NUTS: Google Tackles Social Networking, AT&T/T-Mobile Merger Looms

Google entered the social networking space dominated by Facebook, while several groups fought AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile.

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Google Dives into the Social Network Pool

Google joined the social networking game this week when it launched its Google+ service. The network focuses on tight integration through limited sharing — a stark contrast to Facebook’s open intentions. Google+ differentiates itself by allowing “Circles,” or groups, of friends rather than one big list. Users can then share information with select Circles, rather than everyone.

Google, which said the service will focus on privacy, ironically experienced its first privacy glitch when a “reshare” feature allowed strangers to view photos.

China blocked its citizens from joining the social network. The decision came just days after Google chairman Eric Schmidt gave a speech on the company’s ongoing battle with China over Internet censorship.

Meanwhile, Apple, EMC, Ericsson, Microsoft, RIM and Sony spent $4.5 billion, outbidding Google’s initial $900 million offer, to win Nortel’s trove of patents. RIM and Ericsson received the largest piece of the portfolio, spending $770 and $340 million, respectively.

Finally, Google is reportedly working on a photo-sharing app for smartphones called “Pool Party.” The service allows multiple users to upload photos from their smartphones to albums in real-time.


Google in Hot Water

French search company 1plusV is seeking $423 million in damages from Google, claiming Google blacklisted 30 of its search engines, resulting in an 80 per cent loss in traffic.

The Federal Trade Commission is also investigating whether Google broke antitrust laws by abusing its dominance in search to push rivals out of its rankings. Google denies the claims, stating it supports competition from sites like Yahoo and Microsoft.

Lastly, a judge refused to throw out a class-action lawsuit against Google, stemming from its Street View service, which scooped up unencrypted data from residents’ wireless networks in several states. The decision didn’t establish whether or not the lawsuit is considered class-action status, but it does mean the suit can proceed in court.


Android News

Oracle sued Google for $2.6 billion over Java patents it says Android infringes upon. Oracle, which purchased Sun Microsystems, the parent company of Java, considered suing Google for up to $6.1 billion, but instead lowered its demands.

Google says the suit is outrageous and the asking price is 20 times higher than the profits Sun made yearly from Java. Oracle alleges Google refused to negotiate a deal to licence the patent for Android devices.

It wasn’t all lawsuits for Android this week. Android Market saw a slight increase in paid downloads over the past two months. According to a survey by Chomp, the online store sold two per cent more paid downloads in May than in April. The biggest increase came from games, entertainment and utility apps with asking prices under $2.

Additionally, Google announced it activates over 500,000 new Android devices each day. Android chief Andy Rubin tweeted the platform is growing each week at a rate of 4 per cent.

Finally, Skype introduced an Android app to allow users to video chat on their smartphones over Wi-Fi. Android owners can now chat with other Skype users on iPhones, PCs and Macs.


AT&T Merger Gains Support From Democrats

AT&T’s impending $39 billion merger to T-Mobile has dominated headlines, but several groups are trying to block the plan. Sprint CEO Dan Hesse is spending a significant amount of time in Washington, trying to prevent the merger from being approved. Hesse went before Congress several times stating his case — that the merger will do more harm than good — and is looking for anyone to support him.

He received some support this week when several advocacy groups sent letters to the FCC, urging it to conduct field hearings across the country, attempting to show the group the public is not in favour of the possible merger. The groups argue the merger would drive wireless rates up.

However, House Democrats are not sold on this argument, as several members praised AT&T’s acquisition of T-Mobile. Many Democrats believe the deal would expand nationwide 4G coverage, as well as create thousands of jobs.

Meanwhile, the FCC released its annual report on the state of competition in the wireless industry, but it didn’t hint at an opinion of the impending AT&T/T-Mobile merger.


RIM Continues to Sing the Blues

RIM fell on tough times in 2011, as stock prices plummeted 50 per cent, its market share sunk to 13 per cent and quarterly revenue dropped, the first time in nine years.

Making matters worse, a high-level employee sent an anonymous letter airing frustration and taking shots at company heads Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis, their inability to develop handsets to compete with Apple and Google and its failure to create a tablet people want to buy.

Lackluster PlayBook sales prompted the BlackBerry maker to halt development on the PlayBook 2, to focus on its next line of QNX-based smartphones, which may debut later this year. Developers are fleeing the ageing BlackBerry platform, due to low sales figures and difficulty in creating apps for several devices. Programmers are waiting to see if RIM’s new QNX-based smartphones will be a hit.

