A truly thrilling week for technology this week: let’s face it, it was all about NASA’s Curiosity landing on Mars. Rest assured that we’ve got plenty of that below, but other things did happen too – after all, there has to be some reason for that imperious picture of Marissa Mayer – and so we’ve also got the latest on everything from Apple v Samsung in San Jose to Mat Honan’s frankly epic hacking, to the Ouya (you’ll find out) to the latest gossip from Iran’s Supreme Leader. All this and more; what are you waiting for?
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo!’s new CEO, has continued her purge of the senior staff and executives at the company. First to go this week was Jim Heckman, SVP of strategy since 2011 when Yahoo! acquired his advertising start-up, 5to1. Heckman had been close to Ross Levinsohn, until recently Yahoo!’s interim CEO, so his departure was not much of a surprise. Following Heckman later in the week was David Windley, Yahoo!’s long-serving head of human resources, who apparently left “by mutual agreement.” Windley has temporarily been replaced by Kristen Robinson, another Yahoo! HR executive – presumably until Mayer can find someone she likes for the role.
Mayer also exerted her influence this week over Yahoo!’s sale of its shares in Alibaba, a Chinese web company. Previously Yahoo! had indicated that it would pay out most of the $4bn windfall to shareholders, but a regulatory filing this week indicated that the company may in fact keep the money. The most likely explanation is that Mayer is trying to build a warchest with which to buy companies and talent – right now Yahoo! has as little as $2bn in cash, compared to Apple’s $100bn or Google’s $50bn.
Zynga’s chief operating officer, John Schappert, has left the company and its board effective immediately. The move comes after Zynga’s CEO, Mark Pincus, recently announced that he would be personally overseeing the company’s game development, presumably to help shore up investor confidence. Zynga’s shares are now trading 70% below their (disappointing) IPO price in December, a drop partly caused by the company’s reliance on Facebook, which itself is struggling to either make money or retain talent. This week Ben Blumenfeld, for five years Facebook’s lead designer, was the latest executive to depart as he left to co-direct Designer Fund, a new company that will help designers who want to start their own businesses.
Knight Capital Group, the brokerage firm that lost $440mn in 45 minutes last week when one of its trading algorithms spiralled out of control, has secured a $400mn line of credit from six other Wall Street firms to allow it to stay afloat. In return, each firm will be paid a 2% preferred stock dividend – enough, if converted into common stock, to give them collective control of 75% of the company. The Register has detailed the exact software malfunction that led to the company’s losses here.
HTC saw its market cap drop by over $1bn at the start of the week after it reported a 45% drop in revenue for July warned investors of poor Q3 results. The company’s shares have fallen by more than 50% this year as the smartphone maker struggles to maintain its position in the market.
The major trial between Apple and Samsung in California continued this week with further testimony from witnesses from both companies. Up first was Justin Denison, Samsung’s chief strategy officer, who told the court that consumers do in fact take time to decide which phone to buy – undermining Apple’s argument that customers sometimes accidentally buy Samsung phones because they mistake them for the iPhone. The court also heard from Peter Bressler, Apple’s expert witness on industrial design, who proclaimed Samsung’s products to be “substantially the same” as Apple’s patents, and Dr Susan Kare, a designer who was employed by Apple from 1982 to 1986 as part of the Macintosh Software Group, who testified that she thought consumers could find the Apple and Samsung homescreen graphics confusingly similar. Asked whether it was possible to achieve good results with different designs, Dr Kare said: “You’re only limited by your imagination.” The trial will continue next week.
Apple and Google have joined opposing groups of investors in the bidding for patents from Kodak, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year and is now selling assets to raise money. Apple is part of a group that includes Microsoft (the two also teamed up last year to bid for and win patents from Nortel Networks), while Google joined companies including Samsung, LG and HTC. The main prize will be Kodak’s digital capture patents, which cover the technology used to take pictures with mobile devices. Kodak thinks the patents could be worth up to $2.6bn, though the initial warm-up bids were between $150mn and $250mn.
Footage of the raid on Kim Dotcom’s mansion by New Zealand police, later ruled illegal by the presiding judge in the case, has been released by 3News, a news channel in the country. The video shows a helicopter landing in the grounds of the mansion to drop off armed police, followed by several police and FBI vehicles, and includes commentary by 3News as well as interviews with policemen and Dotcom himself.
A ruling that ordered RIM to pay $147mn in damages to Mformation after the Blackberry maker was found guilty of infringing on patents has been overturned by the court on appeal. Judge James Ware said that: “there was no ‘legally sufficient evidentiary basis’ on which a reasonable jury could have found for Mformation on the issue of infringement.”
Hacking & Security
The biggest security story to hit the news this week was by far that of Mat Honan, a senior writer for Wired whose “entire digital life was destroyed.” Hackers, ostensibly just trying to take over his Twitter handle @mat, used social engineering to exploit flaws in Apple and Amazon’s customer support systems. Along the way they took over and deleted his Google account, including his email, and broke into his AppleID account, which allowed them to remotely erase all the data from his iPad, his iPhone and – most devastatingly – his MacBook. The full story is here, and is most definitely worth reading. Apple and Amazon have since announced changes to their customer support policies.
