TSR on tech: your weekly news summary
|August 14, 2011||Posted by Elliot Davies under TSR on tech|
There’s lots of Apple news this week, but it’s not all about the world’s largest technology company. We also have reports on Spotify’s US progress and the ramifications on social media of the riots in the UK, as well as details of this week’s website hacks. We then look at how Facebook and Google+ duelled it out this week over online games before finishing with some miscellany about two different types of spaceship – so read on!
The most exciting piece of business news this week was when Apple briefly knocked ExxonMobil – an oil group – off its top spot as the world’s most valuable company. As a result of the fluctuating stock market, Exxon’s shares fell to as low as $70, leaving it with a market value of $334bn compared to Apple’s $337bn. Apple has been trailing Exxon in second place for several months; after being worth just $50bn five years ago, the company has experienced massive growth with its iOS products and redesigned Macs, particularly the Macbook Air. As the week’s trading ended, Apple had slipped back into second place, but it was a shock for those people who could never see technology businesses competing with the likes of oil companies.
In its earnings call for this quarter, News Corp. beat Wall Street estimates of $0.30 per share with revenue of $8.44bn, instead achieving $0.35 per share and revenue of $8.96bn. The company also announced just how much money it had lost by selling Myspace – $254m to be precise – after it bought the social network for $580m in 2005. Rupert Murdoch then used the call as an opportunity to apologise again over the phone hacking scandal, and revealed that News Corp. was forced to pay out $63m to BSkyB after it failed to take over the company.
Intel announced this week that it plans to spend $300m developing ‘ultrabooks’, thin and light laptops which can last for days on standby but will still sell for under $1,000 (think of a cheaper version of the Macbook Air). The money will be spent over several years but Intel plans to have its first ultrabook on shelves by this holiday season – by the end of 2012, the company wants 40% of current laptop models to be converted to ultrabook format.
Spotify appears to be doing well after its US launch on July 13. The service has already signed up 1.4m users for its free service and also has 175,000 paying subscribers – this is a conversion rate of 12.5%, as opposed to the 15% reported in Europe last quarter. On the other hand, Spotify has been in Europe for much longer, provides a wider range of music here than in the US, and has less competition since services like Rdio and Rhapsody are relatively unknown. For comparison, Spotify currently has 1.6m paying subscribers in Europe. The company has recently been valued at $1.1bn.
Apple has become embroiled in perhaps one of the most ridiculous patent lawsuits to date – it is being sued by a company called Operating Systems Solutions LLC, which alleges that Mac OS X violates a patent it owns for quickly booting an operating system. That’s right; Apple is being sued because its computers turn on too quickly. It is likely that the case will be dismissed, although there may be ulterior motives at work – the patent in question seems to have been bought by Operating Systems Solutions LLC from LG Electronics, the division of LG which sells various mobile phones that compete with Apple’s iPhone.
On the plus side for Apple, it this week won a (fairly major) preliminary injunction against Samsung in Germany which will prevent the Korean giant from selling the Galaxy Tab, its flagship tablet product, anywhere in the EU except the Netherlands. Customs officers have been ordered to sieze shipments of the Galaxy Tab, with tens of thousands now being held. Apple has applied for the ruling to be extended to the Netherlands, while Samsung has stated that it will attempt to lift the blockade immediately. Apple currently has a 70% share of the European tablet market.
In the wake of the riots in London and other cities earlier this week, David Cameron has announced that he is considering banning suspected rioters from using social networking. Although more a freedom of speech issue than a strictly technological issue, the two camps often overlap and this announcement caused outrage in the technology community, with many people saying the idea could also infringe the freedom of the press and would make the UK government no better than that of Syria or other repressive regimes. Perhaps more worrying is that several technology companies appeared to be up for discussing the issue; Research In Motion (RIM), who make BlackBerry devices and by extension the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) network that many rioters appeared to be using, and Twitter have both announced their intentions to talk to the government about this.