Meanwhile, investor Glass Lewis joined Northwest & Ethical in forcing RIM to split the roles of CEO and chairman. They believe Balsillie and Lazaridis can no longer lead the company and a management restructuring is needed.

In response, RIM executives said they plan to hire an independent committee to review the current team, in an attempt to quell the growing discontent. As part of the agreement, investors pulled their proposal to split the executive roles.


Apple, Samsung Bicker Like School Children

Samsung and Apple became the worst of enemies in an ongoing patent war. Apple, which said it may end its relationship with Samsung, the chip supplier for the iPhone 4 and iPad 2, may replace the South Korean company with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Samsung one-upped Apple by going to the International Trade Commission, asking for a ban on all Apple products in the U.S. Samsung claims Apple copied its designs when they built the iPhone and iPad, and therefore claim these devices are illegal.

Samsung dropped its countersuit against Apple in northern California, instead opting to combine the patent cases. In addition, Samsung opened up more copyright infringement claims against Apple.

Meanwhile, Apple boosted sales by more than 720 per cent in the Asia-Pacific market over the last five years, as the company continues its international expansion. Profits are up nearly 3000 per cent, and the company had over $8 billion in sales in 2010, $5 billion from China, selling over 100,000 iPhones in the first month.


Hackers Continue to Cause Chaos

Hackers around the world stayed busy this week. Citibank admitted hackers stole $2.7 million from 3,400 exposed accounts in May. The bank said affected customers will be reimbursed in full.

Hackers also stole personal data from military personal who subscribe to magazines like DefenseNews. Hackers breached Gannett Government Media, which publishes the magazines, and stole names, e-mails, passwords and duty status. No credit card info was taken, but the company said those affected may be sent phishing scams, and should not click on unknown links.

Meanwhile, top hacktivist group Anonymous targeted Universal Music, Vivendi and the Arizona state police. They released passwords to Universal’s site and posted information about Viacom’s internal networks. They also published the e-mail accounts, including compromising information, of a dozen Arizona police officers.

In a strange twist of fate, hacker group LulzSec disbanded as law enforcement groups and rival hackers close in on members’ identities. The group said it broke up after a 50-day hacking spree against companies and governments. They gave no official reason, though one anonymous member said they were getting bored.


Long Arm of the Law

U.S. regulators asked banks to step up security measures to combat recent cyber-attacks. The Federal Financial Institutions Council recommended banks perform regular risk assessments and keep customers informed of online banking security risks. They also suggested forcing users to use two different passwords to increase security.

Similarly, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected hear the case of nightclub owner Antoine Jones, who is accused of distributing drugs, to determine whether or not law enforcement needs a warrant to install a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car. This decision may set a precedent with important privacy implications. The government said it supports warrantless GPS tracking because it is essential for effective law enforcement.

Meanwhile, New Jersey lawmakers approved a bill that would treat teenage “sexting” as a mistake rather than as a crime. If caught, teens sending sexually explicit photos on their phones would be forced to undergo intense educational programs rather than face criminal prosecution.


Facebook Reaches 750 Million, Hires Hacker

Facebook surpassed 750 million users this month. In addition, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly worth over $18 billion, making him wealthier than Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Zuckerberg’s fortune resides in Facebook shares, which is expected to increase if the company goes public. Just two men remain wealthier than Zuckerberg: Oracle’s Larry Ellison and of course, Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

Facebook shut down a large number of third-party applications, as the company looks to boost security while cyber-attacks continue worldwide. The company responded to an influx of spam complaints to mostly lower-level apps with a small number of daily users.

The company also hired George Hotz, a notorious computer hacker famous for “jailbreaking” the iPhone and PlayStation 3. He is set to help the company develop its iPad app.

Facebook’s vice president, David Fischer downplayed the role of the social media in recent Arab Spring protests, insisting those who actually did the protesting should be praised.


Microsoft Office Heads to Cloud

Microsoft announced it will offer its Office software suite in the cloud. “Office 365” will cost $6 per user for programs like Office Web Apps and Exchange e-mail. For an additional $12 per month, companies can add full versions of Office, which include Word and Excel programs.

In addition, Microsoft, BT and Sky are testing “white space” spectrum for a mobile broadband network in the U.K. The new service uses unused frequencies, which could potentially free up the spectrum crunch affecting the wireless industry.


