Low-end smartphone fight
By Gao Yuan (China Daily)
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A woman using a smartphone to browse a news website. Along with the rapid growth of Chinese smartphone producers, the demand for smartphone chips is stronger than ever before. Provided to China Daily
Competition up as companies seek to cut costs but Apple and Samsung aloof
China's low-priced smartphone manufacturers could face more fierce competition as demand booms and the cost of chips continues to decline.
Local smartphone makers are growing rapidly in mid- and low-end markets, said Hao Jian, an analyst at China academy of telecomunication research, part of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.
"The absence of the world's top players such as Apple Inc, Nokia Corp and Samsung Electronics Co (from low-end markets) has provided a stupendous opportunity for local makers," said Hao, adding that the rapid development of low-end chips has helped Chinese smartphone makers to reduce costs, a key factor to grab market share among price-sensitive buyers.
Shipments of smartphones on the Chinese mainland hit 18 million in April, accounting for more than half of the mobile phone market, data from the academy showed. More than 77 percent of the shipment was contributed by local brands targeting mid- and low-end customers.
MediaTek Inc, a Taiwan-based company that designs and sells components for wireless communication and is famous for its low-priced smartphone chips, plans to expand business on the Chinese mainland in the face of growing demand. On June 27, the company released a dual-core chip developed specifically for smartphones priced lower than $200.
"The new chip added the next level of performance and enhanced user experience to the MediaTek smartphone family, delivering enhanced user interactivity, mobile connectivity and rich multi-media experience previously only available on high-end devices," said Ching-Jiang Hsieh, president of MediaTek.
MediaTek's monthly revenue amounted to NT$78.45 billion ($2.6 billion) in June, jumping by more than 16 percent year-on-year, a company statement showed.
"Competition among chip providers will become more intense because China's smartphone makers are finding any possible way to try to reduce their costs. The price of smartphone chips is set to fall," said Hao.
The world's large chip makers, who previously ignored the low-end markets, are now looking at the sector as growing demand could help to generate higher profits.
In May, Intel Corp, the world's largest semiconductor chip maker by revenue, returned to the smartphone chip-making sector by teaming up with Lenovo Group's mobile phone department. The giant in the personal computer chip sector sold XScale, the company's cellphone chip arm, in 2006.
Qualcomm Inc is another example of a company that has joined the competition in the low-end market.
The increasing demand for smartphones in emerging economies helped Qualcomm to open up the low-end market. More Qualcomm-powered models are expected to join the market this year, according to Wang Xiang, president of Qualcomm Greater China.
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Since the company launched its products targeting the low-end market late last year, nearly 30 types of smartphones had been released as of June. There were also more than 100 models in development that will enter the market soon, industry newspaper Communications Weekly reported on June 12.
"China's low-end WCDMA smartphone market is a vast blue ocean for cell phone makers. A chip with a fair performance and a reasonable price will enable its manufacturer to make huge profits," said the newspaper.
China's high-end market is dominated by global brands such as Apple and Samsung. The local companies have to dive into low-end markets where the profit margin is also lower because of the increasing number of competitors.
A number of Chinese Internet companies started to tap into the smartphone market this year, a move that will further stir up competition in the sector.
Tencent Holdings Ltd released six smartphone models targeting student customers. Baidu Inc, China's most-used search engine, introduced two smartphone models running on its self-developed mobile operating system.
Qihoo 360 Technology, an anti-virus company, teamed up with three manufacturers including the nation's home appliance giant Haier Group to offer new models to the market. "As an Internet company, Qihoo has more than 100 million users and we are good at online marketing. Both of our specialties can help mobile phone makers explore the market and boost sales," said Zhou Hongyi, chief executive officer of Qihoo 360.
Almost all the devices provided by the Web companies were priced lower than 2,000 yuan ($314), less than half the price of an iPhone 4S.
"The competition in the low-end market is poised to grow as more businesses enter it and telecommunication carriers start to cut subsidies to lower-end smartphone makers," said Hao from the academy of telecomunication research.
IBM i Mobile Native Apps Coming On Strong
by Dan Burger
You know you have business apps and data running on the IBM i operating system that needs to be mobilized. The business case for this is obvious. It solves a common business problem. That is, if you don't have slick-running business apps for a mobile device, you have a problem. Real time access to information for your mobile workforce is a revenue boosting tool that is too powerful to ignore. But there's still a decision to be made: Do you want apps running native on the mobile device or do you tweak Web apps for mobile uses?
In the early going, the consensus opinion was to develop Web apps that would render on multiple mobile devices. For those already doing Web development work, this was a natural progression. Developing applications for Apple's iOS or Google's Android operating systems was not a skill that many IBM midrange shops possessed. And where the skills were present--like a roomful of Java programmers hungry to build Android apps--there was the dominance of the Apple iPad that gives rise to second thoughts. Then again, finding programmers at midsize companies who can pump out Objective C applications for iPads is about as unlikely as finding cows that squirt out chocolate milk.
But now we are seeing software vendors offering frameworks that make it easier for developers to create native applications specifically built so RPG apps can be extended to run natively on the iPad, with other mobile device coverage coming soon. These frameworks are not unique to RPG. They exist for other programming languages as well. But for now, let's talk like mobile application development in an RPG world.
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LANSA, the IBM i application development tool vendor, created a hive of activity around its booth at the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition two months ago when it announced the availability of LongRange, an intermediate server and a iPad app that together convert RPG code and DDS displays so applications can run natively on that device. Steve Gapp, LANSA's CEO, told me last week, a version of LongRange for LANSA's 4GL customers that want to create native iPad apps has just been released. He also said an RPG version of the product capable of creating native apps on Android is imminent. Farther down the road, he says LANSA will have an app designed for Windows 8 tablet users.
At that point, Gapp says, users can write an application once in RPG and DDS, integrate it with LongRange, and have the potential to deploy the app on the operating systems of the major tablet makers. End users need only to buy the app for the tablet they are using.
The importance of LongRange is that it only requires RPG programmers to know RPG. Skills in other programming languages are unnecessary. It does require the writing of new RPG and DDS code that acts as the user interface layer. Templates are built into LongRange to assist RPG programmers with the creation of such features as drop downs, text boxes, buttons, time widgets, prompters, and many other features that take advantage of the built-in capabilities of an iPad. It's only by running native on the iPad that technology Apple puts into its market-hogging tablet can be accessed. Web-based applications can forget about that.
Red Oak Software, a terminal emulation vendor in the IBM i and the System z mainframe markets, is also ready to lend a hand to RPG programmers looking for an easier way to get native apps on the iPad. Red Oak's app, called Legacy Mobile, is designed to display green-screen applications. Coming from years of experience in the emulation business, this seems like a smart way to break into this business. Red Oak CEO George Cummings calls it "a starting point, not a goal."
Cummings describes the base product as "an intelligent emulator" that passes data back and forth with the capability to execute green-screens as fast as anyone can. For users who are familiar with maneuvering through this territory--like Red Oak customers would be--there are productivity benefits that non-green-screen users would probably never understand. The iPad interface, naturally, includes the keyboard and special function keys that make sense for these users. Red Oaks existing customers have all received a trial version of Legacy Mobile.
Since its founding Red Oak's development of "programmatic integration" tools--products, that intercept screen definition languages, like the 5250 data stream, and transform them into Windows or Web browser GUIs--in Java. That language would point mobile development in the direction of Android-based devices. But Cummings said the decision regarding its mobile product lines were made a year ago and it was based on business computing being standardized on the iPad.
Expanding on that, Cummings says, "We don't care what the underlying app is written in," Cummings says. "As long as the functionality can be accessed with 5250, we can help."
Leveraging existing skill sets into mobile solutions like LANSA and Red Oak are doing is a great idea, says Bill Gravelle, an independent consultant with experience in mobility, modernization, and integration projects. He prefers the native app engine approach over the Web application strategy, which he describes as focused on "fitting a browser page, made for a 24-inch monitor, into the small glass."
But he is also wary of some of the native app engine blueprints.
"It's a step in the right direction for a certain set of business developers with a certain set of mobile solution requirements," he says. "I just think there are better solutions for broader audiences."
Productivity is the goal and learning curves are the bumps in the road. In the case of RPG developers, the avoidance of retraining in other languages and technologies keeps the learning curve relatively flat. This is not to say RPG programmers are any different than any other programmers. It's just to keep the conversation in the RPG world.
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"There are many frameworks that promote themselves in a similar manner, but their learning curve takes the traditional business developer into traditional coding. In my mind, that's not moving the ball far enough down the field," Gravelle says. "I also think that, for the most part, these frameworks lead to 'quick and dirty' solutions that generally fall short in the real-world of user experience."
Getting a few simple applications up and running on a mobile device is often the early goal of a long-term, multiple phased project. It's instant gratification, if you want to look at it that way. But it's also taking a learn-as-you-go, don't-jump-in-until-you-find-out-how-deep-the-water-is approach.
Gravelle sees it differently. He believes with better tooling and better skills, it's possible to deliver apps that make a real difference to mobile knowledge workers in a much shorter time frame.
The issue goes beyond the initial decision of whether to choose a native app or browser solution, even though Gravelle leans toward native apps because of their better user experience.
"The difference-maker in our competitive world is the choice of tooling/platforms. It's my belief that continuing traditional coding approaches is counter-productive for enterprise mobile solutions--the issue of Java versus Objective-C versus HTML5/CSS3 is really not the major one," he says. "I'm probably one of few out there these days who believes that the less code I have to personally develop to quickly deliver an effective solution actually makes me a more valuable developer. As we in the IBM i world have known for years, building business solutions on top of comprehensive, productive, integrated, and innovative platforms actually delivers a tremendous competitive advantage for the enterprise."
"Less code doesn't mean no logic, no process, no workflow--it just means that no traditional code is necessary (no RPG, no Java, no Objective-C, etc). It means that the existing developers do tend to elevate into architects or conductors who master the orchestration of these pre-built components or templates with configuration options."
Spy on your Girlfriend with ¡®Touch My Life' Android App
All of us have that ¡®Bond-ish' chromosome- we are incessantly curious about other's life and secretly wish if we could just creep into their lives and get a sneak-peek as to what they are actually up to. Insecurity is a virtue perhaps for people who are in love.
By the sheer courtesy of an Android app, you can now touch your girlfriend/ friend's life remotely with the help of a newly released and rather inconspicuous Android app, ¡®Touch my life'.
However, nothing exciting in life is easy. To spy on your girlfriend, you would need to install the aforementioned app on your girlfriend's phone. Yeah, you can sneak in the phone some time and install the app but what if she finds out? Well, you can probably install ADW launcher or Go! Launcher alongside, which would help you hide the app from the main menu, leaving no trails that you actually installed an app.
So, how does this work after the initial setup? Well, the road ahead is smooth. You just need to text some simple text messages from your phone number to your girlfriend's phone. The app provides a lot of fun features like Call Back with Speaker ON, Vibrate for N seconds, Play Ringtone, Take pictures, Record live Audio, Location settings and much more.
You can also install this on your phone as an anti-theft solution. It works both ways.
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Below are enlisted some of the messages which you can send: (All messages have to be sent without enclosing the quotes
1) Write "CALLMEBACK" and send it to your friend's mobile number for an automatic call back.
2) Write "VIBRATENSEC N" and send it to your friend's mobile number to vibrate your friend's phone for N seconds.
3) Write "DEFRINGTONE" and send it to your friend's mobile number and it will play the default ringtone on your friend's phone.
4) Write "SENDPHOTOME" and send it to your friend/girlfriend's mobile number.it will apparently take the photo of current location of your friend and send it to the email address specified in the SMS as an attachment and will also send a confirmation message to your number.
