point where smaller providers are unable to get access to handsets and other network gear that's commercially available at high volumes to AT&T and Verizon.

C Spire says it's been a victim of these tactics. In April, it filed an antitrust lawsuit against AT&T and its suppliers for trying to run it out of business. In the lawsuit, C Spire alleges that AT&T collaborated with chip makers and standards bodies to create specifications for devices that run only on its sliver of 700 MHz spectrum.

This is a problem for smaller carriers like C Spire, because they need to use the same specifications for their handsets and networking equipment that a bigger player such as AT&T uses in order to get products to sell to their customers. Without the scale of a company like AT&T, these smaller players simply can't get manufacturers to build devices at a low enough cost and in a timely enough manner to compete against AT&T.

"AT&T has been abusing its position as a dominant buyer of the Lower 700 MHz wireless devices," C Spire's Graham said in a telephone interview.

For its part, AT&T says it created this "spectrum island" for technical reasons. AT&T argues that there are interference issues with the slice of 700 MHz spectrum that smaller carriers like C Spire own, and so to protect its wireless customers, AT&T developed its own "band class."

An AT&T representative declined to comment on the litigation. But the company has said publicly that C Spire couldn't prove that it didn't have legitimate technical reasons for developing its own standard for its wireless spectrum.

Consequences of a concentrated market

C Spire is only one of dozens of smaller providers throughout the U.S. trying to compete with the nation's two largest wireless providers. And the courts and the FCC are being asked to intervene and ensure competition where, not to put too fine a point on it, a relatively unfettered market has been unable to do so. And, as we said before, imagine the pickle C Spire would be in if the bigger companies were able to hoard even more spectrum?

It's a similar situation to when a large company or university, which already owns big chunks of real estate in prime neighborhoods decides to buy even more property. The fear is that the big owner will force out the mom-and-pop shoe store and replace it with a Foot Locker. The same fear exists with wireless spectrum. Smaller carriers will not only be prevented from buying spectrum, they may also be forced out of business by bigger players that control the standards used in handsets and network equipment. And they may refuse to strike roaming agreements that would allow smaller carriers to offer a wider footprint of access on their networks.

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This regulatory dilemma is coming to a head just as the FCC reviews the biggest transfer of wireless spectrum outside of a merger in the agency's history.

Last year, Verizon announced a $4 billion bid to buy 20 MHz of valuable Advanced Wireless Service (AWS) spectrum from a consortium of cable companies called SpectrumCo. Verizon, which already owns about 20 MHz of AWS spectrum, says it wants to use the additional cable spectrum as backup spectrum for its 4G LTE network.

Verizon has already begun building its LTE network using a nationwide license of 700 MHz wireless spectrum. And it intends to use its AWS spectrum as well as the cable operators' AWS spectrum to add capacity to that network as it grows, especially in dense urban areas.

But competing carriers say that Verizon already has enough AWS spectrum in many markets. Competitors such as T-Mobile and MetroPCS initially accused Verizon of "warehousing" spectrum. They say other carriers could put that same spectrum to use much more quickly than Verizon intends to use it.

"Verizon's plan to acquire spectrum from the cable companies will allow Verizon to further dominate and control the nation's airwaves."

--U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

In July, T-Mobile struck a spectrum-swapping deal with Verizon. If Verizon's deal with cable operators is approved by regulators, T-Mobile will buy some of Verizon's AWS spectrum holdings in certain markets. As a result, T-Mobile has now withdrawn its opposition to the cable deal.

Others who have been critical of this deal say the FCC and Justice Department, which is also reviewing the deal, still need to impose some conditions on the merger to protect consumers. In a letter to the DOJ and the FCC, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) in late July pressed the government to adopt conditions that would ensure the partnership between Verizon and cable providers does not harm consumers .

"Verizon's plan to acquire spectrum from the cable companies will allow Verizon to further dominate and control the nation's airwaves," Franken wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. "I am concerned that this transaction poses a serious threat to consumers and to competition that will ultimately result in higher prices and less choice for consumers. If your agencies do approve this deal, I urge you to only do so if you are able to adopt stringent conditions to protect competition and the public interest."

The FCC's big opportunity

Other stakeholders, such as the Rural Carrier Association, a Washington DC-based lobbying group, expect regulators to approve the deal. And like Franken, they are pushing for conditions. In fact, Steve Berry, the head of RCA, thinks that the FCC can use the Verizon-cable deal as a springboard to impose conditions that will prevent Verizon from gaining too much control over spectrum in any given market. And he thinks carefully crafted conditions could also prevent interoperability issues such as the one that C Spire faces with AT&T.

"The FCC has a unique opportunity with this deal to make a win-win-win for Verizon, the cable operators and the rest of the industry," Berry said. "This is the largest spectrum deal that the FCC has ever considered, and it makes sense for the FCC to set some competitive policy parameters."

Speaking at an industry event in June, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson urged regulators to speed up spectrum license transfers. "By 2013 demand [for wireless data services in the U.S.] will outstrip supply. ... This isn't a problem that is six to eight years from now. It's happening now."

(Credit: CNET/Marguerite Reardon)

Verizon has already signaled it's willing to make concessions to get the deal completed. In April, the company said it would sell 700 MHz spectrum in the lower A and B blocks if the deal with the cable operators wins approval from regulators. And at the end of June, it said it had struck a deal with T-Mobile USA to sell big chunks of AWS spectrum it already owns to T-Mobile, if the deal with SpectrumCo is completed.

RCA's Berry said that this deal with T-Mobile must be examined more closely to make sure that Verizon is still not "warehousing" spectrum in markets where it could be used immediately by other carriers.

"It's not a cure-all," he said. "But clearly it gets some of the spectrum in the hands of competitive carriers. Even so, the FCC needs to look very closely at this."

Why this is important

There's no question competition keeps prices in check and spurs innovation. But how many competitors are needed in a market? Many believe that a scenario with two players in a market, a so-called duopoly, is just one competitor shy of a monopoly. And policy makers at the FCC have done what they can to avoid such a scenario.

Some consumer advocates say the concentrated power of AT&T and Verizon have in the market has already resulted in higher prices for data services. Two years ago, AT&T eliminated its $30 unlimited data plan, replacing it with a tiered offering. Verizon Wireless followed a year later with its own tiered offering. Now both AT&T and Verizon Wireless have introduced new "share plans," which allow people on the same family plan to share buckets of data or allows individuals to use their data across multiple devices.

The plans are meant to encourage users to bring additional devices, like tablets to the network, but they will also increase pricing on data services. As part of these new plans, Verizon has cut in half the amount of data it's offering to consumers at roughly the same price. Verizon now charges $50 for a 1GB data plan that also includes unlimited voice minutes and text messages. Its previous plan offered 2GB of data for $30 a month, and voice minutes and text messaging were sold separately. AT&T offers similarly priced plans

* See also: Help! These data share plans are too confusing (FAQ)

Even though AT&T and Verizon are bundling in unlimited voice and text messaging with the new share packages, consumers are still paying more and receiving less data than they were allotted under the previous plans.

"The cheapest option Verizon now offers smartphone customers is $90 for half as much data as $80 buys you today," Michael Weinberg, an analyst at Public Knowledge, wrote in a blog post last month. "And in less than 12 months, $30 has gone from buying you unlimited data to not even covering 1 GB...There does not appear to be very much competitive pressure keeping carriers from raising prices for customers -- which is part of the reason that we are against even more consolidation in the market."

Meanwhile, competitors such as Sprint and T-Mobile, along with regional carriers like Leap Wireless and MetroPCS, have not introduced share plans. And they are keeping unlimited data plans, although some like T-Mobile slow down service after a certain threshold is reached. Sprint is the only major carrier that offers unlimited data with no limitations for smartphone customers.

T-Mobile has publicly criticized Verizon's new pricing plan, stating that it doesn't offer consumer enough choice and penalizes customers who exceed their limits.

"What wireless customers really want is worry-free plans," said Harry Thomas, director of segment marketing for T-Mobile. "They don't want to have to do a lot of calculations to figure out if someone is going to go over their monthly data limit due to excessive usage."

But there's an increasingly contrarian viewpoint that says, wait a minute, the government should not be in the business of intervening for market laggards. Yes, we couldn't finish this piece without giving an enthusiastic proponent of free and unfettered markets his two cents.

Eli Dourado, a research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, argues that "duopoly can be consistent with vigorous competition." He uses the digital camera market as an example. Nikon and Canon are the only two major players selling DSLRs on the market. And "despite the dominance of these two firms, the price of DSLRs falls every year, and quality continuously goes up."

Now a little background: The Mercatus Center is one of the most influential conservative think-tanks. It gets significant financial backing from the conservative libertarian-leaning Koch Family Foundations. And democratic strategist Rob Stein described the Mercatus Center as "ground zero for deregulation policy in Washington."

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He argues in a recent blog post that it may simply be unreasonable to expect several competitors to remain in the wireless market, because the fixed costs for operating these businesses is so high. It takes billions of dollars to buy wireless spectrum and build and maintain communications infrastructure. The same is true for other industries, such as commercial jet aircraft manufacturers. Today there are effectively only two competitors: Boeing and Airbus.

"Would we really want there to be more commercial jet producers? There would be a whole lot of duplication of costs, and the price of jetliners and air travel would increase, not decrease. We're better off with a duopoly, and in fact we get duopoly precisely because vigorous competition between the jumbo jet giants keeps everyone else out."

It's a fair point. But there is no guarantee that companies that find big savings by consolidating will pass those savings onto consumers. In fact, when there are only one or two players in the market, there is little incentive to drop prices when the business gets more efficient.

"As a result, when thinking about carrier consolidation, you are essentially faced with two choices," said Public Knowledge's Weinberg. "One is to allow rapid consolidation in the hope of gaining efficiencies of scale, but at the same time recognize that the mo/duopoly you create will eventually have to be regulated as such or broken up. The other is to engage in a lighter level of regulation today that ensures that there is competition in the wireless market, and that said competitive market is capable of largely regulating itself."

"The option that does not exist is to allow the formation of a monopoly or a duopoly," he added, "and assume it will then act in the best interest of everyone else."

An Openly Biased Review of Android Jelly Bean by an iPhone Lover

Posted on 12/10/2012 at 08:24

An Openly Biased Review of Android Jelly Bean by an iPhone Lover

By Sam Biddle

I've never liked Android. It's an opinion born out of ignorance and bias: The iPhone is the only smartphone I've ever owned. I love it, and I think Android is generally an inferior mess. I'm OK with that. But wow, Jelly Bean: the greatest version of Android ever, cold-blooded Apple-killa. Thousands upon thousands of man-hours from one of the largest collections of smart people on the planet, explicitly devoted to winning over jerks like me. Shouldn't that be enough? I gave Jelly Bean an open channel into my heart, using it as my only phone for nearly a month. How'd it do?
Android 4.1, otherwise known as Jelly Bean, is meant to (finally) sweeten Google's mobile software so that it better resembles the grace of iOS. Better resembles, and maybe even beats entirely. The update's two most important features-Project Butter and Google Now-overhaul the way you talk to and feel your Android. They're clear attempts to slay Siri and play catch up with the absolutely flawless touchscreen fluidity of an iPhone. And that's perfect, on paper, because the two worst things about Android are its relative sloppiness and the expertise needed to use it. It's been a first versus third world divide.