Blizzard reported the leak of Battle.net user emails and encrypted passwords after hackers broke into the company’s systems. Though the passwords ought to be securely encrypted, Blizzard nevertheless recommends that North American players in particular change their passwords, which is always a healthy precaution. Users of Battle.net may like to consider using an authenticator for hugely increased security.
Star Trek: Infinite Space, a free-to-play MMO designed to be played in a browser, has been cancelled. GameForge, the game’s publisher, said: “Since autumn 2011 we made many efforts to find a publishing and marketing partner for Star Trek: Infinite Space. Unfortunately, our efforts were not successful.” This author suspects the real problem was that programming something to go on for infinity turned out to be a lot trickier than first expected.
BioShock Infinite has lost two of its top designers: Tim Gerritsen, director of product development, and Nate Wells, the art director who designed the Big Daddies. No official statement has been made.
Valve said it will start offering non-gaming apps on Steam from as soon as next month, seemingly in an attempt to compete with Apple’s App Store and the upcoming Windows Store that will be included in Windows 8. Mark Richardson, a spokesperson for Valve, said: “The 40 million gamers frequenting Steam are interested in more than playing games. They have told us they would like to have more of their software on Steam, so this expansion is in response to those customer requests.”
The massively successful Kickstarter campaign for the Ouya, a relatively cheap gaming console that will run Android and will be hackable, ended this week, exceeding its goal by over 800%. The campaign aimed to raise $950,000, but smashed its target to reach $8,596,475 in pledges from 63,416 backers. (It reached the $950,000 mark in just eight hours.) The console is planned for release in March 2013 and will cost $99, paying for a Tegra 3 quad-core processor with 1GB of RAM, 8GB of flash storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, and ports for USB, HDMI and Ethernet – all running Android 4.0 and bundled with a wireless controller. The Ouya has attracted various independent games developers and should have a decent range of smaller titles at launch.
Apple has said that it will be removing its YouTube app in iOS 6, the upcoming version of its mobile operating system, which is due to be released in September or October. Speaking to Wired, Apple said: “Our license to include the YouTube app in iOS has ended, customers can use YouTube in the Safari browser and Google is working on a new YouTube app to be on the App Store.” The YouTube app has been included with iOS since 2007, but it seems that Apple is determined to continue its break with Google; at WWDC earlier this year Apple confirmed that it would be replacing the integrated Google Maps with its own mapping software and that Google would be launching a separate Maps app for iOS.
Amazon UK says ebooks are now outselling physical books, two years after the Kindle launched in the UK. 114 ebooks are now sold for every 100 printed books, excluding free Kindle books that would raise the figures even higher. The Kindle store now includes 1.4 million ebooks in the UK.
Pinterest, the image sharing website that is apparently the hottest new thing but that few people seem to have heard of, has announced that it will be open to everyone going forward. The site has been invitation-only since its launch in 2010. According to Comscore, an analyst, Pinterest saw 19.5 million unique visitors in March 2012.
JT Wang, the CEO of Acer, has warned Microsoft (Financial Times article, free account required) to “think twice” about going into the hardware business with its Surface tablet, saying: “It is not something you are good at.”
NASA’s Curiosity rover successfully landed on Mars at 06:31 on Monday morning to cheers from around the world. The rover’s mission is to look for habitats on the planet where life could potentially have existed, leading the way for future missions to look for traces of life itself. During the descent onto the planet’s surface, the craft went from maximum speeds of around 13,000 mph to, incredibly, less than 2 mph as the rover was gently lowered onto the ground with a set of cables. A variety of low and high resolution images have already been sent back, including panoramas of the landscape and shots of the rover itself, as well as video of the heat shield being discarded in mid-air. Yes, that’s right: video from Mars. Images of the descent have also been captured and sent back by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), a separate NASA satellite in orbit around the planet. The latest images, videos and developments are detailed on NASA’s page here, and Curiosity can be followed on Twitter here.
Iran’s Supreme Leader for the last 23 years, Ayatolla Khamenei, has revealed his true hipster self by joining Instagram, the image sharing site popular for its colourful photos of desserts and skies. The ayatolla’s Instagram account includes several arty snaps of prayer sessions and meetings and appears to be run in conjunction with his Twitter account, which he has already used to swell the ranks of his followers by 5,369. It is unclear why he switched from Twitpic – which he used previously – to Instagram, but it is possible more control over colour balance and sepia tones was required to properly communicate with the faithful. (It has been pointed out that the ayatolla’s paralysis in his right arm, resulting from an assassination attempt in 1981, would make it hard to operate a smartphone. For this reason, and absolutely no other, it is possible that the Instagram account might be the work of an underling rather than the ayatolla himself.)
Google’s self-driving cars, of which there are around 12 on the road at any one time, have now logged more than 300,000 miles according to an update from the company.
The very first website ever built is celebrating its 21st birthday. Check it out.