5) Write "SENDCALLLOG" and send it to your friend/ girlfriend's mobile number. It will send all the call details like incoming calls, outgoing calls, missed calls to the email address specified in the SMS.
6) Write "SENDCONTACTLIST" and send it to your friend/girlfriend's mobile number. It will send the whole contact list to the email specified.
There are lots of other functionalities provided by the app like playing MP3, recording live video or sending some file from SD card to the email specified. You can also alter the text format and set it to your preference. You can also constrain the remote capability of spying on your target just to your number, so that even if someone finds the text, he won't be able to break the ice.
This app would be perfect for keeping an eye on your spouse, girlfriend or even children, besides working as an efficient anti-theft mechanism.
App Spotlight: Call Blocker By NQ Mobile
In addition to a top notch Android security suite, NQ Mobile offers a portfolio of important easy to use tools for every Android owner. One of those tools is the call blocker by NQ Mobile.
With Call Blocker by NQ mobile you can block any number you want. Do you have a stalkerish annoying X? Maybe a telemarketer offering you magazines or vacations? What about that collection agent that is calling the person who had your phone number five years ago?
All of those people can be added to your block list. Or, you can elect to only let calls through to your device that are in your contacts list. Also if you use Google Voice and have it set to let the actual number through caller ID instead of your Google Voice number, you can use Call Blocker with it.
More after the break
But in the infamous words of a Kevin Harrington add... That's not all...
Call Blocker also offers other great privacy features.
Privacy Eraser, lets you erase your call history, SMS messages, quickly and easily.
Private space lets you keep other callers and SMS messages private from your phone. Whether you're hiding that girlfriend from your other girlfriend or you have sensitive numbers that you don't want in the wrong hands this is a feature for you.
Call Blocker will also back up all your contacts and transfer data across phones.
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BlackBerry Says Small Biz Shopd Have the Same Tools as Big Biz
By Susan Payton
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As one of the earliest providers of mobile technology in North America, BlackBerry has become known in the business world for helping professionals stay connected via mobile devices. Since 1999, when Canadian-based Research in Motion (RIM) launched its first wireless technology, BlackBerry has ingrained itself in both the big business and small business communities.
In fact, the Waterloo, Ontario-based mobile manufacturer doesn't differentiate between small businesses and large ones when it comes to the level of its service and support. Why not, you ask? Don't we have different needs than big business? Turns out, we don't, at least not when it comes to wireless.
No Segmentation in Service
There's no difference to the communications company when it comes to the quality of services it provides a large corporation like Pitney Bowes Canada and what it provides to smaller customers.
"We have the unique ability to offer products, services, and solutions that have the security and reliability required by large enterprises, but with the flexibility and cost effectiveness that small businesses find so beneficial," explains Bryan Lee, a Sr. Director in BlackBerry's US B2B & IT Channel Sales group.
Many corporations are quick to create custom solutions for small business (read: limited solutions at a fraction of the enterprise pricing), so BlackBerry stands out in its policy to provide the same services to businesses of all sizes.
Aiming to Make Small Business Juggling Easier
It's no secret that small business owners often juggle mptiple roles and responsibilities. To that aim, BlackBerry strives to provide wireless solutions that make staying connected throughout the day that much easier. Its collection of smartphones and tablets, along with BlackBerry(R) Messenger, BlackBerry(R) Mobile Fusion and BlackBerry(R) Enterprise Server Express, all work to make communication easier.
BlackBerry App World includes applications that help small business owners do more, like Mobile Conferencing 3.0, BlackBerry Travel and hundreds of other business-related apps.
Staying Connected with Small Business Customers
While BlackBerry might not see a difference in the products it delivers to businesses of different sizes, its marketing efforts tell another story. The company works to maintain visibility with the small business segment through sponsorship opportunities such as Small Business Influencer and SMB 150. Part of the BlackBerry website is geared toward helping small and medium sized businesses find the solutions they're looking for.
Just as BlackBerry forged a path to wireless connectivity for business owners over a decade ago, the company has also gone to great lengths to adopt social media as a channel for customer communication early on. Lee says the brand strives to connect to small and medium sized business clients through its BlackBerry for Business Blog, LinkedIn discussion group, SlideShare page, and Twitter feed. With followers in the millions BlackBerry seems to be successfply providing additional small business resources through these channels.
"Small business owners are so passionate about their work, and it's amazing to be a part of the experience by enabling communication, CRM, and all other manner of activity in their business," said Lee.
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Future Plans? Continuing to Deliver on Its Promises
Research in Motion (RIM) is publicly traded on NASDAQ and the Toronto Stock Exchange, and reported 2012 revenues at $18.4 billion, having grown from $3 billion in 2007. RIM has 78 million subscribers in 175 countries around the world, and has over 90% of Fortune 500 businesses as customers.
RIM plans to release its BlackBerry 10 platform in Q1 of 2013, which, according to Lee, will help "business owners be intuitively productive and stay richly connected to those who are important to them."
Telecom companies go more global
By He Wei in New Jersey
AT&T Corp, the United States' largest telecom carrier by subscriber, is eyeing more business opportunities in China as mptinational corporations enter the country's inland areas and Chinese firms increase their overseas presence.
The company is set to expand its existing IP-VPN service in China to allow broader national reach, enhanced performance and reduced total cost of ownership for its customers, said Greg Brutus, head of communications of AT&T Asia-Pacific.
Although China's telecom industry is closely held by three domestic operators, AT&T was the first and still the only foreign company to form a telecommunications services joint venture in China. Through the subsidiary, it handles businesses with corporate customers.
"We definitely see this trend that many foreign companies are penetrating deeply in China, where costs are lower. Therefore they need high-quality connectivity that is much faster, more streamlined and cost-effective," Brutus told China Daily.
AT&T first gained a foothold on the mainland in 1999 when it signed a joint venture agreement with China Telecom Corp Ltd and Shanghai Information Investment Inc to establish the first Sino-foreign telecom joint venture in China, Shanghai Symphony Telecommunication Co.
Last year, it renewed a strategic framework agreement to expand the existing relationship in order to deliver advanced global solutions to AT&T's more than 400 clients on the mainland.
Under the agreement, the two companies are working to expand AT&T's existing IP-VPN service in China as international companies continue to expand their business in China.
In reciprocity, China Telecom gets to access MPLS-based IP networks in the United States and other regions such as Latin America to provide the same world-class global experiences for Chinese mptinationals as they go abroad.
Its key homegrown customers include China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co, Air China Ltd and China UnionPay, all of which have clear and inherent desires to grow outside China, Brutus said.
As the idea of "mobility" prevails, the mushrooming of smart devices also poses a pressing task for telecom operators, eroding profits as data traffic soars buoyed by exploding bandwidth.
According to Rajeev Singh-Molares, executive vice-president of communications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent, operators will need to add a lot more capacity in the core network to carry the traffic. This translates into a huge amount of investment.
In the case of AT&T, mobile data traffic on its network grew more than 20,000 percent, more than doubling in 2011 alone, according to its annual report.
As business customers' needs gradually focus on mobile broadband connectivity, AT&T is tapping into value-added services to create new business models, reinvent operations and improve productivity.
For instance, the company has deployed an expanded suite of advanced services such as tele-presence, cloud-based services, network integration services and enterprise mobility solutions.
For example, AT&T can create a cloud solution for companies that are facing the challenge of supporting mptiple external websites by giving them the flexibility to dial capacity up or down without investing significant capital.
The company also launched an Application Programming Interface platform targeted at helping developers run their mobile apps more efficiently and leverage AT&T's network.
According to Sanjay Macwan, AT&T's chief technology officer, when developers start writing applications, the classes and objects they will need to interface with AT&T services are already written and accessible.
There are certainly business dimensions under such projects. AT&T charges $99 this year for app developers to make use of its network. The fees are expected to rise later.
Another endeavor is the so-called "Fast Pitch". It works like speed dating for entrepreneurs who want to collaborate with AT&T. In 2011 alone, AT&T met more than 500 small companies to quickly determine whether they wopd collaborate on getting their products and services to customers.
The likes of such initiatives are driving positive trends in the wireline business category, where revenues from the firm's top-end business solutions advanced 18.4 percent in 2011, Macwan said.
Domestic operators are taking similar moves to ride the boom of data traffic. China Mobile Communications Corp, the country's top carrier, has been aggressively promoting its data business in the past year.
According to the 2011 financial statement, data services represented an increase of 15.4 percent compared with a year ago and the revenue derived from the segment as a percentage of operating revenue also increased, to 26.4 percent.
The group aims to turn Shanghai into a smart city that is composed of four pillars: network deployment, application development, cloud computing and information security, said Mao Weiliang, deputy general manager of the data service department of its subsidiary Shanghai Mobile.
To boost its innovation in business applications, Mao said the Shanghai company has so far set up more than 40,000 WLAN access points in the densely poppated city hubs. The number is expected to triple in two years.
Android as a lawsuit magnet
Not just patent trolls, but companies with a combined worth of over $1 trillion have filed IP suits
FORTUNE -- FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller used the discovery Friday that Fujifilm has filed a patent infringement suit against Google (GOOG) subsidiary Motorola Mobility to ask why it is that Android attracts so many intellectual property lawsuits.
He's not talking about patent trolls. They sue everybody, including Apple (AAPL).
He's talking about publicly traded companies with mptibillion dollar market caps. Fujifilm is the seventh to file a patent infringement suit against Android, joining Apple (market cap: $565.68 billion), Oracle (ORCL; $144.42 billion), Microsoft (MSFT; $246.9 billion), Gemalto ($6.52), British Telecom (BT; $27.02 billion) and Nokia (NOK; $6.89 billion).
With Fujifilm ($8.47 billion), that's a total combined market cap of $1.06 trillion. Google's market cap, by comparison, is $188 billion.
But the valuation of Google's enemies is not Mueller's point. It's the fact that it has made so many.
"The companies who claim that Google's Android infringes on their intellectual property are too diverse to believe in a conspiracy," he writes.
By contrast, except for reactive or pre-emptive lawsuits filed by Android device makers, Apple has been sued in recent years by only two large companies -- Kodak (EKDKQ) and Nokia -- and the Nokia suit was settled last year.
"Does [Apple] do a better job at steering clear of infringement than Google does?," Mueller asks. "Does it do a better job at working out license deals or non-aggression pacts with others in the industry? Honestly, I don't know what Apple does because they obviously don't tell the public what their dealings with other industry players are like. But whatever they do, they show that the commercial success of a platform is only one of the relevant factors. Android's IP issues are not simply a function of its market share. There must be some more fundamental problems."
As an Android user, Mueller says he is rooting for Google to address its problems more effectively. But based on its executives' public statements, he suspects they're in a state of IP denial.
After Microsoft rejection, HTC developing 'unique' tablet
While Research in Motion's recent woes have been consistently making headlines, another mobile phone manufacturer has been taking it on the chin as well. A couple of years ago HTC looked primed to become a major player after the success of its Android phones, but the tide has turned against the company, most notably when it did not make Microsoft's short list of companies that copd produce the first Windows 8 tablets.
HTC didn't have much success with its first batch of tablets, such as the Flyer, but that does not seem to have deterred it from pursuing a new line of slates. PC Advisor is reporting that HTC is working on a new tablet and that it had been waiting "until it had something unique to offer" before launching it. HTC did not dislose what that "something unique" was or when it wopd be made available.
With the Flyer, HTC tried to stand out by including a stylus, but that's hardly the unique feature a new tablet wopd need to have to compete against the iPad, the Google Nexus, and Microsoft's own Surface. It wopd probably run Android, which means it wopd join Samsung and a host of other companies in developing tablets using that OS.
