Braeburn, Gala, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Granny Smith… They’re all great varieties of apple, but whatever your favourite there’s no denying that none has ever been so popular or successful as Apple, Inc. itself. This week we’ve got a wide range of news and statistics from the world’s largest technology company, including its soaring share prices, its legal machinations in Germany, the sooner-than-expected developer preview of its latest operating system, and the results of the first inquiry into its labour standards. But never fear – we will actually cover other topics too. We’re also looking at a coup at Yahoo!, yet another ACTA setback, Google being a little evil, a bunch of Mass Effect 3 news, and much more besides. Read on and enjoy!
The ever-more-impressive Apple statistics continued this week as the company’s stock, driven by its massive holiday quarter (in which it brought in $46bn in revenue – 19% of the entire consumer electronics revenue for the United States), rose to over $503 per share. Yes, $503 – enough to buy an iPad 2 per share. If the stock reaches $537, which it is well on its way to doing, Apple’s market cap will rise from its current $469bn to half a trillion dollars. A further $100 per share and Apple could steal the title of most valuable company of all time from its old nemesis, Microsoft, which rose to $650bn during the dotcom bubble. Apple is also now sitting on almost $100bn in cash and securities; when CEO Tim Cook was asked whether shareholders could expect their first dividend in 17 years, he replied: “We’re in very active discussions at the board level on what we should do. I’d be the first to admit we have more cash than we need to run the daily business.” Adding that the issue would be considered carefully, he said: “We are not going to run out and have a toga party.”
Yahoo! last week announced the loss of four of its board directors, including chairman Roy Bostock. Now Daniel Loeb, Yahoo! shareholder and head of the Third Point hedge fund, has filed with the SEC to have himself and three other nominees appointed to the Yahoo! board in what amounts to a corporate coup. Yahoo! said it was “disappointed” with Loeb’s behaviour, but the drama comes at a time when Yahoo!’s negotiations with its Asian partners, Alibaba and Softbank, have apparently collapsed and the company appears to lack any real leadership. The SEC has not yet responded.
Eric Schmidt might be cashing in at Google: according to a regulatory filing the chairman is planning to sell up to $1.5bn in stock over the next year. In the SEC filing he states his personal reasons for selling as stock diversification and increasing liquid cash flow. The sale of up to 2.4 million shares would cut his ownership stake from 2.8% to 2.1% and his voting power from 9.7% to 7.3%.
Kodak has gained approval to borrow $950mn to finance its corporate restructuring after it filed for bankruptcy protection last month. This will allow the company to continue functioning as it sorts itself out, but its future business plan remains to be determined.
Myspace, the ailing social networking site abandoned by Rupert Murdoch last June, has apparently added over one million users in the past month. Although its total user-base now stands at just 25 million, far below Google+’s claimed 90 million or Facebook’s 850 million, this represents a significant turn around for a website most had abandoned to its fate.
The EU and the US Department of Justice have both given Google the all-clear to buy Motorola Mobility, a move announced last August which will give Google access to both a hardware manufacturer and a wide range of new patents. Both bodies expressed lingering concern about Google’s potential use of Motorola’s patent portfolio.
Apple won a legal victory this week over Motorola in Germany that gives it the right to impose a permanent injunction against certain Motorola devices. The dispute, based around Apple’s slide-to-unlock patent, was settled when the Munich Regional Court ruled that Motorola’s smartphones infringe the patent although its tablets do not. However, Apple may not choose to exercise its injunction rights immediately; Motorola won its own junction against Apple earlier this month, which briefly forced Apple to remove its iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and iPad 3G products from the online Apple store. These products are back online while Apple appeals the decision, but it may be that both sides are forced into a mutual assured destruction scenario.
Following Germany’s decision to postpone its ratification of ACTA, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has criticised the treaty. In an interview with a German television station he said: “I don’t find it good in its current form. [An individual user’s freedom] is only very inadequately anchored in this agreement.” 25,000 people protested in Germany last weekend against the agreement while a further 4,000 protested in Sofia, Bulgaria. Around 200 people demonstrated in the UK. Peter Bradwell, of the Open Rights Group, said: “ACTA is an insult to democracy and a threat to the Internet as a tool to enhance freedom of expression, privacy, and innovation. Its vagaries and imbalances put the interests and power of businesses over those of citizens.”
The Lords communication committee has announced it will be investigating the UK government’s plans to build “the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015.” The committee is concerned about whether the plans are ambitious enough and might even be obsolete by 2015.