Nokia Puts Total Trust in Microsoft

Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop said it is focused on Windows Phone software, no matter how well the new N9 sells. Elop confirmed the N9 will be the first and last MeeGo phone from the company, leaving little reason for developers and consumers to give the device a chance.


HP to Push WebOS and Developers

HP announced plans to licence WebOS to third-party companies, in an attempt to spread its adoption. Samsung is reportedly interested and in talks about adding it to its smartphones.

In addition, HP is trying to attract developers to create WebOS apps for the TouchPad, its first tablet, which launched earlier week. The TouchPad can run about 350 native apps. HP hopes to create an app ecosystem similar to Apple and Google.


Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba Form Tech Big 3

Sony, Hitachi and Toshiba are in talks to combine their LCD production lines to compete against South Korean and Taiwanese rivals. The partnership would make the trio the largest manufacturer in the world with 20 per cent of the LCD market. They hope to have an agreement in place by mid-July, and launch new products later this year.


Verizon Wins 4G Speed Title

Verizon’s 4G service is the fastest in major markets, according to PCMag. The report said Verizon’s 4G LTE network achieved average download speeds of over 9-megabits per second. It edged out AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint’s WiMax service. AT&T took top-speeds in 3G-only areas.


Mobile Payments Continue to Surge

PayPal estimated it may process as much as $3 billion in mobile device payments this year. The San Jose, Calif.-based company, which originally expected to reach $1.5 billion in mobile payments, doubled its estimate after more than expected smartphone users began using mobile platforms to purchase goods.

The company, which accounts for eight million mobile users, said it sees up to $10 million transferred a day, up from $6 million in March.

Meanwhile, VeriFone introduced a new accessory that turns tablets into checkout registers. The device works with the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Xoom, allowing people to swipe credit cards to pay for items. The device also supports near-field communication, as well as Google Wallet.


Medical Advances Coming Thanks to Technology

Mobile healthcare is expected to reach $5 billion by 2014, and more than double by 2020, according to the centre for Technology and ageing. The group especially expects mobile technology to help older populations with their wide range of medical issues.

Doctors are increasingly using devices like tablets and smartphones in the workplace. One-third of nearly 4,000 physicians surveyed by QuantiaMD said they use tablet devices to research drug and treatment information, besides using them to educate patients. A quarter said they use both tablets and smartphones.

Meanwhile, a new iPhone app “Skin Scan,” claims it can detect melanoma by using the device’s camera to take a picture of suspicious moles. An algorithm then analyses the fractal-like shapes to determine if it may be cancerous melanoma.

Finally, a new study shows motivational text messages greatly increase a smoker’s chance of kicking the habit. The Long School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found that smokers who received five motivational text messages a day for the first five weeks they tried to quit were more likely to stop than those who didn’t.


New Phones

Motorola said the Droid Bionic is expected to arrive on time, but it may be too late for Verizon customers who are hoping to get the device before the carrier caps data plans on July 7. The Bionic features a 1-gigahertz dual-core processor, 512 megabytes of RAM, 4.3-inch screen and an 8-megapixel camera.

Meanwhile, T-Mobile said it plans to sell a new version of the MyTouch 4G, called the Slide, beginning in July for $200. The device will run Android 2.3 and offers an 8-megapixel camera which records in 1080p. It also features a 3.7-inch WVGA touch screen display and can connect to 4G. T-Mobile hopes the slide-out keyboard will attract customers who love social networking.

In addition, Consumer Reports awarded “best camera phone” to the T-Mobile G2x. The device features an 8-megapixel camera that also shoots in 1080p high-definition. It beat out 45 other devices, including the HTC Thunderbolt, which finished second.

AT&T plans to sell the HTC Status, an Android phone with a dedicated Facebook button to bring tighter mobile integration to the social network. The device features a blue Facebook button below the keyboard that takes users directly to the Facebook wall and also shares pictures, videos and music. It runs on Android 2.3 with HTC’s Sense user interface. The screen is a bit small at 2.6-inches.

Finally, Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer released its “Link Phone,” which features an 18-karat rose goal or titanium case, with leather for a calf, alligator or lizard. The phone will run Android 2.2 and a 3.5-inch screen as well as a 5-megapixel camera. The device will retail for about $6,700.


Twitter Problems Emerge

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Twitter for antitrust practices. The agency is asking various developers whether Twitter makes it difficult for them to create apps that run on its platform.


News Under the Sun is a weekly column rounding up all the events on in the mobile industry. Want the news but don’t want it every day? Subscribe to our weekly Facebook or Twitter page.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.

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