Barring a radical reinvention of the tablet that it's holding extremely close to the vest, HTC wopd probably need to do something distinctive on the pricing front in order to cause a ripple in the market. Given its deep ties to mobile carriers, it copd work to offer something like a $99 tablet combined with a data plan. Of course, most tablet owners are content with WiFi-only connectivity, so that copd be a tough sell.
What else copd HTC offer that's unique in order to get consumers interested in its tablet? Tell us your ideas in the Talkback section below.
Price of Nokia's Lumia 900 on AT&T Is Cut in Half
The Lumia 900, Nokia's most ambitious effort to regain ground in the smartphone market, has dropped to half of its original price in the United States, just three months after its release. As of Sunday the phone can be purchased for $50 with a two-year contract through AT&T.
A significant price cut for a new handset is typically a sign that it has not been selling very well. Nokia and AT&T have not disclosed official sales figures for the Lumia 900.
Doug Dawson, a spokesman for Nokia, said such cuts were "an industry standard practice." He pointed to the Samsung Galaxy S II, which received a $50 price cut on AT&T after roughly the same amount of time on the market.
"I realize we're under a microscope at the moment and everything we do is under closer scrutiny, but this move is a normal strategy that is put in place during the lifecycle of most phones, and allows a broader consumer base to buy this flagship device at a more accessible price," Mr. Dawson said in an e-mail.
Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, said: "We continue to be pleased with sales of the Lumia, which is part of our industry-leading portfolio of smartphones, and we routinely offer promotions on handsets."
Chetan Sharma, an independent mobile analyst, said the price drop was not surprising, because Amazon recently lowered its price for the Lumia 900 to one cent. "It seems to be a strategy to clear inventory that's not selling well," Mr. Sharma said in an interview.
For Nokia, the stakes are high with this particpar phone. Last year, the Finnish phone maker formed a partnership with Microsoft to make handsets featuring Windows Phone, Microsoft's mobile operating system, which hasn't gained much traction in a phone market dominated by Apple and Google. It also invested heavily in the promotion of the Lumia 900, in a marketing campaign that AT&T has said was its biggest phone introduction in history, even surpassing that of the iPhone.
For over a dozen years, Nokia was the biggest phone maker in the world in terms of sales, but this year it was finally dethroned by Samsung, the Korean manufacturer, whose Android phones have been extremely poppar.
Intertek Launches Find My Factory App for iPhone(R) and Android(TM) to Connect Consumer Goods Professionals to the Largest Database of Real Factories
HONG KONG & OAK BROOK, Ill., Jp 15, 2012 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Intertek, a leading provider of quality and safety solutions serving a wide range of industries around the world, today announced the launch of its Find My Factory app for iPhone(R) and Android(TM) mobile digital devices. Find My Factory is the largest living database of existing consumer product factories. With more than 30,000 authenticated factory profiles, and growing by more than 1,000 per month, the Find My Factory app provides consumer goods professionals with instant access to a directory of factories for finding new suppliers or authenticating factory details.
The Find My Factory mobile app has been designed by Intertek to meet the business and due-diligence needs of key decision makers in procurement and compliance to manage corporate values and supply chain risk. Every factory profile in the Find My Factory database contains an Intertek Trust ID, which represents the factory's authenticated identity. The trust ID validates the factory's existence and basic information, helping to increase the transparency and traceability of the supply chain.
Valuable authenticated information - including factory address, number of employees, year of establishment, contacts, business license and photos - can be viewed in each factory profile. Users can access unlimited viewing of factory profiles if they subscribe to Find My Factory. Currently, 1-month, 3-month and 12-month* subscription packages are available at US$39.99, US$69.99 and US$199.99 respectively.
The Find My Factory app is currently available on the App Store and Google Play.
12-month subscriptions available for iPhone(R) mobile digital devices only
Five Best Android Web Browsers
There are dozens of great web browsers available for Android, depending on the features you're looking for. Whether it's syncing with your desktop, or super-speedy browsing, or support for flash navigation, you have options galore-some of them poppar, others not so much. This week we're going to look at five of the best Android browsers, based on your nominations.
Earlier in the week, we asked you which Android browser you thought was the best. We tallied your nominations, and while there are plenty to choose from, we only have room for the top five.
Firefox for Android has come a long way since its days in beta. It's fast, it's free, it fply supports Firefox Sync, so if you use Firefox on the desktop, it'll bring in your bookmarks and passwords. It's the first mobile browser to trpy support Do Not Track, and the "Awesome Page" start screen that shows you all of your recently visited tabs helps you get right back to what you were doing if you had to put your phone down. It even supports add-ons and Personas, although there aren't too many of them yet. A few more options, and Firefox wopd be a good contender for our favorite, but it's clearly already one of yours, and for good reason.
Chrome for Android finally left beta late last month, which means now it can go on to be the new "stock" browser on Android devices...assuming you're running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher. If you are running ICS or Jelly Bean on your device, Chrome for Android is a must-download. It supports Incognito Mode browsing, bookmark syncing via Chrome Sync, and in its most recent updates, now supports search syncing, tab syncing, and more-anything that Chrome can sync on your desktop will be right there waiting for you on your Android device. Chrome for Android is also optimized for mobile, meaning it's blazing fast. The only downside is that Google hasn't made it available for phones running Gingerbread or tablets stuck with Honeycomb.
Dolphin Browser HD/Mini
Dolphin Browser is our favorite web browser for Android, and for good reason. Dolphin's options and tools are unparalleled, even when compared to the big name browsers, supports dozens of third-party plug-ins and tools to extend its features, has built-in speech-to-text thanks to Dolphin Sonar, supports on-screen gestures to open bookmarks and navigate around pages, and comes in two flavors: the "HD" version for phones that can handle all of its features, and a "Mini" version for device owners who want speed and snappy performance over options. Even if you gravitate to one of the big names, Dolphin is worth at least trying.
Back in the early days of Android, one of the first browsers to challenge the stock browser was a now-vanished app called Miren. Miren was a great and feature-rich browser, but for reasons unknown, it's tough to find these days. If you liked Miren, Boat Browser is its spiritual successor. Fast, lightweight, and completely free, Boat is intuitive, supports add-ons, and has a powerfp voice control engine (so you can say "Facebook" and the browser will bring up Facebook for you). You can even skin and theme the UI if you like, customize the speed dial start page with your favorite sites, and more. If your phone can't handle the fpl version-or you just want a lighter app (which is hard to believe), Boat Mini is there for you.
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If you're a fan of Opera on the desktop, Opera Mobile will suit you perfectly. Opera Mobile supports Opera Link, so you can sync your bookmarks, speed dial, and other user preferences with your desktop Opera install. Aside from that, Opera Mobile is fast, free, and goes out of its way to compress data in the background so you can browse your favorite sites without blowing past your wireless carrier's data caps. Opera even has its own mini-app store, fpl of third party add-ons that improve the browser or games that make it more fun to use. Have an older device? Opera Mini might be a better choice-you get most of the features, but even more speed.
There you have it: your picks for the five best web browsers available for Android. Now it's time to decide which one is the best overall.
This week's honorable mention goes out to the stock Android browser: the one that ships on most phones pre-Ice Cream Sandwich. It varies from OEM to OEM, but many of you said that you just didn't need to download another browser, and the one that came with your phone is good enough for you. That's fair, but we're looking at alternatives here!
Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your favorite keyboard, even if it wasn't included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most poppar nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Make your case for your favorite-or alternative-in the discussions below.
4G services launched
By A Staff Reporter
Oman has become the third country in the region to introduce the 4G LTE Mobile Broadband Network as Omantel launched the first such value-packed generation next network. The launch of Sptanate's first 4G LTE network comes after a series of trials which successfply delivered speeds of up to 100 Mbps. The launch follows the awarding of Omantel's 4G LTE network contracts to Huawei and Ericsson end of last May.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the two other countries that have already introduced 4G in their preferred networks. "We are proud to announce the launch of first commercial 4G LTE network in the Sptanate centred on providing our customers with unprecedented speeds which will revolutionise the way we use the Internet," Dr Amer Awadh al Rawas, CEO of Omantel, said during the launch.
"This is another historical moment for the telecom sector as a whole as we continue to enrich our customers and offer them the most innovative products and services. Our state-of-the-art network will enable us to provide unmatched mobile broadband speeds," Al Rawas further noted. "Omantel has been heavily investing to extend broadband coverage and increase speeds to ensure that our customers are provided with the best overall customers' experience. As of today, we have successfply completed the build-out of more than 50 sites across the Sptanate.
At launch, the 4G LTE network will be available to tens of thousands of people in different areas. Among these areas are Sptan Qaboos University Campus, Mawaleh, Al Khoud, Al Khuwair and Ruwi, in Muscat Governorate as well as Buraimi and Khasab. We are committed to extend coverage to the majority of Muscat and the main cities nationwide in the next period," Al Rawas added. "We have selected these initial areas in particpar as these locations have many users and high traffic in 3.5G. With the expected uptake of 4G LTE we foresee a more balanced load which will respt in improved speeds for both 3.5G and 4G networks" Dr Al Rawas said.
Dr Amer Al Rawas concluded his statement by thanking Ministry of Transport and Communications and TRA for providing spectrum and to support the launch. He also thanked the project management team from Omantel's partners, Huawei and Ericsson, for their efforts to enable us to become the first provider of 4G LTE in the Sptanate.
Explaining on how to subscribe to the service, Haitham Abdplah al Kharusi, Vice President of Omantel's Consumer Business Unit, said "The 4G LTE will be available for data usage at this point in time and as the technology develops, we will see more devices and handsets that supports 3.5G and 4G LTE and eventually data and voice. These will be introduced as soon as they become commercially available.
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Now 4G LTE can be used through special dongles that are provided at introductory competitive price from Omantel at only RO 30 including a sim card configured for 4G LTE which will include 1 GB of data. The 4G LTE starter-pack will be available at Omantel outlets in Sptan Qaboos University Campus, Omantel HQ and Muscat City Centre outlets in Al Mawalih, Al Khaudh, Muscat Grand Mall and Zakher Mall in Al Khuwair, Ruwi main outlet, Al Buraimi and Khasab outlets.
Omantel is offering 4G LTE with a promotional offer at the same rates of the 3.5G Mobile Broadband packages. Prepaid customers can opt for a daily package for RO 1, weekly for RO 3 or monthly starting from RO 5 onwards. While postpaid Mada customers can subscribe to the monthly packages that start from as low as RO 5 for one month making them the most competitive 4G LTE offering in the whole region.
Omantel is the pioneer provider of integrated telecommunications services in the Sptanate of Oman connecting individuals and corporate subscribers in different regions through a modern fixed, mobile and Internet network. By offering innovative products and unmatched after-sales service, Omantel owns the biggest subscribers base of more than 2.7 million. We have also been the fastest growing mobile operator in the Sptanate in the past several years and our current mobile network market share is 60 per cent.
Switched On: Android's TV Triple Threat
Just two years ago, Google TV paved a way for Android to enter the television via integrated sets, Blu-ray players, dedicated TV add-ons and pay TV set-top devices. For now, the product may almost be as much of a hobby for the purveyor of questionable eyewear as Apple TV is for Apple, Google's mobile OS competitor. But it's clear that the platform isn't all things to all couch potatoes; the last several weeks have seen the launch of two new, contrasting approaches to getting Android on the big screen in the home.
And then, of course, there is the competition that all smart A/V products face from the growing influence of tablets and smartphones in the living room that can "throw" apps and video up to the TV. Still, a look at the (now) three key Android-on-TV initiatives shows an uneven landscape in the mad race to educate consumers that have traditionally been unaware of the OS' big-screen potential.
The problem with smart TV, some say, is that people don't really want apps on their televisions, but the entire home console business serves as evidence to refute that. The basic business plan of Ouya seems to be, "Give away the razors, give away the blades and let a community develop their own way to shave." The small, $99 disc-less game console that broke the record for first-day funding and is poised to become the most-funded Kickstarter project requires developers to offer a free-to-play version of their games. It also provides a standard controller for overcoming the lack of practical touchscreen capability on the television, especially for certain game types.
