TSR on tech: your weekly news summary

Hurrah – no one is suing anyone else this week! Thankfully we don’t need to repeat last week’s mass (or should that be ‘mess’) of legal rumblings. Instead, we’ve got… job layoffs and the fall from grace of the world’s favourite tech blog (which, for some inexplicable reason, is not TSR). Oh well, what can I say? It’s tough in the world of technology. But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ll also look at YMAN (Yet More Apple News), some exciting gaming updates, the iPad 3 launch invitation, the highly anticipated Raspberry Pi computer, and much more. Shall we?

Business

A history of Apple's market cap. Source: The Verge. (Click to enlarge)

These days it is seemingly impossible to start a weekly news review without mentioning Apple’s latest achievement, and this week is no exception. On Wednesday, the world’s largest company passed a market cap of $500bn, only the sixth US company ever to do so (the others were Intel, Cisco, General Electric, Microsoft and Exxon Mobil). The difference this time is that while none of its predecessors stayed above $500bn for long, Apple has a serious chance of doing so. To put the company’s weight into perspective, Microsoft, Facebook and Google together are worth just $567bn whereas Apple at the time of writing stands at $508.3bn, and with an iPad 3 announcement right around the corner (see below) the numbers can only get larger.

Apple was also named Fortune‘s most admired company this week even as the company claimed it has created or supported 514,000 jobs in the USA, including an estimated 304,000 in logistics and manufacturing and 210,000 in the “iOS app economy.”

Sadly not all companies are doing as well as Apple, with several rounds of layoffs being announced in the past few days. First came IBM, which has reportedly let go around 1,100 workers in the US after more operations were moved abroad. Next, 275 people lost their jobs at HP’s webOS division, although this was expected after the announcement that HP would no longer make webOS hardware. 775 people have now been laid off from the division although the company did say that “HP is working to redeploy employees affected by these changes to other roles at the company.” Finally, Blizzard Entertainment, which makes games such as World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft, made redundant almost 600 workers to help fit “current organisational needs.” Most of the jobs were from areas outside of game development, and no jobs were lost from the WoW team, despite the MMO’s continued subscriber losses. Blizzard president Mike Morhaime said: “We remain committed to shipping multiple games this year.”

TechCrunch, the tech news site which for a long time has been the most popular on the web, has lost 35% of its traffic in the past year and appears to be well on its way to a spectacular collapse. The decline began with an acquisition by AOL in late 2010, but a year later founder and editor Michael Arrington left after a string of disagreements with AOL’s Arianna Huffington. Before anyone knew it most of the site’s top talent had followed in Arrington’s footsteps, with the result that the blog has now lost almost all of its best writers, and this week AOL reluctantly announced that editor Erick Sconfeld would be moving elsewhere. paidContent has a nice graph of TechCrunch‘s rapidly falling traffic.

Zynga, the gaming company that makes such internet classics as Farmville and Words With Friends, has revealed its plans for Zynga.com, a “platform for play” where users can experience games without visiting Facebook. This seems to be a way to (hopefully) extend Zynga’s reach without losing the company’s ties to Facebook, which accounted for 93% of Zynga’s revenue at last count. Zynga in turn generated 12% of Facebook’s 2011 revenue, according to Facebook’s recent IPO filing.

Legal

The EU has outlined a proposal suggesting that, by July 2014, customers will be charged no more than €0.15 a minute for calls, €0.04 a text or €0.20 per megabyte of data when roaming abroad. Customers seem extremely keen on the idea, though networks such as Vodafone and Telefonica have objected.

Hacking & Security

Google is offering prizes totalling $1mn to people who can successfully hack into and exploit the Chrome browser at the CanSecWest security conference next week. Depending on the level of exploit performed, contestants can win prizes of as much as $60,000 at a time, and money will continue to be awarded until the $1mn mark is reached. The conference is well known for its Pwn2Own contest where various internet browsers are routinely toppled, but Google Chrome is the only eligible browser never to have been brought down. Last year, no exploits were even attempted against it. Chris Evans and Justin Schuh of the Chrome security team said: “While we’re proud of Chrome’s leading track record in past competitions, the fact is that not receiving exploits means that it’s harder to learn and improve. To maximize our chances of receiving exploits this year, we’ve upped the ante. We will directly sponsor up to $1 million worth of rewards.” All winners will also receive Chromebook laptops.