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Project Butter

As much as Android diehards are loathe to admit it, superficial matters. Superficial is why Apple continues to make the best smartphone in the history of the cold little things. Superficial is what you're looking at, with your eyes, almost every single day of your life. Superficial is what's going to stimulate the important sensitive zapping parts of your brain. Superficial is why Apple put so much weight (and reaped so much triumph) from something called Retina Display. Looks matter when you're constantly looking, and Android's ugly duckling software has been a fundamental hindrance since its inception. Superficial is why the iPhone is more enjoyable, on a both a gut-level and the more cerebral planes. It's been a sad gap for Google.

Not anymore. For years now, Android phones and tablets have tended toward being jittery, laggy, and jumbled. Swiping between cluttered screens earned you stutters and slips; even the simplest Google Map pinch made many phones cough. This was awful, and given the state of the art, bizarre. From its birth, the iPhone was able to slide things around on its screen like butter. It required of Google an entire aesthetic Manhattan Project, Project Butter, to get Android to where the iPhone has been all along. Google engineers labored to put a phone's guts in perfect sync with its screen, and ramp up the way a handset's processors render the menus we finger.

The bottom line is this: I can say, for the first time in my life, Android isn't ugly. In fact, it's rather pretty. Android is smooth-incredibly smooth. As smooth as, yes, my iPhone. The work Google has put into unclogging the interfaces and making pixels move at the exact same rate you touch them-a perfect 60 frames per second-is profound. It's as if there are actual little rainbow gems and buttons under your fingertips.

This is a superficial boost, but it's not cosmetic. Building a phone that responds the instant you touch it makes it exponentially more functional-it makes you want to use it. And given that our phones are tiny pedestrian pocket computer tools, being happy while we use them is a great thing. Tools shouldn't feel like tools. With Jelly Bean and Project Butter, Android feels less like a wrench and more like a conductor's wand.

Making everything buttery and luscious pays off, because Android has never given you so many worthwhile things to prod and rub. The beautification efforts that started with Ice Cream Sandwich are consummated with Jelly Bean-Android's base no longer looks like the drunken hookup impregnation of GeoCities by Tron, but has taken on an aesthetic of panels, lights, and three dimensionality that's almost as uniquely Google as Metro is Microsoft's and iOS is Apple's. Almost: There's still a whiff of generic computing as you poke around-particularly when it comes to 3rd party apps, which still tend to be ugly thanks to Google's lax software policies. It's jarring when you're used to Apple's fascistically enforced aesthetics. If you are acclimated to an iPhone, apps for Android can still make your head feel like splitting. But the daily grind is at long last more than palatable.

Google Now

Within the OS itself, Android makes clear functional leaps. Pull-down notifications are more informative than ever before, giving you an instant look at which apps have updated, how far along your Facebook photo uploads are, and that your GPS is currently looking for a satellite lock. Each notification can be swiped away, frictionless-ly, to make room for what you'd like to hold onto. My iPhone's notification pane seems bare by comparison, merely a list. But touches like new notifications are a garnish. Google Now is the most philosophically important shift in the history of Android.

On the face of it, Google wants to make Siri out to be a plain Jane. Google Now whirls natural language speech queries and general search into one beautifully designed, ostensibly powerful hub-and it is beautiful, the perfect exemplar of Jelly Bean chic. Instead of a series of searches-thai food menu, dark knight tickets, etc-resulting in a big text vomit, you get wonderfully graphic, highly readable, thoroughly helpful cards, which pull together your location and habits. It thinks for you, providing information cues even when you haven't ask for them. Google Now is supposed to be as smart as you-maybe even smarter. This isn't search, it's tell.

But in practice it just doesn't work out. Google Now trumps Siri in terms of speech recognition and presentation, sure, but that's not much of a fight: Siri is shit. Google Now is shit with a ribbon. When Google Now works-Who's the President of Israel?, followed by a voice answer and portrait with more information-it's truly impressive. But aside from these unlikely test scenarios, these fun demos, Now never shines as a life-changer. Where's all the creepy-smart magic Google showed off this summer? Google promised that Now would give you "just the right information at just the right time, and all of it happens automatically." Ambitious. But absent.

At very, very few points did my Galaxy Nexus perk up of its own volition and tell me to avoid traffic. At no point did it show me the menu of a restaurant I searched for. At no point did it ever warn me it was going to rain, or prompt me with better directions to a meeting. It never felt smarter than me, better than me, or in any way intelligent. It just doesn't do anything as advertised, and unless you're a daily jetsetter with a sports score addiction, you probably won't know it's there. That's either broken or deceptive on Google's part, depending which way your sympathy swings. The search results are more beautiful than ever, sure, in terms of formatting. But asking the names of presidents and canyon depth with my voice and getting a formatted card in return isn't significantly better than just looking the damn stuff up with any number of better-designed iPhone apps.

And so Android, despite its newest polish, is profoundly confused. Google poured money and effort into matching the iPhone's grace and surpassing its intelligence, but it still feeds into the same dubious Android ethos of the past half-decade: your phone should be messed around with. And that's still a giant appy pain in the ass: Why, in the name of Sergey Brin's cyborg face, does Android not give you a screen alert when you receive a text? And what is the solution to this gaping functional crevasse? Downloading a third-party app. How could that possibly be construed as better than a phone working well out of the box? Android zealots beam about not being spoon-fed tech like iPhone holders; they cherish the ability to tinker with their phones, to swap ROMs, to splatter apps and widgets. And with Jelly Bean, they'll be able to do it better than they ever have before. They'll be able to do it with the software responsiveness and an attention to design detail everyone deserves. But Jelly Bean is a simultaneous declaration that users don't know best, and that a top-down makeover and information IV is a good thing. Project Butter intervened to make Android look and feel good. Google Now serves you data about your life without you asking for it. Jelly Bean tacitly admits you should be fed a diet of technology.

The entire conceit of Jelly Bean is a phone that's better without you messing with it. And this is dead on, aligned with an iPhone. A phone should be beautiful when you turn it on for the first time. A phone shouldn't just be intuitive on its own, it should have intuition of its own-it should know what's best and right for you without you having to decide. This is antithetical to the DIY/hacker/dimly-lit workbench mentality Android has used to attract tech's most virulent nerds, who think the solution to bad software is using more software. Jelly Bean steers toward an awkward and tenuous inbetween, and if Google's going to slowly shift toward a Phone-Knows-Best attitude, I'll continue to reside in the iPhone's perfect, topiary-filled dictatorship. Because my phone should know best. It should be a tool that makes me smarter than I could ever be on my own, not some pixel erector set. Apple demands this, Google laments it.

And that's just not enough to jump ship if you've been spoiled by Apple. Jelly Bean applied a powder coat of loveliness, overdue speed, and helpful tech mothering to the user experience, but doesn't change it fundamentally. The sprawl of unruly widgets, of over-information, of inexplicably absent features-that's all there. It just looks nice and moves better. Google Now is a quiet failure, Project Butter is a lush success, and so Jelly Bean is a strained schizoid: Google knows Apple's spoon-fed model is virtuous. Jelly Bean didn't make it work yet. The iPhone's been boasting it since 2007. And so Google is posing a massive dilemma to both itself and its zealots: will Android be the rough platform of free-thinking hackers and customization hawks, or a verdant valley of other people's good idea? It can't be both, and harms itself in the process. Jelly Bean, the best Android ever, is still an operating system in crisis.

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Pinterest Nudges Users Off the Couch and Into the World With New Android and iPad Apps

Pinterest co-founders Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp today debuted Pinterest apps for Android and iPad, from a party at the company's new San Francisco headquarters.

A "succulent cupcake" at the Pinterest party.

Mobile is particularly important to Pinterest because the company is about interacting in the world, not sitting at a computer, Silbermann said.

"Our goal has never been to get you in front of the computer transfixed for hours and hours on end, it's to get you offline," he explained.

These products are nothing unexpected; they were top of the list of natural areas for Pinterest to expand.

Pinterest co-founder Ben Silbermann shows off his company's new apps.

Pinterest's lack of Android app was such a frequent piece of user feedback that it had become a joke at the company, said Silbermann. How long after any new feature - like attributions or translations - was posted online would someone comment asking "Where's the Android app?"

Sharp noted the Android app was built from the ground up for Android, not as a simple port from iPhone. Just like many of the products its users pin, Pinterest the company loves to handcraft its own projects.

The new Pinterest for iPad includes a Pinterest-specific browser built into the app, including a new button that pops up a display of everything people have pinned from that Web site.

Also out tonight: a re-architected and redesigned version of Pinterest's year-old iPhone app.

The Pinterest party also included a cornucopia of crafts and artsy foods (see the "succulent cupcake" above), including a station for putting together Mason jar terrariums.

Silbermann deadpanned, "For those of you who use Pinterest, you know the only thing cooler than making a terrarium could be a terrarium inside a Mason jar."

PlayStation Mobile aims for iPhone and Android at Gamescon

By Chris Burns

This week at Gamescon in Cologne, Germany, Sony is making a case for PlayStation Mobile, their next big phase in keeping relevant with the very smart device-minded society we now all live in. This initiative will be aiming for both Apple's mobile OS and Google's Android, but in very different ways for the both of them. While Apple's iPod nano, iPhone, and iPad are all essentially declared enemies of this PlayStation Mobile initiative, Sony is embracing Android as the only 3rd party operating system to be able to run PlayStation-certified games.

Sony has made it clear that their own devices running Android - tablets, the original PlayStation Phone (Xperia PLAY) and a vast collection future phones will be first on their list when it comes to definite entry into the PlayStation Mobile program, 3rd party devices and manufacturers are now being accepted into the fold. Two examples are the manufacturers Asus and Wikipad, both of them ready to bring on PlayStation-certified games as they launch new products later this year.

When a device is "PlayStation Certified", it means that Sony has literally checked out the device and approved it before it's been released to the public. Sony's approval process requires that each device is able to play their quickly growing set of mobile games and that they essentially agree to continued software support as well. This PlayStation Mobile initiative also promises cross-compatibility and one-download-only situations with the PS Vita this week as well.

Another notable device currently in the PlayStation Mobile universe is the HTC One X, a smartphone with either a dual-core processor from Qualcomm or a quad-core processor from NVIDIA. The power is there, and Sony wants a piece!

Have a peek at the timeline below to see more about the PlayStation Mobile initiative, and get pumped up as Sony takes a charge into the future!

QCOM, INVN: Evercore Starts at Buy; Hold on RIM, NOK

By Tiernan Ray

Mark McKechnie, formerly with ThinkEquity, has re-emerged at Evercore Partners and this afternoon initiated coverage of four telecom-related stocks: Qualcomm (QCOM), Research in Motion (RIMM), Nokia (NOK), and motion-sensing technology vendor InvenSense (INVN).

McKechnie rates Qualcomm and InvenSense shares Overweight, with price targets of $85 and $20, respectively. He started RIM and Nokia shares at Equal Weight, with $8 and $3 price targets, respectively.

Aside from "near-term catalysts" such as the introduction of Apple's (AAPL) next iPhone this fall, he speculates, and improved yield of chips generally at the smallest feature sizes (28 nanometers), McKechnie sees Qualcomm possibly getting a boost with the spreading of wireless chipsets to PCs and tablet computers:

4G will drive higher 3G/4G penetration into PCs and tablets. We think a combination of better 4G performance, improved service plans, and new WinRT notebooks will drive higher demand for mobile 3G/4G connectivity. Will we monitor the deployment of 4G small cells as a key longer-term enabler for network traffic growth and thus tablet adoption. For reference, every 10M of incremental 3G/4G notebook/tablet sales could add ~ a nickel in royalty EPS and another nickel if it uses QCOM chips.