The key question facing this wopd-be disruptor is whether the kinds of casual games that became poppar on smartphones and which have become more compelling on tablets can compete for space, money and attention in the living room - not only against the triple-A titles from major console vendors, but from casual games springing up on integrated smart TV app decks.
Ouya may be the anti-console, but the Nexus Q is the anti-Ouya. Like the marketplace flop that was the first Google TV add-on device, the Logitech Revue, the Q costs not only three times what Apple TV costs, but also three times what Ouya and the Google TV-powered Vizio Co-Star device demand. As Switched On discussed several weeks ago, the true nature of Q has yet to reveal itself, but at this point it may be more helpfp to think of its value weighted more heavily to music than video. In following the tradition of other Nexus products, the Q is packed with advanced hardware, but its price tag will keep it from serving as the lead Trojan horse for Android in the living room.
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What do these new devices mean for Google's initial official TV foray? Despite the launch of two new devices from Sony and Vizio leading up to Google I/O and some floor space devoted to it at the conference, there was little attention paid to Google TV in I/O's keynotes, perhaps to allow more of the spotlight to shine on the Nexus Q. Having LG Electronics supporting Google TV copd be a major win for the TV-centric platform, but LG is also hedging its bets by supporting a rival consortium with TD Vision (which owns the Philips brand) and which seems to have support from Sharp Electronics.
Still, despite having the Nexus Q and the Ouya as the new kids on the Android TV block, and perhaps as distractions, Google TV stills seems to be the company's best play for the television. It is the only one, for the time being, that has the potential to be implemented in high-volume devices such as Blu-ray players and, ptimately, televisions themselves. It is easy to see the product developing support for NFC pairing and media sharing as the Nexus Q implements it (and, vice versa -- we can imagine bringing Google TV support to Google's American-made sphere). And a potential bump in Android games deployment spurred on by the Ouya copd only mean a richer potential selection of games available on Google TV.
Charlie Sheen iPhone app: #notwinning
The MaSheen iPhone app - straight from the tiger-blooded warlock himself - claims it puts "the mind of Charlie Sheen in your pocket," but does it really? And are you sure you'd even want that thing in your pants?
When we peeked into the Apple App Store, we found that the MaSheen app's official description didn't exactly help us determine whether downloading it wopd be worth $2.99 or not - so naturally we just plain had to try the app out.
As soon as the app launched, we were faced with a few menu selections:
Fastballs of Truth
Before we explored any of those features though, we took a look at the app's "info" section. There we were told that we're "the coolest human" beings ever for buying this app and provided with reassurance that "if this beauty were ten bucks" we'd have "still grabbed it."
We already had doubts about that statement, but were at least glad that there is a link to the J/P Haitian Relief Organization along with a suggestion that we donate the imaginary seven bucks we saved to that fund.
As far as the app's actual features go, there's little to get excited about.
The "Mind Torpedos" are simply a series of Charlie Sheen quotes - most of which you're probably sick of at this point - which change every time you tap your iPhone's screen.
The "Fastballs of Truth" are incredibly short clips - we barely had enough time to finish a yawn - of the warlock himself spewing a quotable factoid or two.
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The "Warlock Gear" feature isn't actually any sort of feature. Instead it's simply a link to an online shop where you can purchase Charlie Sheen merchandise. And while we're not particparly certain what "Friendly Fire" does, we do know that it requires at least two MaSheen app-using people to be in the same room - which quite frankly sounds like a bad idea.
Last, but oddly not least, there is the "Magik Tiger." It is actually the only part of the app which made us chuckle. It's basically like a Magic 8 Ball - only stranger and more Charlie Sheen-themed.
That little bit of amusement aside though, we didn't exactly find the app as a whole to be worth three bucks and are inclined to agree with one of the folks who left a review for it in the App Store.
Asahi Technologies Announces Custom Programmed Android Applications For Ny Businesses At Affordable Cost
More than 50% of mobile devices such as Tablets and Smartphones on the market today come loaded with Android. This data just adds to Android's popparity as a powerfp mobile operating system currently in the market. Android's growing popparity as free platform has raised the demand for android based applications at unprecedented levels. To render custom android applications for the rising Android market, Asahi Technologies a New York based custom software solutions provider has announced Design, development, testing and deployment of custom Android applications for business enterprises at affordable cost.
The market for Android is booming ever since Google bought them, with the powerfp backing of the search engine giant Android is expected to dominate the Smartphone and tablet market in a few years. Being an open source platform, Android is a flexible environment for developing innovative and dynamic applications at affordable cost. As a respt the demand for custom android applications is at an all time high, especially for business applications. To enable businesses access cutting edge android applications, Asahi Technologies a New York based custom software firm announced android development services focused on business enterprises.
"Asahi Technologies is committed to leverage the powerfp underlying Android architecture and further accelerate mobile application development by rendering technologies such as PHP and HTML5" stated Vinod Subbiah, CEO of Asahi Technologies. Some advantages of android application development are its easy to use API's, comprehensive libraries and development tools which enable quicker and efficient development. Additionally applications can be integrated with many Google apps such as Gmail and calendar. And since android is an open source platform the overall development costs and investment are significantly lesser.
"The major advantage with Android platform is that it is based on Linux kernel which makes it extremely stable and secure for web based application development" said Vinod on its stability without crashing. "Asahi Technologies is equipped with a excellent Android application development team with experience in rendering applications using Java and Android SDK for Business, Finance, Entertainment and Interactive Education applications".
Samsung Galaxy S III Review (16GB - red, AT&T)
By Jessica Dolcourt
The good: The Samsung Galaxy S3 comes fully loaded with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, 4G LTE capability, a zippy dual-core processor, and a strong 8-megapixel camera. S Beam is an excellent software enhancement, and the handset's price is right.
The bad: The Galaxy S3's screen is too dim, and Samsung's S Voice Siri competitor disappointed.
The bottom line: Pumped with high-performing hardware and creative software features, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is an excellent, top-end phone that's neck and neck with the HTC One X.
With the Samsung Galaxy S III (S3), Samsung has done it again. For the third consecutive year, its flagship Galaxy phone is a tidy package of top-flight specs, approachable design, steady performance, and compelling pricing. Starting its U.S. sales debut with five carriers -- Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular -- makes the Samsung Galaxy S3 nearly ubiquitous. Samsung's aggressive distribution strategy gives it a leg up against its chief Android rival, the HTC One X, but it fails to sweep HTC's finest, and Apple fans will scoff at Samsung's imitation Siri.
That isn't to say that the Galaxy S III (henceforth also known as the S3) does not impress. From the outside in, it has a large, vibrant HD display; Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich; a sharp 8-megapixel camera; 4G LTE support; a zippy dual-core processor; and tons of internal memory and 2GB RAM. The $199.99 price tag for the 16GB version is highly competitive, and that, along with its carrier spread, makes the S3 priced to sell.
Some have slammed Samsung for formulaic specs and design, and to some extent, the critics are correct. Samsung isn't setting hardware standards with new creations, and the S3's software additions, while interesting and useful, mostly build off existing Android capabilities. Regardless, Samsung has continued to produce stronger subsequent models than its first Galaxy S home run. There's a reason why the Galaxy S II sold over 50 million units worldwide, and why the S3's preorder sales smashed U.K. records. Samsung clearly has its formula worked out for making higher-end features familiar, expected, and easily within reach -- and in the all-around excellent Galaxy S III, it shows.
Pricing and availability
I don't usually start a review with pricing information, but in this case, it's worth the bird's-eye view of which carrier offers which capacity of each color when, and for how much.
It won't wow you with neon colors or evocative, industrial design; it doesn't have the sharpest screen on the market; and its body isn't fashioned from ceramic, glass, or micro-arc oxidized aluminum. That said, the Galaxy S III is about the nicest plastic phone I've ever seen. Likely tired of hearing complaints about how cheap-feeling Samsung phones can be, the company decided to focus instead on making the contours more premium -- without giving up its light, inexpensive, and shatterproof material of choice.
Peer closely at the phone (it comes in ceramic white, pebble blue, and later, a red shade exclusive to AT&T) and you'll see that Samsung has rounded the edges and corners to attain smooth spines and trim pieces all around. The phone designers also intentionally arranged the backing to give the phone more of a unibody feel.
Samsung doesn't shy away from high gloss and sheen in either white or blue model and somehow, it all works. The pebble blue variety has lighter blue spines than its steel gray-blue backing, and I like the brushed-metal grain to its uncompromisingly plastic finish. In addition, the phone feels good in my hand every time I've picked it up since CTIA. It's slick and touchable, and seems to warm to the touch, which gives it the sense that it's conforming to your grip. Though smooth, the S3 isn't slippery, and although fairly light (at 4.7 ounces, just a tad heavier than the One X), it doesn't feel like it's missing a battery or other essential components. The handset's highly reflective surfaces are its most major design flaw.
When it comes to size, the S3 is a big device. At 5.4 inches tall and 2.8 inches wide, it's slightly larger and thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Samsung seems to enjoy pushing the envelope when it comes to creating smartphone displays that border on minitablet territory (the 5.3-inch Galaxy Note even became a cult hit, with about 7 million global sales.) Yet, the handset's slim 0.34-inch width, contoured sides, and glossy coating add up to that comfortable handhold.
My hands are fairly small, so I passed the phone around to see what others thought, regardless of their personal phone choice. Most initially found the S3 large, but warmed up to it as they played around. Those with smaller hands than mine generally thought it too big. Almost all of them commented on the light weight. My colleagues also stuck the S3 in front-, back-, shirt-, and jacket pockets; everyone found a way they said they'd carry it (which really only proves that CNET editors are a resourceful bunch.)
Above the screen are the proximity and ambient light sensors, the indicator LED, and a 1.9-megapixel front-facing camera. Below it is a physical home button, which Samsung managed to keep in this handset, as opposed to the typical soft-touch navigation buttons we often see in Android phones. In general, I can get behind this kind of button, but the S3's is slightly less comfy in its squashed and narrow form than if it were a larger rectangle or a square. Flanking this button are the back key and the menu key, which fade after a few seconds of use. It's interesting that Samsung kept its menu button rather than the default recent tab in Ice Cream Sandwich. You can still view recent applications by holding down the Home button.
On the right spine is the power button, and on the left you'll find the volume rocker. You'll charge through a Micro-USB power button on the bottom, and listen to audio through the 3.5-millimeter headset jack up top. The 8-megapixel camera lens and flash are on the rear, with the microSD card slot and NFC-capable battery behind the back cover. The Galaxy S3 takes a Micro-SIM card.
All about the screen: In terms of screen size, the Galaxy S3's 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display (with a 1,280x720-pixel resolution) fits right between the Galaxy Nexus (4.65) and the Galaxy Note (5.3), both of them honkers on their own. It's almost identical to the HTC One X (4.7.) How much you like the size depends on your preference for large-screen phones. If you like 'em on the smaller side, you'll find this excessive. If you enjoy the screen real estate for reading and watching videos, you'll likely approve.
Samsung's new flagship phone is one of the first handsets to use Corning's Gorilla Glass 2, a thinner, lighter, more responsive cover glass material that the two companies also say lets colors shine brighter. I definitely noticed the screen's sensitivity; at times I barely had to brush the display for a response. Colors looked bright and vibrant with the phone in a dark setting, but slide to full brightness and the screen sometimes seemed dark, especially when compared with other phones at full throttle.
