Facebook revealed new features to up the ante against Google+, while HP rethought its recent direction and replaced its CEO.
Facebook Unveils New Features
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerbeg unveiled major changes to the profile page “Timeline“ at the f8 conference in San Francisco. The new page automatically lays out users’ activities, pictures and posts like a digital scrapbook. “All your stories, all your apps and a new way to experience who you are,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s a completely new aesthetic for Facebook.”
The social network also revealed new features involving music sharing, which is powered by the company’s new partners. Spotify, MOG Rdio, SoundCloud, Deezer and Rhapsody are on board to create specialised Facebook apps.
In addition to forming a partnership with music companies, Facebook is also looking to strengthen its ties in the film industry. The company is talking to former MySpace co-president and former MTV executive Jason Hirschhorn about spearheading the company’s outreach to media companies.
The social network also spent $230,000 this past quarter lobbying in Washington, highlighting how it has generated hundreds of thousands of jobs. The “Facebook app economy” added between 182,000 and 235,000 jobs and contributed nearly $16 billion in wages and benefits to the U.S. economy in 2011.
HP Replaces CEO
HP named former eBay chief Meg Whitman as its CEO, replacing Leo Apotheker. Whitman has been on HP’s board since January and brings a mixed record to the company. After leading eBay to become an Internet powerhouse, she left the company in the wake of slumping sales growth and its widely criticised purchase of Skype.
Whitman’s appointment comes after HP drew criticism over its recent business decisions. The company recently shelved its TouchPad and spun off its computer business to focus more on software. HP also bought the U.K. business software company Autonomy, prompting stockholders to complain the company overspent on the $12 billion purchase.
HP is now dealing with backlash for appointing Whitman. Investors are doubt the abilities of HP’s new CEO, while analysts are criticising the board’s decision to hire Whitman so quickly, calling it another hasty move the company will eventually regret.
AT&T DoJ Case to Start February 13
The Department of Justice’s case to block the AT&T/T-Mobile merger will begin on February 13. The trial date issued by Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle is a compromise between the two sides. The DoJ was pushing for a March or April start so it would have more time to prepare its case, while AT&T wanted the trial to begin as soon as possible.
AT&T also saw opposition to its merger continue to grow. Attorney generals from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington joined the Justice Department lawsuit to halt the deal. The attorney generals agreed a merger would stifle competition.
AT&T met with several smaller carriers to discuss selling off parts of its spectrum and subscriber base as a way to help push the deal through. The company approached MetroPCS, Leap Wireless, CenturyLink, Dish and Sprint to gauge their interest in buying assets.
Unfortunately for AT&T, the carrier continues to face opposition from smaller carriers. Cellular South joined the Justice Department and Sprint, suing AT&T to block the merger. The ninth-largest carrier in the U.S. said the merger “threatens to substantially lessen competition” and will lead to a lopsided market. In addition, the regional operator said AT&T’s deal would keep it from offering the best devices, force it to raise prices and hurt roaming deals.
AT&T is gearing up to fight for its T-Mobile deal despite these setbacks. The carrier unveiled an advertising campaign to garner public support that showcases the benefits of a successful merger.
AT&T is now bombarded by negative publicity about its T-Mobile acquisition, but the CEO of Verizon, Lowell McAdam, spoke in favour of the deal. “It had to occur, because you had a company with T-Mobile that had the spectrum but didn’t have the capital to build it out,” said McAdam. “AT&T needed the spectrum, they didn’t have it in order to take care of their customers, and so that match had to occur.”
Another bright spot for AT&T is the addition of the Samsung Galaxy S2 to its smartphone catalogue. The carrier announced it will sell the device on October 2 for $200 with a two-year contract. The device will come with a 4.3-inch touch screen, featuring high-resolution “Super-AMOLED” technology for more vivid imaging.
Google Defends Itself, Oracle Offers Settlement
Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt told a House subcommittee his company’s search engine ranks its own products and advertisers higher in search results simply to help people find useful information. Schmidt maintained Google “does nothing to block access to any of the competitors and other sources of information in Web searches.”
The company is also in the midst of an ongoing court battle with Oracle. Google’s CEO Larry Page, and Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle spent hours discussing the pending lawsuit before a federal magistrate in San Jose, Calif.