25 purported members of the Anonymous hacking group have been arrested by Interpol as part of the international police force’s “Operation Unmask.” Soon after the announcement, Interpol’s website was hit by a DDOS attack and remained offline for some time.

Gaming

The cover artwork for Assassin's Creed III

The next game in the Assassin’s Creed series, Assassin’s Creed 3 (due October 30th, 2012), seems set to take place during the era of the American Revolutionary War, at least according to cover art uploaded by Ubisoft. This represents a significant but welcome change from the Renaissance Europe setting of AC2, AC:Brotherhood and AC:Revelations, although from the art it seems that the main character will still very much be an assassin. Ubisoft said it intends to release more details on Monday.

The official launch trailer for Mass Effect 3, which launches on March 6th, has been released.

Game developer Irrational Games has announced that BioShock Infinite will be released in the US for Xbox, PS3 and PC on October 16th, 2012. The game will be released internationally on October 19th.

Products

The press invitation to Apple's event on March 7th

Apple has issued invitations to an event on March 7th at the Yerba Beuna Centre for the Arts, where it is widely believed the Cupertino company will announce the iPad 3. The invitation certainly seems to support this; showing a finger touching the iOS Calendar app on a seemingly high-res screen, it also features the words: “We have something you really have to see. And touch.” Although this has led to speculation about the sudden announcement of a new touchscreen television product, this seems unlikely as the date fits perfectly with Apple’s annual iPad release. It is expected that the iPad 3 will have a retina display screen (a resolution of 2048×1536 pixels) as well as a faster, possibly quad-core A6 processor, but little else is known. The concurrent release of iOS 6 is not impossible but it seems more likely that Apple would release that with the next iPhone, perhaps releasing an iOS 5.1 upgrade with the iPad 3 instead. One big question is whether the iPad 3 will include Siri, Apple’s voice control technology which has been hitherto restricted to the iPhone 4S.

The Raspberry Pi, the cheap (£22) but powerful credit card-sized computer designed for use in education, has finally been made available for purchase after years of development. Designed in Cambridge on a not-for-profit basis, the first batch of 10,000 Pi computers sold out within minutes when they went on sale at 06:00 GMT on Wednesday morning. In fact, the demand was so high that the company’s website crashed and remained offline for some time. The next batch is expected to be ready for sale within a few weeks.

Microsoft has released the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the public beta of the upcoming operating system. Copies of the preview can be downloaded for free from Microsoft’s website if you want to play around, though there are a few requirements: any computer looking to run Windows 8 requires a 1GHz processor, 1GB/2GB of RAM for 32/64-bit, 16GB/20GB of storage, and a DirectX 9 graphics card supporting a minimum resolution of 1024×768. Obviously, you can only use the touch features if you have a touchscreen. The preview has already been downloaded over one million times, but if you don’t want to try it yourself then The Verge has a comprehensive hands-on.

Facebook has continued its timeline-oriented overhaul by extending the new look to Pages. The look is largely similar to the way users’ personal pages look; if you want an example for checking it out, you could try Barack Obama’s page, where the US president has become the only person ever to bother filling in his entire life story.

The Nokia PureView 808 offers a 41-megapixel camera for some serious snaps.

Nokia has unveiled the PureView 808, a 41-megapixel camera phone. The handset only contains a single-core 1.3GHz Snapdragon processor however, so for the massive image files – which could take up as much as 10MB of space – you’ll want to do some cropping first. Thankfully Nokia have built in a very simple UI for this, which uses the screen’s edges as a boundary rather than dragging a marquee around. Nokia understandably didn’t feel the need for a zoom with that quality of image, although the PureView will capture video at 1080p (full HD) with 4x lossless zoom as well as CD-grade sound quality. The phone is expected to cost around €450 and is due out later this year.

Adobe is making Photoshop Touch available for the iPad 2. The app was previously restricted to Android devices. Adobe also plans to release other creative apps for the iPad as the year continues.

Misc.

CERN is teaming up with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and the European Space Agency to create a super-fast cloud computing system. The system is to be called the Helix Nebula Science Cloud and will be fast enough to solve all the hardest problems of the three organisations combined – which is quite an undertaking given that CERN uses 150,000 CPUs at a time and writes 6GB of data a second. For science!

Durham University accidentally made publicly available the personal details of 177 staff members and students on its website for five months before realising its mistake. The information, which included names, addresses and dates of birth, was included as a series of screenshots in a training manual about the workings of the university’s systems. The university reported themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office, but no serious penalties were incurred.

Apple’s app store hit 25 billion downloads.

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