McKechnie also thinks Qualcomm's profit margins in its chipset business will return to levels in the low 20s on a percent basis next year as the company reaches a more stable ramp in those 28-nanometer chips, and as it achieves "tiering" of smartphones at lower prices in developing markets.

McKechnie likes InvenSense's "proprietary advantage" in the market for motion sensing, writing that he anticipates "an estimated 62% and 40% CY12 and CY13 unit growth forecast for the motion sensor market driven by increased attach rates to smart phones and tablets."

Specifically, "We see the attach rate of motion sensors growing from about 45% of an 800M smart phone and tablet market in 2012, to 70% of a 1.7B smart phone and tablet market by 2015."

McKechnie views RIM's future as "deteriorating fundamentals and an increased cash burn, with potential takeout value for RIMM's IP," adding, "We see the outcome as fairly binary."

McKechnie thinks the company's 78 million subscribers could eventually shrink to a steady state of 30 million "die hard" users willing to pay $3 per month.

In the meantime, the services business is one of the more valuable assets the company has, but the "clock is ticking" as "independent Mobile Device Management ("MDM") players such as Airwatch, Mobile Iron, Good, or others serve the BYOD market with secure smart phone and tablet management systems."

Nokia is worth $3 based on a "sum of the parts" analysis, he thinks, consisting of $1.10 per share in patent value, 35 cents a share for its Nokia-Siemens Networks unit, 70 cents a share for the location business, and 7o cents a share in net cash, based on his 2013 projections.

As for the partnership with Microsoft (MSFT), McKechnie writes is not optimistic:

"We view NOK's commitment to Windows Phone ("WP") as problematic in the face of the accelerating iOS and Android ecosystems. We note that even if WP finds traction from carriers (i.e. VZ) to keep Apple and Android in check, NOK will have to compete with other ecosystem OEMs and face limited share and single digit margins.

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These Android Music Apps Could Keep You From Getting Run Over by a Car

By Aarti Kelapure

Last week, we took a look at iOS apps that keep you aware of your surroundings as you listen to music through headphones, and found a fairly healthy selection to choose from on Apple's mobile platform. These apps either allow you to hear surrounding noises while listening to music through your phone's or headphone's microphone, or paused the music when a sudden noise was detected.

Not only is this a useful safety feature, a good way to listen to music while attending to a sleeping baby, and probably applicable to more situations than we can imagine, but it can also turn your music into a real soundtrack for your life.

Yes, listening to music mixed with sounds from the outside world makes you feel like you're in a movie with a soundtrack - and not the cheesy montage, the actual movie part.

Now, we turn our focus to Android, with the same quest. We found plenty of Android apps that can measure the decibel level of outside noise, and others to customize and improve your Android's sound quality, but only two apps that let you hear surrounding sounds while listening to your music, and one of them was no good.

The two contenders were Around Sound and Hear Voice.

Unfortunately, a few minutes of testing revealed a large disparity in quality between these two apps, so we can only recommend one of these at this time. So without further ado, we give you the winner: Around Sound (free) - or its sibling, Around Sound Pro ($2), which adds expert-level niceties such as a pause mode and a noise floor for the trigger.

If you're potentially in the market for an app like this, which lets you hear what's going around you without sacrificing your musical soundtrack, it's still worth reading to the bottom of this story though, because we show you how to use Around Sound Around Sound and why you don't want Hear Voice. (Also, from a legal perspective, we should point out that using any of these apps will not 100 percent prevent you from being hit by a car.)

Around Sound

To use Around Sound, plug in your headphones, launch the app, and press Start to measure the ambient noise level of your current surroundings with the app's Sound Meter. At this point, you'll need to determine the appropriate trigger level to stop your music. We recommend choosing a trigger level somewhere above your ambient noise level so that constant sounds, like typing on your keyboard or traffic, don't set off the app, although you might want to play around with this a bit.

Once all of that's done, throw on some music using almost any Android music player app (check compatibility here) and go about your business. When the app registers a noise exceeding the set trigger level, a few different things might happen, depending on whether you have the free or paid version and your settings.

If you're rocking the free version, offending noises will either pause your music or lower the volume, depending on your preference, and then play back the disrupting sound for you. The music will either resume after a few seconds, or stay paused - also depending on your preference.

If you've got $2 (not a bad price in our opinion) to spare for the Pro version, you can opt to turn on Street Mode. This allows you to hear noises above your set trigger level while continuing to listen to music. In other words, it mixes the outside and inside signals, just like our $7 favorite on the iOS side. This works great for walking down a busy street (hence the name "Street Mode"), since you don't want your music to stop at every sudden noise, the way it does with the free version, but you still want to hear what's going on.

For best results, use headphones with a built-in mic, as with all apps like this. Otherwise your device will rely on its own mic, which will register noises from shuffling around in your pocket or purse.

We heartily recommend Around Sound – free or Pro – for your surrounding sound awareness needs. It's easy to use, effective, and cheap. We're also really into the Pro version's flexibility in terms of you having the choice between continuing your music, lowering the volume, or pausing your music.

Hear Voice

You may be wondering what's wrong with Hear Voice to make us adamantly discourage you from using it. Well, after purchasing this $1.50 app, you've basically paid to add a background of constant buzzing and static to your music. Oh, no you didn't.

On top of that, you can barely hear the environmental sounds that the app registers because the static emanating from it is so loud. Turning up the app's volume raises the volume of those outside sounds - but it also raises the static volume toshiba laptop battery.

Considering you have a really great alternative above, we suggest you steer clear of Hear Voice.

While Around Sound is the only Android app of its kind worth having at the moment, we'd like to note that Awareness! The Headphone App should be coming to Android any day now. We highly recommend the iOS version, and can only imagine that the Android version will be just as great, now that some of the issues with Android as an audio platform have been resolved. Keep your eyes peeled.

Tech 21 Special Ops Submariner review (yellow)

Posted on 12/10/2012 at 08:12

Tech 21 Special Ops Submariner review (yellow)

The good: The Tech21 Submariner case has an extremely durable and completely waterproof design that will protect your iPhone from the elements while letting you use the touch screen at the same time.

The bad: The Submariner case won't let you access your handset's volume control or ringer switch. You're required to use a second accessory, and the touch screen cover attracts hair and dirt

The bottom line: The design could use a few tweaks, but as a waterproof iPhone case, the Tech 21 Submariner will serve you well.

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In a world where iPhone cases are a dime a dozen, it has to be difficult for companies to make their products stand out. I suspect, though, that Tech21 has an easier time than others.

Based outside London, Tech21 produces a series of rugged iPhone cases that come in a wide variety of designs. I first met with the company last May at CTIA where an exec demoed D30, the unique substance that forms the protective backbone of the company's products (check out my CTIA slideshow for D30's wacky properties). Then, a few weeks later I was able to take its Impact Band case for a test-drive. As Tech21's base accessory, the Impact Band is similar to the Apple-supplied iPhone bumpers, but it steps up the durability without sacrificing aesthetics. Yet, as good as it was, the Impact Band was just a stepping stone to a bigger and more entertaining challenge with the Special Ops Submariner. More than just a simple case, the Submariner is really a tool for using your precious iPhone 4 or 4S in the rain, the pool, or even underwater. As the Submariner has yet to go on sale, Tech 21 would not release a price at the time of this writing.

Now I'm sure that some of you might be asking why we really need to use our phones when we've gone for a swim. Absolutely, the way smartphones suck our attention is pretty ridiculous at times, but the Submariner isn't just for people who can't go 5 minutes without checking Facebook. Besides a day at the pool (or if you want to be really decadent, a hot tub), it's great for the beach, boating trip, or anywhere else water could invade your handset. Like with most submersible cases, you can't make a call with the phone inside (you can dial, though no one on the other end will hear you), but you can do just about everything else.


At the top of Tech21's product line, the bright yellow Submariner stands apart in its space. While some competing cases are essentially Ziploc bags with an iPhone thrown in, the Submariner has a polycarbonate shell that completely encloses your phone. As a result you get double-duty protection with the skin securing your cargo from drops on a hard surface and the strong rubber seal keeping out sand, dust, and other fine particles. Beneath the main compartment is a second deeper well that can hold your credit cards, some cash, and a couple of keys. Around front is a silicon membrane that lets you continue to use the touch screen when your phone is inside (more on that later). Take note that you can't access the volume controls, ringer switch, or power control when using the case.

Of course, I have to mention that the Submariner is the opposite of the Lifeproof case. While that product is slim and lets you use headphones and access controls, the Submariner is about as bulky as you can get. It won't fit in your pocket or even a smaller bag. It's not that one design is "correct," but rather it depends on which design is right for you. While the Lifeproof case is more for everyday use, the Submariner is meant more for recreational and outdoor activities when portability isn't a concern. Also, while I trust Lifeproof's CEO when he says that his product is completely waterproof, the Submariner's extra bulk gives me more peace of mind.

Opening the Submariner is a simple three-step process. After releasing the small flap on the top right side, rotate the main lock away from you 180 degrees to unlock the hatch. Then, flip down the front of the case on its sturdy hinge and insert your phone. Note, however, that you'll need to have an Impact Band already on your phone for it to fit properly. Without it, your handset will be too small for the Submariner and will drop down into the second well below. You can use a thinner Apple bumper if needed, but even then the display won't rest completely flat against the membrane. So while a bumper is a workable substitute, it's a pretty poor one.

Though I get why Tech21 requires you to use the Impact Band -- it adds another layer of protection, it's great as an everyday case, and it prevents the phone's antenna from rubbing against the Submariner's hard shell -- you'll have to keep track of two parts if you want to use the Submariner as intended. If you forget it for a day, the Submariner is essentially useless. And if you lose the Impact Band completely (like I did), you'll have to shell out $39 for a replacement.

A day at the pool

I used the Submariner during a long pool day at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas. Admittedly, I was a little nervous at first -- intentionally dunking a cell phone would make any cell phone geek cringe -- but I loaded my iPhone and jumped in. As Tech 21 promised, the Submariner will float with a phone inside, though it does so vertically with only the very bottom of the case poking above the water. I tried pushing the Submariner below the surface several times and it promptly bobbed back up a few seconds later. The detectable lanyard is plastered with Tech21's logo, but it's made of sturdy fabric and handy for wearing around your neck.

I spent most of the afternoon floating around the Mandalay Bay's lazy river with the Submariner in tow. Using the phone presented no issues whether I was texting or tweeting, playing a game, making dinner reservations on OpenTable, or browsing the Web. Just remember that the touch screen won't work when completelty submerged. The membrane had a spongy feel, which was weird at first, but I got used to it quickly. And at the end of the day, I was able to use the touch screen and the Home button just as I normally would.

Yet, I have one complaint with the membrane. While water rolls off the membrane easily, it attracts more than its share of dust, hair, and pocket lint. The extra particles didn't interfere with my use of the touch screen, but I could feel them beneath my finger. More than feeling a tad icky, it also made the membrane look dirtier than it probably was. I wasn't sure how to clean it so I let it go, but germaphobes should take note.

You can play music with the phone in the case, but you'll need to turn up the volume high to hear your tunes properly. Audio quality is diminished, as well, and the Submariner lacks the Lifeproof case's headphone adapter. Just remember that you can't access your iPhone's volume controls while using the case. Hopefully the company will make a produce with more control accessibility in the future.

