This week we’ve got more earnings calls (including the largest quarter ever for a technology company), a new CEO at RIM, discussions about Google and Twitter changing various policies, the grim news about ACTA, and many other interesting tidbits besides. Read on as we tackle all the tech news for the past week.
Apple stole the show this week as quarterly earnings reports continued to roll in, merrily declaring yet another record quarter for Q1 2012. As you might expect, it was certainly a big one – but nobody, including Wall Street analysts, had anticipated just how big it would be. Blowing away predictions of earnings per share of $10.08, Apple instead posted considerably higher earnings per share of $13.87. This along with revenue for the quarter of $46bn and profits of $13.06bn (more than Google’s entire revenue for the same period, which was $10.6bn). Apple is now estimated to be sitting on cash reserves of $97bn, and the company’s shares rocketed over 7% to more than $450 following the news. This temporarily gave the company a market cap of $419bn, briefly making it the most valuable company in the world for the second time. Some statistics for the quarter: Apple sold 37.04 million iPhones, up 128% year on year; 15.43 million iPads, up 111%; 5.2 million Macs, up 26%; and 15.4 million iPods, down 21% (iPod sales have been falling for some time now, in part due to competition from Apple’s own iPhone). The iPhone accounted for 8.3% of worldwide mobile shipments in the final quarter of 2011.
Yahoo!’s earnings report wasn’t quite up to Apple’s standards, but at least it mostly met Wall Street’s expectations, which is saying something for the struggling company. Yahoo! posted earnings per share of $0.24 and revenues of $1.17bn, compared to the expected $0.23 and $1.19bn respectively.
A change of leadership has at long last occurred at RIM: co-CEOs Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have stepped down to be replaced by former COO Thorsten Heins. The two have also resigned their jointly held position as chairman of the board; Barbara Stymiest, formerly an executive at the Royal Bank of Canada, will replace them there. Lazaridis will now hold a role as vice-chairman while Balsillie will remain on the board without an executive position. Although fresh faces will be welcomed by many as the Blackberry maker struggles to remain relevant in a market dominated by smartphones, Heins is very much a company man and has already come under criticism for promising to just follow the path set out by his predecessors. Perhaps a more substantial shake-up was needed.
Nokia’s Windows Phone sales are apparently going quite well: a survey of 22 analysts found that the average estimate for shipments so far is 1.3 million units. If that’s true, the partnership is off to a good, stable start, which bodes well for both companies.
The EU has at last approved Sony’s buyout of Ericsson, giving Sony full control of the joint venture. With just one company handling phone development (and the patent portfolio), it is hoped that some of Sony Ericsson’s losses (it posted a €247 loss last quarter) can be recouped.
We try to avoid speculation, but reports are now coming thick and fast that Facebook is preparing for an imminent IPO filing, possibly as soon as this coming Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal‘s sources say Morgan Stanley would be the bank chosen to underwrite the IPO – meaning it would be the predominant assessor of share value, and would approach investors – but that other banks would be involved as well. At this point, any public offering by Facebook is expected to raise around $10bn, valuing the company between $80bn and $100bn.
Twitter has faced a backlash this week as users accused it of introducing censorship of tweets. The protests came in response to a blog post in which Twitter announced it would be implementing the ability to withhold specific tweets in certain countries; for example, it may withhold a pro-Nazi tweet in Germany, where being pro-Nazi is illegal. The tweet would still be available elsewhere in the world and Twitter would only move to act in response to a valid legal request. It is worth noting that other companies including Google and Facebook already filter content according to country, and that Twitter already has this power: the new rules would just formalise it.
The European version of SOPA and PIPA – the two US censorship bills which caused a huge uproar on the internet – was ratified by more than 20 EU countries on Thursday, including the UK. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), while watered down from its initial text, is arguably more authoritarian than either of the US-only versions and yet has been designed almost entirely in secret. In several countries, including the US which signed it back in October, the agreement is not even being put before a congress or parliament. The European Parliament monitor assigned to oversee the process resigned in protest at the secrecy, but to little avail. ACTA will be voted on by the European Parliament in the summer; if it is voted through, it will become law.