However, the two sides remain contentious after Google urged a federal judge to reject Oracle’s recommendation for a $2.2 billion settlement. Google’s lawyer Robert Van Nest said Oracle’s payoff, which estimated by its expert Iain Cockburn, is far too much and should not be considered.
Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, Google entered the increasingly competitive mobile payments market by officially rolling out its new e-wallet service and app. The Google Wallet service stores credit card information on mobile phones, allowing users to pay for goods and service with a swipe of any NFC-enabled device.
Google Wallet may face slow user adoption because it only supports Citi MasterCard and Google pre-paid cards as forms of payment, but the company is looking to add more partners. The company announced an agreement to use current Visa PayWave technology to enable mobile payments at retail locations. PayWave is currently accepted at hundreds of thousands of retail locations worldwide.
Google’s social network also took a big new step. The Google+ service opened to the public, coming out of its invite-only status and adding mobile features to bring in a wider swath of users. The social network was invitation-only all summer while Google worked out the kinks. Its popular video chat service, Hangouts, will now work on phones, and its Huddle service, relabeled as Messenger, will support photo sharing.
Finally, Google encouraged developers to update their apps to ensure they are compatible with its Android Ice Cream Sandwich update later this year. The company posted upgrade instructions on its Android blog for developers, promising all future updates to the platform will support “big screens, small screens, and everything in between.”
Apple Set to Unveil IPhone 5 on October 4
Apple plans to announce and reveal the iPhone 5 on October 4 and will sell it in store a few weeks later, according to AllThingsD. CEO Time Cook will reportedly lift the curtain on the anticipated handset.
The iPhone 5 is expected to arrive on AT&T, Verizon and Sprint’s networks, but T-Mobile reportedly won’t carry the device. The carrier’s chief marketing officer Cole Brodman alerted employees the company wouldn’t get Apple’s new device, according to a transcript from an internal event leaked to TmoNews. Instead, Brodman told employees there are two other new smartphones coming to the carrier he expects will help lure in customers.
Apple has not tipped its hand on whether it will reveal one new smartphone or two in October. However, former vice president Al Gore, who sits on Apple’s board, hinted the company would release two iPhones, using the plural version of the word. “Not to mention the new iPhones coming out next month,” Gore said at a Discovery Invest Leadership Summit in South Africa.
Consumers may not know much about Apple’s new device, or devices, but they are still rushing to trade-in their old iPhones in preparation. Gadget trade-in site Gazelle reported an 85 per cent increase in people looking to sell their old iPhones, saying that kind of volume is unusual before the newest model become available.
Users looking to trade in their old iPhones in hopes of getting an iPhone 5 may want to wait a bit longer. Apple may experience shortages of the iPhone 5 now that display supplier Wintek reported a defect in some of its screens. The manufacturer reportedly discovered a bubble that shows up between the panel and lamination layer of the display. Wintek is scheduled to supply displays for about 20 per cent of Apples planned 25 million iPhone 5′s in the fourth quarter.
Samsung and Apple Patent War Escalates
Samsung filed another countersuit against Apple, this time in Australia. The company told a Sydney court Apple’s iPhones and iPads violate seven of its wireless patents. Samsung also said Apple’s case against its Galaxy Tab 10.1 is invalid, alleging the patents in question expired long ago.
The patent suit also saw new developments in Samsung’s home country. The company filed a lawsuit against Apple’s highly anticipated iPhone 5 in South Korea, trying to prevent its October arrival. “It would be impossible for Apple to sell its i-branded products without using our patents,” an unnamed Samsung executive told the Korea Times. “We will stick to a strong stance against Apple during the lingering legal fights.”
The legal battle between Samsung and Apple is now so contentious, the two sides may cease to continue their working relationship. TSMC, instead of Samsung, may manufacture Apple’s A5 processors next year according to DigiTimes. Samsung supplied chips for Apple’s current iPad and iPhone devices, but TSMC is reportedly testing A6 chipsets.
Samsung said it will wage a more offensive campaign against Apple moving forward, hoping to force the company into a settlement, along with nullifying the injunctions against its products in Europe and Australia. An offensive on Samsung’s part may lengthen and complicate the overall battle, but the company believes it has been far too “passive” in its approach against “free-riding” Apple.
Samsung hired Kevin Packingham, former head of products at Sprint, in an effort to push the Galaxy line in the country. Samsung recently announced four new Galaxy phones, headed for AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, all of whom Packingham will deal with in his new job.