Thanks to the clear skin of the Submariner, you even can take pictures underwater as long as the touch screen will register your command. I had a lot of fun with this feature even if it's one area where I noticed a design flaw. Because of the off-center placement of the deeper well, you should taking photos only when your iPhone is placed upright in the case. Unfortunately, though, it's more comfortable to insert your handset upside down when you're wearing the Submariner around your neck because the phone will be facing the right way when you raise it up to your face. But if you do that, the lens catches the side of the case and your photo subjects look like they're standing in front of a fun house mirror.

Tech21 says that you can submerge the Submariner up to 6 meters (about 20 feet). I could only manage about 4 feet in the shallow lazy river, but I kept it in the drink for almost an hour. After I was done, I opened the case and found no traces of liquid inside the case or on my iPhone. Indeed, that was a big relief for someone who had a pile of work-related e-mails to answer. I also dropped the Submariner on the concrete pool desk a few times. The case didn't show any scratches or nicks, and my phone kept on ticking thanks to the Impact Band that's designed to absorb shocks and deflect them away from the phone.

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The Tech21 Submariner isn't for everyone, and it's certainly not compact or stylish, but it's the most durable and most versatile waterproof iPhone case that's I've seen. I'd take again if I were headed to the pool, a beach weekend, or even if I was just spending a lot of time outside in the snow or rain. Sure, I'd tweak the design a bit, and making a call someday is a pipe dream. For maximum iPhone protection, though, it does its job well.

Sprint Has The iPhone And T-Mobile Doesn't

We previously published our report analyzing Sprint Nextel (S) versus Deutsche Telekom-owned (DTEGY.PK) T-Mobile USA back in May. We were stunned about how Sprint and T-Mobile USA have seen a reversal of fortunes over the last 3-5 years.

Because we have a long position in Sprint and because we added to it a couple of months ago, we're glad that Sprint and T-Mobile have switched places in terms of competitive strength in the wireless industry. Previously Sprint had a tenuous hold on its distant third place ranking in postpaid customers and had to deal with the emergence of T-Mobile in addition to competitive pressures from AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ). While Sprint still has to deal with the dominance of AT&T and Verizon, we can safely say that it has been able to put significant distance between it and T-Mobile recently.

There are a number of factors that we would attribute this shift in competitive strong but the primary factor we see regarding Sprint's steady forward progress and T-Mobile's steady regression is that Sprint has the Apple (AAPL) iPhone and T-Mobile USA doesn't. Sprint has tremendous appreciation for Apple's cutting-edge, game changing iPhone smartphone device while T-Mobile USA has advertisements mocking Apple's iPhone as well as AT&T (the company dumb enough to offer $39B to acquire the broken-growth company known as T-Mobile USA). T-Mobile USA does host one million iPhone users on its 2G network even though it doesn't offer the device for sale.

We are disappointed that Sprint has not yet turned a profit during CEO Dan Hesse's tenure, while T-Mobile USA is still marginally profitable. We are also disappointed that T-Mobile is still generating more free cash flows than Sprint. However we can certainly justify why Sprint only had $209M in YTD 2012 FCF while T-Mobile USA had nearly three times as much ($623M).

Sprint increased its CapEx budget to invest in its Network Vision strategic reorganization in order to consolidate multiple network technologies into one new, seamless network with the goal of increasing efficiency and enhancing network coverage, call quality and data speeds for customers across the United States. As part of this strategic reorganization, Sprint has joined AT&T and Verizon in adopting the 4G-LTE wireless communications network. Sprint has rolled out the 4G-LTE service to 15 cities in the United States in July and will roll it out to four more cities in August. Major metropolitan areas that Sprint rolled out 4G-LTE service to include Kansas City (Sprint's hometown area), Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston. We can't stress enough that Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston are major ILEC hubs for AT&T and we are glad that Sprint is taking the fight to AT&T. T-Mobile USA won't have 4G-LTE until next year.

In our previous report, we analyzed the significant progress that Sprint has made in improving its customer service culture operations and execution under Hesse. We pointed out how Sprint's CEO Dan Hesse had strong leadership experience at AT&T Wireless, where he helped lead its growth and enabled it to win several J.D. Power awards for service quality. Since bottoming out in Q1 2010, Sprint has enjoyed nine straight quarters of subscriber growth. Since Sprint only has 4.4M customers remaining on the Nextel iDEN network. With the Nextel iDEN network being shut down as of June 30th, 2013, Sprint will no longer have to deal with unhappy Nextel customers leaving Sprint after that date. Sprint's Q2 customer growth figures were not as good as we would have preferred; however, it was at least able to recapture 60% of the defecting Nextel post-paid customers.

The Sprint CDMA platform has seen 10 straight quarters with subscriber growth, including 8 straight quarters with growth exceeding 1.3M, and it averaged over 1.9M new subscribers during this period. We're not upset that subscriber growth has been predominately low-margin prepaid and wholesale customers, because at least Sprint has solidified its leading position in the prepaid segment and emerged as a leading carrier for mobile virtual network operators. These low-margin segments have also seen the fastest growth within the wireless communications industry and we believe that trend will continue. Sprint's CDMA postpaid segment has seen subscriber growth in 10 out of the last 11 quarters, the last 9 quarters and 225K or more in the last 8 quarters.

We believe that Sprint's steady progress in customer growth is proof of its strides towards improving the customer experience, which has been recognized by major 3rd party organizations like J.D. Power and Associates, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, ATLANTIC-ACM, Frost and Sullivan and Forrester Research. We also believe that Sprint's improved customer service is why Apple allows Sprint to be the third major US carrier of the iPhone. Granted Apple insisted that Sprint commit to purchasing $15.5B worth of iPhones and a number of Sprint's bear's growled that Sprint could not meet this contract. In our most recent featured analysis of Sprint, we thought we put that concern to sleep.

We previously discussed the growth of T-Mobile USA and its $50B blockbuster acquisition by Deutsche Telekom (DTEGY.PK). Despite suffering an $18B asset impairment charge in 2002 due to the implosion of the tech and telecom bubble, T-Mobile USA generated strong growth for Deutsche Telekom by growing its subscriber base from 7M in 2001 to a high of 33.8M in 2009. However, T-Mobile USA's subscriber levels have seen a small and steady decline to 33.2M as of Q2 2012. The real concern for T-Mobile USA is that it is seeing its postpaid contract customers churn out, and T-Mobile USA is lucky to replace them with low-margin prepaid customers.

T-Mobile USA stopped growing its customer base around the same time Sprint began to see growth in its customer base. We believe that Sprint's improvements in customer service have served to take market share away from T-Mobile USA, and because Sprint has Apple's iPhone whereas T-Mobile made sport of the iPhone, only to spend $4B to upgrade its network in order to accommodate 1 million subscribers who brought old iPhone devices onto T-Mobile's slow 2G GSM network. We think that is why even though Apple's sales of its iPhone smartphone slowed in the most recent quarter, it decided not to let T-Mobile USA join the iPhone club in the US. We think that is why Philipp Humm decided to step down as T-Mobile USA's CEO.

For customers and investors, we still believe that the best alternative to the AT&T and Verizon U.S. wireless duopoly is Sprint. We think Sprint offers stronger absolute and risk adjusted investment prospects, as well as a better customer value experience versus T-Mobile USA and its parent company Deutsche Telekom for the following 8 reasons.

Sprint offers the iPhone. T-Mobile has the iPhone only in Europe.

Sprint generates 90% of its revenues from the faster growing wireless segment. While Deutsche Telekom does not break out revenue by product, we expect it to generate a larger share of its revenue from wireline operations, which are declining.

Sprint has joined the 4G-LTE club, while T-Mobile USA won't have 4G-LTE until 2013.

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T-Mobile USA's parent, Deutsche Telekom, is primarily exposed to Europe, which is in the grips of the Eurozone debt crisis. Sprint operates in the US, which is the cleanest dirty shirt amongst the world's economies.

Sprint is the only company that still offers unlimited high-speed data. Verizon and AT&T are phasing out unlimited data, and T-Mobile USA throttles data after 2GB of use.

Sprint and T-Mobile USA have essentially switched places in terms of customer satisfaction ratings. It even dropped below AT&T, a company that has historically had low customer satisfaction ratings. Despite not merging with AT&T, T-Mobile has joined AT&T at the bottom of the 2012 American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The Sprint platform (excluding Nextel) gained more total subscribers than all the other companies during the last quarter and the last 12 months. Sprint gained more subscribers than Verizon and T-Mobile International AG combined.

Sprint only has 12 more months of suffering Nextel run-off, and improved its Nextel retail postpaid contract subscriber retention rate from 27% in H1 2011 to 39% in Q4 2011, 46% in Q1 2012 and 60% in Q2 2012.

Based on these 8 reasons, we not only reinforced our long position holding thesis in Sprint, but also that T-Mobile USA is the sick man of the mobile communications world. We can see how even while Sprint was in the midst of a multi-year, multi-step transition process, it was still able to outperform Deutsche Telekom by a wide margin since the end of 2008. We expect Sprint to continue to solidify its hold on 3rd place in the US mobile communications market because Sprint has the iPhone and T-Mobile doesn't.

Though we added to our long position a couple of months ago, we don't believe that Sprint is out of the woods yet. We are not foolhardy to say that Sprint is in the same league as Apple or the AT&T-Verizon duopoly, but at least it's not losing customers like T-Mobile USA is.

Additional disclosure: Saibus Research has not received compensation directly or indirectly for expressing the recommendation in this report. Under no circumstances must this report be considered an offer to buy, sell, subscribe for or trade securities or other instruments.

Awesome Camera, Agonizing Everything Else

Posted on 10/7/2012 at 09:19

Awesome Camera, Agonizing Everything Else

Reviewed by Alexandra Chang


The Nokia 808 PureView is the most exciting smartphone on the market that you shouldn't buy.

The phone generated a ton of buzz at February's Mobile World Congress, not because it sports a stunning display or has the latest software features - in fact, the 808 PureView runs on Symbian, an outdated operating system Nokia has openly dismissed in favor of Microsoft's Windows Phone OS.

The 808 PureView is captivating because of one feature, and one feature alone: the on-board 41-megapixel camera.

Most highest-end smartphones, including Apple's iPhone 4S, Samsung's Galaxy S III, and HTC's One X, have 8-megapixel cameras. Compared to those cameras, a 41-megapixel camera sensor seems totally over-the-top and unnecessary. But what Nokia has developed with its homegrown PureView imaging technology is, by far, the best camera I've seen on a smartphone.

That doesn't mean it's a good phone. It's actually a pretty terrible phone with an outstanding camera. You should only consider buying the 808 PureView if you really love mobile phone photography. Even then, you're probably better off waiting until Nokia's PureView technology comes paired with a better OS, like Windows Phone (and Nokia confirmed to Neowin Sunday that PureView will arrive in its Windows-powered Lumia phones "very soon"). Also consider that, in the U.S., the phone is currently only available as an unlocked device for AT&T and T-Mobile networks at the high, unsubsidized price of $700.

The 808 PureView is no shining example of industrial design. With its giant camera protruding awkwardly from the back of the shell, it's chunky and top-heavy. It's a full 13.9 millimeters thick. Holding the 5.96-ounce 808 PureView brings back memories of the old Nokia bricks of the early 2000s.

Speaking of ancient history, Nokia has a long record of building truly awesome camera packages into its smartphones - big sensors, Carl Zeiss optics and full-featured imaging software - the most recent examples being last year's N9, and the N8 before that.

The curved edges and matte polycarbonate back make the phone easy to grip, an important quality for a phone dedicated to shooting photos.

As much as I initially balked at the PureView 808′s heft and strangely shaped back, I quickly grew accustomed to holding it. The curved edges and matte polycarbonate back make the phone easy to grip, an important quality for a phone dedicated to shooting photos.