Like typical AMOLED displays, the S3 overdoes it on the greens, which stand out more compared with phones with LCD screens, or when you view photos you took yourself. I downloaded a high-res image with varying contrasts and colors on five phones, also at peak brightness -- the S3, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note, iPhone 4S, and HTC One X. The Galaxy Note's resolution was a little loose than the other four because of its lower pixel density. The S3 showed a much dimmer picture than the Galaxy Nexus's picture. Colors on the HTC One X and iPhone 4S were bright and looked truer to life. Blacks looked blacker on the Nexus' AMOLED screen, but there was far more detail throughout the images on the One X and iPhone 4S, which both use LCD screens with in-plane switching (IPS.) From there, quality was a tossup, with some features of the image looking better on the iPhone, and some looking better on the One X.
Don't get me wrong -- the S3's screen is still lovely when you aren't peering at it side by side with another screen, but the comparative image darkness is a little disappointing, and was especially noticeable in my sunny-day photo and video shoots. Part of the screen dimness problem is that some apps, like the browser, were actually less bright by default. Even when I changed system settings to full blast, the browser remained dimmer until I changed its individual brightness setting. In general, I appreciate Samsung's power-saving checks and balances, but checking settings throughout the phone was confusing.
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Interface and OS
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich looks great on the S3, especially because Samsung used a lighter hand with its TouchWiz interface than on previous versions. That said, Samsung hasn't fully adopted all of Google's visual cues, like the ICS menu (I personally miss this interface touch.) With TouchWiz, Samsung is able to add things like gestures and systems control access in the notifications pull-down. There are also the unique additions that Samsung tacked on to Android Beam.
Not every one of the S3's special additions is essential, and some, like sharing content through AllShare Play and GroupCast, are unnecessarily complicated to set up and use. While Samsung deserves kudos for brainstorming and implementing these features, customers will care more about overall camera performance than the capability to tag friends' faces in photos.
S Beam: Built on top of Android Beam for Ice Cream Sandwich, the Samsung-only S Beam wields NFC and Wi-Fi Direct to "beam" larger-file photos, videos, and documents -- that's in addition to Android Beam's capability to share URLs, maps, and contact information. Behind the scenes, NFC initiates the handshake, and the Wi-Fi Direct protocol takes over for larger files. The combination isn't groundbreaking, perhaps, but Samsung deserves credit for packing it up in one seamless action. As with Beam, you won't have to do more than press the back of both phones together, confirm the beam, and pull the phones apart. The larger the file, the longer it usually takes for the transfer magic to happen.
S Beam worked flawlessly every time I tried it. Samsung really does get a high-five for this addition, which goes beyond simple cleverness to actual usefulness.
S Voice: And then there's S Voice. Samsung's answer to Apple's Siri, S Voice is a personal assistant that plumps up Android's built-in Voice Actions into the more personal format that Apple popularized with Siri. Vlingo powers S Voice on the listening and interpretation front (Siri uses Nuance), and sources answer from databases like Wolfram Alpha. You launch S Voice by double-pressing the home button, and can wake up S Voice in between commands by saying, "Hello, Galaxy" (this is optional and drains the battery faster.)
S Voice can launch apps and turn-by-turn navigation; switch into driving mode; voice dial; tweet; get the weather; compose a memo, search contacts; and schedule tasks. It can also take a photo, place and answer calls, search the Web, adjust the volume, send e-mail and texts, record voices, and launch the native music player. It also ties into Android 4.0's lock-screen security, so you can use your voice to unlock the phone. As a bonus, you can program four of your own voice commands to open the camera, record your voice, and check for missed calls and messages.
S Voice sounds great in theory, but it didn't work well. Sometimes it didn't work at all. Throughout my testing period, I used S Voice extensively, asking the phone to perform the full range of tasks. Sometimes it delivered what I wanted immediately, like driving directions or turning Wi-Fi on and off. Other times, it must have stuffed cotton in its digital ears and repeatedly garbled or blanked on what I wanted. My favorite was when it knew exactly what I said, repeated my command (you can choose voice feedback in addition to text,) and then did nothing. There was also the time that S Voice stalled on deleting an alarm, then ignored my subsequent request to finish the first one.
On the whole, S Voice is more rigid than Siri about syntax and the software takes a while to process. Unless I'm driving or otherwise hands-free, I find it faster and less frustrating to set your own alarm, or turn on driving directions before engaging the ignition. Siri also has its share of slowness and interpretation issues, but it performed more consistently for me in my tests thus far. Stay tuned for a more detailed comparison against Siri, and in the meantime check out my fellow CNET UK editor's test, in which S Voice clearly won only one out of 15 voice test scenarios, a poor showing that makes S Voice seem more like a beta product than a Siri substitute. I'll update this review with a similar showdown.
Sharing software: Multimedia sharing is a Galaxy S3 emphasis, with four main ways to share your stuff through different means, like DLNA and Wi-Fi Direct protocols.
AllShare Play uses DLNA to share multimedia across your Samsung devices: TVs, tablets, and phones, so you can play a video you shot on your phone on the TV, and do things like control the volume from your handset. A second, Web-storage element has you access content on your other devices by tapping into third-party client, SugarSync.
GroupCast, which you can use as a presentation service, uses AllShare Play. It takes seven steps (including a password and pin number) to set up the share, but once you do, you can share a folder -- like slides or photos -- across all phones you've invited into the GroupCast. Any device can control the screens, and annotate with pen strokes that fade after a few seconds. Samsung should let the GroupCast leader lock it down.
Buddy Photo Share is a neat optional in-camera feature that can e-mail or text a freshly shot photo to the person you tag in it. Photos show up in a "received" folder in the recipient's gallery.
ShareShot is a camera shooting mode that uses Wi-Fi Direct in the background to automatically send photos to your friends as you shoot them, instead of e-mailing them after the fact. Multiple people can get in on the deal -- so long as they're within about 100 yards, about the length of a football field. Photos also appear in the gallery. You lose ShareShot when you switch shooting modes.
My problem with these tools is that some of them have unintuitive and disjointed user experiences. It isn't always obvious how to get to a feature, how to sign others up, and how to find your shared content afterwards.
Optus brings Galaxy Tab 2 to market on affordable plans
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1-inch tablet, with Google's Android ICS 4.0 OS, is now available on a 24-month plan from Samsung from $39.95 per month, making tablet affordability with included data more affordable than ever.
Although mobile phones have been available to buy on 24 month plans for years now, making them much easier to purchase rather than needing to come up with a large, outright price "lump sum", it's been great to see that tablets have gone down this path too, over the past year or two.
After mobiles came the netbook revolution on mobile plans, and then tablets followed, and while few are that interested in netbooks anymore, tablets are all the rage – especially the latest, brand new tablets that bring dramatic improvements over previous models.
Although Microsoft just previewed its new Windows 8 Surface tablets, which we hope will also be available on plans for those who wish to buy one that way, the biggest competitor to the iPad right now (and for the next few months until Windows 8 software and hardware finally hits retail) is Android tablets, and most specifically, those from Samsung.
So, for anyone that was waiting for a follow-up to Samsung's amazing iPad 2 clone, the lawsuit-challenged and impressive Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 from last year, the wait is over, for Samsung has launched its Galaxy Tab 2, also in a 10.1-inch screen size, but now with Google's latest tablet OS, Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0.
Weighing in at just over half a kilogram and at only 9.7mm thick, it's an obvious "iChallenger", with the Optus MD of Marketing, Michael Smith, happy to note that: "As the popularity of tablets in Australia continues to grow at a rapid rate, we are delighted to present the brand new GALAXY Tab 2 from Samsung.
"To celebrate this exciting launch, we will be offering customers a variety of great value data plans including a special $10 saving when they choose to bundle the GALAXY Tab 2 with an Optus Mobile", added Mr Smith.
Optus notes that "selected Yes Optus Stores" across Australia have the Galaxy Tab 2 available now, from AUD $39.95 per month on the 2GB Optus Data Plan, with a total minimum cost over 24 months being AUD $958.80.
Optus notes the tablet is "also available on a range of Optus Data plans with 2GB to 20GB of data allowance per month, all of which offer unlimited access within Australia to selected social networking sites".
And, anyone that bundles a new mobile through Optus with the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 also gets that $10 per month saving.
So... if you haven't been caught up in the considerable iHype and are already on the Apple iWay, and have been wanting to get your hands on what is arguably the very best Android ICS 4.0 tablet available without breaking the bank, this latest Optus deal may just be the way to do it.
Judge halts U.S. sales of Samsung Galaxy Tab
By Dan Levine
A U.S. judge on Tuesday backed Apple Inc's request to stop Samsung Electronics selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the United States, giving the iPhone maker a significant win in the global smartphone and tablet patent wars.
Samsung's Galaxy touchscreen tablets, powered by Google's Android operating system, are considered by many industry experts to be the main rival to the iPad, though they are currently a distant second to Apple's device. Microsoft and Google are also preparing tablet offerings.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, had previously denied Apple's bid for an injunction on the tablet and multiple Galaxy smartphones. However, a federal appeals court instructed Koh to reconsider Apple's request on the tablet.
"Although Samsung has a right to compete, it does not have a right to compete unfairly, by flooding the market with infringing products," Koh wrote on Tuesday, adding the order should become effective once Apple posts a $2.6 million bond to protect against damages suffered by Samsung if the injunction is later found to have been wrong.
Apple has waged an international patent war since 2010 as it seeks to limit the growth of Google's Android system, the world's best-selling mobile operating platform. A decisive injunction in one of the U.S. legal cases could strengthen Apple's hand in negotiating cross-licensing deals, where firms agree to let each other use their patented technologies.
Opponents of Apple say the iPhone and iPad maker is using patents too aggressively in its bid to stamp out competition.
"The relief being given to Apple here is extraordinary. Preliminary injunctions are rarely asked for and rarely granted," said Colleen Chien, a professor at Santa Clara Law in Silicon Valley.
"That this was a design patent and copying was alleged distinguish this case from plain vanilla utility patent cases. Cases involving these kinds of patents are based more on a counterfeiting theory than a competition theory, so I don't expect this case to have ramifications for all smartphone disputes, but rather those involving design patents and the kind of product resemblance we had here."
The injunction against Samsung comes less than a week after Apple suffered a serious setback when a federal judge in Chicago dismissed its patent claims against Google's Motorola Mobility unit. Judge Richard Posner ruled that an injunction barring the sale of Motorola smartphones would harm consumers.
Samsung will likely seek to appeal Koh's ruling to a federal appeals court in Washington, DC, which has exclusive jurisdiction over intellectual property disputes.
"Apple sought a preliminary injunction of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1, based on a single design patent that addressed just one aspect of the product's overall design," Samsung said in a statement. "Should Apple continue to make legal claims based on such a generic design patent, design innovation and progress in the industry could be restricted."
The South Korean firm said it would take necessary legal steps, and did not expect the ruling to have a significant impact on its business, as it has a broad range of products. It brought out three tablet models last year alone.
Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguet reiterated a prior statement from the company, saying Samsung's "blatant copying" is wrong.
Apple sold 13.6 million iPads in January-March to control 63 percent of the global tablet market, according to research firm Display Search. Samsung sold 1.6 million tablets, giving it 7.5 percent of the market. The global tablet market is set to nearly double this year to 123.5 million units this year, according to IHS iSuppli.
Microsoft last week introduced its own line of tablet computers, making a major strategic shift for the software giant as it struggles to compete with Apple and re-invent its aging Windows franchise, [ID:nL1E8HIFRD] and Google plans to unveil a $199 tablet co-branded with Taiwan's Asustek Computer Inc at its developer conference this week, according to a media report. [ID:nL3E8HQ6MB]
Samsung, which has various tablet line-ups with different sizes from 7 inches to 10.1 inches, introduced the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in June last year and unveiled an upgraded version, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 II, last month.
The company said the U.S. ruling does not affect the updated Tab 10.1 II, and retailers can also clear their existing Tab 10.1 inventories.