Samsung is also working on its own software to gain independence from Android in the wireless market. The company is opening up its Bada platform for developers to create apps starting next year. Samsung may expand it beyond mobile devices and into Internet-connected TVs, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Hackers Attack Japan, Plan “Day of Vengeance”
Unknown hackers hit Japanese defence contractor Mitsubishi Heavy, trolling for military secrets. The hack breached 80 Mitsubishi Heavy computers with eight types of malware, targeting the company’s nuclear power, submarine and missile plants. The cyber-attacks come at a time when worldwide governments are drafting plans to handle online security breaches as serious military threats.
Japan is now joining the U.S. in cracking down on cyber-attacks. The country’s defence minister demanded an investigation into Mitsubishi Heavy for failing to report its security breach immediately. The company will face fines if the probe discovers hackers stole sensitive data, which Mitsubishi Heavy so far says is not the case.
Hacktivist group Anonymous, meanwhile, continues to be active. The loosely organised collective plans to instigate hacks and protests against Wall Street, major banks and the New York Police department at “High Noon” on September 24. Anonymous is responding to NYPD actions on September 17, saying officers unjustly arrested and abused protestors wearing Guy Fawkes masks for denouncing corrupt financial institutions with their “Occupy Wall Street” campaign.
Microsoft Pressures FTC Probe Against Google, Challenges with Smartphones
Microsoft lodged complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, alleging it illegally increased advertising rates. The company said Google restricts others from innovation and discourages competitive alternatives. Microsoft’s allegations may build a case against Google as the company undergoes stringent examination of its business practices in a widening FTC probe.
The company also hopes to boost its Windows platform with a new update dubbed “Mango.” Microsoft plans to roll out the anticipated update next week. Mango is Windows Phone’s first major update, and will be featured on handsets from HTC and Samsung later this year.
One of the most important factors in Microsoft’s future in mobile platforms is its partnership with Nokia. Nokia is making Windows Phone the primary operating system in its new smartphones, showing further support by sending CTO Henry Tirri to Silicon Valley to counter rivals Apple and Google. In his new role, Tirri will likely head the team building Nokia’s first Windows Phone.
Microsoft also demonstrated its commitment to Nokia by firing an employee who tweeted information about an unreleased Nokia handset. Microsoft said Joe Marini violated the company’s social networking policy that tells employees to be “smart” and never share anything about “new features, functionalities, or innovations that have not been publicly disclosed.”
T-Mobile to Sell Thinner BlackBerry Curve
T-Mobile plans to release a thinner version of the BlackBerry Curve 9360, running OS 7, on September 28 for $80 with a two-year contract. The Curve features a 2.4-inch display, full QWERTY keyboards and HSPA-plus 4G connectivity. The device is geared toward customers who do a lot of social networking.
Sprint Preps for IPhone 5, AT&T Doesn’t Care
Sprint is capping its formerly unlimited $30 Mobile Hotspot plan to 5 gigabytes of data beginning October 2. The cap is the latest in a series of moves the carrier has made as it gears up for the possible release of the iPhone 5 on its network.
Even if Sprint does land the iPhone 5, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said it won’t affect his company. “Anytime there’s another competitor launching Apple’s hit device, the expectations for what would happen to the carrier that had it before is overblown,” Stephenson said to CNET. AT&T continued adding iPhone customers last quarter in the face of the arrival of the iPhone 4 on Verizon’s network.
Sprint CEO Dan Hesse didn’t comment on whether his company will carry the iPhone 5, but he had plenty to say about AT&T’s potential merger with T-Mobile. Hesse explained the Department of Justice is suing AT&T to block the merger because of its effects on overall competition and innovation, not to block mergers of telecom companies themselves.
ITC Gives HTC Second Chance
The International Trade Commission plans to review an earlier ruling that HTC violated Apple’s patents. A six-member commission’s final recommendation is set for December 6. Two of the patents in question deal with data transmission and dialling phone numbers from within e-mails, while the other two relate to software execution. On July 15, the ITC declared HTC violated only the first two patents, but the review committee may reverse that decision to include all four.
Verizon Throttles Top Data Users
Verizon notified heavy data users on unlimited plans they will have their network speeds throttled, or slowed, if they exceed certain limits. These users initially thought their plans were grandfathered in when Verizon switched to tiered plans this summer. Customers on 4G phones will not be affected, so heavy data users on 3G devices will be hardest hit by the change.
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