Hacking & Security
Google has admitted to circumventing the security settings in Apple’s Safari browser – both for desktop and iOS – in order to track users. Published in the Wall Street Journal, the workaround was discovered by Jonathan Mayer, a security researcher at Stanford University, who said millions of users may be affected. By default, Safari only allows cookies from websites users are interacting with directly. However, Google, which uses an ad system called DoubleClick, wanted to be able to track the websites visited by users in order to place targeted ads and integrate information from Google+. To get around Safari’s restrictive settings, Google placed a small amount of code on DoubleClick’s servers which made it look as though the user was interacting with DoubleClick. By opening this small hole in Safari’s protections, Google inadvertently prevented Safari providing any protection at all against doubleclick.net; in effect, the hole rapidly unravelled.
In response to the WSJ‘s revelations, Google released a statement saying: “We didn’t anticipate that this would happen, and we have now started removing these advertising cookies from Safari browsers.” Apple said: “We are aware that some third parties are circumventing Safari’s privacy features and we are working to put a stop to it.” The EFF has called for Google to make amends with a “pro-privacy offering” to its users.
In an example of a company managing security and privacy correctly, Twitter has announced that HTTPS – the more secure form of internet browsing which uses encryption – will now be turned on by default for all users. HTTPS browsing was made available in March 2011 but few users had chosen to opt-in.
Gaming news this week has almost entirely been about Mass Effect 3, the demo for which is now available for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. The demo features two levels from the single-player campaign and four co-op matches, though the multiplayer has only just been made available. Prior to the demo’s release, Rock, Paper, Shotgun came across a video which purportedly shows the first 40 minutes of the game; don’t click through if you don’t want spoilers. And if that’s still not enough Mass Effect goodness for you, you can download the iOS tie-in game we reported on last week, or even listen to The Verge interviewing Mac Walters, ME3‘s lead writer, about the franchise. ME3 will be released on March 6th – though if you can’t wait even that long, you might want to look to the skies, because EA has fittingly launched the very first copies of the game into space. Track their return to Earth successfully, and you could be playing through the series’ conclusion as much as a week earlier than everyone else.
Apple might be rolling in it (see “Business” above) but it certainly isn’t sitting around. Just seven months after the release of Mac OS X Lion the company has announced the developer preview of OS X Mountain Lion, which will be version 10.8 of the operating system. From the looks of it, Mountain Lion will continue what Lion started: the merging of iOS and Mac OS into one, almost-unified operating system. Even at a glance the preview shows it includes such features as Notification Centre, Reminders and iMessage, all of which are prominent iOS features (yes, you will be able to use iMessage between your Mac and your iOS device). Another telling factor is the name; Apple is dropping the “Mac” and just calling the release “OS X Mountain Lion.” Mountain Lion is expected to be released this summer. Ars Technica and The Verge both have in-depth looks at the developer preview.
HP has outlined the way it plans to govern webOS, its mobile operating system which it released into open-source after discontinuing its webOS-running TouchPad tablet line. The model will be similar to the way Apache governs its code, with code developed in public repositories and key contributors able to commit changes. This will actually make webOS more of an open platform that Google’s Android. Ars Technica has a more in-depth look at the differences between the two. The latest piece of webOS to be released is Isis, the platform’s web browser.
Samsung has announced plans for the Galaxy Tab 2, a seven-inch tablet that will be the company’s first to run Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, or include built-in voice-calling capabilities. The tablet will ship to the UK from March.
Accusations have been levelled in the media recently that claim Apple is responsible for poor working conditions at its factories in China, where several employees have committed suicide. The claims got particular notice when unfair labour practice activists began protesting outside Apple stores around the world and calling for a boycott of the company’s products. Despite the fact that the factories in question are not run by Apple – they are mostly run by Foxconn, which Apple contracts to manufacture its products – and that the factories produce gadgets for many other companies, Apple nevertheless volunteered for an audit by the Fair Labour Association (FLA).
CEO Tim Cook even placed the issue first on his agenda at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference last Tuesday, stating: “The first thing that I want everyone to know – Apple takes working conditions very, very seriously. And we have for a very long time. … We are constantly auditing facilities, going deep into the supply chain, looking for problems, finding problems, and more importantly fixing them. And we report everything because we believe that transparency is so very important in this area.”
True enough, the FLA reported back from Apple’s first audited factory, which is run by Foxconn, on Thursday. FLA president Auret van Heerden told Reuters Apple’s manufacturing standards were “way above average of the norm,” and that: “The facilities are first-class.” The FLA will now investigate the rest of Apple’s top eight suppliers, and will make an interim report of the results publicly available in March.
Gawker has an exclusive look at the criteria (and the teams of low-paid people) Facebook actually uses to determine which content is filtered and deleted from its website.
The Pirate Bay will remove most of its torrent files on February 29th as it makes the transition to “magnet links,” a more compact and decentralised method of file sharing.