In Seoul, Samsung shares rose 3 percent in a flat market, rebounding from 4-month lows early this week amid concerns over second-quarter profit growth.
The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, is Apple Inc v. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd et al, 11-1846.
AT&T's Samsung Galaxy S2 gets its Android 4.0 update tomorrow
The Samsung Galaxy S3 may be in stores, but thanks to AT&T's Android 4.0 update, its older brother can also enjoy the taste of Ice Cream Sandwich.
Starting tomorrow, the Samsung Galaxy S III won't be the only member of its family to use Google's Android 4.0 operating system on AT&T. The network will begin to roll out Ice Cream Sandwich updates to the Samsung Galaxy S II as well.
Unfortunately for AT&T customers, making the leap from Gingerbread to ICS will take a little more legwork than a simple over-the-air bump. You'll have to first visit Samsung's Web site from your computer, then download the Samsung Kies Upgrade Program to your desktop or laptop.
It seems a bizarre and cumbersome requirement compared with updating over data or Wi-Fi. It'll work on Windows (Windows XP, Vista, and 7) and Mac computers (OSX 10.5 to 10.7.)
For now, the update applies only to the Galaxy S II, not to the Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket.
Samsung Galaxy S II on AT&T gets Android 4.0
We've seen T-Mobile roll out Android 4.0 for its Galaxy S II variant, and now another American carrier is joining the pack. AT&T has started pushing out Android 4.0.3 (no 4.0.4, oddly) to its near-reference version of Samsung's 2011 range leader. We wouldn't brace for any surprises over the conservative OS updates seen elsewhere in the world, but it will at least give you Chrome for Android without turning to custom firmware. The odd man out among the major US carriers is Sprint's Epic 4G Touch -- it's still humming along on 2.3 for now, and neither Sprint nor Samsung has given any further signs that they're ready to make the leap.
Update: A spokesperson tells us that these initial updates are the real deal, but that they're test postings on AT&T's servers before it officially deploys to customers -- you may want to wait before hunting it down. The full-scale rollout is "live very soon," we're told, and customers can check the company blog if there's ever any doubt.
Apple's iPhone 4S remains top selling smartphone at Verizon
Though the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx is said to be "gaining ground," the Apple's iPhone 4S reportedly remains the best selling smartphone at Verizon, the largest carrier in the U.S.
The details were provided on Tuesday by Michael Walkley, analyst with Canaccord Genuity, to AppleInsider. He said Motorola's latest Android-based handset is not believed to have overtaken the iPhone in sales at Verizon.
That disputes what competing analyst Anil Doradla of William Blair said in a separate note issued Tuesday. Doradla's own channel checks, according to Apple 2.0, found that the Droid Razr Maxx has been the best selling smartphone at Verizon in June, bumping the iPhone to second place.
But that's not the case, according to Walkley, who said while the latest Razr is "gaining ground," it "hasn't caught iPhone." His own research has found the iPhone 4S as the top selling smartphone at Verizon, as well as AT&T and Sprint, for the entirety of 2012 thus far.
In a research note issued earlier this month, Walkley revealed that in the month of May, the iPhone 4S was the top selling smartphone in the U.S., despite what he called "gradual share losses" at each carrier. The iPhone 4S remained more popular than the Razr Maxx and Samsung Galaxy Nexus, which took second and third place, respectively, at Verizon in May.
At AT&T, the iPhone 4S also proved more popular than the second-place Nokia Lumia 900, and the third-place Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket. And at Sprint, the iPhone 4S topped the second-place Samsung Galaxy Nexus and third-place Samsung Galaxy S II.
But the iPhone 4S, which hit the market last October, now faces perhaps its biggest competitor yet in the form of Samsung's new Galaxy S III. It debuted in the U.S. last week with limited availability, but will eventually be available on all four of the largest carriers in the U.S. over the coming weeks.
Samsung said this week it is working to keep up with strong demand for the Galaxy S III, and the company expects to sell 10 million units to its carrier partners in July. Apple is expected to introduce its successor to the iPhone 4S later this year.
TS2R Wireless News: iPhone 4/S Cricket, Bills, Free NYC Wi-Fi, T-Mo/VZW Spectrum & Mobile PPV
Full news stories recently include the high-demand for the Samsung Galaxy S III, the release of the Sony Xperia Ion, our Dare2Compare of the iPhone 5 vs the Samsung Galaxy S III and the ICS update for the Samsung Galaxy S II.
Here's the news that is "Too Short to Report":
Cricket launched its iPhone on Friday with some people waiting in lines and brisk activity.
Wireless customers who receive their bills electronically tend to be more satisfied with their billing than those who receive bills through regular mail, according to a study commissioned by Sprint and conducted by BIGinsight, a market intelligence firm.
Boingo announced that Google Offers is sponsoring free Wi-Fi across New York City. Big Apple visitors and New York straphangers on the go can stay productive, update their status and surf online while avoiding data overage charges and network congestion via Boingo's Wi-Fi networks from June 25 through September 7, 2012.
T-Mobile USA, Inc. announced an agreement with Verizon Wireless for the purchase and exchange of certain Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum licenses in 218 markets across the U.S. The the agreement is contingent on the closing of those transactions and is subject to regulatory approval by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Justice.
According to a nationwide survey, by SmithMicro, travelers prefer to access Pay-Per-View (PPV) and video content via mobile devices when staying at a hotel, with 67 percent of respondents citing they are more likely to purchase content that can be accessed via a smartphone or tablet. In addition, almost 75 percent were likely to book a hotel if it offered services and video accessible from a mobile device.
The Wireless History Foundation (WHF) announced the names of four individuals who will be inducted into the prestigious Wireless Hall of Fame during the Foundation's Oct. 8, 2012 dinner at CTIA in San Diego. The 2012 inductees are; Wayne Perry-Service Provider Honoree; Richard Lynch-Technology Honoree. Former Executive Vice President for enterprise-wide strategic technology initiatives at Verizon Wireless; Raj Singh-Industry Associate Honoree and Amos Joel (posthumously)-Pioneer Honoree.
Android 4.0.3 update out for T-Mobile's Samsung Galaxy S II
T-Mobile subscribers who own the Galaxy S II phone can grab the latest Android Ice Cream Sandwich update, but it's only available through Samsung's Kies software.
Samsung Galaxy S II owners on T-Mobile can update to Android 4.0.3, but they may have to jump through a few hoops first.
The latest flavor of Ice Cream Sandwich launched as of yesterday evening for Samsung's Galaxy S II. Owners of the phone can learn how to install it via a T-Mobile support page. But be forewarned -- the update isn't available over the air (OTA), meaning you can't download it directly to your phone.
Instead, you have to install it via Samsung's Kies software, which requires you to download and install the update on your PC and then sync it with your phone.
Beyond offering ICS, the update promises improvements in performance and stability.
Before you can scoop up a dose of Ice Cream Sandwich, you'll need to make sure you're running at least Android 2.3.6 on your Galaxy S II phone, which is available as an OTA update.
Got all that? Don't worry. T-Mobile's page describes all the steps required to reach the peak of Android. But the carrier does warn that if you run into any trouble, you'll have to call Samsung. "The Kies update through Samsung is not supported by T-Mobile and we are unable to assist with Kies or PC questions," T-Mobile explained.
Though T-Mobile is trying to be helpful by outlining all the steps involved, this convoluted process clearly shows why Android updates are such a mess. With Google, the device makers. and the carriers all involved in the mix, no one party is truly responsible or accountable for the entire chain of events.
Compare that with the process on iOS devices. Apple is the sole party responsible for all updates. The carriers have no involvement. Apple users can download iOS updates to iTunes and sync them with their iPhones and iPads or download and install the updates directly to their devices.
It is any wonder Android users have to wait so long for the latest version of Android and other updates?
Unanswered Questions in F.C.C.'s Google Case
By DAVID STREITFELD and EDWARD WYATT
One of the most audacious projects ever to come out of Google was the plan to photograph and map the inhabited world, one block at a time. But a report over the weekend from federal regulators has rekindled questions over exactly what the company was doing - questions the search giant has spent years trying not to answer.
The Federal Communications Commission censured Google for obstructing an inquiry into the Street View project, which had collected Internet communications from potentially millions of unknowing households as specially equipped cars drove slowly by.
But the investigation, described in an interim report, was left unresolved because a critical participant, the Google engineer in charge of the project, cited his Fifth Amendment right and declined to talk. It is unclear who at Google might have known about the data gathering.
Google declined to comment.
Google was fined $25,000 for obstruction, a penalty it can challenge. It and the F.C.C. are wrangling over how much information can be revealed in the final report. In the interim report, many passages were heavily redacted.
Privacy advocates said the F.C.C. report was only a start.
"I appreciate that the F.C.C. sanctioned Google for not cooperating in the investigation, but the much bigger problem is the pervasive and covert surveillance of Internet users that Google undertook over a three-year period," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. He said that on Monday he would ask the Justice Department to investigate Google over wiretapping.
Google said Sunday that it disagreed with the F.C.C.'s characterization of its lack of cooperation, but that its collection of what is called payload data - Internet communications, including texts and e-mails - was legal, if regrettable.
"It was a mistake for us to include code in our software that collected payload data," a spokeswoman said.
As part of the Street View project, as Google was collecting photographs on every street, it was also gathering information about local wireless networks to improve location-based searches.
But the Google engineer wrote a program for the project that went beyond what was originally envisioned. Using this program, Google collected the data computers were sending out.
The data proved be a snapshot of what people were doing at the moment the cars rolled by - e-mailing a lover, texting jokes to a buddy, balancing a checkbook, looking up an ailment.
Google spent more than two years scooping up that information, from January 2008 to April 2010.
The photographs were used to refine Google's maps, the wireless information to improve searches. Google had not figured out what, if anything, to do with the personal data, nor had it even looked at it, when rumors about the secret project began in 2010.
Google first said it had not collected personal data. Then it said such data was in fragments. Then it conceded there were things like entire e-mails. People, mostly in Europe, were furious.
Even in the United States, where regulators take a more restrained approach to privacy issues than in Europe, there was widespread concern. A multistate inquiry was begun by state attorneys general. The Federal Trade Commission looked into it.
Google, by simultaneously apologizing, promising to do better and saying as little as possible, made the issue go away. The company has declined to say who, if anyone, knew about the project besides the engineer.
Coincidentally, the F.C.C. opened its investigation of the Street View project on the same day in October 2010 that the F.T.C. ended its inquiry.
While staff members from the two entities spoke about their efforts, they were looking at potential violations of different statutes and their investigations took place separately.
Some F.C.C. staff members argued strongly that Google should be charged with a violation of the Communications Act, and the agency and Google spent weeks debating whether Google's capture of unencrypted Wi-Fi communications had violated the Wiretap Act or the Communications Act.
Some F.C.C. staff members argued strongly that Google should be charged with a violation of the Communications Act, and the agency and Google spent weeks debating whether Google had violated the Wiretap Act or the Communications Act.
The F.C.C.'s enforcement division finally declined to charge Google with violating the Communications Act after determining that there was no precedent for applying the statute to Wi-Fi communications. But by publicly reprimanding Google for its conduct, the F.C.C. is hoping that Congress will see that the law has not kept up with advances in digital communications and will rewrite the statutes. Encryption technology did not exist when the Communications Act was written.
Google argued that the few precedents that do apply favor a broad interpretation of what is permissible under the two laws.
People close to the discussion said that determination was affected by inconsistent language between the two statutes. The Communications Act prohibits intercepting radio communications "except as authorized by" the Wiretap Act.
The Wiretap Act says it is "not unlawful to" intercept unencrypted communication, but it does not give specific permission for the interception of unencrypted communications.