Along the right side of the phone, there's a volume rocker, a spring-loaded lock/unlock switch, and a dedicated camera button. On the top, you get a headphone jack, a micro USB port, and a micro HDMI port.

The phone's 4-inch display features edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass, with the exception of dedicated buttons for the menu, making a call, and ending a call. It's only a 640360 pixel screen, so if you're used to an iPhone's Retina display, you'll be sorely disappointed. It's an unfortunate drawback considering the device is centered around digital imaging.

It may not be the best device for viewing photos, but it completely outperforms other smartphones in actual photo-taking.

More megapixels doesn't always mean you're going to have better photos, but in this case, it absolutely does. The 808 PureView combines a high-end Carl Zeiss lens and advanced software to produce images that look significantly better than other smartphone cameras (yes, even the iPhone) and is comparable to point-and-shoots.

One thing to note: You don't actually shoot 41-megapixel photos. In fact, the highest resolution photo you can take is a 38-megapixel photo at 4:3 aspect ratio in full-resolution sensor mode. The way the PureView technology works is that it uses pixel oversampling, essentially packing up to seven pixels worth of data into one pixel area. The results? Sharp, clear images with little to no noise. And the 41-megapixel sensor also makes it possible to zoom into photos 3x without losing any of the clarity.

Most of the time, I was shooting in PureView mode at 8 megapixels and getting just-as-impressive photos as I saw with full resolution. The only advantage to shooting in full resolution mode is that you can zoom in more without losing details in the image. The Camera app, which you use to take all of your photos, is designed specifically for the PureView camera. And it's the best app on the Symbian platform, showing a lot more maturity than apps like Mail and Maps. It's clear that the PureView team spent a lot of time making the camera software user-friendly.

Once you launch the Camera app - by pressing the dedicated camera button or by tapping the app icon - you're taken to a screen with four sections. The majority of the screen is where you'll see what you're shooting. At the middle-top, there's a Setting icon where you can switch between Automatic, Scenes, and Creative mode. A left-hand sidebar shows you the more detailed settings controls, and a right-hand sidebar has a Camera/Video toggle, a soft shutter button, and a thumbnail that takes you to your photo gallery.

If you want to pick up the 808 PureView and just start shooting, Nokia's made that easy. The Camera's Automatic mode worked great in well-lit settings and performed decently in low-light situations (you can turn off the automatic xenon flash). But if you want to have more control over your images, the Scenes and Creative modes offer a ton of photo settings.

It does take a bit of time fussing around with the software to get the hang of it, but once you do, it's almost as fun as using a DSLR. For example, in Creative mode, you can adjust the exposure from -4 to +4, set the white balance, choose an ISO, and toggle a neutral density filter.

There are also four focus modes: Infinity, Hyperfocal, Close-up, and Automatic. The Scenes mode is a bit more simple. You choose from a variety of scenes, such as close-up (or macro), portrait, or night, and the app does the work for you. With all of the setting options, it's not hard to figure out ways to make your low-light, action, or macro photos turn out well.

Video performance was great. It captures 1080p video at 30 frames per second. Here's a sample - keep in mind that it's been compressed for viewing on the web.


In the week that I used the 808 PureView, I would lock the phone while in the Camera app. That way, whenever I wanted to take a photo, I could quickly unlock the screen and just press the camera button. It helped that the shutter was fast and the battery lasted long enough for a full day of shooting.

The only recurring problem I had with the 808 PureView's camera was focusing photos. On many occasions, the camera would not focus where I tapped on the screen. In close-up mode, this was especially problematic. I ended up having to take several photos of the same setting until it focused on the intended spot.

Though the 808 PureView's camera rises above the flock, the rest of the user experience is mired in misery. Symbian, renamed "Nokia Belle" for this particular smartphone, is an outdated, glitchy piece of a software nightmare. The Symbian experience? In one word: Frustrating. In two words: Extremely frustrating.

The web browser fumbles when loading content-rich sites, pinch-to-zoom is a pain, and everything just slow. Setting up my Gmail account was impossible - the phone repeatedly said it could not connect to Gmail, even though all of my information was entered correctly. The Symbian keyboard was hard enough to type my e-mail address on; I couldn't imagine having to compose a lengthy communique with it.

If you are already familiar with Symbian, take great comfort in its many quirks, and don't want to make the switch to a more intuitive, better mobile OS (even Nokia knows Symbian is terribly outdated) then the 808 PureView might be a decent upgrade. And if you're a diehard mobile photography fiend with an extra $700 to spend, and you already own a separate phone you can use as your day-to-day handset, then the 808 PureView could be a fun device to show off to your friends.

So that accounts for, what, 20 people? The rest of us should wait until PureView technology shows up in Windows Phone devices, which should happen in the near future. Then you'll get to use an OS that doesn't make you want to smash your phone - and its awesome camera - against a table.

WIRED The camera produces the best images of any smartphone. Low noise in stills and videos. Multiple setting options allowing you to adjust for different subjects and lighting.

TIRED Still running on Symbian, though it's been re-named "Nokia Belle" here in an attempt to escape the shame associated with the Symbian brand. Body is awkwardly shaped and heavy because of the protruding camera. Will set you back $700 - as much as some Micro Four-Thirds systems.

Apple Concerned About Mobile Payment Security

By Karen Haslam


Google already offers Google Wallet payments via Android phones and Microsoft is set to launch its own digital-wallet service, but Apple isn't yet willing to enable credit card payments via the iPhone due to concerns about security.

Apple will launch Passbook alongside iOS 6 this autumn, as outlined in our 30 reasons you need iOS 6 feature, the system will provide an integrated iOS solution that holds all of you concert ticket purchases, boarding cards, and so on in one Apple app. These can then be accessed from the Home screen, or inside the app itself. What Passbook lacks is the option to link to credit or debit cards, so consumers can't use it to replace their wallets.

Reports claim that Apple does want to integrate payments, however, the company is holding back, waiting for other mobile manufacturers to test the water.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Apple's head of iPhone software Scott Forstall is interested in providing the technology for NFC (Near Field Communication) payments via the iPhone. WSJ sources claim Forstall's engineering team has been studying NFC technologies for over-the-air payments and have patented some NFC ideas (a patent, pictured, was awarded in March).

NFC is a short-range high frequency wireless communication technology that enables the exchange of data between devices up to 10cm apart, the set up time is significantly faster than Bluetooth, it doesn't require battery power, and it is considered more secure because of its shorter range.

However, according to reports, Apple said to be concerned that squeezing in the required chip and a new antenna may severely impact the iPhone's battery life.

Apple is also concerned about whether NFC technology is secure enough, according to reports. Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer is said to have questioned whether there was newer secure technology that employed the Internet rather than use NFC, according to the WSJ sources.


Apple head of world-wide marketing Phil Schiller is also said to be worried that if Apple facilitated credit-card payments on the iPhone consumers might blame Apple if they had a bad experience.

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster believes Apple is biding its time before entering the mobile payment market because they are comfortable letting the other mobile companies make the mistakes first. "They let their competitors do their market research for them," he said.

Munster noted Apple's relatively late entries in the MP3 player, smartphone and tablet markets as proof that: "Apple is always a comfortable number two."

Schiller seems to back up Munster's suggestion, he is reported to have said that digital-wallet mobile-payment services are "all fighting over their piece of the pie, and we aren't doing that."

Yankee Group analyst Nick Holland agrees: "Right now it is just a gold rush." Holland notes that the business models and leaders will be more solid in 18 months the market is nascent enough that Apple can afford to take its time, according to the WSJ report.

There is still speculation that Apple will introduce Near Field Communication with the iPhone 5, which is expected to launch in September or October, however, according to air transport IT and communications specialists SITA, if Apple's new iPhone doesn't have NFC "it's game over".

SITA's Jim Peters believes retailers should prepare for the arrival of NFC: "There is a lot of debate that NFC will never take off because of all the arguments. But you need to get ready, this is coming. This is going to happen. By the end of the year the majority of smartphones that you go and buy will have NFC on them. If in October the next iPhone comes out and it has NFC on it, it's game over."

MasterCard's Ed McLaughlin hinted that Apple was venture down the credit card/payments road. "I don't know of a handset manufacturer that isn't in the process of making sure their stuff is PayPass ready," McLaughlin said.

Start-Up to Revive Nokia Smartphone Software

Finnish start-up Jolla Ltd. is in talks with hardware makers, aiming to release a smartphone that runs on Nokia Corp.'s largely abandoned MeeGo operating system within the next six months.

"We are seriously making a smartphone here," Jolla Chief Executive Jussi Hurmola said. "But we definitely can't do it alone."

Mr. Hurmola, a 12-year Nokia veteran who recently joined other former Nokia employees at Jolla, said the start-up needed to raise about 10 million, or roughly $12 million, from private investors to develop the smartphone. He said Jolla would need to sell 50,000 to 100,000 of the phone to break.


RIM Customers Working On Contingency Plans

Posted on 10/7/2012 at 09:17

RIM Customers Working On Contingency Plans

By Scott Moritz and Olga Kharif

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Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) customers from GoDaddy Group Inc. to asset manager Thames River Capital UK Ltd. are preparing for the worst: the loss of the BlackBerry service their employees depend on to communicate.
RIM's stock has slumped more than 70 percent in the past year, and tumbled 19 percent on June 29 after the company posted a quarterly loss and delayed the BlackBerry 10 operating system, increasing the pressure on RIM to find a buyer or sell assets. While RIM has built infrastructure to ensure continued service, some customers are devising backup plans as RIM prepares to face shareholders at its annual meeting tomorrow.

"In the past three months there's been a lot of concern that the BlackBerry platform won't be around in the future," said Maribel Lopez, founder of Lopez Research, a wireless- industry consultant based in San Francisco. "It's not unheard of for a large phone manufacturer to go out of business."

Corporate customers, the backbone of RIM's business, are fortifying contingency plans so they won't be affected by a possible breakup of the BlackBerry-maker or other setbacks. With millions of employees connecting to the office through mobile e- mail, companies have been eager to establish a fallback or replacement plan, said Avi Greengart, a technology research director at Current Analysis.

Thames River Capital supplies about 140 of its 170 employees with smartphones, most of them BlackBerrys, said Robert Cockerill, head of infrastructure at the London-based money manager. With the delay of BlackBerry 10 and a service contract with RIM expiring this year, Cockerill said he expects much of his staff to switch to Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) iPhone or devices based on Google Inc.'s Android platform.

Service Disruption

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Cockerill has brought in MobileIron Inc., a Mountain View, California-based developer of software that helps companies manage and protect data on mobile devices and tablets. MobileIron provides security for Thames River Capital including encryption and password protection for non-BlackBerry devices such as iPads, he said.

Thames River Capital is preparing for scenarios where BlackBerry service may be shut down, disrupted, or if a competitor such as Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) acquires RIM and converts the operating system to its Exchange e-mail service, he said.

"There is a risk of RIM getting bought," Cockerill said in an interview. "But if you have the right support you can be agnostic and it won't really matter."

MobileIron Chief Executive Officer Bob Tinker said his customer list includes 100 Fortune 500 companies, and about a quarter of those customers are financial services firms.

Embrace Innovation

"Large enterprises don't want to be locked in with a single vendor anymore," Tinker said in an interview. Customers want to embrace all the innovation in mobile and RIM's delay of BlackBerry 10 doesn't help that, he said.

"CIO's are now asking us: 'What do we do if RIM gets acquired or if they restructure,'" said Tinker.