In the US, a federal judge has ruled that compelling someone to decrypt a laptop’s hard drive does not infringe that person’s Fifth Amendment rights (the right to avoid self-incrimination), providing ownership of the laptop can be proven. The decision is expected to be appealed.
The case of Megaupload and its larger-than-life founder Kim Dotcom has grown to include denials of bail because of flight risks, charges over illegal possession of weapons, and an inflatable tank.
A Canadian resident is facing the death penalty in Iran after his photography program was used without his knowledge to upload pornography to the internet.
Hacking & Security
Google announced this week that it will soon be condensing around 70 individual privacy policies into one policy which will cover most of its services, in order to make life simpler for users. At the same time the company will also start treating users as a single entity across services; that is, information you enter into one Google service will now be available to other Google services. For example, Google Ads might start using your Google Calendar information to let you know you’re about to be late to a meeting. The announcement has caused quite a stir, with many people touting Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto, but it isn’t exactly apparent why this should be a big deal. After all, the same company has your information; it’s not being sold on to anyone else. Google still makes it clear which information it collects, and it still has a healthy policy of data liberation if you want to take your information elsewhere.
Google also this week opened up Google+ to everyone who is 13 or older, though younger users will have added restrictions for safety.
Symantec is acknowledging that hacker group Anonymous stole source code from the company as far back as 2006. Most products have been updated since then so the majority of users need not worry, but anyone running Symantec’s pcAnywhere software should stop using it immediately.
Mobile carrier O2 is being investigated by the Information Commissioner and OFCOM after it was revealed that for two weeks users’ mobile numbers were being sent to websites they visited over 3G from their phones. The issue, introduced accidentally during maintenance, has now been fixed. No numbers were sent to websites accessed over WiFi.
Portal lead designer Kim Swift has shown off a gameplay demo for her upcoming project Quantum Conundrum. The game admittedly looks a lot like Portal in places, but let’s be honest: we all want a Portal 3 anyway, so this will do nicely. With dimension shifting, an eccentric uncle and safe-surfing, Quantum Conundrum looks like really good fun. The game should be due for a summer release.
Valve has released beta versions of iOS and Android apps which will allow users to “chat with Steam friends, browse community groups and user profiles, view screenshots and user-generated content for their favorite games, read the latest gaming news, stay up to date on unbeatable Steam sales, and more.” The apps apparently come in response to considerable user demand.
Blizzard has cancelled its Blizzcon gathering this year, allegedly so it can focus on upcoming Diablo, World of Warcraft and Starcraft games.
Lego will be releasing a special set of bricks based on Minecraft.
According to Global Equities Research, Apple saw downloads of 350,000 textbooks (can’t we just call them iTextbooks?) from its new iBooks 2 app within three days of the launch event. The company also saw 90,000 downloads of iBooks Author, the textbook creation tool. Although many of these downloads could have just been from inquisitive users going after freebies, it looks like a good start for Apple’s attempt to muscle in on the education market.
Following less-than-amazing Q4 results, HTC has announced a change of plan: rather than just flood the market with phones, the manufacturer instead will try to focus on a smaller number of higher-quality handsets. Given that there are currently 51 phones available on HTC’s website, this probably isn’t a bad idea. The strategy is not dissimilar to that recently declared by Acer for its PC products.
Orange has announced a deal with Wikipedia to make the encyclopaedia available for free to the carrier’s Middle Eastern and African customers, who total around ten million people.
Rhapsody, a music streaming service hitherto available only in the US, will now be available in the UK following its acquisition of Napster’s operations.
Microsoft has announced that SQL Server 2012 will be released on March 7th.
According to Facebook, the company helped contribute £2.2bn to the UK’s economy in 2011.
NASA has a 64-megapixel photograph (8000 x 8000) of the Earth from space.
Incredibly, four hours worth of video is now uploaded to YouTube every second.