Federal courts have generally given a broad interpretation, however. But the F.C.C. was not able to determine if there had been actions that clearly would violate the statutes - say, if Google intercepted and made use of encrypted information - because the Google engineer who would know invoked his Fifth Amendment right.
The determination not to charge Google with a Communications Act violation was made by the enforcement division staff. Google can decide whether to oppose the obstruction charge and fight the fine, eventually taking the fight to the five-member commission and perhaps to federal court.
In Europe, where the outcry against Google was greatest, most government data protection regulators have settled their disputes with the company.
Some countries, like Ireland, asked Google in 2010 to simply destroy the data it had gathered illegally in their jurisdictions. Google informed Ireland and other countries that it had done so and no penalties were levied.
On April 5, the Dutch Data Protection Authority closed its investigation after Google gave residents in the Netherlands the option of removing their Wi-Fi routers from Google's global tracking database.
But in Germany, where Google's collection of personal data was first uncovered by a regulator in Hamburg, two proceedings are officially up and running.
The Hamburg prosecutor's office is still pursuing a criminal investigation, which it opened in May 2010, into whether Google broke German law by illegally intercepting private data through electronic means.
Johannes Caspar, the Hamburg regulator, said in a recent interview that he was delaying his own administrative review of the situation until the Hamburg prosecutor decides whether or not to press criminal charges.
J. Trevor Hughes, president of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, said the Google case represented what happened when technical employees of technology companies made "innocent" decisions about collecting data that could infuriate consumers and in turn invite regulatory inquiry.
"This is one of the most significant risks we see in the information age today," he said. "Project managers and software developers don't understand the sensitivity associated with data."
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New iPhone 4S Adds Voice Recognition and Goes Global
By TidBITS Staff.
The iPhone 4S announced at Apple's media event last week features upgrades across all its systems, with the addition of voice recognition and dictation through a new component called Siri. Improved internals mean a faster phone and notably faster graphics, as well as a potential doubling of the highest mobile downstream rates. What doesn't change is the industrial design of the phone, which retains the look and feel of the iPhone 4.
An improved camera will produce better photos in low-light conditions, take photos more rapidly, and shoot 1080p high-definition video. An upgrade to the phone's cellular systems, incorporating both GSM and CDMA technologies, means that the iPhone 4S can be used on any network in the United States and most networks worldwide.
The new phone will be available on 14 October 2011; Apple started taking pre-orders on 7 October 2011 and racked up over 1 million pre-orders in the first day. In the United States, with a two-year contract for cellular services, the iPhone 4S will cost $199 for 16 GB of storage, $299 for 32 GB, and $399 for 64 GB, retaining the same pricing as the iPhone 4 had for the 16 and 32 GB models. (There was no 64 GB iPhone 4.) Yes, they will be available in both black and white versions. Apple will also continue to offer two older phones at reduced prices under two-year contracts: the iPhone 3GS for free and the iPhone 4 for $99, both with 8 GB of storage.
Although this may not be as significant a deal as the addition of Verizon Wireless, the iPhone 4S will also be available from Sprint Nextel in the United States, leaving T-Mobile as the odd carrier out. We're sure existing Sprint customers will appreciate this. Sprint's coverage area is among the poorest, and it has been hemorrhaging customers for years. However, among the four major U.S. mobile operators, Sprint retains the only unlimited mobile data usage plan for new customers. (AT&T and Verizon have grandfathered unlimited plans, and T-Mobile throttles services to dial-up modem rates after a monthly limit is reached.) While the free iPhone 3GS will be available only on AT&T's network, the subsidized iPhone 4 will be available for AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint customers.
Outside the United States, the iPhone 4S will be available in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom on 14 October 2011. Another 22 countries will follow on 28 October 2011, and Apple plans to hit a total of 70 countries by the end of the year.
Siri Voice Recognition -- The iPhone 4S feature we're dying to try is Siri, a voice-recognition and voice-synthesis system that's tied in with expert-system analysis of what you say. You can ask Siri for information, such as recommendations for nearby restaurants or the current weather, or use it for dictation. It can speak to you and read items and documents.
During the keynote, Apple's Scott Forstall demoed Siri with a variety of questions. When asked what the weather would be like today, Siri returned the forecast. Queried for a great Greek restaurant in Palo Alto, Siri responded, "I've found five Greek restaurants, and I've sorted them by rating." Siri has direct access to Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha, and can thus define words and make calculations, such as how many days until Christmas. Other examples include setting timers, looking up contacts, creating notes, and searching the Web.
Siri isn't limited to command and control, though. Forstall showed Siri reading email messages in the notification queue, and you will be able to compose and dictate email to Siri. The real question is how accurate Siri will be in real-world usage, since there's little more annoying than talking to a command-and-control system like a toddler or correcting egregious errors in dictated text.
Initially, Siri will work in English, French, and German, and Apple is calling it a beta, promising more languages and services in the future.
It's worth noting that Siri runs only on the iPhone 4S, undoubtedly due to needing the processing power of Apple's dual-core A5 CPU. That chip provides up to twice the performance of the iPhone 4, and the dual-core graphics are supposedly up to seven times faster. Despite that, talk time has been increased to 8 hours.
A Clearer Picture -- The best camera is often the one you have in your pocket, and while the iPhone camera has improved over time, there's no question that it hasn't competed well with even point-and-shoot cameras. With the iPhone 4S, Apple is aiming at that market, switching to an 8-megapixel sensor that takes photos at 3264 by 2448 pixels, which should be sufficient for an 8-by-10-inch (20-by-25 cm) print.
As Charles Maurer has discussed in a number of TidBITS articles, the raw number of pixels in a sensor isn't the only important factor in image quality. The iPhone 4S has a backside-illuminated CMOS sensor that enables it to gather 73 percent more light than the iPhone 4 sensor. It also features an infrared filter for improved color accuracy and uniformity. Then there's the lens, which features five lens elements to provide 30 percent better sharpness.
It also lets in a lot of light, with an f/2.4 aperture, which should result in good low-light performance. On the processing side, the camera can do face detection, which can improve focus, and automatic white-balance, which improves color, thanks to an Apple-designed chip. Most importantly, it boasts a mere 0.5-second delay between shots.
Apple has posted several unretouched sample photos for viewing and download, although notably they're all shot in daylight. We'll have to wait until the iPhone 4S is released to test the low-light performance of the new lens and processor.
On the video side, the iPhone 4S's camera is capable of HD video at 1080p, with real-time digital image stabilization and real-time temporal noise reduction.
Cellular Networking -- The iPhone 4S is a "world phone" in the true meaning of that phrase for the first time. Past iPhones that worked worldwide were still restricted to the GSM standard, which dominates with billions of users. However, the competing CDMA standard used by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel in the United States is still employed by hundreds of millions of cell phone owners. Apple made a special model of the iPhone 4 for Verizon. The iPhone 4S now includes both CDMA and GSM technology, allowing the sale of a single model around the globe. Unfortunately, the "world phone" turns out to be more about simplicity in Apple's manufacturing process than portability for consumers. (See "Apple's World Phone Isn't Global for Customers," 7 October 2011.)
The iPhone 4S promises improved 3G data speeds for GSM networks, doubling the previous HSDPA download rate of about 7 Mbps (raw, not usable) to 14.4 Mbps. AT&T and T-Mobile have deployed HSPA+ networks that are even faster than that, although those networks will support Apple's new higher rate along with the previous slower speeds used by other phones. Networks with 14.4 Mbps and faster download rates are also available in many other countries. In practice, faster networks are better at handling capacity - more phones in use in the same area around a mobile base station - than in necessarily speeding up a given phone's download performance.
Those hoping for an iPhone with LTE (Long Term Evolution) built in to support AT&T and Verizon's in-progress 4G networks will be disappointed, but it's not surprising. The necessary chips aren't yet small enough and cheap enough to include in a handset as small as the iPhone, and they still consume too much power. (Carriers want to call HSPA+ a "4G technology," by the way, and Apple joked about that during the announcement. But HSPA and HSPA+ are just faster renditions of 3G and share the same old architecture. LTE is something new.)
Apple also said it has created a unique two-antenna system for cellular connections that should improve call quality. While the company didn't offer many details, it said that the iPhone 4S could switch between the antennas during a call, and this likely eliminates the "holding it wrong" problem that was overblown after the iPhone 4's introduction. Most cell phones have areas which, if covered by skin, drop signal reception, and the iPhone 4 was no exception. With the capability to switch between two separately optimized antennas - perhaps with different polarization and different lengths - the iPhone 4S would presumably toggle between the two when signal quality drops.
Current iPhone customers of AT&T and Verizon can determine whether they're eligible for Apple's advertised pricing. The two-year subscription plan subsidizes the hardware's initial cost; if you've recently bought an iPhone, the price may be higher. For example, Jeff Carlson purchased an iPhone 4 last year. AT&T shows that the 16 GB model will cost him $449 before 25 November 2011, or $199 after that date. You can check your eligibility at Apple's site.
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iOS 5.1 Brings Smattering of Features and 4G Confusion
by Agen G. N. Schmitz.
In addition to the iPad hardware that debuted last week (see "Apple Announces Third-Generation iPad," 7 March 2012), Apple released iOS 5.1 for all iOS 5-compatible devices, which includes all versions of the iPad, the iPhone 3GS and later, and third generation and later of the iPod touch. Overall, it's a maintenance release with a small collection of new features and fixes - but one user interface change in particular is causing some confusion.
After updating to iOS 5.1, many AT&T iPhone 4S owners will find that the cellular indicator in the menu bar changed from 3G to 4G - even though their phones haven't magically added faster data capabilities. Rather, this change reflects that the iPhone is connecting to AT&T's HSPA+ network, which is essentially a faster version of 3G. For comparison, HSPA+ supports a raw downstream capability of up to 14 Mbps compared to a maximum download rate of 73 Mbps for LTE (Long Term Evolution).
Despite the HSPA+ network being a slowpoke compared to LTE, AT&T equates it as being "4G." If that sounds like weasley marketing purposes, it is - but AT&T has been accorded cover for this distinction by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). In a press release from December, 2010, the ITU agreed that "other evolved 3G technologies" could find shelter under the 4G standards umbrella as long as they provided "a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities" in respect to current 3G networks.
When the iPhone 4S was launched last October, Phil Schiller even joked about the that carriers wanted to call HSPA+ a "4G technology" (see "New iPhone 4S Adds Voice Recognition and Goes Global," 4 October 2011), saying: "We're not going to get into a debate in the industry over what's 4G and what isn't, we'll leave that for others to talk about." However, as Brad McCarty noted at The Next Web (among many others), this seems to be an acquiescence by Apple to AT&T's marketing demands, and one that could lead to a slippery slope of additional carrier requests down the line.
Controversy aside, the iOS 5.1 update does offer several new features that, while not groundbreaking, are certainly welcome additions. First and foremost, you can now delete individual photos from your iCloud Photo Stream. To do so, open the Photos app, tap the Photo Stream album, and then tap the share button in the top right corner. From there, select individual photos and then tap the red Delete button in the lower right corner.
Other imaging-related additions include enhanced face detection capabilities in the Camera app (being able to recognize more than one fact at a time), a redesigned Camera app for the iPad that moves the capture button to the right side of the screen where your thumb is more likely to be, and a new camera shortcut placed on the unlock screens of the iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS and iPod touch (4th generation). Instead of swiping to the right to unlock your iPhone and then fumble through your home screens to find the Camera app, tap the Camera button to the right of the Slide to Unlock slider or swipe up on the screen go directly into the Camera app.
Subscribers to iTunes Match will find that Genius Mixes and Genius playlists have returned to their iOS devices. And iPad owners will enjoy "optimized" audio for movies and TV shows that should sound both louder and clearer. Podcast controls for playback speed and rewinding a currently playing podcast by 30 seconds have also returned.