Norton Rose LLP, a law firm with 6,000 BlackBerry-equipped employees, is using MobileIron's software to support iPhones and iPads, which were given to some staff members as secondary devices, said Vlad Botic, group enterprise architect at the London-based firm.

Botic, who said Norton Rose would like to continue using BlackBerrys, began exploring alternatives last year after the three-day BlackBerry outage that caused users around the world to lose data services amid a network failure.

"RIM isn't in a good position right now," Botic said in an interview. "The problem with BlackBerry, which was highlighted when the service went down, was that the only way to solve it is with an entirely new device."

'Significant Outage'

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While the chance of BlackBerry service getting shut down is slim, Botic said he has scheduled a meeting with RIM this week to seek assurances that there won't be a disruption in the event of a takeover.

GoDaddy, an Internet domain-name and hosting company, could switch users to iPhone or Android devices "within hours," said Auguste Goldman, chief infrastructure officer at the Scottsdale, Arizona-based company.

In the event of a "significant outage" for BlackBerry devices, GoDaddy has a plan to migrate users to other platforms, Goldman said in an interview.

"The BlackBerry infrastructure and services are among our most valuable assets," said Nick Manning, a spokesman for Waterloo, Ontario-based RIM. "BlackBerry customers depend on our robust network and they can continue to depend on it going forward."

RIM shares fell 5.3 percent to $7.67 at the close in New York.

iPhone, Android

Six staffers at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. first began planning for the possibility of a disruption in BlackBerry service last year. To prepare, Nationwide retained Good Technology Inc., whose software for servers and phones can provide secure corporate e-mail and calendar services to iPhones and Android devices.

"You could see that RIM started to decline," Robert Burkhart, director of new technology innovation at Nationwide, said in an interview.

Today, the number of BlackBerrys Nationwide associates use is down to 7,000 from about 8,500 a year ago, while the number of non-BlackBerry devices used has risen from zero to 4,450, Burkhart said.

"We are well on our way to having a dual environment, so if RIM did go out, we'd be okay," Burkhart said. "If people are starting contingency plans now, they are behind the eight ball. They should have been looking at this all along."

Good Technology, which works with 4,000 corporate customers worldwide, including eight of the top 10 financial services companies, has seen an inflow of customers concerned about RIM's prospects and making contingency plans.

Contingency Plans

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"We've had two meetings this month with large financial services firms on this topic," Brian Carr, senior vice president of worldwide sales at Sunnyvale, California-based Good Technology, said in an interview. "In the last year, I talked with half of Fortune 100 companies, and it's a concern for all of them. Every single one of them is looking at contingency plans."

The concerns are prompting many companies to speed up their transition from BlackBerries to other types of mobile devices, Carr said.

RIM has struggled to keep up with Apple's iPhone and devices based on Google's (GOOG) Android platform. Last month, RIM said it would cut 5,000 jobs and posted a quarterly loss that was five times bigger than projected. Sales last quarter plunged 43 percent as RIM's share of the global smartphone industry fell by more than half to 6.4 percent in the first three months of the year, according to research firm IDC.

BlackBerry Migration

"RIM's situation is dire, but even in a worst-case scenario, RIM's servers aren't likely to get turned off anytime soon," said Current Analysis's Greengart. "Still, IT managers are looking more seriously at alternatives to BlackBerry. There's a whole industry ready to provide security and management around Apple and Android," he said.

The migration from BlackBerrys started two years ago for Ken Lawonn, senior vice president of strategy and technology at Alegent Health, an Omaha, Nebraska-based health-care provider.

The shift was prompted by user preferences, rather than concerns about the future of RIM, said Lawonn who uses Good Technology's software. The number of Alegent's 300 smartphone users with BlackBerrys has shrunk to 10 percent from about 50 percent two years ago, he said.

"Should something occur, we believe that's going to be a fairly easy transition," Lawonn said. "If my BlackBerry broke down, I'd look at the options, and if a BlackBerry wasn't available, I'd pick up an iPhone and be on my way."

Yahoo Defends Android App, Botnet Questions Remain

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Security firm traces torrent of spam to Yahoo's failure to activate HTTPS by default in its Android app.

By Mathew J. Schwartz

Is a big, bad Android botnet sending mountains of spam to unsuspecting email users?

That was the warning issued by Microsoft researcher Terry Zink last week, who said that spam traps had been capturing inordinate amounts of bogus email that had been sent using Yahoo IP addresses associated with the search giant's Android app. As security experts questioned what exactly might be happening, a Google spokesman cautioned that the available evidence didn't add up to a botnet, but rather "that spammers are using infected computers and a fake mobile signature to try to bypass anti-spam mechanisms in the email platform they're using."

Facing criticism for suggesting that there was a new Android botnet sending spam, Zink fired back, saying that whether or not the email signatures are faked, something's been sending spam via Yahoo's Android channels. "The reason these messages appear to come from Android devices is because they did come from Android devices," he said in a blog post.

Other information security researchers backed up that finding. "Many, including Google, have suggested the messages are forged. We see no evidence of this. The messages are delivered to our spam traps from genuine Yahoo! servers with valid DKIM [DomainKeys identified mail] signatures," said Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at Sophos Canada, in a blog post.

Yahoo, meanwhile, defended its Android app. "While our investigation into claims of a potential malware compromise operating as a botnet is ongoing, we can confirm that there is not a problem with our official Yahoo! Mail app for Android and there is no reason for users to uninstall the app," said a Yahoo spokeswoman Friday via email.

What's going on? "One of two things is happening here," said Wisniewski at Sophos. "We either have a new PC botnet that is exploiting Yahoo!'s Android APIs or we have mobile phones with some sort of malware that uses the Yahoo! APIs for sending spam messages."

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But in fact, the culprit may not be malware-infected PCs, botnets, or some never-before-seen type of Android malware. According to mobile security firm Lookout Security, in fact, the problem is rather the Yahoo mail Android app's default use of HTTP. "Yahoo! Mail for Android does not encrypt its communications by default--it performs all its functions over HTTP, not HTTPS," according to a blog post from Lookout. "This means that any traffic that is sent by the Yahoo! Mail Android app can easily be intercepted over an open network connection such as a public Wi-Fi network. This exposes Yahoo! Mail for Android to session hijacking, a form of attack that gained mainstream attention with Firesheep."

Introduced in 2010, Firesheep is a Firefox plug-in that can be used on any unsecured Wi-Fi connection to hijack the session cookies of anyone sharing the same connection who logs onto a website that uses HTTP, but not HTTPS. Created by Eric Butler, the plug-in was designed to illustrate how--in his words--"on an open wireless network, cookies are basically shouted through the air, making these attacks extremely easy." Attackers had long been able to execute credential-hijacking attacks using free, open source tools. But in the wake of Butler's plug-in release, numerous online service providers, including Facebook, added HTTPS as an option--if not always a default.

A Yahoo spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Lookout's theory. But according to Lookout, Yahoo's failure to use HTTPS by default means that an attacker could easily create an open Wi-Fi network, then wait for people using the Yahoo Mail app on Android to join the network, and check their email. "The attacker intercepts a particular cookie and can use it to impersonate that user, over whatever networks are available to them, including by tethering to a mobile network," said Lookout. "This allows the attacker to send spam emails that appear 100% legitimate."

Given that revelation, all Android users who employ the official Yahoo Mail app on their smartphone or tablet should immediately set the app to only check for email using HTTPS, as opposed to the default HTTP setting. According to Lookout, "from within Yahoo! Mail, simply open Options > General Settings and select 'Enable SSL.'"

Furthermore, while this latest attack targets only users of the Android Yahoo Mail app, it reinforces the need to use HTTPS whenever possible. "All mobile users should exercise caution when connecting to open Wi-Fi networks from a laptop or mobile device. We recommend that desktop users of Firefox or Chrome install the plug-in HTTPS Everywhere to ensure that their traffic to popular sites is properly secured," according to Lookout.

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2012 Nissan Leaf SL needs to turn over a better new Leaf

Posted on 19/6/2012 at 08:18

2012 Nissan Leaf SL needs to turn over a better new Leaf

By Warren Brown

You are a patient man, putting up with all of those questions about why your Nissan Leaf car "isn't selling."

It seems everywhere you go, some blogger or content provider is pushing a variation of the theme: "Is the Nissan Leaf, a mass-market all-electric car launched a year ago, a flop?"

Some even try to stick it to you with numbers: "You have a U.S. sales target of 20,000 to 25,000 Leaf cars in 2012. Yet, it's mid-April, dude, and you've only sold 1,733. What's up with that?"

You've gamely defended the Nissan Leaf in particular and all-electric cars in general. You say they are the future of sustainable personal transportation. I'm with you on that.

But, hey, Carlos, we have a problem.

That much became clear to me during a week in the 2012 Leaf SL hatchback, which costs $3,530 more than last year's model because it comes with more "standard" equipment.

Aside: If what was once offered as "optional" is now sold as more expensive "standard," should I be happy?

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But that's beside the point. The problem for me and a lot of people is that your new Leaf SL starts at $37,250. If I add the still optional front and rear bumper protectors ($225), splash guards ($140), and cargo net ($20), and the obligatory $850 transportation charge, I'm looking at $38,485!

And that's for a subcompact car that can travel 100 miles on a single charge on a good day! On a bad day, say when the weather is a little chilly and the car's heater is needed, mileage available on the Leaf's distance to discharge meter automatically drops by 12 to 14 miles.

You see the problem?

I'm with you on all of that stuff about "innovation for the planet, innovation for all." But nearly $39,000 for a little car that can barely travel 100 miles on a single charge is a tough sell. You are asking me to pay too much for what I perceive to be too little.

And I live in one of those wonky Northern Virginia neighborhoods where people value greenery and clean air as long as it surrounds their mini-mansions, where folks like the idea of what essentially is a neighborhood electric car, but gag on the price.

There's something else, Carlos. You all didn't make a good impression on the neighbors when your agents delivered my Leaf SL by car carrier. The only other cars delivered to me that way are super-exotics whose manufacturers thought nothing about outfitting them with excessively high-horsepower gasoline engines, but who were worried about their expensive trailer queens getting scratched in regular commuter traffic.

The car-carrier drop-off of the Leaf SL engendered much head-scratching. Some wags asked: "Is it broken?" Others wanted to know if it had an electrical cord that extended to the nearby Harris Teeter grocery store, assuming that was as far as I could drive it. Still others succinctly surmised: "Looks like you won't be taking that one on any long road trips." But, again, they all gasped and turned away when I revealed the price.

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That's too bad, because the Leaf SL and its slightly less expensive sibling, the Leaf SV ($35,200), technically make perfectly good sense for clean, fun, fossil-fuel-free, everyday commuting. All-electric power means 100 percent torque turning the front-drive wheels at all times. Start-from-stop is an exhilarating hoot. But that is not what the car is about.

Ghosn and other electric-car advocates, me included, would have us all imagine a commuting region in which no one burns gasoline or diesel fuel and spreads mobile-source pollution in the process; in which we can go about our daily lives without having to thank the enemies of democracy for our daily barrel of oil. But we have a very long way to go before any of that can become a reality.

U.S. consumers are rational economists, which is another way of saying they are inherently selfish. If they can spend $25,570 on a fully loaded 2012 Nissan Altima SR midsize sedan with a splendiferous 270-horsepower V-6 engine that can carry them from Northern Virginia to New York City on one tank of gasoline, they'd choose to do that over spending $37,250 for a little electric car that, without quick-charge access, would have to wait about eight hours before it could go another 100 miles.

