TSR on tech: your weekly news summary
|February 26, 2012||Posted by Elliot Davies under TSR on tech|
Plenty of legal mumbo-jumbo this week as Kim Dotcom is released on bail, ACTA is delayed and Microsoft accuses Motorola of asking just a little too much for its patents, but not to fear – we’ll make sure to lighten the mood a bit with a positive earnings report from HP, a “Privacy Bill of Rights” announced by Obama, some product goodness with the PS Vita and BlackBerry PlayBook, and a patent for a keyboard made of polished meteorite. Onwards!
Dell failed to meet the expectations of many analysts – and the hopes of many shareholders – when it posted its Q4 results this week. Its net income fell 18% year-on-year to $764mn or 43 cents per share, compared with $927mn or 48 cents per share for a year earlier. The company also predicted that its revenues would decline by 7% for the current quarter, leading to a slew of downgrades from Wall Street analysts, many of whom dropped their ratings from “buy” to “hold.” Sterne Agee dropped its rating to “underperform” – the equivalent of “sell.”
HP performed well in its quarterly earnings, bringing in 92 cents per share to beat analysts’ anticipations of 87 cents, though sales of $30bn were just short of the $30.7bn expected. However, the company, which has the largest personal computing business in the world, saw sales of PCs fall 15% year-on-year and consumer sales fall by as much as 25%. In HP’s case, as with Dell’s, the shortage of hard drives that followed floods in Thailand last year will have had an impact, but it is nevertheless clear that PC manufacturers are struggling to stay strong in the face of competition from tablets and a tough economy in general.
Apple’s executives aren’t going to have a toga party, but nor are they going to pay out any dividends, according to the news from the Cupertino company’s latest shareholder meeting. Apple will however adopt majority voting for board members – any board member without a majority of favourable votes will now have to resign. As it stands, all board members have positive majorities of at least 80%, with CEO Tim Cook the highest at 98%.
Kim Dotcom, the Megaupload founder who was arrested at his home in New Zealand in January, has been granted bail after a judge ruled that he did not have any way to flee the country. Dotcom confirmed that he would be fighting efforts by the US to extradite him, and said in a statement: “I am relieved to go home to see my family, my three little kids and my pregnant wife. And I hope you understand that that is all I want to say right now.” The US claims Megaupload has cost content producers $500mn in lost revenue and is trying to extradite Dotcom along with three others. Dotcom may not use the internet or travel more than 80km from his home in Auckland while on bail.
ACTA, the secretive Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement whose progress we have been following as several EU countries have refused to ratify it, has suffered another setback after it was openly criticised by the president of the European Parliament last week. The European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, Viviane Reding, announced that the treaty would have to be put before the European Court of Justice to clarify whether it is “fully compatible with freedom of expression and freedom of the Internet.” The European Commission, which is the EU’s executive branch, has always been in favour of ACTA and presumably hopes that the Court’s approval would help its progress. However, the extra time needed for the judiciary to make a decision will also give ACTA’s opponents more time to rally against it, and it must still be approved by the European Parliament in the summer.
Microsoft has filed a complaint with the European Commission this week, which claims that Motorola Mobility – and by extension its new owner Google – is charging too-high licensing fees for patents that are essential for Microsoft to meet industry standards relating to the H.264 video standard. Microsoft claims that Motorola’s 50 patents, as well as the other 2,300 held by other companies which relate to H.264, are covered by “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory” licensing terms, and so they should be licensed for only a nominal fee. The complaint is not publicly available, but in a blog post Microsoft’s general counsel Dave Heiner said: “[The other patents holders charge] just 2¢ for use of more than 2,300 patents. (Windows qualifies for a nice volume discount, but no firm has to pay more than 20 cents per unit.) Motorola is demanding that Microsoft pay more than 1,000 times that for use of just 50 patents.” Motorola has previously been accused of similar activities by Apple.
Everything Everywhere, the UK’s largest phone network, which owns both Orange and T-Mobile, hopes to give its customers access to fast 4G broadband before the end of the year. (This would not actually be true 4G, but rather LTE, which is far faster than the current 3G networks but does not quite comply with all of the 4G standards.) The move, which would bring 4G to the UK a year ahead of schedule, is dependent on approval from OFCOM.
A High Court judge has ruled that The Pirate Bay infringes copyright. The court is expected to rule in June as to whether ISPs must therefore block access to the file-sharing site.
Hacking & Security
President Obama has unveiled a new framework for online privacy, designed to deal with the multitudes of concerns about how companies user customers’ personal data. The framework, which has been called a “Privacy Bill of Rights,” begins by getting advertisers to respect do-not-track instructions given to them by users, something which Google, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo! have now signed up to voluntarily. Until the guidelines can be passed as law, the Federal Trade Commission will watch over the companies that sign up. The move comes as six of the world’s largest technology companies – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, RIM and HP – have agreed to comply with a California law that apps must provide a privacy statement before users download them.
Google is facing a class-action lawsuit after last week’s revelations that the company was circumventing the Safari browser’s security settings in order to track users and serve better ads. Google maintains that the behaviour was accidental, but that looked less and less likely after Microsoft then announced that Google was doing something similar with Internet Explorer.
Glenn Mangham, the York student who broke into Facebook’s secure systems last year, has been sentenced to eight months in jail. The court rejected arguments that his actions were not malicious, with prosecutors claiming Facebook had spent up to $200,000 dealing with the aftermath of the hacking.
An extended trailer has been released for Mass Effect 3, entitled Take Back Earth.
Release dates for Borderlands 2 have been announced. The sequel will be available in the US from September 18th, or from September 23rd elsewhere. A new trailer was also released.
Killzone 3, a major title for Sony’s PS3 that previously cost $60, will be seeing its multiplayer mode go free-to-play from this Tuesday. The free section of the game will be limited only by an as-yet unspecified level cap and some unlockable items, but both restrictions can be removed for $14.99.
The Sony Playstation Vita is now on sale in Europe and the US following its initial launch in Japan in December. The WiFi-only version costs $249 and the WiFI + 3G version costs $299. Ars Technica has a detailed look at the console.
Version 2.0 of the Blackberry PlayBook OS has been released for those three or four people who own one of RIM’s tablets. The update at last adds native email functionality to the tablet, as well as other features such as “Print To Go” and support for some select Android applications, but BlackBerry Messenger is still absent. The basic PlayBook model currently sells for around $200.
Apache, the open source web server which supports around 60% of all active domains and 400 million websites, has seen its first major update in six years. The release of version 2.4 coincides with the 17th anniversary of the software and provides several new features.
Chaotic Moon Labs have made an incredibly cool skateboard which can be controlled with your mind.
Starting from March 1st, 2012, any car with a red license plate in Nevada will be a legal, computer-driven vehicle such as those Google tested last year. State governor Sandoval signed a law last June making it legal for cars to drive themselves, providing the owner has the proper type of license. These cars will still be marked as tests however; only once research on automated cars is complete will Nevada’s DMV issue them with green license plates signalling that they are fully good to go.
Google has partnered with the University of Queensland and Catlin Group, an insurance firm, to produce Street View for the Great Barrier Reef. Some of the initial results are available to see here.