Japanese language support has been added to Siri (joining English, French, and German), though its availability will be limited during the initial rollout. Finally, iOS 5.1 addresses some unnamed bugs that affected battery life, and provides a fix for occasional audio dropped during outgoing calls.
To update an iOS 5.0 device to version 5.1, connect it to a computer running iTunes and click the Check for Update button in the device's Summary screen (if a dialog doesn't automatically appear). Or, update over the air without connecting to a computer: Go to Settings > General > Software Update and follow the instructions there.
Tim Cook Shares Apple's Latest Numbers
At the iPhone 4S announcement last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage carrying the script that Steve Jobs had honed to perfection, recapping recent Apple store openings and giving a numbers-heavy overview of how Apple's various products and businesses are doing.
Apple now operates 357 stores in 11 countries, including 6 stores in China, which still represents a largely untapped market for Apple. The just-opened Hong Kong Apple store, for instance, received 100,000 visitors on the opening weekend and sold more Macs on its opening day than has any other Apple store.
Even while the brick-and-mortar Apple stores continue to be key to Apple's success in selling hardware, the company has managed to transition software sales to the iOS App Store and Mac App Store. It's likely that the ease of downloading boosted sales of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, which has had 6 million downloads so far. Cook said that Lion's uptake rate was 80 percent higher than Snow Leopard's, and it took Lion only 2 weeks to reach 10 percent of the Mac installed base. Windows 7 took 20 weeks to reach the same level of penetration. Cook said Apple has 58 million Mac OS X users.
As impressive as that number of users sounds, it's nothing compared to the 250 million iOS devices that Apple has sold so far. And although Cook didn't break out iPhone sales specifically, he did say that the iPhone 4 accounts for over half of all iPhones sold to date.
The iTunes Store now contains 20 million songs, and over 16 billion songs have been downloaded in the past 8 years. Cook used the term "mind-boggling," which doesn't seem like hyperbole. Of course, the iPod was a key driver in those sales, and Apple has sold over 320 million iPods so far, with over 45 million in the last year. (Both of those numbers include the iPod touch, which Apple considers both an iPod and an iOS device at different times.)
Although Apple didn't talk about the Mac App Store's results beyond Lion downloads, Cook did share numbers from the iOS App Store. It now contains more than 500,000 apps, 140,000 of which are made specifically for the iPad. Customers have downloaded more than 18 billion apps, and Cook was careful to point out that Apple has paid developers more than $3 billion, which means that Apple has brought in roughly $4.3 billion in app revenue so far.
As always when Apple shares these numbers, it's worth remembering that although there's no reason to disbelieve them, there's also no question that Apple is cherry-picking those numbers that will sound the best and couching them in terms that present Apple in the brightest light. Nevertheless, it's clear that Apple is on top of the world right now.
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U.S. Gasoline Climbs to $3.8148 a Gallon, Lundberg Survey Shows
By Barbara J. Powell and Moming Zhou.
The average price for regular gasoline at U.S. filling stations increased 12.31 cents to $3.8148 a gallon, according to Lundberg Survey Inc.
The price jump covers the two-week period ended March 9 and is based on the Camarillo, California-based company's survey of about 2,500 stations. The price is 30.87 cents higher than a year earlier, when the average was $3.5061.
"As refineries complete their maintenance, overall motor- gasoline supply will become more generous, and this will probably put a stop to the price rise," Trilby Lundberg, the president of Lundberg Survey, said yesterday in a telephone interview. "This of course depends on whether crude-oil prices cooperate."
Prices advanced as West Texas Intermediate crude in New York fell 2.2 percent to $107.40 a barrel, while Brent oil in London rose 0.4 percent to $125.98 in the two-week period from the last survey.
Gasoline futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange jumped 17.96 cents, or 5.7 percent, to $3.3324 a gallon in the two weeks ended March 9.
U.S. gasoline stockpiles fell 396,000 barrels in the week ended March 2 to 229.5 million, a six-week low, the Energy Department reported March 7.
Gasoline consumption slipped 1.2 percent, and the amount of the fuel supplied over the past four weeks was 7.8 percent below a year earlier, department data show.
Retail demand in the seven days ended March 2 declined 1.5 percent from the prior week and was 6.5 percent below a year earlier, according to MasterCard (MA) Inc.'s SpendingPulse report on March 6. Motor-fuel use during the previous four weeks was 6.3 percent below a year earlier, the 50th consecutive decline in that measure.
Crude prices may fall this week as calls for negotiations between nuclear powers and Iran may reduce tension that's helped bolster crude prices this year, a Bloomberg News survey showed.
Fourteen of 28 analysts, or 50 percent, forecast oil will fall through March 16. Ten respondents, or 36 percent, predicted prices will rise and four estimated there will be little change. Last week, 56 percent of surveyed analysts expected an increase.
Crude-oil supplies rose 832,000 barrels to 345.7 million in the seven days through March 2, according to the department, the highest level since September. Inventories (DOESCROK) at Cushing, Oklahoma, the delivery point for New York-traded West Texas Intermediate oil, increased 2.37 million barrels to 36.2 million, the highest level since July.
On Long Island, regular gasoline increased to $4 a gallon, according to Lundberg. Los Angeles-area retail stations averaged $4.35.
The highest price in the lower 48 U.S. states among the cities surveyed was in Los Angeles, Lundberg said. The lowest price was in Denver, Colorado, where customers paid an average of $3.36 a gallon.
The Japan-China connection: DeNA and Sina team upin mobile gaming
Japan's DeNA and China's Sina have teamed up to form a big mobile gaming market.
DeNA is a $1.4 billion company that operates the Mobage mobile social gaming network with 35 million lucrative users. Under the deal, Sina will enable users of its giant microblogging platform, Weibo.com, to log into DeNA's Mobage platform with their existing account information.
The move shows that Japan's DeNA is wasting no time in expanding from its Japanese and U.S. operations (it owns Ngmoco in San Francisco) to other big markets around the world as it seeks to build a multibillion-dollar mobile social gaming empire.
That means Weibo.com's 300 million members will be able to play the Chinese-language version of Mobage. DeNA and Sina plan to create a special Mobage web site under a Sina domain in April, where Weib.com users can download Mobage China games to their Android-based smartphones. The Mobage icon will appear inside the Weibo.com Android app, making it easy to log in.
About 50 percent of Weibo.com users access the service from mobile devices, and the Weibo.com mobile app has been downloaded more than 40 million times. DeNA launched Mobage China for Android in July 2011 and iOS in November. It has 30 games currently available.
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Electronic Arts reveals new Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars online numbers
By Heinrich Lenhardt.
Electronic Arts chief executive John Riccitiello is feeling "awfully good" about the Mass Effect 3 launch." Speaking at today's Wedbush Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference in New York City, Riccitiello estimated that the game sold 890,000 units during the first 24 hours in North-America alone, meeting the company's expectations: "We anticipated it doing well, so we're happy."
International sales numbers are not included because Mass Effect 3 launched a couple of days later in Europe. Riccitiello is optimistic about the game's prospects as editorial reviews are very favorable with an aggregated Metacritic score of 94 out of 100. [Update: EA said today that it has shipped 3.5 million copies of the game to retailers. ]
He also pointed out the success of the downloadable content (DLC) that was already available for purchase on Mass Effect 3′s launch day. Retail chain GameStop saw a tie ratio of 40 percent of day one customers who purchased a download code for additional content together with the game: "The tie ratio at the register is the highest in their history", said Riccitiello.
Using packaged-good products to increase digital revenue is becoming increasingly important for game publishers like EA because of the higher growth and margin numbers associated with digital products.
Mass Effect 3 is the latest action role-playing game by EA's Bioware studios. This conclusion to an epic SF trilogy is the first Mass Effect game to launch simultaneously on PlayStation 3, PC and Xbox 360. It adds a new co-op multiplayer mode to the story-driven single-player campaign. Riccitiello called the Mass Effect franchise "one of my favorite IPs; my family is as addicted to it as am I."
Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello
Electronic Arts' CEO also updated and clarified subscriber numbers for Star Wars: The Old Republic, the company's big gamble in the massively multiplayer online (MMO) game category and another high-profile release by its Bioware division.
Riccitiello reported 1.7M active subscribers, which sounds like nothing much has changed compared to the earnings report numbers released on February 1. But a month ago about half of those players were still in the first 30 days of the subscription period, which is included with the purchase of the game, while the "vast majority [of players] is now triggered through that point and they're recurring subscribers."
Obviously EA doesn't want 1.7M subscribers to be the limit for the Star Wars MMO, which took six years and an alleged $200M budget to produce. Riccitiello called The Old Republic "the most successful MMO through this period in the history of the industry. But we're nowhere relative to what the opportunity in front of us is."
The chief executive mentioned new "content releases every quarter, systems, tutorials, feature upgrades and the future of expansion content" to keep players engaged. He explained that EA "tailored the game for the core user, people who were existing MMO players. What we do from here … [are] things designed to increase the funnel at the top. That means content changes, feature changes, new ways to bring the product to market … so new users can find entry into the game a lot easier." One example is the recently introduced buddy key program, which allows subscribers to invite friends for a free trial period.
Bioware has just released a trailer for the new content of version 1.2, which comes free with a paid subscription. Judging by Riccitiello's comments, the announcement of a major game expansion pack can only be a matter of time. Star Wars: The Old Republic's main competitor, World of Warcraft from Activision Blizzard, has released three $40 expansions over the years.
Justice Department may sue Apple, publishers on e-books
(Reuters) - The Justice Department has warned Apple (AAPL.O) and five major publishers that it plans to sue them, accusing them of colluding to raise the prices of electronic books, a person familiar with the probe said on Thursday.
Several parties have held talks to settle the potential antitrust case, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
The five publishers facing possible Justice Department action are Simon & Schuster Inc, a unit of CBS Corp (CBS.N); Lagardere SCA's (LAGA.PA) Hachette Book Group; Pearson Plc's (PSON.L) Penguin Group (USA); Macmillan, a unit of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH; and HarperCollins Publishers Inc, a unit of News Corp (NWSA.O).
U.S. and European officials have been investigating whether e-book publishers and Apple fixed prices in the growing electronic book industry, blocking rivals and hurting consumers.
Publishers adopted an "agency model" in 2010, around the time that Apple launched the iPad, allowing publishers to set the price of e-books. In turn, Apple would take a 30 percent cut.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the Justice Department's lawsuit warning to Apple and the publishers.
The European Commission said in December that it was looking at the same five publishers for potential violations of antitrust law in how e-books were priced.
The escalation in the antitrust probe comes as publishers battle Amazon (AMZN.O), which had previously set its own, discounted prices for electronic books in order to sell its Kindle electronic reader.
In a parallel class action lawsuit now in a Manhattan court, Apple is accused of working with publishers just before its iPad was launched in 2010.
The suit brought on behalf of e-book customers, alleges Apple and the publishers colluded to shift e-book pricing from a wholesale method, where retailers pay for the product and charge what they like, to agency pricing, where publishers would tell retailers what they can charge.
The class action lawsuit, filed by law firm Hagens, Berman, Sobol, Shapiro, LLP, accuses Apple of being a "hub" for collusion.
Apple's push for agency pricing was detailed in Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs.
The book says that Jobs, who died in October, was aware of publishers' frustration with Amazon. It quotes Jobs as saying: "So we told the publishers, 'We'll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30 percent and yes, the customer pays a little more but that's what you want anyway.' ... So they went to Amazon and said, 'You're going to sign an agency contract or we're not going to give you the books.'"
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment, as did a Justice Department spokeswoman.
HarperCollins could not immediately be reached for a comment. Penguin, Hachette and Simon & Schuster declined to comment.
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