I like the Leaf, especially the fully loaded SL version. If I traveled only within my Northern Virginia neighborhood, I theoretically could do so without buying another ounce of gasoline.

The Leaf SL is a comfortable driver for motorists tall and short. It's safe and has reasonable utility. Federal and local governments are offering tax breaks to help you pay for it. But it's not ready for prime time in an American psyche in which big remains better, the illusion of the open road remains a reality, and pandering politicians think it is smart to blame one another for high gasoline prices over which they have no control or, worse, to promise super-cheap gasoline for American drivers in a developed world where their counterparts are paying twice as much.

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Game of Thrones Power Shift: Tyrion Snares a Bearded Rat

By Hanh Nguyen, TV GUIDE

"A small man can cast a big shadow," Varys told Tyrion, and in Sunday's episode of Game of Thrones, we certainly saw that The Imp has strengthened his power as the Hand of the King.

With his latest political triumph, Tyrion once again undermined his sister, Queen Regent Cersei and by extension, her teenage son, King Joffrey. Who else triumphed? Who suffered an embarrassing setback (besides Theon, of course)? Check out TVGuide.com's breakdown of the power shifts in "What Is Dead May Never Die":

Power Tripping

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage): Best. Hand. Ever. Tyrion tells Varys, Littlefinger and Grand Maester Pycelle plans to broker a political marriage for Princess Myrcella with the caveat that "The Queen mustn't know!" When Cersei herself confronts Tyrion about the Dornish plans, his masterful scheme is revealed: He told a different plan to each man, and since he discussed a Dornish marriage only with Pycelle, then the Maester is the Queen Regent's informant. Bye, bye, Pycelle! Enjoy prison.

Shae (Sibel Kekilli): The whore scores a sweet gig as Sansa's new handmaiden just because she withheld affection when Tyrion initially offered to get her work as a kitchen scullion. The Imp may be a strategist, but Shae knows how to play him.

Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie): This towering lady is more of a knight. Skilled at combat, she defeats Loras to win the tournament Renly holds and subsequently a place in his kingsguard. We think she and Arya would get along nicely.

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Game of Thrones' Kit Harington discusses the weird fixation with Jon Snow's hair

Power Failure

Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover): As mentioned above, Tyrion totally played the Maester and then humiliated him by busting in on him and a whore unannounced, slicing off his beard and packing him off to a cell. And for anyone who's counting, this is the second time we've seen the old dude in his nightshirt.

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey): Dear little brother Tyrion has stripped her of yet another ally and her daughter.

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen): We still can't get over Theon's "hands-on" approach to dealing with his family in the last episode, and he's not faring much better this time around. His sister Yara has been entrusted with 30 ships in order to attack Deepwood Motte in the North, while Theon only gets one measly ship, the Sea Bitch, to attack a seaside village. Also, Daddy Balon really, really doesn't love him.

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Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony): How shall we say this? He couldn't get the royal battering ram to breech his wife Margaery's defenses. As she so wisely counseled him, "The best way to stop enemies is to [impregnate her]." Until then, the great political marriage he's made with House Tyrell doesn't mean much without a potential heir on the way.

The Night's Watch: Up north, Jon Snow's snoopiness gets the Watch thrown out by Craster, who has much-needed supplies and shelter. Down south along the King's Road, the Night's Watch recruits are attacked -- some killed, some captured -- by those searching for Gendry.

From Game of Thrones to Spartacus: Spring TV eye candy

Power Outage, aka The Fallen

Epiosde 3: Yoren, Lommy
Episode 2: Rakharo
Episode 1: Daenerys' horse, Maester Cressen, King Robert's bastards

Bonus Episode Highlights

Spot the Whore! Whore Count: 2. We believe it's Daisy the whore who was warming Pycelle's bed, and of course there's Shae. Some argue that she's not really a whore. And though it's true she doesn't work as a straightforward prostitute like the ladies from Littlefinger's brothel, Bronn did pick her out among the camp followers to offer Tyrion companionship of a sexual nature.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.

What was your favorite highlight? Are you sad to see Yoren go?

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Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (32GB)

Posted on 19/6/2012 at 08:16

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 (32GB)

Reviewed by: Eric Franklin

The good: The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 delivers a mostly pure Ice Cream Sandwich experience for only $250. The tablet also trumps the Kindle Fire in extras by including dual cameras, expandable memory, and TV remote control functionality.

The bad: The screen doesn't look as pretty as other PLS displays, and its camera performance is lacking compared to other tablets in the line.

The bottom line: The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 offers an excellent value and a full Android experience that no other tablet can currently match for the price.


Photo gallery: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0)
Photo gallery:
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0)

I guess we have Amazon to thank for proving that you don't need a premium tablet to be successful. While Samsung tried competing on the premium tablet front for the last year and will continue to do so, it's finding this strategy to be more difficult than anticipated.

With the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, the company is, thankfully, learning from its mistakes and taking a price cue from Amazon by offering a full-featured tablet for $250. The market isn't stagnant, though, so will Samsung actually have time to ... Expand full review

Photo gallery: Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0)
Photo gallery:
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0)

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I guess we have Amazon to thank for proving that you don't need a premium tablet to be successful. While Samsung tried competing on the premium tablet front for the last year and will continue to do so, it's finding this strategy to be more difficult than anticipated.

With the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0, the company is, thankfully, learning from its mistakes and taking a price cue from Amazon by offering a full-featured tablet for $250. The market isn't stagnant, though, so will Samsung actually have time to capitalize before more powerful and still cheap alternatives enter the fray?


The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 sports a slightly altered design from the 7.0 Plus, but you'd be hard-pressed to notice those differences at first glance, unless of course you were as intimately familiar with the Plus as I am.

The shape and weight are about the same with some slight dimensional differences. The new tablet's outer plastic shell spills a bit into the bezel at the right and left sides and the power/sleep button and volume rocker are more pronounced and feel slightly more responsive. Also, the IR blaster is a bit larger than the one on the Plus.

Aside from that, they're pretty much physically identical. The Tab 2 7.0 is fairly thin, although not Tab 7.7-thin. It's also comfortable to hold with smooth, rounded corners. Samsung identifies the color that covers the back of the tablet as "titanium silver," which seems fitting enough.

The Tab 2 7.0 retains the 7.0 Plus' thin design.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus Amazon Kindle Fire Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7
Weight in pounds 0.74 0.76 0.9 0.74
Width in inches (landscape) 7.6 7.6 7.4 7.75
Height in inches 4.8 4.8 4.75 2.25
Depth in inches 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.37
Side bezel width in inches (landscape) 0.76 0.74 0.78 (Power button side), 0.6 opposite side 0.68

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The microSD card slot allows you to add an additional 32GB of storage on top of the built-in 8GB. Samsung provides 50GB of free Dropbox storage for a year on top of that. The door to the microSD slot is easier to open now and doesn't get stuck as often as the Plus' did.

Take that Kindle Fire! With expandable memory up 32GBs, you shouldn't have to worry constantly about running out of space.

The 2-megapixel front camera from the Plus has been replaced with a VGA one here, but the rear is still rated at 3-megapixel, albeit sans an LED. Thankfully each camera is located in the upper left corner when holding the tablet in landscape, thus allowing them to avoid unwanted fingers creeping into the camera frame when taking a picture.

The 3-megapixel back camera honestly takes pretty crappy pictures.

Equidistant from surrounding dual speakers on the right, sits a dock connector and the left edge houses a headphone jack and microphone pinhole. The ambient light sensor sits about an inch away from the front camera on the bezel. However, the ambient light sensor which automatically adjusts the tablet's brightness when auto brightness is turned on is calibrated too sensitively. When typing, my hand would occasionally cover the sensor making the screen darken. This was so consistent (and annoying) that I was forced to turn off auto brightness on the tablet while I used it.

Sadly, as with most Samsung tablets, there's no HDMI port, requiring you to purchase an adapter if you'd like to play video from your tablet on your TV.

Software features

Possibly the biggest selling point (other than its price) of the Tab 2 7.0 is that it ships with Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0.3 to be precise) installed, making it the first Samsung tablet to do so.

Samsung's Touchwiz UI skin is of course included and comes with custom Samsung apps like Music Hub, Media Hub, and Game Hub, a built in screenshot app, and the Mini Apps tray located on the bottom of the screen. Tapping it brings up a tray of apps consisting of a calculator, notes, calendar, music player, and clock. However, the most useful of these is still the task manager, which allows you to quickly kill any app running in the background; this comes in handy when apps become otherwise unresponsive.

The basic look and design of ICS is retained, just with a Touchwiz skin and a few extra shortcuts for quickly turning off Wi-Fi, GPS, screen rotation, etc.

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Peel's Smart Remote app

The IR blaster found on the Tabs 7.7 and 7.0 Plus makes its way to the Tab 2 7.0 and in conjunction with Peel's included Smart Remote app, helps turn your tablet into a remote control for your TV. Peel can take the place of your cable or satellite channel guide and display a list of shows currently playing locally on your cable or satellite provider's channels. Go to the currently playing tab and click on a show, and your TV switches to the appropriate channel. Peel does a great job of holding your hand initially through a step-by-step setup wizard. The setup only requires that you know your TV's manufacturer's name, your cable/satellite provider, and your ZIP code. Thankfully, Peel spares us from having to know any more detailed information; however, be aware that Smart Remote does not work with regular monitors and only TVs or monitor/TV combos.

Once it's set up, you can browse shows by category, mark shows as favorites, or prevent shows you'd rather not see on the list from showing up again. Thankfully, Smart Remote now syncs with over-the-air listings, but its accuracy as to which shows and channels were available to me left a bit to be desired.

Navigating the interface took some getting used to, but was easy enough to pick up; however, I took issue with the method by which cable TV screen menus are controlled by the interface. Peel went with a swipe interface that requires you to flick the screen in one of four directions to highlight different menus. While this method works and after some time could be gotten used to, I would have much preferred more-direct directional controls.

As I learned with the Tab 7.0 Plus and 7.7, Smart Remote's accuracy is very closely dictated by the information cable and satellite providers choose to release. So, while the Smart Remote guide may indicate that "Law and Order" is on right now on Channel 12, selecting it didn't always take me to the appropriate channel. In addition, sometimes the channel wasn't available to me or there was a different show on the channel at that time.

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Budget troubles force redrawing of plans to Mars

Written by Alicia Chang Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Know how to go to Mars cheaply? NASA can use your help.

The space agency on Friday put out a call for ideas for the next Mars mission in 2018. The fine print: The cost can't be astronomical and the idea has to move the country closer to landing humans on the red planet in the 2030s.

The race to redraw a new, cheaper road map comes two months after NASA pulled out of a partnership with the European Space Agency on two missions targeted for 2016 and 2018, a move that angered scientists. The 2018 mission represented the first step toward hauling Martian soil and rocks back to Earth for detailed study - something many researchers say is essential in determining whether microbial life once existed there.
Financial reality

Agency officials said returning samples is still a priority, but a reboot was necessary given the financial reality.

In the past decade, NASA has spent $6.1 billion exploring Earth's closest planetary neighbor. President Barack Obama's latest proposed budget slashed spending for solar system exploration by 21 percent, making the collaboration with the Europeans unaffordable.

A team will cull through the ideas and come up with options by summer when NASA's latest mission, a $2.5 billion car-sized rover Curiosity, will land near the equator on Mars.

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Space Shuttle Discovery Mounted Atop Jumbo Jet for Ride to Smithsonian

by Robert Z. Pearlman

NASA mounted space shuttle Discovery on a jumbo jet Sunday (April 15), in preparation for the retired orbiter's delivery to the Smithsonian. The paired air- and spacecraft are expected to depart Florida for Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning (April 17), weather permitting.