Hacking & Security
In response to RIM’s announcement that it plans to assist UK police with their investigation into the riots, hackers broke into the official BlackBerry blog and posted a message to the site threatening to release details of RIM employees unless the company ceased its helpful activities. It is unclear how the hackers gained access but the message was posted by someone from ‘Team Poison’, a group less well known than LulzSec or Anonymous.
The Hong Kong stock exchange (HKex) was forced to halt trading on seven of its stocks for several hours on multiple occasions this week after its website was hacked into. The stocks, which included HSBC, China Power International and Cathay Pacific, were all due to release sensitive information to the website which could have impacted their prices. Earlier this year, the Nasdaq exchange was also broken into.
A Norwegian hacking group calling itself Noria has apparently broken into several email accounts operated by Anders Breivik Behring, the extremist responsible for killing over 70 people in the country last month. The group handed all the information they stole to a freelance journalist, Kjetil Stormark, who was asked to hand the information to the police, although the information may not be admissible in court if there is no way to prove it has not been tampered with.
In a post on the official Battlefield 3 forums, an EA spokesperson announced that, at least for now, Battlefield 3 will not be available on Steam. EA has previously pulled several other games from Steam, including Crysis 2 and Dragon Age II.
Apple has released a tool which will enable users to create external recovery drives which can be used to recover the Lion operating system in the event of a hard drive crash or other system failure. This comes after Apple last week announced that users would be able to purchase physical installation media for the operating system after all.
Anyone using Apple’s MobileMe service who was worried about losing out when the company transitioned to iCloud will be happy to hear that they will receive an extra 20GB of storage for the first year at no extra cost.
HP has been offering various rebates and discounts on its first generation TouchPad to boost sales. However, it appears there was also another reason, as the TouchPad 4G appeared on Amazon this week. Priced at $699, this model will be faster, run the latest webOS operating system and, crucially, have support for wireless 4G connectivity. No release date has been specified but it is likely that the device will launch in Q3 this year.
Facebook and Google+ (Google’s new social network which is currently in beta, and which we will be reviewing in the near future) duelled briefly this week when both companies announced game-related changes on the same day. Facebook launched a major redesign for its games, which includes bringing back some features that were previously banned after users complained, such as games being allowed to post messages to users’ walls. The redesign will also introduce new features, such as leaderboards, bookmarks and real-time game updates. Google+, on the other hand, announced that it would be adding games to its service for the first time and that it would only be taking a 5% share of the profits, heavily undercutting the 30% that Facebook takes.
Also announced this week was Facebook Messenger, a free app for both iPhone and Android which combines Facebook Messages, Facebook Chat and regular texting. The app allows users to send messages to their friends as they would do from the Facebook website, except that if the recipient does not have the app installed the message will be sent by SMS instead. The app is unlikely to compete against many other messaging apps, especially given that most of its functionality is also included in the main Facebook app.
Finally, the Google+ app was released for iPad and iPod Touch this week, following its recent launch on iPhone.
The US military launched its fastest ever plane this week – before promptly misplacing it. The Falcon HTV-2 is the fastest plane ever built, although is perhaps more like a space rocket than your conventional 747, and can travel from London to Sydney in under an hour or from New York to Los Angeles in just 12 minutes. The craft flies at speeds of up to 13,000mph (20 times the speed of sound) and has to withstand temperatures of up to 2,000C, which is hotter than the melting point of steel. Its test flight on Thursday should have seen the plane separate from its rocket booster at the edge of space and then enter a dive before performing a series of manoeuvres over the Pacific but US officials lost contact with the plane 36 minutes into the flight as it dived towards Earth. Initial reports suggest the plane entered the ocean as an automated safety precaution.
Apple has released more architectural plans and sketches for its proposed new headquarters, and it still looks a lot like a spaceship. The pictures are available from the City of Cupertino’s website, where Apple is based.