Discovery's mating to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA), NASA's modified Boeing 747 jetliner, came a day later than the space agency had planned. On Saturday, wind gusts at the Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility set the 167,000 pound (75,300 kilogram) Discovery swaying under its lift sling, posing a risk that it could impact the Mate Demate Device (MDD), the gantry-like steel structure used to hoist the shuttle onto the jetliner.

Workers reconvened at 5 a.m. EDT (0900 GMT) on Sunday, to finish retracting the shuttle's landing gear. They then raised the orbiter 60 feet (18 meters) off the ground so that the carrier aircraft could be positioned underneath. Discovery was then lowered onto the jumbo jet's three protruding attach points to achieve a "soft" mating.

Work continued throughout the day Sunday to secure, or "hard" mate, Discovery to the 747, before removing the hoist sling and backing the paired vehicles out of the MDD on Monday morning.

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HP layoffs and Facebook IPO reflect Silicon Valley's highs and lows

Posted on 19/5/2012 at 05:20

HP layoffs and Facebook IPO reflect Silicon Valley's highs and lows

By Chris O'Brien

So rarely do two events occur in such close proximity that perfectly capture the agony and the ecstasy of Silicon Valley.

As the sun rose, hundreds of hoodie-wearing Facebook employees gathered on their new campus to celebrate the social network's first day as a public company. Meanwhile, employees of Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard were still digesting reports that their company is potentially planning to lay off between 25,000 and 30,000 people.

Facebook represents the promise of the future. HP, the onetime icon, seems destined to continue its slow, ignoble slide. And Silicon Valley shrugs and marches on.

"We once again see how 'creative destruction' continues to transform the Valley as Facebook goes IPO and Hewlett-Packard restructures," wrote Doug Henton, CEO of Collaborative Economics, in an email Friday. "This is historical but fits a longer-term pattern."

In a place like this, with its relentless fixation on the future, there is no time for sentimentality.

Today, who weeps for the passing of Netscape, SGI or Sun Microsystems? The valley just moves on, or, in the case of Facebook, moves into Sun's old headquarters.

Earlier this year, I was having coffee in Palo Alto with former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz to talk about a new health-related startup he had founded. I asked him how it felt to see Facebook occupying the place that had been home to Sun for so long before it was acquired and moved by Oracle.

Schwartz said, very matter-of-factly: "That's just how Silicon Valley works. Companies die and new ones are born."

Clearly, the verdict Friday is that Facebook is the future, while HP doesn't seem to have much of one. And that's why, even though the HP news is likely to affect far more people, a disproportionate share of the public and media's attention was focused on the Facebook news Friday.

The Facebook IPO represented the welcome end of several years of breathless speculation about when the company would go public. Yes, with the stock closing the day almost flat, it was easy to shrug it all off as anticlimactic.

But don't let the first-day performance fool you. Facebook is a juggernaut. Armed with billions of dollars, thanks to investors, it will hire thousands of new employees, acquire dozens of startups, and further extend its reach into every corner of the Web and our lives.

Yes, like any company, it faces challenges. Things could go sideways. Or a new competitor could come from nowhere and derail it. But I wouldn't count on any of those things happening anytime soon. I expect a year from now, Facebook's stock will be trading substantially higher, and many of us will be kicking ourselves for not buying it for that $38 when we had the chance.

Facebook, with its 3,500 employees and $3.7 billion in annual revenue, is now valued at $104.63 billion, more than double HP's anemic $42.43 billion valuation. That is shockingly low for a company with almost 350,000 employees and $127 billion in annual revenue.

And yet, it's hard to argue that it's wrong.

HP long ago turned away from its history of being a place that invented things and instead embraced the modern corporate mentality of trying to build itself up through a strategy of endless acquisitions and layoffs.

Starting with the Compaq merger in 2001, HP has spent more than $60 billion in cash and stock to acquire at least 59 companies. In the process of growing from 88,000 employees to nearly 350,000, the company has announced job cuts over the past decade that could top 120,000 come Wednesday.

This strategy was initiated by Carly Fiorina and embraced by Mark Hurd. For a brief moment his replacement, Leo Apotheker, seemed to promise a respite. He promised to invest! Give raises! Focus on innovation!

Of course, Apotheker was gone in less than a year. Enter Meg Whitman. After growing rusty in the basement, it sounds like she's dragged out the HP layoff machine, gassed it up, and is apparently going to cut loose.

When a company's most successful product is the creation of former employees, it's hard to hold out much hope for its future. Sadly, binging on acquisitions and layoffs has gotten HP nowhere. The announcement expected Wednesday will be the surest sign that HP is lost with no chance of finding its way back.

But most likely, this news will be met with a shrug across the valley, where most people will be too busy figuring out how to start the next Facebook to fret much about a company like HP as it sinks into irrelevance.

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IPhone sales hurt carriers' profits

Posted on 21/4/2012 at 03:02

IPhone sales hurt carriers' profits

By David Sarno.

The iPhone has been a huge hit for Apple Inc., helping send the company's stock to all-time highs and producing record-breaking profits.

But for AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc., it's breaking the bank.

The three wireless carriers all found themselves answering to Wall Street in recent weeks for posting depressed quarterly earnings, and analysts pointed to the heavy cost of offering the iPhone as a culprit.

The iPhone has become the single most popular smartphone in the United States, and that has left the carriers trapped in a kind of Faustian deal: The more iPhones they sell, the more money they lose.

That's because they have to buy the phone from Apple before they can sell it to their customers for hundreds of dollars less. The carriers are betting that they'll make back the difference and more by signing up customers for two-year plans and collecting monthly fees.

But so far, the carriers are finding that the math isn't adding up.

AT&T was the first carrier to offer the iPhone and has been struggling to make it profitable for years. During the last quarter, the iPhone accounted for 82 percent of the smartphones AT&T sold to its customers, meaning the company had to pay the hefty subsidy on each of the 7.6 million iPhones.

All that money paid to Apple tugged down the company's profits. In AT&T's wireless division, operating margins - a common measure of how much a firm makes - dropped to 15.2 percent from 22.9 percent a year earlier.

"The AT&T wireless model is broken," said Kevin Smithen, a wireless analyst at Macquarie Securities. "AT&T is basically subsidizing Apple's revenues and profit growth."

Investors have taken notice: Since June 29, 2007, the day AT&T first offered the iPhone, Apple's stock has shot up more than 300 percent, to $493.69 from $122.04. Meanwhile, AT&T's stock has dropped 28 percent, to $29.82 from $41.40.

Sprint's stock is down more than 16 percent since it began selling the iPhone late last year. It sold 1.8 million iPhones last quarter, spending $630 million to buy them from Apple. That was a large contributor to the company's $1.3 billion quarterly loss - a 40 percent wider loss than the struggling company saw a year earlier, before it offered the iPhone.

Verizon sold 4.2 million iPhones last quarter, accounting for more than half of the smartphones it sold. But despite those strong sales numbers, Verizon's profit failed to meet Wall Street's expectations, and the firm's stock dropped 2 percent after its earnings release.

Wireless carriers began subsidizing the cost of cellphones years ago, in an era of simpler, less expensive "feature" phones. Carriers might have offered a $300 phone to consumers for $100.

But that doesn't work well with the much more expensive iPhone, which companies buy from Apple for about $600, analysts estimate, before reselling it to consumers for $200 - eating the $400 difference.

A particularly sticky issue for carriers is that many iPhone users don't want to wait for their two-year contract to expire to buy the latest model, which has come out once a year.

Generally the carriers have required consumers to pay the full price if they want a new iPhone before their contract runs out. But now, worried that subscribers will flee to competitors if they can't get a good price on the new phone, several carriers are offering "early upgrade" deals to discount the newest iPhone before two years elapse. That means helping the consumer buy a second iPhone in one year - and handing over additional hundreds of dollars to Apple.

"Can Apple continue to roll through industry after industry, soak up all the profits, and leave everything it touches as a smoking wreckage?" asked Craig Moffett, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "They've done it with music and handsets, and now they're doing it to the carriers."

Representatives from Sprint, AT&T and Verizon declined to comment on their plans for offsetting the iPhone's effect on their bottom line.

But analysts believe the carriers' best shot at wrestling back some power from Apple is getting consumers interested in alternatives. This year, that has meant souped-up campaigns to entice buyers to look at Google Inc.-powered Android phones manufactured by Samsung Electronics, LG, HTC, Motorola and others.

After heavy promotion, devices such as Motorola's Droid Razr and Samsung's Galaxy S 4G have begun to sell well. They also can take advantage of faster, next-generation 4G wireless technology, while Apple's iPhone still works with the slower 3G.

Best of all for carriers, the Android devices can cost half as much, allowing them to pay closer to $200 for each device instead of $400 for the iPhone.

"They're doing everything they can to make the Android phone something you want to choose," said Chris Larsen, an analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co. "It keeps Apple in balance to some degree."

At a Verizon Wireless store in Los Angeles' Koreatown neighborhood, half a dozen wall-mounted displays feature fancy, back-lit red-and-silver graphics pitching the company's new line of next-generation 4G Android smartphones. The display for the iPhone is smaller and plain, its white motif clashing with the store's color scheme.

"It depends what you like," a clerk says when asked for advice on which type of phone to buy.

"Do you like the Androids' faster download times, bigger screens, longer battery life and better cameras? Or do you like Apple?"

Classrooms of the Future: New Digital Textbooks and Other Mobile Technology to Help Prepare Texas Students for College and Beyond

School leaders to participate in conference this week to improve education across the country as the nation moves to digital textbooks and other mobile learning technology

Interactive textbooks for the iPad and other digital instructional materials from Pearson are taking center stage days after the U.S. Department of Education announced a move toward digital textbooks and other mobile learning technology for classrooms of the future. Superintendents and other school leaders from Texas and around the country will gather in Houston this week to share ways to help teachers improve student achievement and better prepare students for college and careers with technology like interactive textbooks and other powerful classroom tools.

A pioneer in digital and mobile learning, Pearson worked with Apple to recreate the textbook and help teachers offer a learning experience for students illuminated with color, video, 3D animation and interactive images. Pearson's iBooks and other digital instructional materials are built on decades of expertise and research in effective teaching and learning.

As the American Association of School Administrators' (AASA) National Conference on Education kicks off in Houston this week, schools are making a major push to transform the classroom experience in Texas and across the country by integrating digital instructional materials proven to work, such as those provided by Pearson.

"Mobile learning will revolutionize school as we know it, with interactive textbooks, videos, 3D animation, and illustrations at students' fingertips, bringing concepts to life," said Raymond Ward, Pearson vice-president for Texas. "When students graduate, they go to college and enter a workforce where technology - and the ability to use it and interact with it - is at the forefront. Digital learning helps students grasp the substance of their lessons while meeting them on the digital frontier where they are already spending their time."

iBooks are the newest addition to Pearson's wide range of mobile learning solutions available for schools today, including the Online Learning Exchange. OLE is a digital program that gives Texas teachers mobile access to multimedia learning materials like videos and podcasts so they can choose and develop lessons best suited for their students' needs. Pearson's Prentice Hall Writing Coach is an interactive writing and grammar program that provides personalized help for every student through a digital "coach" that gives individualized feedback on paragraphs and full essays. Pearson's digital Online Learning Exchange (OLE) and Writing Coach programs are already being used in Texas on computers and mobile tablets.

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